Black Nonbelievers of Atlanta is a non-crazy freethinkers group in Atlanta, and you should check them out.
This morning I went on a bit of a tirade against KD and Black Son, two of the hosts of a public access television show called “Black Atheists of Atlanta” for their completely non-scientific rationalization of their anti-gay stance. I got so fired up about tearing them a new asshole, that I forgot to talk about the original point I wanted to make about the show.
The first point was that being a member of a minority group (whether that be a racial or ideological minority) doesn’t make you immune from being a bigot or an idiot. Similarly, being an atheist doesn’t automatically mean you’re intelligent – it just means you have at least one thing right. KD and Black Son are just as seeped in the heterosexism of their society as anyone else. While we might be surprised to see someone that is a religious skeptic use the same kind of nonsensical “reasoning” we complain about in apologists, it’s not completely mysterious. The challenge is to be skeptical about all claims, and to apportion belief to the evidence – KD and Black Son clearly aren’t very skilled at appraising the quality of evidence.
The other thing I wanted to say but didn’t get a chance to was a response to something that Hemant wrote:
At one point, someone calls in to say that there is, in fact, a biological basis for homosexuality. The response?
KD: “Those scientists were white, weren’t they?”
Caller: “Why does that matter?”
KD: “It matters to me because I’m black… if you’re not careful, even science can be racist.”
(I’ll admit it’s true that black people have been victims in some experiments, but that’s the fault of individual scientists, not science as a process.)
Hemant’s comment represents a fundamental misunderstanding of racism, and the climate from which things like the Tuskegee experiment came. It wasn’t simply a handful of unscrupulous scientists operating outside the norms that were responsible for the atrocities of the now-infamous abuses done in the name of science. Rather, the rationalization for using these people as they were used sprang from the societal idea that black people were little better than animals, and as such could be used as instruments of medical testing rather than treated as people.
KD’s remark about science being prone to racism is not then an indictment of the process of science, nor is it a misplaced criticism of a few people. It is justifiable skepticism about truths that come from the scientific establishment – an establishment that has demonstrated again and again its vulnerability to racism, sexism, heterosexism… all the flaws we see in human beings. Seen from this perspective, KD’s point is entirely justified – one does have to be careful to ensure that science isn’t racist. We see this taking place in clinical trials, where medicines are tested in primarily white, male populations, and then distributed to the population at large without checking to see if the results are generalizable. To be sure, this is getting better, but we haven’t reached the point where we have to stop being careful.
That being said, the correct response is to remain skeptical – not to reject the science. Animal studies of homosexuality have been performed by a variety of scientists in many countries, and they are based on observation. They were also not performed with the purpose of proving that gay sex happens in the animal kingdom, they are based on field observations and followup hypothesis testing. This is quite ancillary to the fact that there is nothing inherent in people of European descent that is pro-gay; white people and black people alike hate LGBT people, in equal measure, and with equally little rational support.
So while I am still appalled and horrified by what KD and Black Son said in their broadcast, and find it just as stupid and meritless as I did this morning, I have to defend that particular comment, because it is rooted in a justifiable and rational response to a scientific establishment that is predominantly white and has a long history of racism. Science, properly applied, leads to the acceptance of homosexuality in humans just as sure as it does lead to the conclusion that black people are equal in all meaningful ways to all other people.
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