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Diversity in the Atheist Movement: Video of my UBC Talk

Greta Video! My talk on “Diversity in the Atheist Movement” at the University of British Columbia was videotaped, and the video is online!

Quick summary of the talk (from the intro):

I don’t think it’s news to anybody that the current atheist movement is largely dominated by white men… especially in positions of visibility and leadership. And I also don’t think it’s news to anybody that many atheists resist seeing this as a problem that we need to take action on. These people aren’t overtly racist or sexist (usually), they’re not saying, “We don’t want women or people of color in our movement.” They just don’t see this as their responsibility, and they don’t see it as particularly important.

So today, I want to talk about why this is important. I want to talk about how, with the best of intentions, both individuals and a movement as a whole can become exclusionary without ever meaning to. I want to talk about why it isn’t enough to just not be overtly racist or sexist, why we have to take positive action to counter this trend. I want to talk about why the atheist movement should make this a priority — for pragmatic reasons as well as ethical ones. And I want to talk about what, specifically, practically, we can do about it.


To find out how movements can become exclusionary even without meaning to, why atheists have to take positive action on diversity, why we need to make it a priority, and what exactly we can do about it, listen to my talk. (Video is embedded after the jump, since posting video before the jump mucks up my archives. You can also see it at the link.) Many, many thanks to the University of British Columbia Freethinkers Club, the Simon Fraser University Skeptics, and the Secular Student Alliance, for making this tour happen. I should have video and/or audio of my other talks from this tour soon. Happy to be back and blogging again!


  1. says

    Very happy that I could make it out to UBC for this talk – though sadly my wife had been sent out of town on business and was unable to attend. It was a great talk, and I suggest that everyone should take a look at this video.
    I would also like to add that it was a pleasure to chat with both Greta and Ingrid in the bar afterwards, and an extra thanks to Ingrid for introducing me to the manhattan!

  2. says

    A good place to start for Canadian Statistics is StatsCan. It’s the Canadian census data.
    PS I hope I got the link working correctly

  3. Rollingforest says
    Here is a study that says that of the people who don’t identify with any religion, 60% of them are male. As has been discussed before, this is because A. men often have higher social standing and thus have a better ability to take the blow of being considered nonreligious, something that is frowned upon in our society and B. because people identify with people like them which causes this initial male majority to be further exaggerated.
    I think the friction over diversity in the atheist community is started partially because those people who want more diversity often start off by saying “we aren’t diverse enough because you all are subconsciously excluding women and minorities.” This causes the white men to bristle because they don’t think that’s true. This could all be avoided by not partitioning out the blame, but instead simply saying “Let’s reach out to women and minorities.” I think everyone would get behind that and work for it.

  4. Nurse Ingrid says

    Andrew, it was a pleasure meeting you as well. And I’m always delighted to find another Manhattan fan!

  5. DavidByron says

    “I want to talk about how, with the best of intentions, both individuals and a movement as a whole can become exclusionary without ever meaning to.”
    I suggest you start with the feminist movement, although of course you’d have to remove the last four words.
    As it is this just comes across as yet more male bashing from a feminist. In other words you appear to be building up resentment and exclusion here. If you think women who are atheists are not doing enough maybe you should ask them why they don’t do more? Instead you blame the nearest man. I’m sure that approach goes over great with other feminists though.

  6. says

    DavidByron: perhaps to you this comes across as ‘yet more male bashing’, but I must say that the audience was about 50% male. Most of them spoke openly and frankly in the question & discussion period afterwards, and I didn’t hear anyone mention anything about male-bashing.
    I would expect that most open-minded atheists who watched the video would agree that the movement needs more representation from women and people of colour. Did you watch the entire talk? Greta covered a number of valid reasons why they could be uncomfortable stepping forward.

  7. Indigo says

    Out of curiosity, DavidByron, what exactly did Greta say that can be constituted as “male-bashing”? I’d like a specific quote here. I was at that talk, and I can’t recall Greta saying “Men suck. Men are personally responsible for all the problems women face. They should all feel ashamed of themselves.” Or anything similar.

  8. Jo says

    OMG! YES! I attend UBC and was SO SORE that I couldn’t be there to see it! You’re one of my most admired women, and I was so upset I couldn’t go.
    I’m so excited to watch this! Perhaps I’ll catch you and Ingrid the next time ’round? :D

  9. says

    As a male of African-American descent, I have been asked what were my thoughts as to why there are so few women and minorities involved in the Atheist/Freethinker/Humanist movement. These are my thoughts…

    I think that the greater a social group’s sense of disenfranchisement in life, the greater it’s need for the comforting opiate of religion and the “happy ending” offered by the belief that things will be better after a person die – a sad concept that gives people the needed emotional crutch to deal with injustices today, because a misguided sense of “fair-play”, demands a redress of grievances tomorrow, (even if you’re dead and it’s too late).
    The corollary is also true. The more education, (and this includes global travel), understanding and control you have over your life and the aspects of reality that matter to you, the less you need, (or want), a divine figure looking over your shoulder, propping you up, protecting you, and certainly not telling you how to think and what to do.
    The various factors above represent probabilities – not absolutes. And they are cumulative. So, if a person is poor, they have a greater chance of being theist then if they were rich. If the person is female the chances go up, and in the West, due to the lack of value imposed upon cultures belonging to those who have “black” or “brown” skin, the probabilities jump further still. Of course, after you factor in the assumed lack of any need or desire to fully educate those “whose real purpose is only to serve”, the odds skyrocket.
    This explains why, (insert disclaimer here!), women are more prone to religious behavior then men, why the poor are more pious then the rich, why Minorities in the Western World are more devote as a group, why non-industrialized tribal cultures are theists of one kind or another, and why education and understanding facilitates the ability to conceptualize new paradigms outside of superstition and discard pithy platitudes that have no grounding in fact, such as, “What goes around, comes around”.
    In the Western world, without the social acceptance, and education necessary to craft your own subjective reality outside of that which is projected upon you by the socio-economic values of the greater society, a person is compelled to seek self-ratification elsewhere. Even if it’s solace within the false embrace of a fantasy. The imagined “need” and “acceptance” of the culturally shared fantasy that is religion, is repleat with both negative reinforcement from outside the cultural group, and positive reinforcement from within. This heightens a perceived need and strengthens an extremely pernicious grip upon the individuals psyche in the classic behaviorist psychology sense of stimuli, response, and constant reinforcement.
    The above generalizations and stereotypes form the basis of my theory explaining the reduced number of white women to their male counterparts, and the almost complete lack of people of color, from either gender, who feel empowered enough to step outside the safety-net of cultural acceptance to identify themselves as Atheists in the Western world. Regretfully, I have no facts or figures to back this up. It is based upon my observations, (being mindful of Schrödinger’s cat), from years of living as a member of different cultures, within various socio-economic strata, and amongst different peoples around the world, tempered by an informal study of human behavior and heaps of anecdotal evidence.

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