Mandisa Thomas adds some pertinent information

I want to highlight this comment by Mandisa Thomas left on my post “On silencing anger to silence minority voices”:

Greetings,

Mandisa Thomas here – the person to whom the Black on Black crime question was directed.

My talk on the day in question was about how the Freethought community can learn from the Hospitality Industry – which was well received by the audience. I touched on my organization briefly, and I did not speak on the problems in the Black community that particular day. So for this woman to come out of left field and ask a question that wasn’t related to the subject at hand was not only rude, but it also implied that just because we are an orgainzation that focuses on Blacks that we are supposed to take on such a gigantic problem on our own. It also seemed to imply that I should ONLY be speaking on issues relating to the Black community. She may not have been meaning to come across as insidious or oblivious, but I also don’t think she was paying attention to my presentation, or even cared much about the issue at hand. She certainly did not speak with me afterwards to either clarify, or even offer assistance on such efforts. I certainly did not go off on her, but she receives no sympathy from me either.

Bria has my full support with this matter. I also think there should have been a better effort to involve the primary organizer of the convention if JT, Mark, and this woman were truly concerned. This obviously didn’t happen, and it is disappointing.

Funny how JT didn’t think to mention that in his post. It makes the whole situation even more blatantly racist, and his reaction even more problematic. But seeing that he has already doubled down and is painting my mere disagreement with him as a toxic evil attempt to destroy him, I expect this revelation won’t change much either.

It’s a sad day when you have the blinders of friendship ripped off.

On silencing anger to silence minority voices

My favorite thing to wake up to in the morning is white straight cis men insisting they get to decide who your allies are and that you should not ever get angry, but rather calmly explain basic topics to hostile questions from every person that wanders across your path as if it were your personal duty on this earth.

Thanks for that wonderful way to start the day, JT!

If that wasn’t his intended take home message from his post on Bria Crutchfield’s “outburst” at the Great Lakes Atheist Convention, that’s the message he actually accomplished. But intent is not magic – innocently writing something out of the goodness of your heart doesn’t wash away the problematic message of that post. Which ironically started with failing to understand that intent it not magic.

The problems all started when, during the Q&A of Mandisa Thomas’s talk, a woman asked her what black people were doing to fight black on black crime.  Was the woman’s question naive?  Yes.  Very.  And the naivety resulted in her asking a question that certainly had racist undertones, even if the woman was not intentionally being racist.  Mandisa handled it well.

But then, during the Q&A of Darrel C. Smith’s talk, Bria Crutchfield stood up and proceeded to give the woman an angry tongue lashing.  This went on for about five minutes (or maybe it just seemed like that long).  While Bria did answer the woman’s question, it was very embarrassing to the woman and trailed off into a number of red herrings such as “I’m here, get over it” as if anybody was suggesting that Bria or black atheists were unwelcome at the conference or silently sneered at by…anybody.

I, and several others wound up leaving the room during Bria’s monologue.  It just seemed so unnecessary to me.  The questioner was ignorant of what would make her question offensive, and this could’ve been solved without Bria embarrassing her (and herself) by usurping another speaker’s Q&A.  The woman merely needed information, not to be screamed at, and certainly not to be screamed at through a long diatribe in the middle of a conference when the floor was not hers.

So let’s recap what has happened so far:

JT’s psychic powers allow him to know that the woman asking the question on black on black crime is naive and not racist. This is despite that particular question being one of the most common, racist, debunked talking points from the far right. Even if 99% of the time that question is thrown out precisely to be hostile as a racism “gotcha”, we’re to assume this case is different for no good reason. He has downgraded the offense of that question to simply having “racist undertones,” despite playing up Bria’s response with value-laden terms like “outburst,” “angry tongue lashing,” “unnecessary,” and “diatribe.” His psychic powers also make him certain that Bria’s intent was to humiliate and embarrass, and he dismisses that Bria or other black atheists have any good reason to feel unwelcome at the conference. Because he gets to decide if they should feel unwelcome or not?

A commenter who also attended the event had a different take on the events:

Seeing that you stated that you left the room during Bria’s “outburst” I assume you did not hear her breakdown into tears at the end. I also assume that you were not present at the beginning of Bria’s talk where she apologized and clarified a few points.

If you would have witnessed the entirety of the “event” I don’t think you would have seen it as anything other than Bria’s frustration in having to educate people in a place that she hoped was already beyond that. It is often our “allies” that we get the most frustrated with, since for better or worse, we hold them to a higher standard because we hold them in higher regard.

After all this, JT has the gall to pull Bria aside and explain how he thinks she should have handled the situation – aka, be more nice and calm, and keep your disagreements to private discussions with the individual. This is so condescending it blows my mind. It is incredibly problematic for a white man to tell a black woman to not get angry about issues of racism that affect her on a daily basis. JT might not get mad, but it’s not because he’s achieved some higher, moral zen state that gives him infinite patience to deal with ignorance and hatred – it’s because these issues don’t fucking affect him. Of course you can stay calm when you either don’t care or don’t have to care.

He claims to understand how she feels – which is self evidently false from the article he just wrote. When you’re a member of a minority group, it is infuriating to hear the same offensive, dehumanizing, and ignorant questions over and over again. It is even more infuriating for people in a position of privilege to insist that it is your duty to personally and calmly educate every person that crosses your path. Even if 99% of the people asking these questions are assholes with no inkling to ever change their mind, you’re to treat each new one as a special snowflake. THIS one is just asking questions, guys!

Newsflash: If someone is parroting racist, sexist, or transphobic talking points, calmly explaining why they’re wrong doesn’t tend to work because they’re not looking to have their minds changed. You’d think someone who frequently deals with religious apologists would understand this. If someone came into an evolution conference saying “if we evolved from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?” would JT argue that they’re simply naive, not informed, and want an explanation? Or would he think they’re informed enough to be parroting a creationist talking point that’s, to steal the perfect phrase from Crommunist, “an ideological attack disguised as ‘just asking questions.'”

Insisting that minorities quell their anger is insisting that minorities stay silent. Asking for public ignorant statements to be responded to in private sweeps the problems under the rug. Observers hear the problematic statement but no response, which reinforces the status quo and sends a message that no one found that statement problematic. It also puts all of the burden of educating one person, who most of the time don’t actually want to be educated, on individuals who already feel drained and exhausted from having to explain the same basic 101 crap over and over again.

And this call for calmness and personal explanations is even more infuriating coming from JT. I have calmly and privately explained social justice issues to JT for years, over email, texts, phone calls, in person conversations. So has Greta. So has Crommunist, who points out the last time he did so he was ignored, so he’s not going to try again. And also feel like all of these attempts have been ignored because no progress at all has been made. So when a person I consider a friend doesn’t even listen to these calm private explanations, why is he insisting it will work on strangers? To quote Crommunist via twitter:

If the tone of voice someone uses is enough to make you discount their argument, then you didn’t care about the issue to begin with. And the repeated demand to have things ‘calmly’ explained to you simply means you’re looking for an excuse not to listen. This goes double for people who demand calm explanations, and then IGNORE those explanations when they are given. You. Just. Don’t. Care. And while it may make you feel good to SAY you care, your actions shine through the bullshit veneer of “but I want to learn!” So if you don’t care, at least be honest with yourself and with others. You don’t have to care about every issue, but don’t lie. It’s boring.

When I started college, I labeled myself as a feminist. Like, woo, equality, who wouldn’t be behind that?! I started to read feminist blogs and I disagreed with a lot, if not most, of what they were saying. It was incredibly tempting to spew forth my uneducated opinion, and that desire did not come from wanting someone to calmly explain it to me – it came from thinking I was right and they were wrong. I’m sure I did that occasionally because no one is perfect, but you know what I ultimately decided to do? I shut up and listened. I read more and more and attempted to educate myself before partaking in any discussions. And now after a lot of time and work and thought, I understand.

Do I fully understand? Of course not. It’s a never-ending process, but it begins with listening and educating yourself first. And I fully admit I am at different stages of this process for different topics. I grew up in an overwhelmingly white Midwestern suburb, so I haven’t been aware of a lot of racial issues until recently. But instead of parroting things I may have heard from older relatives, I’ve been listening intently to better myself. I also fully admit there are still some trans issues I don’t “get,” but my response to that is to keep reading and thinking about it. To subscribe to blogs that sometimes make me uncomfortable and challenge my ideas. To do some motherfucking Googling.

But this was the cherry on top from JT’s post:

Lately there’s been a lot of this attitude in the atheist movement, that every misstep out of naivety or ignorance, even if it’s insulting, makes someone a prime target for a shout down in a “public room” – as if humiliation and shame, while sometimes the proper tools, are always the proper tools.  When did we forget that people in the atheist movement are our friends and allies?

I must steal this response from Jadehawk: We didn’t forget. We realized it wasn’t true.

look-kitten-plain

Just because you label yourself as an ally doesn’t make you one. Your actions make you one.  I want to close with one last quote from an article by Crommunist that’s a must read companion to this post:

Labels are accurate right up until the moment they are not. That is, you are an ally right up until the moment you stop acting like one, at which point you’re not an ally anymore. Having once been an ally doesn’t change your oppressive behaviour into non-oppressive behaviour any more than having had an accident-free record makes you not at fault for rear-ending that bus.

Being a good ally doesn’t involve silencing the people you claim to be allies with by policing their emotions and behavior.

The practical reason why atheists should care about diversity

I’ve long argued why increasing diversity if the right thing to do for ethical reasons – hey, we shouldn’t be unintentionally excluding people based on their race or ethnicity, right? But as those arguments don’t seem to work for some atheists, let’s turn to the numbers:

Within three decades, there will no longer be a majority racial or ethnic group in the Unites States according to new Census Bureau projections released this week. Among the other findings: the country is growing slower than expected.
Michael Cooper reports on the first set of projections issued by the Census Bureau based on the 2010 Census results. “The next half century marks key points in continuing trends — the U.S. will become a plurality nation, where the non-Hispanic white population remains the largest single group, but no group is in the majority,” the bureau’s acting director, Thomas L. Mesenbourg, said in a statement.

When I’m 55, I’ll be looking at a country that looks less and less like pasty ol’ me. And that’s fine! But this should give atheist activists pause. Our groups and organizations are already disproportionately white – I can usually count the number of black people attending a major conference on one hand. Our base of white folks is slowly dwindling, while the predominantly Catholic Hispanics and Christian African Americans are growing. Now we’re a minority within a majority, but we’re going to be shrinking even more.

Please, no racist fear-mongering that whites and/or atheists need to go pop out more babies. There’s a more reasonable and more ethical (whoops, ethics again!) solution. If we can make atheism relevant to racial minorities now, that will result in fewer children being raised in religious households down the line. It’s easier to get people on board now and watch the ripple effect, than wait thirty years and say “Hey, we’ve been ignoring you all this time, but you totally want to join now, right?!” And this doesn’t mean just standing around going “Well, we’re not actively discouraging minorities!” while discussing the History of European Freethinkers for the 39873th time. We need to address relevant issues like skepticism applied to drug laws and incarceration rates, or replicating religious community without the religion, or…well, maybe we should just listen to what they have to say without taking it personally.

Atheism+: It’s time to walk the walk

Hundreds of you are excited about Atheism+. I’m excited about A+. This is our chance for a new wave of atheism – a wave that’s more than a dictionary definition about not believing in gods. This is our chance for progressive atheists to come together and deal with issues that we see as a natural part of our godlessness.

But we need more than just a catchy name and a logo. We need to get shit done.

This new wave of atheism isn’t about declaring “We’ve already achieved something better” or “We’re not like those assholes.” You don’t just get your shiny membership pin and get to say you’re done. This is about saying “We want to work TOWARDS something better.” We need to recognize that there’s still room for self-improvement and to address the root of why we’ve been having these problems in atheism and skepticism. We need to focus on actual change instead of prematurely crowning ourselves victorious.

We need a plan.

So consider this an open thread on what you would like to see come out of a new wave of atheism. What issues should we be addressing and how? What actions should we be taking? How can we prevent this from having the same exact flaws that worried us enough to call for a new wave?

To start us off, here are some issues I envision A+ addressing from a secular, skeptical perspective:

  • Racism
  • Sexism
  • Homophobia
  • Transphobia
  • Ableism
  • Classism
  • Ageism
  • Neurotypicalism
  • Animal welfare
  • Environmental issues
  • Political issues (Health care, crime, drug laws)

And as I said in my original post, I had been brainstorming with people to start a secular social justice organization. Our original tentative name was the Secular Alliance for Equality (SAFE) but we could always go with Atheism+ since that seemed to organically resonate with people. We envisioned ourselves as an umbrella group like the Secular Student Alliance that could provide services that help other groups become more welcoming and progressive. Here are some practical actions we came up with:

  • Providing basic anti-harassment policies that can be adopted and adapted by secular groups
  • Providing “101” educational primers on privilege, intersectionality, proper language, etc
  • Providing guides for making your groups and events more welcoming, diverse, and accessible
  • Providing event planning resources and ideas
  • Providing a diverse speakers bureau
  • Encouraging conferences and groups to increase speaker and topic diversity
  • Holding workshops about social justice and diversity at conferences
  • Organizing national events around progressive issues (for example, getting as many groups as possible to participate in gay pride parades)
  • Working alongside other existing organizations that share our values (like humanists!)
  • Writing blog posts/press releases about relevant issues
  • Providing a safe, moderated community for discussion – Facebook, forum, blog comments, r/atheismplus (which already exists! check it out!)

I can’t stress how important it is that we actively work toward true improvement instead of patting ourselves on the back and declaring ourselves enlightened. I also desperately want to hear from people with as many different backgrounds as possible. As a cis, middle class, white person, I have my own privileges. I can’t unilaterally declare what would be best for a progressive atheist movement. So please – brainstorm in the comments so we can truly start to make change happen.

Atheism+

Yesterday I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I finally hit publish on “How I Unwittingly Infiltrated the Boy’s Club & Why It’s Time for a New Wave of Atheism.” The cynical part of me wondered why I had wasted five hours of my Saturday for the same torrent of hateful comments. How masochistic was I becoming? But the optimist in me hoped that just enough people would want to change this movement with me.

I can honestly say this is the first time that waking up to over 500 comments on a post that mentions feminism has filled me with absolute joy.

95% of the comments I’ve received have been overwhelmingly positive. That…that has never happened before. Usually if I can hit 50% supportive comments I feel like I’ve done well. But not only were you guys supportive, you were excited. I didn’t expect you to have come up with names and logos for the third wave…and I really didn’t expect you all to basically agree. We tend to be like herding cats, but not this time.

You called for Atheism+.

Logo suggestion by One Thousand Needles

Logo suggestions by Jadehawk

It’s perfect. It illustrates that we’re more than just “dictionary” atheists who happen to not believe in gods and that we want to be a positive force in the world.  Commenter dcortesi suggested how this gets atheists out of the “negativity trap” that we so often find ourselves in, when people ask stuff like “What do you atheists do, besides sitting around not-praying, eh?”

We are…
Atheists plus we care about social justice,
Atheists plus we support women’s rights,
Atheists plus we protest racism,
Atheists plus we fight homophobia and transphobia,
Atheists plus we use critical thinking and skepticism.

It speaks to those of us who see atheism as more than just a lack of belief in god. danielmchugh summarized how I feel perfectly:

Religion is responsible for generating and sustaining most of the racism, sexism, anti-(insert minority human subgroup here)-isms… it gave a voice to the bigotry, established the privilege, and fed these things from the pulpit for thousands upon thousands of years. What sense does it make to throw out the garbage bag of religion yet keep all the garbage that it contained?

I can’t help but see social justice as a logical consequence of atheism. I’m for getting rid of all the garbage.

As for the next steps on how to get rid of that garbage, I’ll make another post with my ideas soon. Feel free to use this post to discuss how you feel about A+. I don’t think it needs to be an official name – I want to improve the atheist movement, not create a splinter faction or something. But it’s fabulous marketing-wise and as a way to identify yourself as a progressive atheist, or whatever term you want to use. I know I’d love for people to start wearing A+ pins and Surlyramics so I know who I want to chat with.

EDIT: How could I forget to mention that commenter Pteryxx deserves the credit for the A+ idea? A bajillion internet points to you!

Conservative pundit wants “Underground Railroad” to kidnap children of gay parents

Today’s example of “Holy fuck I didn’t realize bigots could be this evil”:

On Tuesday, conservative pundit Bryan Fischer released an internet firestorm after advocating for an “Underground Railroad to deliver innocent children from same-sex households.” The comment, released on Twitter, links to a Chicago Tribune article about a Mennonite priest charged in aiding in the abduction of the 10-year-old daughter of a same-sex couple.

Fischer, who hosts the radio show Focal Point on American Family Radio, stated earlier this week:

“The only way now in America’s legal system that you can protect your child from being raised in a same-sex household is to get that kid into the Underground Railroad and get that child out of dodge.”

I’m not even sure where to start, so let’s begin with the obvious: Being a child of same-sex parents is kind of a tiny bit different than being an African American slave. Like, for one, you’re not a slave. I can’t comprehend how someone thinks having two daddies or two mommies is equivalent to literally having no rights. Are children of same-sex parents shackled and beaten? Are they forced to work in terrible conditions? Are they never allowed to leave or own land or vote even when they grow up? No. Children of same-sex couples fare just as well as children of opposite-sex couples, with children of lesbians actually doing better. Way to simultaneously say “fuck you” to both same-sex families and descendents of slaves.

The truly bizarre thing is that Fischer frames this as a way to protect your child. As if all children in same-sex households were originally kidnapped by The Gays from wholesome Christian families, where Peter Pan gathering up Lost Boys is a literal interpretation of the gay agenda. Is this seriously a concern of conservative opposite-sex couples? “How do I protect my child from being raised by The Gays?!” Maybe you could…I dunno, not put your child up for adoption? Not become gay? There seem to be less radical options than kidnapping other children available.

Despite criticism, Fischer stands by his remarks, and stated on Focal Point that the kidnapper has an obligation “to obey God rather than man.”

As for that, all I have to say is read your own Bible:

“Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21)

Obama is really itching for those pre-Civil War days

Says Sarah Palin in a language vaguely resembling English (emphasis mine):

Right, well, what we can glean from this is an understanding of why we are on the road that we are on. Again, it’s based on what went into his thinking, being surrounded by radicals. He is bringing us back, Sean, to days—you can hearken back to the days before the Civil War when, unfortunately, too many Americans mistakenly believed that not all men were created equal. And it was the Civil War that began the codification of the truth that here in America, yes we are equal and we all have equal opportunities not based on the color of your skin. You have equal opportunity to work hard and to succeed and to embrace the opportunities, God given opportunities, to develop resources and work extremely hard and, as I say, to succeed.

Now it has taken all these years for many Americans to understand that gravity, that mistake that took place before the Civil War and why the Civil War had to really start changing America. What Barack Obama seems to want to do is go back to before those days when we were in different classes based on income based on color of skin. What are we allowing our country to move backwards instead of moving forward with that understanding that, as our charters of liberty spell out for us, we are all created equally.

Yeah, I’m sure Obama just can’t wait to return to the days where blacks were enslaved and treated like animals. The nostalgia is really strong, you know? But poor Sarah Palin, if her family with royal ancestry had to return to a pre-Civil War society, why, they’d have to spend so much time…um… counting those slaves? I mean, that sort of management is really stressful, right?

It still blows my mind how clueless some people are.

(Via Slog)

America’s Next Top Model’s latest race fail

I’ve occasionally mentioned here and on twitter that I have a bizarre obsession with America’s Next Top Model. I don’t give a crap about fashion or modeling, though I can appreciate when the show occasionally produces artistic photos. I just love to hate it. And ANTM never fails to come up with new, amazing ways to be terrible:

  • The weird vocabulary (smeyes) and catchphrases (I’d put it in my salon!)
  • The typical reality TV type of humiliation. You mean modeling doesn’t usually require being set on fire or covered in bees?
  • The hyper drama and nonsensical screaming between the contestants that makes me feel good about myself because I’m not them
  • The inevitable stupidity that spews forth when they send the models who know nothing about world politics, geography, or culture to a foreign country
  • The fact that the show is comically bad when it comes to feminism and body image. Yes, those size 10 girls with perfect figures are certainly “plus sized,” and Tyra will teach you how to eat healthy but then throw you off the show if you gain a pound.

With Cycle 18 starting comes a new adventure. This cycle’s theme is “British Invasion,” with half the girls being Brits and half of them being Americans. And there’s some cultural battle or something. I hate to admit it, I kind of like it because the Brits also seem to be shocked and appalled by the behavior of the American girls, and they articulate their shock using delightful British slang.

But that’s not the interesting part. There’s a new milestone this cycle. Mariah Watchman is ANTM’s first Native American model, having grown up on the Umatilla reservation in Oregon. And what’s the first thing the producers make her do?

Dress up as Pocahontas.

Yes, you read right. ANTM has their first Native American model, and they immediately stick her in a tacky Pocahontas costume.

Let me put this costume in perspective for you so you understand how utterly flabbergasted I was when I was watching. The theme for the photo shoot was “Culture Clash,” where iconic figures from the UK and USA faced off. The pairings were:

  • George Washington vs. Queen Elizabeth
  • Janet Jackson vs. Scary Spice
  • Madonna vs. Elton John
  • Michelle Obama vs. Margaret Thatcher
  • Andy Warhol vs. Amy Winehouse
  • Jackie O vs. Princess Diana

Let me pause for a minute to reiterate that one of the models dressed up like MARGARET THATCHER.

With her buddy Michelle Obama. About to jump on a trampoline.

Anyway, I digress. Who was Pocahontas paired with? Who was the British equivalent the ANTM producers came up with?

John Lennon.

No, I don’t have an explanation for what Pocahontas and John Lennon have in common.

Yes, they gave Pocahontas a tomahawk prop. A TOMAHAWK.

My roommate and I were in utter disbelief. It’s not like ANTM is known for its racial sensitivity (remember the blackface episode?). But did the producers really not see the blatant problem with this? In case you need it spelled out, here’s what Adrienne had to say at her blog Native Appropriations:

She went on the record with an interview with her hometown newspaper discussing the choice as well (which was a choice of the producers, not her own), saying:

“As soon as I heard what the competition was, I knew that’s who I would be. I was completely fine with it. There’s no one else I’d want more to portray. It’s someone everybody knows.”I think this is completely a reflection of the sad, sad state of our society if a proud Native woman feels the only “iconic figure” that “everyone knows” of her race is a 12 year old who was famous for “saving” and marrying an old white dude, and then becoming a Disney character. Awesome.

The choice of the producers to have her portray “Pocahontas” is straight up offensive too. Let’s pigeonhole the only Native contestant by forcing her to don an extremely stereotypical outfit and be an Indian. The thing that stood out to me was that Mariah was cast into a race-based role, while the other pairings had plenty of (relatively progressive) race-bending. George Washington, Elton John, Jackie O, and John Lennon (all white) were portrayed by models of color, which I thought was kinda cool. But, because Mariah’s heritage is her “exotic” selling point for the show, the producers felt the need to exploit it.

Then the outfit they put on her. Oh the outfit. It looks like they bought it straight off thepocahottie halloween page--fake buckskin, primary colored feathers, plains-style beading and designs, braids in her hair. And, the kicker, a tomahawk. Yes, a tomahawk. History lesson, ANTM: Pocahontas was from Virginia, and none of those stereotypes apply to her people. So basically they did what everyone seems to do when they want to “honor” Indians–drew upon every Hollywood Indian stereotype without any regard for historical accuracy, regionality, or how effing racist it is to make the only Native girl basically dress up in blackface.

The cherry on top of this absurdity sundae was the judging panel. The judges insisted that Mariah “had a very easy thing to do” because she’s a Native American portraying a Native American, and that she should have done a much better job. Because, you know, all Native Americans are the same, and she didn’t portray Pocahontas close enough to their stereotypical notion of how Native Americans act. They couldn’t “see the angst.”

That’s what being Native American is all about. Angst and tomahawks. Gah.

This is my new favorite blog

I’m not racist, but…
Because it’s good to get a daily dose of how depressing humanity can be. Protip: If you’re about to say “I’m not racist, but-” just stop talking. And here’s one of my favorite relevant videos:
…Yes this is Blogathon filler so I can build up enough buffer to shower and eat DON’T JUDGE ME.

This is post 14 of 49 of Blogathon. Pledge a donation to the Secular Student Alliance here.

On being offended

I often comment that religious people don’t have the right to never be offended when someone questions their beliefs. Their ideas – theistic, supernatural, cultural, or otherwise – are still ideas. This is because I strongly support the concept of a marketplace of ideas – that “the truth or the best policy arises out of the competition of widely various ideas in free, transparent public discourse.” A religious idea must defend it’s worth just as a political idea would, and offense is sometimes an unavoidable side effect of this discussion.
After the many, many feminism or diversity related internet kerfuffles, I usually get at least a couple comments along the lines of “Why is it okay to offend religious people but not women/blacks/homosexuals?! Hypocrite!”

Let me try my best to explain.

Like I said, religion is an idea. Gender, race, and sexual orientation are not. They are (for the most part) immutable biological traits that a person has very little choice in. There are certainly bad ideas out there, whether they’re wrong for factual, logical or ethical reasons. I have no obligation to completely avoid offending you when all I’m saying is “I disagree.” But there is no inherent “wrongness” or inferiority in being a woman, or a racial minority, or gay. To suggest such a thing while lacking any logic or rationale is exactly what causes sexism, racism, and homophobia.

It’s one thing to demand intellectual honesty of intangible ideas. Blasphemy is a victimless crime, after all. Offense aimed at intrinsic human properties is hardly victimless.

Temporarily ignoring concepts of privilege or -isms, a lot of these kerfuffles boil down to people lacking common human decency. While I don’t think religious people have the right to avoid all offense, I do think we should try to minimize the amount of offense we cause. Now, that’s not the same as saying “Don’t be a dick” ala Phil Plait. I think dickishness definitely has it’s place and can be an effective way of getting a message across in certain situations. But we have to ask ourselves “Can I accomplish the same goal while being a little less of an asshole?”

If accomplishing your goal requires offense, unapologetically go right ahead. Otherwise unpopular ideas would be silenced into oblivion. Because really, you’re always going to offend someone. Atheists can’t even say we exist or that we’re good people without pissing people off!

But when you’re needlessly enraging people with no goal in mind, that’s not equivalent to being edgy or snarky or a firebrand. That’s being a fucking asshole. Or if you’re doing it because it gets your rocks off – a troll. And if someone points out you hurt them, it’s a little troglodytish to insist that you didn’t or that you don’t care. I think a lot of this can be explained by the Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory, but it’s still disappointing.

I could go on about this all day – but I’ve given a whole talk on the topic, so watch it if you want more details and examples about minimizing offense.

Practically speaking as someone within the atheist community, it’s even more important that we try to tone down offense when it comes to minority groups. Diversity matters. It’s not just unrealistic to tell minority groups to suck it up and be stronger – it lacks compassion. We’re not saying they’re inferior or need coddling, but that if you put up with this shit constantly, why would you voluntarily join a group that adds to your frustrations? It’s precisely the reason why one of my rules of comment moderation is that I’ll ban people who use hateful speech. I could tell other commentors to suck it up, or I could make a safe environment where people feel comfortable contributing.

Even if I think you should do it out of the goodness of your heart, Greta Christina often suggests a purely Machiavellian reason for such a tactic. That making more people feel welcome in this movement will only help us grow even larger and more powerful. So if we want to succeed in our goals of promoting rationalism and humanism, we first need to make sure we can get as many allies as possible.

We simply can’t afford to make the same mistakes of every other progressive movement before us.