Adam Lee of Daylight Atheism has created a petition on Change.org:
We support making the atheist movement more diverse and inclusive. It’s long been clear that the skeptical movement has a preponderance of white men. While we don’t disdain their participation, we believe skepticism is valuable and important to people in all walks of life, and in accordance with that principle, we consider it vital to have a movement that reflects the demographics of the society we live in. If our community continues to be dominated by white men, it will become increasingly out-of-touch and irrelevant as Western society becomes increasingly multiracial and multicultural and as non-Western countries gain economic and cultural power.
To that end, we urge the atheist and skeptical organizations to make a conscious commitment to diversity: to intentionally reach out to people of all ages, genders and ethnic backgrounds to speak at our conventions, to serve on our boards of directors, and to be the public faces and representatives of skepticism. We believe that there are talented, dedicated and eminently qualified people of every gender and every race, and that seeking them out will strengthen our movement and broaden its appeal.
I’ve talked about the value of diversity a number of time on this blog:
- Diversity Makes us Smarter
- Why Do We Want Diversity?
- A Warning about Increasing Diversity
- When Should We Stop?
- Getting Token In
The list goes on. The TL/DR version of my views on diversity is that the wider variety of perspectives a group can draw from, the stronger it is, and the fewer mistakes it will make. Gender and race are two very obvious types of diversity that many voices have been pointing out as being absent from the discussion of secularism, skepticism, and freethought. The move to expand the appeal of the movement, at least by removing obvious barriers to participation, is an attempt to strengthen a movement that is rapidly coming to terms with its own limitations in terms of who it is reaching out to, and whose voices are represented.
I think if you ask people “Do you support diversity?”, most would say “yes” pretty quickly. The tricky bit arises when someone proposes a specific policy to actually improve diversity. All policies require change, and change makes people uncomfortable. They feel like they’re being forced to give away something that they deserve, and that doesn’t seem fair. Even if it wasn’t fair (and I certainly don’t grant that assertion except for the sake of argument), the fact remains that unless you believe that no changes are necessary at all, something’s gotta give.
If you do sincerely believe that no changes are necessary, then you are by extension saying that anyone who is not happy with the status quo does not have a reasonable complaint. That’s your prerogative, certainly, but I really have to start wondering about what attitudes motivate your view of the community. If you look out approvingly over a strongly majority-white, majority-male landscape, you should know that your view stands starkly at odds with a large group of people who have felt unwelcome to date – not because of their behaviour or their choices, but simply because of how their ‘group’ is treated by the majority. In a world that is increasingly becoming aware of the value of diversity and the dangers of monocultural environments, a community that stands (on principle) in opposition to attempts to increase diversity is doomed to failure and obsolescence (please see the Republican Party in the United States).
The atheist and freethinking community/communities are not immune from this kind of political reality, and to suggest that it is in their (our) best interest to refuse to make the types of adjustments and accommodations that every other group is making is, to be frank, utterly ridiculous. And while I am usually loath to speculate on the conscious motivations of people who oppose social justice, we know very well from the psychological literature that most of these types of attitudes find their start in the subconscious and then find ‘creative’* post-hoc ways to justify their a priori conclusions.
At any rate, if you support the idea of diversity and are willing to follow through on the attempts to make it a reality, sign the petition. If you support the idea of diversity but aren’t willing to do anything to actually make a change, then you might need to spend some time examining your own feelings and assumptions about why you think people in underrepresented groups don’t participate (and, I suppose, why you feel that those members of those groups who have been offering specifics are not worth listening to). If you don’t support the idea of diversity, then I guess there’s only one thing to say:
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*A word I use somewhat ironically. Anyone who uses the term “ultra-PC professional whiners” is about as creative as a Xerox machine.