Race and Inclusivity — A To-Do List


Atheist A scarlet letter black backgroundIf we want the atheist/ skeptical communities to be more inclusive and more welcoming to people of color — what, specifically, can we do about it?

IMPORTANT NOTE: This post has a different comment policy than my standard one. It’s at the end of the post. Please read it and respect it. Thanks.

At the Secular Student Alliance conference earlier this month, the organizers did something really smart, something I’ve never seen before. At the lunch on Saturday, they had cards on the tables with discussion topics, topics that had been announced ahead of time in the conference packet — so you could pick which table to sit on, based on what you wanted to talk about. Not all the tables stuck to their topic… but ours did, and I’m really glad we did, and I want to report on the conversation.

I sat at the “Diversity — Minorities” table. And we had an excellent conversation. We talked about how, as difficult and painful as our community’s conversations about gender and sexism have been, at least we’ve been having them — in a way that we haven’t been, nearly as much, about race. The community has done a lot more work on gender diversity than we have on racial diversity, and we’re a lot further along in making practical progress. We talked at this lunch about some of the reasons this might be. (Some ideas floated: Our society is often racially segregated, and white people can ignore race in a way that men can’t ignore gender. Also, liberals and progressives often see race as a minefield, and are often scared to even talk about it for fear of starting a fight, opening old wounds, or saying something stupid.)

We talked about some of the obstacles to increasing racial diversity and making people of color feel more welcomed in the atheist movement. And we talked about what specific, practical action items people could take — individuals, local groups, national organizations, thought leaders, etc. — to improve this situation. I wanted to share that list, and talk about it, and solicit other ideas.

Here’s the list of action items we came up with:

* Speakers — invite more people of color as speakers, at conferences and for individual speaking events. (Here’s a list of prominent atheists of color, many of whom do public speaking. The list also includes organizations of atheists of color, some of whom have speaker’s bureaus or can put you in touch with speakers.)
* Don’t be afraid to talk about race. (This one is HUGE.)
* Do joint events with groups/ organizations of people of color. (Examples: speakers or discussions groups on the history of freethought among African-Americans, or the golden age of science in the Arab world.)
* Support appropriate events hosted by groups of people of color, such as service projects. Don’t just ask them to co-sponsor your events — ask them what events of theirs they’d like your support for.
* Don’t glom onto people of color when they show up at your group or event. (People of color sometimes say that, when they show up at all- or mostly-white atheist groups or events, they’re swarmed by overly friendly people who are SO DELIGHTED that a non-white person has shown up, in a way that’s overwhelming, and that’s clearly directed at their race. Don’t do this.)
* Don’t expect individual people of color to speak for their entire race.
* Listen to people of color — actively.
* Get your “Race and Racism 101″ on Google or at the library. Don’t expect people of color who come to your group or event to bring you up to speed.
* If someone calls you on your stuff — apologize.
* If someone calls you on your stuff, and you don’t agree — don’t immediately get defensive. Think about it, ask questions, take some time before you respond. “I’m not sure I agree, but I thank you for bringing it up, I need to think about this” can be your best friend.
* Don’t assume people of color are religious.
* Co-protesting – show up at protests about racism, and about issues that are strongly affected by race, such as economic justice or the drug war.

Thoughts?

COMMENT POLICY FOR THIS THREAD: This conversation is for people who already agree that increasing racial diversity is important to the atheist community and the atheist movement, and who think positive action should be taken to improve the situation, and who want to discuss how to go about that. If you want to debate this core proposition — if, for instance, you think the atheist movement should be entirely race-blind, and that paying any attention at all to race and racism is itself racist — this comment thread is not the place. Read these two pieces first: Getting It Right Early: Why Atheists Need to Act Now on Gender and Race, and Race, Gender, and Atheism, Part 2: What We Need To Do — And Why. Actually read them. If, after reading them, you still think we can and should ignore race and racial diversity, please feel free to debate that question on those posts. This is not the place for that debate. Attempts to derail this conversation, away from what the problems are and we can do about them and into whether this is even a problem and whether we should be doing anything, will be met with warnings, disemvoweling, banning, or any/all of the above. Thank you.

Comments

  1. Janee says

    I don’t think I have anything to add, but I think all of your points are phenomenal; especially more PoC as speakers.

  2. says

    I have a suggestion, based on an event that actually happened in my local community:

    People can stop referring to the only person of colour we all share in common, by hir racial identity, even when they aren’t even in the room, and they have so many other features that make them an outstanding individual.

    Oh yeah. And they can actually take a hint from hir when ze says something like “Congratulations, you found your inner white person!”

  3. says

    Your list seems fairly complete to me. I would only add that when you invite PoC as speakers, don’t only ask them or expect them to talk about race, racism or the PoC perspective on whatever.

    By the way, I have to say I love that comment policy.

  4. says

    I would put points #7 and #8 up there BEFORE “don’t be afraid to talk about race”. If you talk about it, but you haven’t bothered to learm about it first, you’re going to alienate and exasperate any PoC in the room.

  5. ashleyjones says

    Growing up as a black kid in St. Louis I didn’t even know that not believing in god was a real option. The church and religious influences where everywhere (churches sponsor or provide many community outreach programs that meet unique community needs). My day care was religious, my aunt’s substance abuse cessation program was church sponsored, and much of one of my classmate’s food came from food drives. I think if secular organizations stepped up and offered some of the services that local black communities need that might be a big help to increasing both secular visibility and the idea that secularism can be a positive force in the community.

    Once secularists are seen as a positive force maybe secularism will be seen as a more viable choice. Right now, with churches being so tied to the black community leaving the church feels almost like leaving the community.

  6. says

    I think hosting discussions and recommending materials (books, films, etc.) about the history and historically situated present of racial concepts and racist ‘science’ (and the suppression of challenges and antiracist science) would be helpful – putting unexamined beliefs and attitudes in the historical spotlight. Not as stupid debates or one person subjected to a hostile environment, of course, but treated with the same respect we treat other scholarly work.

    I’m not sure, though, how people feel about this. I’m for it in terms of gender, but I doubt I’d be comfortable with it as one of the only women in the room. Maybe better for the blogs…?

  7. Rahn says

    The first thing you can do is stop treating any person of color as if they need special treatment to begin with. Begin with the idea that all people should be treated equally without regard to race and you’ll be ahead of the game.

    The question you are asking sets up any person of color as different from you, that somehow you think they must think differently, that their needs are different and therefore you must change what you are doing to cater to those needs, those special needs.

    When I read that you want to help co-protect at events such as economic justice or drugs, because obviously those are the kinds of events that you think you’ll find most people of color, I almost lost my damn mind. Like WTF ?

    I realize you want to organize atheists into a political force and you want to reach out to a more diverse community. I stopped going to my local atheist group because of the overt racism. The turnouts had been quite low in the past 6 months and they couldn’t figure out why. Well it’s because the group contained racists.

    Trim your ranks of the racist crap and you might have a chance.

  8. Greta Christina says

    The first thing you can do is stop treating any person of color as if they need special treatment to begin with. Begin with the idea that all people should be treated equally without regard to race and you’ll be ahead of the game.

    Rahn @ #8: This is your only warning. I specifically said, in the comment policy for this post, that debates about whether we should even be taking any action at all on this issue or whether instead we should just be race-blind and not pay attention to race are not welcome in this thread. Period. If you want to argue that point, go read this post, and its follow-up. If after reading those posts, you still want to argue that point — argue it in one of those posts. Further attempts to derail this conversation will result in you being banned. Thank you.

  9. says

    Something important to remember is class differences in relation to race issues. We non-white folks are already often economically separated from white people, and that’s also reflected in our educational opportunities. That doesn’t invalidate the level of eloquence or experience that a person of color may be able to contribute, but that becomes difficult if an organization trends towards academics and socially/politically connected people.

  10. Pierce R. Butler says

    A recent “Harper’s Index” (as reprinted in Funny Times, without the references) threw out these numbers:

    Percentage of African Americans who believe in God: 80
    Of Jewish Americans: 27

    Contemplating this at the last meeting of our local Humanist Society (sfaict, 19 of 19 were white goyim, though we usually have a few Hispanics & Asians) reminded me that we’re missing out on a lot of outreach opportunities.

    We try to be friendly-but-not-gushy with new faces, but the return rate seems pretty low. I suspect much of our particular problem has to do with most of us being over-50s, and awkward with whippersnappers; have not detected overt or hidden racism (but then, a honko-American’s racedar could miss a lot).

    Dear Abby, what are we doing wrong?

  11. John Horstman says

    Listen to people of color — actively.

    I’m under the impression (I’m going to personalize this because I want to avoid Whitesplaining) that this one is HUGE. I’ve found that the ‘STFU and listen’ strategy can create space for voices that might otherwise be marginalized and ignored, and also be extremely personally informative. Privilege means, in part, that we’re not aware of the struggles of people not like us, and the best way I’ve found to find out about them is to listen to (and read, etc.) as many narratives from dissimilar people as possible.

  12. smrnda says

    Part of the problem is that people’s social circles are rarely integrated – residential segregation is still pretty pervasive in the United States. White people often don’t handle interactions with people of color very well – it often jumps to a cultural show and tell that makes people feel awkward and on the spot.

    Perhaps the biggest thing that would help is to make one’s life more integrated, though it’s easier said than done. You can find community or volunteer organizations that tend to be fairly diverse, but even that can be a rare find.

  13. Jason says

    I agree with the majority of these. The two I have qualms with…

    * Don’t glom onto people of color when they show up at your group or event. (People of color sometimes say that, when they show up at all- or mostly-white atheist groups or events, they’re swarmed by overly friendly people who are SO DELIGHTED that a non-white person has shown up, in a way that’s overwhelming, and that’s clearly directed at their race. Don’t do this.)

    I agree with this point, but it seems really hard to avoid from my perspective. I know I’m guilty of this from time to time, but I am because I’m very excited when diversity occurs. I am happy that there is a minority in attendance, and in my over-zealousness, I feel like I sometimes make people uncomfortable. I wonder how I can be welcoming without doing this. I would like some suggestions.

    * Co-protesting – show up at protests about racism, and about issues that are strongly affected by race, such as economic justice or the drug war.

    I agree with part of this. Skeptics can be involved in things that don’t have to do with skepticism as people, but I don’t think it’s appropriate to say “I’m involved in this protest for economic justice as a skeptic.” When values come into play like that, skepticism goes out the window.

    Skepticism should be pointing out errors in critical thought as they relate to feminism and racism. We can support equality movements by blasting down bad science and bad arguments which support discrimination, etc. But there’s a point where we stop acting as skeptics and start being humanists in this debate — which is a good thing to do — but I think the line needs to be clearly marked.

  14. Rahn says

    Ok, I do agree that increasing racial diversity is important to the atheist community and the atheist movement, and I think positive action can be taken to improve the situation.

    I won’t argue any of my earlier points, nor do I want to derail the conversation. Instead I will participate and avoid my initial reactions when I first read this.

    These are my suggestions for improving community relations, which in turn will help to get people to see the secular community as people who are already their neighbors.

    1. Plan community projects with local church leaders.
    When you work along side someone, you gain a respect for that person’s values.

    2. Have a get together that involves each person bringing a homemade dish.
    When people feel a sense of family, they are more likely to listen on a full stomach, than an empty one.

    3. Have a raffle, a car wash, a bake sale, garage sales with the purpose of raising money for a secular charity.

    4. Plan fun events, a neighborhood carnival with science based games of chance. Include information about science camps that will teach kids how to use a microscope.
    Get kids thinking, wanting to learn more about science and their parents would be more willing to send that child to a science camp for a week.

    5. Lastly – be genuine. If you build bridges, people will use them.

  15. says

    *stands up and cheers*

    Yes, these are fantastic suggestions! An open and honest discussion is LONG overdue, and I applaud the steps toward finally having the discussion.

    A question about having a frank discussion about the reality of white privilege alongside not being afraid of talking about race is floating in my thoughts, but I am not certain exactly how to pose it, or if it is helpful or useful.

  16. MroyalT says

    I am with Crommunist… white people need to educate themselves first. I Am tired of hearing blatantly racist sht from white people and then me taking the time out of my day to educate them on racism – a subject in which they will get defensive and stupid about. More often than not… I will just leave the room. I got enough problems with racism without having to point out every time a privileged person is being ad dimwit. If you guys want to talk about race.. educate yourselves first. We do not need to go over tired arguments.. over.. and over.. and over again. FFS.

    Modern racism.. pisses me the fck off. In particular because it is so hard to spot for the privileged folks who have not taken the time out their day to educate themselves a bit. I love FTB.. but only because they are not like a lot of the stupid privileged atheist community that constantly fcks up race and gender issues. FTB is my only safe heaven – it is sad, there should be more. Crommunist is like one of the two blogs that actually tackle the issues that pertain to me… the rest… well… the lack of racial outreach is detectable – trivially so. At least I know you guys are trying, so that is good.

    Sometimes I want the white folks to be “afraid” to talk about racism… because at least I know they realize it is a sensitive topic. It is a difficult issue to deal with and sensitivity is often deserved but never granted – especially not by the skeptic community (these guys are good at science.. but they are social science morons) I often find the more brazen white folk that talk about racism.. tend to be the most racist.

    In fact a negative consequence of this “do not be afraid to talk about race” idea.. is that it often puts privileged people in general on the defensive. They think that this gives them leeway to say whatever they want and not be called out on it. Fact is that yes.. we want to hear your honest opinions… but a lot of you people have to realize that some of your honest opinions stem from ignorance and racism, and a lot of those honest opinions are hurtful and frustrating. So share your honest opinions, we want that.. but then we get to be honest with you. We get to tell you when you just said something so stupid that it just set us off…

    The idea that many do not get is that honesty is a two way street, you can not expect to share your honest thoughts and then restrict our honest anger when you say something dumb.. because it makes you uncomfortable. Sometimes a white persons honest opinions make me uncomfortable – I should be able to tell them honestly – “that is racist”.. but what I usually get is defensive BS… where they just say “that is just my honest opinion, why are you so angry!” It is like.. duh… racism makes me angry fool, your racism pisses me off!

    So this whole “do not be afraid to talk about race” thing.. puts me on edge. As a person who constantly talks about modern racism… I see way too much of this line of thinking leading to privileged people saying blatantly bad stuff and then getting offended when it is called out on. That is just me though.. and a lot of the talks I have had about racism – with the white folk – has just made me bitter. the amount of ignorance that is frequently waved about this topic is mindboggling.. you can tell, instantly tell when a person has not bothered to read one book on racism…. Yet they are so smug to tell you a bunch of ideas they think are not racist – which almost always are.

  17. says

    What Ashley Jones said, and Rahn’s second comment. SO MUCH need for those kinds of direct, useful community-building. I have a few thoughts here, hope they are helpful.

    1. @Denise: well, unpacking white privilege is a good thing to do, but there are a bunch of problems with it as a 101 panel. One, it can’t be done in one discussion, it takes a long time to even get a handle on how to educate oneself. Two, people of color will likely be tired of 101-level discussions. Third, and most importantly, such discussions will be most likely to get white people talking a lot compared to people of color.

    2. @Jason: if you’re going to be welcoming to a person who is in a minority in the room, great! Go welcome them. Then, don’t treat them any differently than anyone; if you have something to say to them about skepticism or they want to talk to you, fine, and then when they look like they’re wanting to talk to someone else or be alone, go away. If you aren’t good at social conventions (I’m not, but am improving) with white men they’ll just think you’re awkward, but folks of color and/or women might also be made uncomfortable or irritated.

    3a. White anti-racist folks, we can go beyond active listening: be conscious of panels or conversations where people of color are talking but getting interrupted by white people, or look like they might talk but the white people are jumping in too fast. Doesn’t matter who’s intending to do what, as long as you can see the dynamics are unfair. If it’s happening, get the conversational turn passed deftly (not blatantly) back to the people of color.

    3b. If there’s actually a conflict about race or a racially loaded issue and white folks are using silencing tactics (like this one), just make them stop by any means, but make your part of the conflict as brief as possible. Don’t go explaining all the anti-racism you know, or escalating the conflict; ideally you’ve just made sure anyone who has been treated unfairly has a chance to speak or leave. As someone who has been marginalized on a couple axes, it really helps for allies to step up briefly, but one can’t fix all the __ism on the spot and the person you’re trying to help often does not want the conflict to escalate.

    4. If there aren’t any people of color who want to come talk about race, or even about their lives as skeptics, you can still have a thing showing videos (e.g. “black folks don’t [actually do] do atheism”), literature to hand out, stuff like that, compiled in consultation with anti-racist skeptics. I am just suggesting this idea, not sure without such consultation how to do it well.

  18. Brad says

    From what I’ve read about the subject, the social support stuff like #6 mentioned are a big part of it. I just watched the skepticon 4 videos and one of the speakers (can’t remember who, sorry) said something about women joining churches because they have daycare, and if it’s that easy she wants us to have daycare too. Things like that seem like they intersect pretty well. Should ask someone who knows more though, since if I hadn’t been paying attention to Sikivu Hutchinson or Crommunist I’d be completely ignorant of the social support stuff and think the best thing to do is improve education, which while something we should definitely fight for anyway, is apparently not a diversity panacea.

    Brainstorming:
    Not-theist YMCA?

    Get Neil Degrasse Tyson off the fence?

    Secular “vacation bible school”?

    Is camp quest in a position to do something?

    Another Star Trek with a minority Captain? DS9 was really good.

  19. im says

    One thing I suspect is that it might be best if we are cautious about adhering too closely to established structures of antiracism. We definitely must avoid racism and make this a multiracial movement, but I think that it would definitely help to avoid aligning atheism and skepticism too closely with any one established antiracist philosophy, at least at first.

  20. says

    Well, racism itself and the social oppression it entails is a legitimate topic for skeptics to debunk. But there is a huge difference between white people talking about it and PoC expressing how it happens to them.

  21. says

    ashleyjones, I loved your post, and found it incredibly insightful.

    “I think if secular organizations stepped up and offered some of the services that local black communities need that might be a big help to increasing both secular visibility and the idea that secularism can be a positive force in the community.”

    This seems instantly like an idea with enormous potential. One thing worries me, though, and it’s this: church groups are typically rooted within local communities, and get their members, their adminsitrators, their clergy, and their funding, from the community itself. There are exceptions to this, like the LDS church and the Catholic church, but by and large, that’s the deal. On the other hand, it seems like, because of the relative scarceness of open atheists, and due to atheism’s growth over the internet, most atheist organizations with the resources to host these kinds of events tend to be national, or even international groups.

    Given this, I wonder if national groups holding events in individual communities might not come off as…I’m not sure what the exact word is. Imperialistic? Missionary? Meddling? Astro-turf?

    I guess what I’m asking is, do you think these efforts should be carried out by what local groups we do have, to the extent that they’re able? Or do you think there’s a way for national, large-scale groups to pull these sorts of things off without seeming foreign and artificial?

  22. hunterknight says

    I completely agree with everything you said in the article, but I’m really here for advice. I live in a small Alabamian town, my parents are extremely religous, and I’m only thirteen so I still rely completely on my parents so the more I stray from religion the more they force me into it. I’ve only shared my beliefs with my closest friend who also shares these beleifs.I am to afraid to share my beleifs because in the area I live people who differ in beliefs are often bullied both physically and mentally,but what makes matters worse is my parents are members of the Church of Christ some of the more extreme and stricter Christians. Some of the branches of the Church of Christ are often even viewed as cults, but while my mother is a Christian she just follows along with the whole Church of Crist bit because her husband does. I long to help your cause, but again I’m only 13 although I can help spread the word through the youth I could really use advice from you Greta.

  23. Gregory in Seattle says

    What Deen #3 said: “I would only add that when you invite PoC as speakers, don’t only ask them or expect them to talk about race, racism or the PoC perspective on whatever.”

    It is important to talk about racism and address how to become more inclusive. If a speaker wants to bring up race, that’s fine. It is also a positive statement in and of itself for a PoC just to speak about being an atheist, or a scientist, or an accountant, or an author.

  24. Azkyroth, Former Growing Toaster Oven says

    Would having local skeptics groups make an effort to donate to groups like the NAACP be useful? (Is the NAACP a group one can just donate to? Why don’t I know this? x.x)

  25. Sara K. says

    First of all:

    I am white. If I say something racist, please call me out on it.

    I think most of these suggestions are good.

    I think we could also try to set up an initiative to promote new voices of color. Yes, we need to support voices of color which already exist (by inviting them as speakers, buying their books, etc) … and we can also focus on fostering new voices. For example, we could create a program for new bloggers of color, by pairing them with a mentor, to increase the number of atheist bloggers of color. I know that there have been programs like this in other communities to promote under-represented voices, though I don’t remember the details. However, I think it would be important to make sure that the people in change of such a project are people of color themselves – otherwise, it could turn into white people policing what people of color can say.

    Also, most of the suggestions so far seem to focus on black people. Thinking about black people is good … and thinking about other people of color is good too. For example, since moving to Taiwan, I’ve noticed how the American atheist community is largely focused on Abrahamic religions. This is logical since the Abrahamic religions are the dominant set of religions in the United States (and the world overall) … but this is not going to bring in people from non-Abrahamic religions. While I would say that Taoism/Buddhism is overall much less harmful than the Abrahamic religions, the harm those religions cause is above zero. And even Christianity affects people differently in Taiwan than in the United States. I do not know much about Christianity among Asian-Americans, but I strongly suspect if affects the Asian-American community differently than the black community or the white community. So I would definitely suggest doing research on how religion, Abrahamic and non-Abrahamic, affects the Asian-American community would be a step towards being more inclusive towards Asian-Americans.

    Of course, not all people who follow Taoism/Buddhism are people of color. I have Buddhists right in my own family, and I think the harm Buddhism causes them is … above zero.

  26. says

    I like the idea of inviting more ‘people of colour’ to speak at established secular events to share our experiences, but I think there is also need for more of the atheist/ skeptic events to be held in countries or communities where these minority racial groups are present in greater numbers. We need to try to bring the ‘mountain to Mohammad’ as well.

    The cost and logistics to travel to the big events will tend to be prohibitive for many minority atheists. I am from Barbados now liiving in Canada and am hoping that one day we can have an event in the Caribbean.
    In that region we have a large Afro and Indo population and are discovering slowly that there are quite a few atheists and agnostics among us. Small meet ups are happening but there is still a disconnect with the international atheist community which is seen as generally non black.

    The opportunity to have some of the leading international atheists (minorities and non minorities) down there to interact with these groups will make a huge difference to attitude and understanding of atheists on both sides. It is important that some of the non minority atheists get to see first hand the religious context that many of us atheists of colour are born into. From my discussions with atheists that I meet here in Canada, I realize it is very difficult to understand what it’s like to grow up with religion in EVERYTHING you do. Without that experience it is easy to dismiss the black community as just under educated and not ‘getting it’ and that can create barriers and result in a backlash from people on our side.

    I think for non minority atheists in North America, getting to see us in our ‘natural’ habitats will help. But of course for this to happen we will need funding and logistical support from established groups. I know Organisations such as AAI and CFI are willing to support such efforts, but it is important that emphasis on these activities are maintained and extended. Not just in the context of the Caribbean, but for all other regions of the world where there are significant populations of the racial minorities. That would do a lot to make us feel that we are all part of this movement.

    Apart from more diversity in locations of events, I think there is a lot that can be gained from people not in a racial minority group, taking time to educate themselves on some of the issues pertinent to the black experience, especially as it relates to religion. I always feel a connection to people who are part of other racial groups, that have taken the time to learn a bit about where I am coming from. In situations like that, even if we disagree it makes for a positive dialogue and the opportunity for learning on both sides.

    Having said all this, I have to comment that my experience of being one of the few atheists of colour in groups that I am a part of has been positive and I have not felt that people are awkward in my presence because of the race difference. I am happy and comfortable talking about race if it comes up, but don’t jump to it all the time. I think that makes the whole thing easier. So, all in all I think that we are moving in the right direction even though there is obviously considerable work still to be done.

  27. says

    I LOVE the idea of topic tables!

    anyway, to the point:
    PZ recently made a post supporting the Kasese Humanist Primary School in Uganda. Which is a great project. And one that can be used as an example for the US, which also suffers from some incredibly shitty (social) infrastructure. Humanist/atheist/skeptical programs for disadvantaged children (scholarships for Camp Quest?), learning and social support programs for adults, etc. would allow the ahteist/skeptic movement to create a non-religious alternative, and thus a)make the atheists into real people in the real world, and b)make people less dependent on the religion-based infrastructure in many communities.

    sine we have none of that, we’d have to start small. Sponsorships for underprivileged kids for Camp Quest; organizations that sponsor field-trips to museums, planetaria, etc. for children in impoverished school districts; sponsorships to atheist/skeptical conferences for minority attendees, similar to what Skepchicks and Skeptical Woman are doing for women; etc.

    I don’t think it’s appropriate to say “I’m involved in this protest for economic justice as a skeptic.” When values come into play like that, skepticism goes out the window.

    my values are based on what the research says will make life better for people. as such, I’m absolutely a “skeptic for social justice”. And in fact having more skeptics for social justice, and being willing to face that injustice is not a matter of personal preference is one of the main ways in which we can attract people who have seriously bigger problems in their lives than whether magic sky-fairies and UFOs exist or not.

    But there’s a point where we stop acting as skeptics and start being humanists in this debate — which is a good thing to do — but I think the line needs to be clearly marked.

    venn diagrams. I can be both a humanist and a skeptic, simultaneously. and the more people are, the more diversity we’ll have.

  28. ImRike says

    I wonder if it might not be a good idea to ask the PoC that already belong to our associations on how best to proceed? How about an Atheist PoC conference with as many colored and hispanic speakers we could find? No, the attendance wouldn’t be just for PoC, but the subjects could include most of the things mentioned in this blog: Diversity – Minorities; Race and Inclusivity; Modern Racism, etc. Even if it was a small conference, it would be a start and we would be able to learn from those people who know best what might be needed to make an impact in their communities.

  29. says

    oh, d’oh. I see ashleyjones and others already suggested some things like what I had in mind :-p

    apparently everyone knows the secular community needs to get off their butt and become part of the supportive community. now someone needs to go out and actually do it

  30. Phil says

    Don’t assume anything when you meet a person of color.
    I am Asian and here’s a big but….Asians are the largest non believer group but….where I live the majority of the Asians are Korean and they are Christians. Of which I am neither. So just approach a person of color and ask open ended questions without making any pre judgements at all.

  31. says

    one of the aspects that I don’t really know how to get addressed, but that probably needs to, is for “strategies” for remaining part of a minority-culture without needing to share the religion that is central to such a culture. I wrote about this on my blog when I was contemplating intersectional atheism, and I wrote then that when you exist a majority culture’s religion, it’s not too difficult to remain part of the culture. ex-christians in christian-dominant countries can continue celebrating christmas and easter since these have been largely secularized (trees and gifts from santa for the former; chocolate and the easterbunny for the latter); but when you start disbelieving a religion from a minority culture, that risks making it difficult to participate in the culture.

    There are people who’ve figured out how to make this happen, but I don’t think their stories are widely enough shared. so if/when they volunteer them, we’d really need to take the task of amplifying the signal very seriously.

  32. ashleyjones says

    @24 C. Mason Taylor, I could see how a national organization coming into an individual community might be seen as meddlesome initially. But I think that after a while any organization that’s actively involved in individual communities and having a positive influence is going to gain some support among the people.

    I think if there are local groups that can make efforts to carry out some of the changes then they should be the first ones to try to reach the community. I think for some people it might be easier to accept help from and trust the opinions of people from the same community because they are perceived as being more able to relate to their own experiences and less likely to have ulterior motives for wanting to distance black people from the church.

    Obviously not every community has a local group and even in the ones that do, like you said, not many of them would have the resources to pull it off. I think if that’s the case then a national or international group should probably start with making steps to becoming part of the local community. Perhaps they could start by co-sponsoring events with organizations without a professed religious mission that are providing services or with churches that are fairly benign while also slowly work towards eventually hosting purely secular events/programs in the future.

    I hope that was clear; its 2am right now so this might not be as coherent as I think it is.

  33. Bjarte Foshaug says

    …when you invite PoC as speakers, don’t only ask them or expect them to talk about race, racism or the PoC perspective on whatever.

    This.

    Also, avoid “tokenism”, i.e. bringing in a non-white face as a symbolic gesture to let yourself off the hook while maintaining the status quo. Finally, as Greta suggested, don’t overcompensate or try too hard (“swarmed by overly friendly people who are SO DELIGHTED that a non-white person has shown up”). It’s really transparent, and creepy as hell.

  34. Pen says

    1. I would add remember that PoC come from very different backgrounds and societies, not just across different races but within the same race and sometimes within the same society. And this does also aim to be an international movement, yes? So all bets are off on the stereotyping and also on what is or isn’t a sensitive issue or use of language or comfortable level of discussion of race.

    2. I’ve learned a bit of sensitivity around American atheists who come from deeply religious backgrounds though I have no personal experience of that, and I would guess a little sensitivity around the strength of religion in other people’s communities, families and pasts wouldn’t go amiss – again with no expectation that everyone will feel the same way about things.

    PS. I welcome your comment policy and wish it was more common for people to set up policies that insist commentors stay on topic.

  35. naath says

    One thing I’ve heard from non-Christian religious people and non-religious people raised in non-Christian religions is that a lot of the time atheists/secularists come across as basically lapsed members of the Church of England. A general feeling that “cultural Christianity” is much more acceptably “secular” than, say, cultural Judaism is; that our “secular” moral and legal frameworks are rooted deep in Christian traditions and may seem much less religion-independent to someone who didn’t start out with a Christian background.

    I think we need to be more accepting of ethical frameworks, cultural practices, etc etc that come from non-Christian religious traditions *and* more clear about the way that ex-Christian atheists are still hugely influenced by Christian frameworks and practices.

  36. Sophia, Michelin-starred General of the First Mediterranean Iron Chef Batallion says

    As a poor Aussie mum-type I doubt I’ll ever get to go to one of these conventions, but heck, all this stuff applies everywhere.

    For my own benefit, I’ll add that we need to be aware of our reactions when we encounter persons of colour. I know that I react differently when I encounter PoC, and I’m trying to simply be aware of it right now and just focus on telling myself that I need to just stop and act normal – people are people.
    I also note that a lot of people say they don’t react differently at all, but when asked questions that only mention race offhand or stereotypes, they’ll admit to thinking differently about the individuals mentioned. Race-blindness – it’s not a thing. Well, not in my society anyway!

    I’ve noticed a bit of an improvement, but I often need to stop myself overreacting with niceness and beamy smiles at PoC I happen by, because I have a stupid personal need to overcompensate for society, and I realise that that doesn’t help AT ALL.

    I dunno, it’s kinda my thing – I believe that if people are aware of their actions, reactions and behaviour (and privileges), they’re in a much better position to move things forward. :)

  37. Sarah says

    ” * If someone calls you on your stuff — apologize.
    * If someone calls you on your stuff, and you don’t agree — don’t immediately get defensive. Think about it, ask questions, take some time before you respond. “I’m not sure I agree, but I thank you for bringing it up, I need to think about this” can be your best friend.”

    Exactly! Just like if a theist calls you on your stuff – apologise. Don’t get defensive. Think about it, ask questions, take some time before you respond: “I’m not sure I agree, but I think you for bringing it up, I need to think about this” can be your best friend.

    Particularly if they’re a PoC and religious. After all, tone is very important.

  38. says

    Exactly! Just like if a theist calls you on your stuff – apologise.

    theists are not a minority, roughly speaking. we are.

    however, if you grossly misrepresent a minority religion, yeah, it would likely be appropriate to accept when you get corrected.

  39. says

    Back in undergrad, I was working the Purdue Non-Theist booth at an activity fair on campus one day when a young, black man stopped by. He was polite, smiling but quiet and read the literature we had but didn’t really engage with any of us. Finally he said, “Thank you for having a group like this. I think it’s great what you guys are doing.”

    We invited him to sign our email listing sheet so we could email him with group updates, but he refused and said, “My family would kill me if they knew I was… y’know. Like you.”

    We laughed, but he just shook his head and said, “No. Really.”

    I think understanding cultural differences and the difficulty some PoC have in abandoning their friends, family and communities is incredibly important. Signing a sheet that names you an atheist to your peers was something that required no thought at all for a bunch of white kids, but for this young man it had the potential to cause him real harm.

  40. smhll says

    1. @Denise: well, unpacking white privilege is a good thing to do, but there are a bunch of problems with it as a 101 panel. One, it can’t be done in one discussion, it takes a long time to even get a handle on how to educate oneself. Two, people of color will likely be tired of 101-level discussions. Third, and most importantly, such discussions will be most likely to get white people talking a lot compared to people of color.

    I’d like to use this as a jumping off point.

    I think we could have discussion sessions that are aimed at getting white people to comprehend racial issues better. Instead of having one or a handful of very patient speakers of color and flying them around and exhausting them, I think we could use technology. Of course, being old, I’m thinking more like film strips than holograms. But it is possible to have a recording of someone who knows a lot about racial issues in life and in the social sciences. It is then possible to get a mostly or all white room of interested atheists/skeptics to go through the presentation line by line and discuss it. Wrestle with our prejudices. Admit our blind spots. Balk. Beat our own heads on the desks. Try bad analogies.

    I’m pretty ignorant about racial issues and group debates and combining the two, so I’m sure my plan has some terrible flaws. What I am trying to do is amplify the signal from people of color in our community, so that the message can be absorbed more than one person at a time. I’m also maybe looking for well-informed and thick skinned white folks to moderate the discussion; to listen to some of the stupid shit that comes up and counter it effectively. (Changing minds is hard work and since we have a lot of white people in the movement, they/we need to be some of the people making the effort.) (I’m afraid I sound paternalistic. I’m trying to imagine popping the boils of racism without making the people most oppressed by racism see all of the puss that oozes out.)

  41. Sarah says

    “theists are not a minority, roughly speaking. we are. however, if you grossly misrepresent a minority religion, yeah, it would likely be appropriate to accept when you get corrected.”

    So it’s only a bad thing if you grossly misrepresent a minority religion? Thank the Magical Sky Fairy of Logic for that! I’ve always known Christians invented heroin to take out Saddam Hussein. And let me tell you about white people… They’re all made of straw for starters, not metaphorically. Literally. And they started aids.

    I’ve changed my mind. This doesn’t make sense any more.

  42. says

    Sarah @ #44;

    You sure seem like you’re trolling, but I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt.

    It is *possible* for an overwhelming majority religion to be misrepresented, but it’s extraordinarily unlikely in any given case. Everybody here knows full well that your bizarre, random nonsense characterizations of Christians and while folks are sarcasm, because Christianity is considered the “default” religious status with which our culture is saturated, just like the “default” racial status is assumed to be white.

    It should be painfully obvious why deliberate or genuinely ignorant misrepresentation of a minority religious status or race or sexual orientation or etc., etc., etc. is far more a danger than misrepresentation of an overwhelmingly powerful majority.

  43. says

    It’s quite possible to do some self educating by picking up books. There have been various ethnic study courses for 20 years, and quite probably longer. There should be quite a body of work. There is also quite a bit to find on the internet.

  44. says

    Sarah @ #40 and #44: This is your warning. Any further attempts to derail this conversation away from the stated topic will result in you being banned. Thank you.

  45. scrutationaryarchivist says

    One need not look too far to find atheists of color, such as FTB’s own Sikivu Hutchinson. What kinds of ideas about atheist inclusivity can be learned from her books about African-American atheists? (I haven’t read them yet, so I’m asking those of you who have.)

    For those looking for “Race and Racism 101″, here are some suggestions.

    The blog “Silver Goggles”, by Jaymee Goh, focuses on issues of race, representation, and diversity in the Steampunk subculture. But I think atheists would *also* benefit from the links on her page titled “Read These Before Engaging”.
    http://silver-goggles.blogspot.com/p/reading-list-101-201-301-secondary.html These links are very web- and blog-based, and some are more about racism in science fiction literature, but the list is still worthwhile for anyone.

    (Also, the link to Peggy McIntosh’s “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” is broken, but it’s easy to find with a search engine. You should read it.)

    Meanwhile, people may also be interested in reading Tim Wise’s FAQ about what racism is, here: http://www.timwise.org/f-a-q-s/ . He also has a list of recommended books at http://www.timwise.org/reading-list/ .

  46. Quinapalus says

    Instead of having one or a handful of very patient speakers of color and flying them around and exhausting them, I think we could use technology.

    smhll @ 43, I give you: Jay Smooth.

  47. Mike Nam says

    DON’T ask me where I’m from (at least, not in those words) if it’s to elicit my ethnic heritage. I’ll always reply with “New Jersey”. If you’re asking me what my habitation status is, then better phrasing would be “So, where do you live?” or something along those lines. That is also New Jersey.

    I’m perfectly happy to answer a question about my family background, but the “where are you from” question itself makes me feel like I’m just visiting the United States.

  48. says

    Thanks for posting, Greta, and I like your suggestions.

    Don’t assume people of color are religious.

    This is one I’ve had experience with (not specifically with atheists, but with customers at my job) and it’s really annoying. People will ask where my family is from and will look at my name, and I think it’s usually to determine whether I’m Hindu or Muslim (as those are the two largest religious groups in India). Sometimes, they will just outright ask me if I am Muslim. Some will tell me they are Muslim, too. (To be honest, I find it easier to just say something like “My family is Muslim” and leave it at that, instead of going into a whole discussion, because I’m in the middle of doing my job.)

    This is not to say that I mind someone asking a question about my family or religious beliefs. It’s just that it comes across as odd if that’s the very first question that they ask. When a coworker I’ve been working with a while or a friend (or even someone I’ve been having conversations with and getting to know a little) asks me, I feel like they are just curious. However, if I just met someone (like a customer at my job) and the first question they ask is about where my family is from … it feels odd, because I wonder if they are going to make some conclusion about me based on that. Personally, I’d suggest (@Jason #15 and others who may have the same question) striking up a conversation about whatever other topic. It could be anything: Science, history, what movies you like. I’ve had conversations with friends at school about where our families are from, and it’s totally comfortable for me, because I know they already know me a little and not asking with some ulterior motive.

    Related to what Avicenna wrote in the other thread “Examples of Racism in Atheist/Skeptical Communities?” we can make an effort, when talking about history or scientific discoveries, to include people who were from different places who made important contributions and discoveries. This can be a challenge because, having grown up in the US, I know only of a few (including Avicenna/Ibn Sina and Averroes/Ibn Rushd) but I’m going to try to learn more and read up.

    @Mike Nam (#51): I agree. I do think people are just honestly curious, but it comes out wrong, and that’s annoying. Like you, I just want to say which state I’m from or just “I’m from the US” but I know they’re really asking about where my family is from and/or ethnic heritage.

  49. says

    My two cents for what it’s worth is to be ambitious. The conversation on bigots in our midst has been started and it needs to be had — let’s do this now, in full, and do it right while movement atheism is still young.

    My only critique would be that the list seems oddly focused on conferences, events, and speaking tours. Who is movement atheism? Is just any atheist who is politically motivated to preserve and improve the secular-humanistic ethos we inherited from the Enlightenment? Is it just any atheist? I don’t think it is. I think movement atheism is political, and is comprised of politicized atheists like myself who think the Wall of Separation is being threatened, again.

    Maybe the infrequency of my encounters with libertarian-leaning or racist or sexist atheists is heuristic — I never get to find out if a bigot is an atheist because I won’t have them in my life — but I do suspect there are more minority atheists than we think.

    Publicly calling out bigots in our midst is a good start at proving that as a whole — as a meme/group — movement atheism is dedicated to humanism for all humans, and willing to go to mat for those we can help.

    In that context, I think maybe I begin to understand the strategic utility of focusing on conferences and tours — to spark the conversation and give it some meta fuel to keep it going.

  50. says

    Glad to see the list up and being talked about! Was definitely one of the best lunch conversations I ever had, nice to see it continue openly. Only a couple things I would really try to add:

    *Get educated on race issues as much as you can – what racism is and the actual effects it has on PoC.
    Far too often, if/when the topic of racism comes up in a discussion, ill-informed white people try to assert and interject their notions of how they perceive racism to be and how they think it effects PoC from their experiences while refusing to listen and try to see from a PoC’s perspective. One of my biggest pet peeves is having a white person tell me how my experiences are wrong and I’m wrong simply because they haven’t had them as well. It’s like trying to explain it to a child that just doesn’t think they have to listen or learn.

    *Don’t make assumptions
    That one should be pretty obvious, but it’s not. Even in “more progressive” circles within the atheist community, I still find a few people who assume I’m more fluent in Spanish than English; that ask what area of Mexico my family is from when they find out I’m half Latina (answer – Puerto Rico); and a couple people who’ve tried to wish me a happy Cinco de Mayo because they “thought all latin people celebrate it”. Assumptions are just bad, and as natural as they may be for humans, it’s best to just not vocalize them.

    Other than that, everything is pretty much covered. I LOVE that you’re talking about it opening and getting the dialogue going. I also loved the comment policy.

  51. says

    “Far too often, if/when the topic of racism comes up in a discussion, ill-informed white people try to assert and interject their notions of how they perceive racism to be and how they think it effects PoC from their experiences while refusing to listen and try to see from a PoC’s perspective.”

    ^I definitely agree with you there sarasunshine (I’m Latina of the Mexican variety). One of my biggest pet peeves is people (I get this equally from women and men) who mistake speaking on behalf of people from minority group x with being inclusive. Real inclusivity, imo, must include listening to other peoples’ experiences and letting them frame their own narratives. I think I’m a better expert on my experiences than some one who isn’t me. :P

    Also, even though I’m Mexican I don’t celebrate Cinco de Mayo. That Holiday is not celebrated in Mexico (Unless you are from Puebla), or my community here in the States. I’ve always understood it as more of an American thing, tbh. But if some one likes it, by all means, I say go for it.

  52. Annie says

    If you calculate out the percent of the population who are black folks who identify as atheists or agnostics…

    ((percent of black folks who are ath./ag.)*(population of black folks in the US))/(size of general population)=((.015)*(~30,000,000))/(~300,000,000)=.00015, or .015%

    …and you calculate out the percent of atheists and agnostics who are non-black folks…

    (percent of known total ath./ag.)-(percent who are black)=(15%)-(.015%)=14.98%

    …you get that for every 1 black atheist/agnostic, there are 999 non-black atheists and agnostics. There’s an issue here. I agree in making the movement as welcoming as possible, but we are not creationists. We can’t expect people to drift over to us because we’re “nice”. There is the very real issue of people not being convinced about atheism and agnosticism.

    I’m convinced these efforts at inclusiveness are noble and well-intentioned, and I support them wholeheartedly, but I feel like in all this discourse about how to build diversity we’re forgetting that preliminary step of swaying people so that we have a pool from which to create it. I think one of the things that has distinguished the race discussion from the gender discussion has been that there are a great number of women who are already nonbelievers who would potentially be interested to join. By contrast, because of the complex personal relationship people of color have with the church (an understandable historical one), this doesn’t play out that way in their case.

    I want this movement to be diverse as much as the next (non-MRA-racist-pretentious-asshole) atheist. But sometimes I get the feeling we overlook important parts of the debate.

    Who else came to be an atheist because “atheists were so nice”? Very few. Most of us did it learning the arguments against our previous positions.

    If you take the size of the U.S. (roughly 3.8 million sq. miles) and as a simplifying assumption allow that just 1% is inhabited by people and that black folks are evenly distributed within this land area, you get that roughly 1 atheist/agnostic exists per square mile.

    If my math is reasonable, more really needs to done on the persuasion front before any of these efforts can become maximally effective.

  53. smhll says

    Far too often, if/when the topic of racism comes up in a discussion, ill-informed white people try to assert and interject their notions of how they perceive racism to be and how they think it effects PoC from their experiences while refusing to listen and try to see from a PoC’s perspective. One of my biggest pet peeves is having a white person tell me how my experiences are wrong and I’m wrong simply because they haven’t had them as well. It’s like trying to explain it to a child that just doesn’t think they have to listen or learn.

    Quoted for truth.

    So many atheists, so many people including me tend to think “My considered opinion, (or even my barely considered opinion) is the best damn opinion ever.”

    I would like to understand the Psychological or Sociological basis for this kind of stubborn insistence.

    I think it can be very alienating if someone is insistent about the primacy of their privileged experience. It’s also crappy if “I don’t believe you” is considered a perfectly fine skeptical response to someone who is describing their own experiences. I tend to think that people who highly value skepticism may be not very pleasant to bond with or ally with because of this particular behavior. I’m not sure how distrust could contribute to coalition building.

  54. says

    As a person of colour who is an atheist I have been following this discussion with interest.

    I have never been to an atheist meeting, so I’ve no idea about racism within the atheist community. I do know that,online,I have yet to encounter it. What I have encountered is hostility to atheism within black *communities* (please note the plural) in the US. Some of this is due to pervasive Christian fundamentalism, some because for many black Americans, Africans, and West Indians Christian church membership is integral to community membership and they cannot conceive of an identity that does not include it.

    I teach at an HBCU and I’ve had students who wanted me dismissed when they found out that I was an atheist. I could have done with support and solidarity. I’ve also had students who came out to me as agnostics and atheists, but who would not dare do so publicly.

    There needs to be more inclusiveness, and more willingness to recognise that there are quite a few of us out there who need support and who face conditions that white atheists don’t.

  55. left0ver1under says

    Deen (#3) says:

    Your list seems fairly complete to me. I would only add that when you invite PoC as speakers, don’t only ask them or expect them to talk about race, racism or the PoC perspective on whatever.

    I second this point. I can’t find it to cite it, but I recall a study on media and who talks on certain issues. It reported that when blacks and women commentators appeared on news talk shows, it was near always about “black issues” or “women’s issues”. When the topic was things that effect everybody, almost all the commentators were white. It sends a strong – and negative – message about people when they do this.

  56. njr says

    C. Mason Taylor, #24: “Church groups are typically rooted within local communities, and get their members, their adminsitrators, their clergy, and their funding, from the community itself.”

    hunterknight, #25: “I am to afraid to share my beleifs because in the area I live people who differ in beliefs are often bullied both physically and mentally.”

    Julie, #42: “We invited him to sign our email listing sheet so we could email him with group updates, but he refused and said, ‘My family would kill me if they knew I was… y’know. Like you.’ ”

    fledgist, #59: “I teach at an HBCU and I’ve had students who wanted me dismissed when they found out that I was an atheist. I could have done with support and solidarity.”

    Religious communities readily wield the weapon of alienation against dissenters, especially in isolated communities; an atheist of color faces both a nation that rejects their skin and a community that rejects their beliefs. Moreover, they face them alone, vulnerable, and ripe to be targeted. (See fledgist and Julie, above.)

    This doesn’t get fixed in campuses and conferences; this means street-level organizing *within these communities*. It means SSA chapters within HBCUs–Historically Black Colleges and Universities, in case you didn’t know–and black high schools. It means aggressive organization and advocacy for the secular community within communities of color. (Quick, name a newspaper serving primarily people of color near you. Don’t know? Find out.)

    Boots on the ground and face-to-face is how this gets done. This isn’t an event, but a process, something that can swallow decades with little progress and the odd spectacular reversal. Ask someone who was in the civil rights movement *before* the marches began, and the cameras arrived, when it was just courage in the face of humiliation and worse, with no end in sight. That’s what we face: a task that hard, an adversary that ruthless.

    However, there’s no way around it; until you show up, the atheist of color remains isolated, easy pickings for any who care to make an example of them. And if they manage to escape, to eventually connect with the secular community, they will arrive with this perhaps unsaid question: “Where were you when I needed you?”

    If you don’t have a good answer, then it’s time to get to work.

  57. Chris Hearn says

    Athiest movement? There is an athiest movement? I have never seen athiesm as an organized movement needing any representation or voices. There isn’t an athiest pope. There aren’t athiest imams. There is no athiest leader. To me, it is a diverse world that needs no representation whatsoever by anyone. So, this post kind of caught me off guard. Athiesm is just what it is. There is no conversion process. There is no need to proselytize. Either people are athiests or they aren’t. So, I almost shudder at the idea of athiesm being seen as an organized movement.

Trackbacks

Leave a Reply