So I noticed the other day that my blog was one of the nominees for the About.com Readers’s Choice Award for Best Atheist/Agnostic Blogger. “Neat!” I thought. I voted for myself. I started getting ready to post a little post announcing the thing. I noticed that Pharyngula was one of the other nominees, and gave up any hope of winning the damn thing.
Then I noticed something else: All the other nominees were white.
Hm, I thought.
Then I checked out the other Readers’s Choice Awards in the Atheist/ Agnostic categories. And as far as I can tell, all of the nominees in all the categories are white. All the books in the Favorite Atheist/ Agnostic Book category are by white people (white men, actually). None of the ads in the Favorite Atheist/ Agnostic Ad category feature people of color. I can’t tell for sure about Favorite Atheist/ Agnostic Podcast, or Favorite Atheist/ Agnostic to Follow on Twitter — but as far as I can tell, they’re all white people. (If I’m mistaken about that, please correct me.) And none of the groups nominated — Website, Facebook Page, Community — are people-of-color focused.
This is a problem.
We’ve been talking about this a lot lately, but we need to keep talking about it, so I’m going to say it again: We need to stop making the public face of atheism primarily white, and primarily male. If we don’t, we’re going to have a self-perpetuating cycle: people of color and women won’t see themselves represented in the atheist community, and won’t feel as welcomed in the community, and won’t participate in the community, and there won’t be as many strong women and people of color to become visible faces in the community… and around the circle we go. Consciously intervening in this cycle is the only way to stop it. And doing that now, relatively early in the development of our movement, is hugely important: before the self-perpetuating cycle gets set into a deep groove of habits and patterns that are hard to break out of, and before a history of resentment and rancor has time to really set in. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Other social change movements have been bitten on the ass by this issue, again and again, and if they had a time machine and could go back and deal with it in the earlier days of their movements, every one of them that I know of would. We have a unique chance to learn from their mistakes, and to get this right early. (Not early in the movement, period — atheism and atheist activism have been around for a while — but early in the seriously visible, vocal, powerful stage of the movement.) If we deal with it now, we won’t be spending nearly as much energy dealing with it in ten or twenty or fifty years.
For anyone who’s thinking, “Hey, this is just democracy in action, the top vote-getters got the top five nominations, there’s nothing racist about it,” I passionately urge you to read Greg Laden’s excellent piece, How To Make Diversity Happen, on how a selection process with no conscious attempt to be inclusive is almost always going to wind up perpetuating privilege. If you’re thinking that deliberately seeking diversity in a selection process will lower the quality of the candidates, I urge you to read Natalie Reed’s excellent piece, Thoughts from a Diversity Hire, on why diversity itself “is a qualification, a merit and a value.” (As well as on many of the other reasons why this accusation is baloney.) And for anyone who’s thinking that making a conscious effort to seek diversity is the same as advocating “tokenism,’ I urge you to read my own piece on that topics, Tokenism Is Not Inclusivity.
For the record: I’m not mad at Austin Cline, who runs the Agnosticism/ Atheism page at About.com. He’s handling this very well. He’s aware that this is a problem; he’s accepting the criticism about it with good grace and a sincere desire to fix it; he’s soliciting suggestions for how it can be fixed. That’s exactly what good people are supposed to do when something like this happens. (And on a purely practical, Macchiavellian level: That’s how you make something like this go away relatively quickly, instead of having it turn into a firestorm that eats the Internet for a week.)
But I’m just not comfortable being part of this. So please don’t vote for me. If I’m nominated again next year, and if the nominating process gets repaired in a way that makes it more inclusive, then knock yourself out. I will be happily trounced by Pharyngula at that time. But not this year. I’m pulling a Dillahunty. I’ve been nominated, but I will not run: if elected, I will not serve.