It seems to me that whenever someone in the atheist/secular community fucks up, the favourite line of defence is “They didn’t do it in bad faith”. Well, my friends, in case no one has told you before, intent isn’t fucking magical.
Also? That is literally about the stupidest fucking thing I’ve ever heard an atheist say to shield another atheist from any kind of criticism.
Trigger warning for discussion of racist language, colonial history, and extremely sexist bullshit.
Tone police warning for excessive profanity and volumes more to come if you so much as dare try to tell me or anyone else that I would get my point across better without it.
Concern troll warning for Jamie calling Richard Dawkins out for saying something racist and then being an enormous fucking racist dipshit by repeatedly defending it. Wring your hands and clutch your fucking pearls all you need to, it doesn’t change that I’m not accusing him of being A Racist, but of saying and repeatedly defending racist shit while continuing to say it over and over again. Jamie also calls someone out for saying something incredibly fucking stupid about rape, and then spending four days defending it despite being called out by several people. The offender changed his mind about what he had done, so he has no use for your disingenuous declarations of concern, and neither does anyone else. Jamie also calls out pig-headed FEMEN protesters for incorporating heavy doses of cultural imperialism, racism, and Islamophobia in their recent protests “in solidarity with” Muslim women — who they then promptly insult when those very Muslim women start counter-protesting/calling out their bullshit.
Racism apologists warning for the “That’s not racist!” defence — which isn’t a fucking defence for being racist — what was said was racist from the start and the continual defence of it was too. End of story.
This past week, my focus has been on Richard Dawkins — whose surname I propose be used as a unit of measure for exactly how obtuse a person is being — because a series of articles have come forward in which Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens are being criticized for promoting racism and Islamophobia to the atheist/secular community. Here’s one of those articles, which I find is well-written. It contains links to the other two (one of which is not nearly as well written but gave momentum to the issue anyway), and it focuses primarily on criticizing Harris for Islamophobia. Rightfully so. When it comes to Islamophobia, Harris is about a million Dawkins thick. Dawkins himself is clearly several million Dawkins obtuse on the very subject.
Of related note, this past week, CFI and a bunch of fucking rocket surgeons published an open letter online to the secular community, urging everyone to use the “bad faith” defence as often as fucking possible, because in their opinion, we need to play nicer with each other—even when some of us think “playing nice” means tone-policing instead of listening to the content of what a person has to say, sexual harassment, rape and death threats, sexist apologetics and denial, and all around ignoring the impact of systemic inequality upon many groups of people, who are all demanding they be treated with dignity and respect. And what do you know? I didn’t respond nicely to that:
See, it’s obvious that to you, it’s still funny to play “devil’s advocate” and pretend that sexism and feminism are still “debates”. And that, Muffin, is an example of one of the principles upon which your organization is built. All this tone-policing you’re promising to enforce online, and all pleading with the entire fucking online English-speaking secular community to play along with, is just your attempt to placate teh wimminz so you can keep on giving each other back-pats for being nice guys in between heated “debates” about shit that does fundamentally fuck-all to challenge established gender inequality — either systemically throughout society, or even within your own movement.
Topless protesters (almost all of whom were white women) from the political organization FEMEN also decided that wearing niqabs and stereotypical jihadist-terrorist-costume-beards while protesting topless all across Europe, with inflammatory slogans painted all across their bare skin, was going to save all the Muslim women in the world from… the veil… even if they choose it independently and actually defend it… I guess. Not that any Muslima has ever asked for FEMEN to defend them using nudity coupled with a blatant malappropriation of their culture. Not that any Muslima ever would. Allegedly, the purpose of the protests were to show “solidarity” with Amina Tyler, who after posting a topless picture on FEMEN’s page, was seriously threatened and has gone under the radar since then. By being incarcerated in a mental hospital. FEMEN has outraged enormous droves of Muslim women, secular Middle Eastern women, even socially conscious white women, literally all over the world as far as I can tell, and of course, I’m upset too. Not that any of us care about the bare tits involved, because what they did would still be an issue even if they were wearing bras or pasties. Read a little more about it and how the tactic leaves much to be desired, especially for women of colour, here. Read even more specific details here. It’s really the tactic that caused a problem, more than anything else, because it serves as a racist, culturally imperialist, Islamophobic function of white privilege and colonialist ideology—the same shit that is at the root of everything else I’ll be discussing today. Moving on.
I also published this post containing multiple screen shots of Richard Dawkins, on his very own Twitter account, using and then repeatedly defending the use of a highly racialized word of the English language, even as people flocked to his page to repeatedly call him out on how racist it is:
Now we observe Dawkins responding to continued call-outs on his racist comments, by feigning ignorance of how the word “barbarians” is racialized and has been for several centuries, and then nonchalantly grinding his choice in jagged language deeper into the open psychological wounds of everyone who has ever had this term hurled at them as a racial slur—the living descendants of peoples who had this term hurled at them by invading white colonists; who then subjected the colonized peoples to genocide, slavery, occupation of their territories, and colonization of their very minds. These are crimes against humanity not forgotten soon enough to make Dawkins’ decision defensible in any manner; and which have been repeatedly followed with re-colonization, re-occupation, attempted eugenics, cultural genocide, re-enslavement, and the widespread destruction of their lands for the extraction of resources running beneath their feet.
No, simply saying “that’s not racist” does not magically undo the racism. No, I am not going to even attempt the impossible feat of proving definitively that Dawkins is A Racist. He said a racist thing — in fact, if you look at the etymology of the word itself, it is clear that it has never not been racist — and then continued to repeat it while repeatedly defending it, which was also racist of him. It seems a never-ending trickle of “race-blind” atheists want so badly for the fact that the slur was racist to begin with and that so was the repeated defence of it, that they wll do all they can to dismiss the problem. Starting with the “bad faith” defence, and ending with the “bad faith” defence, with the “bad faith” defence in between.
The Dictionary Definition Defence
Dawkins pulled this shit immediately when he was called out for using racialized language, and so do his admirers. Here’s a run down of exactly what the problem is with that, which I wrote about at length the last time someone pulled this shit when I called them out for co-opting the concept of rape to call attention to an event that had nothing to do with sexual violence of any kind:
For the record, a dictionary contains entries that describe the meaning of a word in a reportive fashion, usually accompanied by examples of its use in a sentence (or occasionally two if the word has multiple context-dependent meanings, such as words that mean one thing within a nautical context and another within common use). A dictionary neither contains, nor is in and of itself, a defence for such a gross misappropriation of an event as horrific, traumatizing, and often life-altering as rape. A reportive definition is also a completely different animal than a prescriptive summary. When one looks up the meaning of the word co-opt, for instance, one is informed that this means to absorb, assimilate, take over, or appropriate. For example, one might say “You are co-opting the concept of rape when you use it as a metaphor for not-rape“. Upon learning that this is how co-optation is defined, which is arguably done poorly, one still might not understand that co-opting is harmful, or why it is. A reportive definition, such as what is given for the word co-opt, fully de-contextualizes the meaning of the word and falls short of prescribing its use in various contexts. This is a common shortcoming of reportive definitions, and yet, reportive definitions are all one will find in a dictionary. Some other words such as legal terms are only useful in a single context. As such, these words are not quite fully de-contextualized, but nevertheless a great deal of the meaning is still lost in a mere description of its qualities. When one looks up what the word rape means, which seems like an utterly ridiculous exercise given the meaning of this word in both its common use and in widely recognized criminal law, one is informed in a variety of ways that this means either to sexually violate another person (when used as a verb), or the experience of being sexually violated (when used as a noun). Some dictionary entries may even state that the victim is usually a woman, even though this claim may be subject to limited dispute (see Rape Culture 202 for a more nuanced discussion of why the degree of that dispute ought to be limited). Some dictionary entries contain vague definitions that are actually used as euphemisms for rape, and have been for several centuries. To pretend, for the sake of either argument or ego, that rape either can be or ever has been considered anything other than rape is therefore to display ignorance of unquantifiable proportions (more on where that idea is rooted momentarily).
The dictionary definition defence is a barely veiled attempt at “Well ze didn’t say it in bad faith.” In other words, Captain Keyboard didn’t mean to say “rape” in a way that trivializes the most traumatic experiences of virtually every person who has ever been raped. And in the case of Dawkins, apparently most atheists actually expect me to believe that he didn’t mean to say “barbarians” in a way that cuts deeply into a psychological wound shared by every person of colour on the face of the planet. I call bullshit.
A reportive definition on the word “barbarian” won’t tell you how this word has been used by so-called “civilized” societies to justify invading another people’s ancestral territories with the express intent to commit ethnic cleansing against the indigenous peoples or to conduct eugenics experiments on them. A person need not even look this up in a “history” book, because it’s not even there. But talk to a person of colour who is conscious of where they come from, and you’ll get an earful about it. Or perhaps read this post—a 101-level breakdown I’ve written of the entire concept of colonialism (and all the interdependent oppressions it represents). The post draws upon a well of knowledge I’ve gradually gained from listening to indigenous communities, elders, and radical grassroots, who are sharing their histories as frequently as possible, as a form of resistance to genocide. All that listening has put a lot of written work from feminists of colour I’ve been exposed to, into a concrete context I can literally reach out and touch with my bare hands here (and so can you, unless you’re living on a remote island in the South Pacific, where indigenous peoples are still maintaining their traditional ways despite threats to their way of life from the invasive influence of colonialism — in which case, how the fuck are you accessing the internet and why are you literate in English?) Here’s a quote that puts a context on Dawkins’ word of choice, that you will not find in a dictionary definition:
While animism and ancestral worship became immediately condemned as the empty and uncivilized faith of the “Godless heathen”, “savage”, or “barbarian”, a complex and deeply corrupted narrative centring around the material manifestation of an externalized higher power (rather than the inseparability of the material and spiritual, or indigenous peoples and land) became immediately promoted as the key to salvation and civilization of the colonized peoples.
This ought to sound familiar, because we’re seeing it repeated all over again with the continuing war in the Middle East. To make adequate use of the “hiding under a rock” defence that it was in any way excusable to so intellectually sheltered, you would have to be at least several hundred Dawkins dense.
The “Well-Meaning” or “Didn’t Mean It Like That” Defence
Following faithfully in Dawkins’ footsteps, a fucking lot of atheists are making me angry by trying to persuade me that Dawkins didn’t mean it in a racist way. This, too, is a barely veiled “in bad faith” defence. Some of them even say this shit right after (allegedly) reading the entire length of the post I wrote about Dawkins’ racist choice in language and the diatribe that followed about how It’s Not Racist Because It’s OK If He Says It Because Dictionary Definition And Islam Isn’t A Race—both of which I acknowledged, tore to shreds, and threw out the fucking window from a sixth floor balcony in my writing. I’d have preferred in all honesty to have fired it out of a cannon into the fucking sun, but I see I have a long way to go before this argument experiences the awesome wonders of space travel. I also highly doubt that most of them are getting past the first paragraph of that piece of writing, because it’s pretty fucking hard for me to imagine anybody actually reading its full length and still mysteriously concluding that Dawkins didn’t mean to be racist when he abused a heavily racialized word and then repeatedly defended it. Thus, the declaration that to be this obtuse must be henceforth measured in units of Dawkins.
People of all kinds use the “well-meaning” or “didn’t mean it like that” defence when they get called out on saying or doing something super-shitty or outright bigoted. What this defence means is “I don’t have to apologize because intent is fucking magical!” It means “I don’t have to stop perpetrating the same problem or do anything to take accountability for what I’ve said/done because Intent!” It means “Nobody was hurt because when I said/did that super-shitty or outright bigoted thing, I didn’t mean it in a super-shitty or outright bigoted way, so that’s the exact same as it not even happening except the way I intended it to!” If literal bull shit was worth as much in Canada as it is in some remote tribal societies in Africa (where it is used to build houses), this defence would be the written or spoken deed to the 24K gold equivalent (and I promise you, it would be being laid by a golden goose, too).
If I told a rape joke to an outspoken rape survivor such as myself or a few women who are close to me because of our shared politics, and was immediately called out for trivializing their most traumatic life experiences (not to mention my own), they wouldn’t just smile and go “Oh, OK!” if I said “But I didn’t mean it like that!” And there’s no goddamned reason they should ever be expected to just be OK with it. I’m not OK with it. It’s not OK. The same goes for Dawkins abusing racialized language to deny abuse of people of colour by abusing the same racialized language in the first place. No matter which way he meant to use that particular colonial slur, actual harm against real people was being perpetuated by the very act of abusing it—people who are harmed every day of their lives by this same mindset, simply because they didn’t win the birth lottery—and they even told it straight to him, but he insisted instead that it’s not a problem because he sad so. This is all aside from the fact that the original appearance of the offending word was in the middle of a tweet about elephant poaching in Africa. It doesn’t take an astrophysicist to figure out who is doing the elephant poaching in Africa, and it isn’t the white people buying the poached elephant parts on the black market. How could he possibly have meant anything other than blatant racism?
In Bad Faith
The only possible way an evolutionary biologist, of all the fucking people on the face of the planet, could use the word “barbarian” or “barbaric” is in bad faith — whatever the fuck that’s supposed to mean, especially when it’s coming from an atheist. In the sense that I am using it here, it means that any defence of this decision is disingenuous, no matter how many attempts are made to disguise what is essentially the same lousy defence repeated several times.
Dawkins clearly didn’t care about the impact of his decision because he was only concerned about being caught saying something racist and being called out for it. This isn’t the first time I’ve directly observed the same horse shit coming from him, and I can be certain it won’t be the last. And this thought process is regurgitated in an exact repetition, on the issue of sexism in the atheist/secular community, in CFI & Co.’s open letter.
This shit has got to change already. It’s up to each and every one of you, because Dawkins sure as fuck isn’t stepping up. The emboldened text within the following excerpt, of an actual exchange I was having with an atheist on this very issue, is another perfect example of how not to go about being on the right side of history. I had just finished explaining that every person who is not related by blood to the people whose ancestral territories we are currently occupying, has inherited social privileges as settlers on that land, which were derived from several successions of genocide against the indigenous peoples by colonial state powers. He responded by claiming that I’m attempting to silence him instead of having a productive conversation.
I’m sorry to be the first to tell you that being called on your privileges isn’t “being silenced”. If you don’t know what to say (an apology* is a good start), that’s your problem. Though that may feel bad, it’s not because I’m being oppressive to you. The very concept of silencing is also embedded in structures of systemic inequality, and when someone who is holding privileges doesn’t want to hear what someone who is holding the inequality end of that stick is saying to them, and they do things like blame them for their own oppression just to shut them up, THAT’S called silencing.
Your assumption that you’re the first to tell me anything is about as laughable as the suggestion that I should apologise to you.
Then have a good laugh. Laugh until you cry. Get it out of your system. Then have a good long think about exactly how many other people have explained to you that being called on your privileges isn’t an act of oppression. Then maybe when you’re done that, you can think about how much work you’re investing in denying that any of them have anything valid to say about the subject.
Go right on ahead from there and sign up somewhere to be a part of the men’s rights activism movement. You’re sure as hell not being an ally to anyone else, after all, so I don’t know what better use your energy could be applied to, except for egocentric knee-jerk hate-mongering.
* for the sake of context, the only apology I was suggesting here–and not even directly making a demand for—is for having just finished misgendering me (because they think knowing of my existence through a common contact I haven’t spoken to since early in my transition is equivalent to knowing me well enough to gender me any way they please); although it certainly wouldn’t have hurt for this individual to simply concede that they did not fully appreciate what privilege even meant until I had just finished explaining where theirs (and mine) comes from. I certainly wasn’t suggesting that they owe me an apology for a privilege we share equal parts of, let alone for atrocities we both benefit from that indigenous peoples were subjected to. I hope this fucking dumb-ass is reading this, recognizes it, and has a good long fucking think about it.
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