Atheists of Color — Updating the List

Please note: This post has a different comment policy than my standard one. Please read the entire piece to the end before commenting. It’s not that long.

A few years ago, I compiled a list of prominent atheists of color, and organizations of atheists of color, here on this blog. I did this for a number of reasons: mostly so that conference organizers, event organizers for local and student groups, anthology editors, bloggers, journalists, and people who are simply participants in the atheist community could easily be made familiar with the work of a wider range of atheists — a range that’s more diverse, and more reflective of the actual makeup of the atheist community. (tl;dr: Conference organizers, you no longer have an excuse. :-) )

The list is now somewhat out of date, and I’d like to update it. Please let me know in the comments if you know any of the following:

People/ organizations who should be on the list but aren’t. IMPORTANT: Please don’t just list their name! I need their name, the URL for their blog/ website if they have one, and a SHORT list of credentials: books, blogs, publications they write for, achievements, etc. Compiling and updating this list is enough work without having to do a ton of Googling.

Also important: Please DO NOT hesitate to nominate yourself for this list! If you’re an atheist of color and you’re any sort of public figure, either within the atheist community or outside of it — blogger, community organizer, scholar, scientist, author, artist, musician, activist, whatever — please let me know. Again, please provide your name, URL for your blog/ website if you have one, and a SHORT list of your credentials. And if you’re already on the list, but your information is incorrect or incomplete, please let me know.

People/ organizations who are on the list but shouldn’t be. If there’s anyone on this list who isn’t actually an atheist, or has stopped identifying as an atheist since this list was first created, or is no longer a public figure and has dropped off the radar, please let me know. Also, if anyone on this list is now dead, please let me know: this is meant to be a list of atheists of color who are alive and active now. And if any of the organizations on the list have since folded, please let me know.

NOTE ABOUT BLOGGERS: If a blogger hasn’t updated their blog in six months, and hasn’t stated on their blog that they’re taking a hiatus and plan to return, I’m going to drop them from the list, unless someone gives me a strong argument for keeping them on.

Up to date credentials/ biographical info. If the credentials/ biographical info for anyone on this list is out of date — if people have new books, new blogs, new positions at their organizations, if they’re working for different organizations, etc. — please let me know.

Up to date URLs. If you know the URLs for any of the people on this list who don’t have URLs listed? If there are URLs on this list that are out of date, and you know the current URL? Please let me know.

Once again, here’s a link to the original list.

A couple of notes on what I’m looking for here:

First: This is not intended to be a list of famous atheists of color throughout history. That would certainly be an awesomely useful project (and if anyone knows of this project existing, please speak up!) — but it’s not this project. This is meant to be a list of atheists of color who are alive and active now.

Second, and very importantly: I do not want to get into an argument here about why we need this list, or how we should just be color blind and ignore race altogether. In a perfect world, maybe we wouldn’t need it. We don’t live in a perfect world. Among other things, well- meaning people can unconsciously perpetuate racial bias without intending to… and we need to take conscious action to counter this unconscious tendency. If you think the atheist movement doesn’t need to make a conscious effort to be more inclusive, then please read these pieces:

Getting It Right Early: Why Atheists Need to Act Now on Gender and Race
Race, Gender, and Atheism, Part 2: What We Need To Do — And Why

And if, after reading those pieces — not skimming them or reading the titles, but actually reading them — you still think we don’t need to make a conscious effort to be more inclusive of people of color, then please make your arguments ON THOSE POSTS. Not here. Comments here arguing that we don’t need this list will be disemvoweled or deleted. This post is for people who will find this list useful and informative, and/or who want to make suggestions about keeping it accurate and up to date.

I do welcome some degree of debate here about whether a particular person should or should not be included: are they really an atheist, are they prominent enough (although I’ll tend to err on the side of inclusion there), etc. But I do not welcome debate here about whether this list should exist. Thank you.

Third: Please make your suggestions here, in comments on this blog. Please do not email them to me. I do want there to be an opportunity for public discussion about additions, deletions, or other changes. (And I’m somewhat concerned about assholes trying to troll the list: that’ll be less easy to do if there are eyes on the process other than mine.) Also, it’s easier for me to manage this if all the revisions are in one place. Thanks!

Note: I know that there are problems/ issues with the phrase “people of color” (among other things, it lumps together people from widely divergent cultural backgrounds as if not being white was the same experience for everyone). In general, I’m trying to use the phrase less. In this case, though, I’m going to stick with the phrase, imperfect though it is: brevity is key here, and anyway this list has a lot of people linking to it and citing it and searching for it, and I don’t want to screw that up.

Oh, and in case you’re not already aware of it: here, in a similar vein, is a large list of awesome female atheists, compiled by Jen McCreight at BlagHag.)

Thanks for your help!

Why Are People Bigoted, Even When It Costs Them Money?

burning moneySo there’s this interesting social justice question that has some people puzzled. Why do businesses and businesspeople continue to do things that are racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, ableist, classist, etc. — even when it works against their own immediate, tangible interests?

I was thinking about this when I was listening to the Cracked podcast interview with Andrew Ti, of Yo, Is This Racist? Ti was talking, among many other things, about TV producers who are weirdly not cranking out a dozen “Empire” ripoffs — even though the show is hugely successful, and even though TV is one of the most derivative industries around. (Ti was mostly talking about the sad excuses given by network execs for why they weren’t making more shows like “Empire.”)

But this question comes up a lot. It comes up in discussions of why bakers won’t sell wedding cakes to same-sex couples — even in the midst of a same-sex wedding boom. It comes up in discussions of housing, and why landlords and homeowners are less likely, even flatly unwilling, to rent or sell to black people. It comes up in discussions of hiring, and why employers reject highly qualified job candidates who would contribute greatly to their company, simply because those candidates are women/ people of color/ transgender/ otherwise marginalized. It’s absurdly common for businesspeople to perpetuate bigotry, either consciously or unconsciously — even when it means the loss of immediate, substantial profit. And this cuts across a large variety of businesses.

Sometimes this phenomenon gets treated with bafflement. “They’re so foolish! Don’t they realize they’re losing money?” Sometimes it gets treated as cause for optimism. “This means we’ll eventually win! Market forces and natural greed will break down bigotry and oppression! Capitalism will prevail!”

I don’t see it that way. I think it says something completely different. I think it says this:

The fact that people keep doing bigoted things, even when it works against their immediate financial interests, shows just how valuable privilege is.

empireEven if you lose money by not making a dozen “Empire” ripoffs, you still gain by perpetuating white privilege.

Even if you lose money by not renting or selling to black people, you still gain by perpetuating white privilege.

Even if you lose money by not hiring talented women, you still gain by perpetuating male privilege.

Even if you lose money by not selling gelato to the hundreds of attendees at an atheist convention, you still gain by perpetuating religious privilege, and more specifically Christian privilege.

Even if you lose money by refusing to sell wedding cakes to same-sex couples, you still gain by perpetuating heterosexual privilege.

Etc.

Think of it this way. Think about affirmative action, and the arguments that are most commonly marshaled against it. “You’re lowering the bar! You’re diluting the talent pool! By going out of your way to look for qualified black people, Hispanic people, women, disabled people, LGBT people — you’re discriminating against all those super-talented straight cisgender able-bodied white guys!”

If we think about this “reasoning” for six seconds, it becomes clear how absurd it is. Expanding a job search to look for qualified people who might not otherwise have been considered — that’s not diluting the talent pool. That’s expanding it. That’s getting more talented people into consideration.

And that’s exactly the problem.

Affirmative action doesn’t lower the bar. Affirmative action brings in more competition.

If you only have to compete against straight, white, cisgender, able-bodied, middle-class men — you’re going to do a whole lot better than if you’re competing against, you know, everyone. And if you’re only okay at your job — which, let’s face it, an awful lot of people are — more competition means you won’t do so well. (To use just one example: When Major League Baseball began to racially integrate, a lot of marginal white players wound up getting cut.)

And jobs are just one example. This phenomenon plays out in pretty much every business where conscious or unconscious bigotry exists — which is to say, pretty much every business.

Privilege is profitable. It’s profitable in thousands of observable, well-documented ways. It’s profitable in the long run, in the medium run, in the short run. In the (usually) unconscious cost-benefit analysis of “bigotry” versus “equality,” privilege is so profitable that perpetuating it is worth losing out on large bundles of cash being dangled right in front of your nose.

So what do we do?

We need to keep putting on the pressure.

We need to make it a whole lot harder to be bigoted than it is not to be. We need to make bigotry more inconvenient, more time-consuming, more costly. When businesspeople say and do bigoted things, we need to make it result in a PR nightmare and some expensive lawsuits and a whole bunch of customers saying, “Screw you, we’re taking our business elsewhere.” Market forces are not going to do it on their own: we need to create the forces that push things in our direction. (Please note that when pundits decry the so-called “witch hunts” and “lynch mobs” consisting of a whole lot of people on the Internet saying, “That’s racist,” “That’s sexist,” “That’s transphobic,” etc. — they’re basically saying, “Please stop putting pressure on people to not be bigoted. Please stop making bigotry inconvenient.”)

Privilege is profitable. We need to make it a huge pain in the ass. We need to make the cost-benefit analysis skew on the side of equality. We need to make bigotry not worth it.


Comforting Thoughts book cover oblong 100 JPGComing Out Atheist Bendingwhy are you atheists so angryGreta Christina is author of four books: Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why, Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless, and Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More.

Seven Reasons “Fiscally Conservative, Socially Liberal” is Nonsense

one-hundred-dollar-bill“Well, I’m conservative — but I’m not one of those racist, homophobic, dripping-with-hate Tea Party bigots! I’m pro-choice! I’m pro-same-sex-marriage! I’m not a racist! I just want lower taxes, and smaller government, and less government regulation of business. I’m fiscally conservative, and socially liberal.”

How many liberals and progressives have heard this? It’s ridiculously common. Hell, even David Koch of the Koch Brothers has said, “I’m a conservative on economic matters and I’m a social liberal.”

And it’s wrong. R-O-N-G Rong.

You can’t separate fiscal issues from social issues. They’re deeply intertwined. They affect each other. Economic issues often are social issues. And conservative fiscal policies do enormous social harm. That’s true even for the mildest, most generous version of “fiscal conservatism” — low taxes, small government, reduced regulation, a free market. These policies perpetuate human rights abuses. They make life harder for people who already have hard lives. Even if the people supporting these policies don’t intend this, the policies are racist, sexist, classist (obviously), ableist, homophobic, transphobic, and otherwise socially retrograde. In many ways, they do more harm than so-called “social policies” that are supposedly separate from economic ones. Here are seven reasons that “fiscally conservative, socially liberal” is nonsense.

empty-change-purse1: Poverty, and the cycle of poverty. This is the big one. Poverty is a social issue. The cycle of poverty — the ways that poverty itself makes it harder to get out of poverty, the ways that poverty can be a permanent trap lasting for generations — is a social issue, and a human rights issue. [Read more…]

The Part about Black Lives Mattering Where White People Shut Up and Listen

Listen up, fellow white people.

If we care about racism—and if we’re humanists, we bloody well better—there’s something we need to do. It’s enormously important. If any other action we take is going to be useful, we need to take this one. And sometimes, it can be really freaking difficult.

We need to shut up and listen. “Black lives matter” means—among many other things—that black voices matter. So white people need to listen to those black voices. In person and online, with friends and colleagues and friends-of-friends and in-laws and strangers, wherever there are conversations about racism, white people need to listen.

And listening means not talking. It doesn’t mean jumping in with arguments about topics we know little about. It doesn’t mean waiting patiently until the other person has stopped talking, so we can say whatever we were going to say anyway. It doesn’t mean making the conversation all about us and our hurt feelings over being told we said something racist. It doesn’t mean constantly changing the subject away from racism and towards something we’re more comfortable with—like how black people are being mean to us, or how we’d be more likely to listen if they spoke more pleasantly. It doesn’t mean telling black people how to run their movement or telling black people how to talk to white people—especially when that advice is almost always “tone it down,” and “don’t make us feel bad.”

Listening means just that—listening. It means letting the other person have the floor. It means letting the other person decide the topic and set the tone. It means that whatever talking we do is peripheral, done in service of understanding and amplifying. And sometimes—much of the time—it means shutting our mouths, and opening our minds.

*****

humanist cover july-august 2015 do black lives matter to humanismThus begins my latest “Fierce Humanism” column for The Humanist, The Part about Black Lives Mattering Where White People Shut Up and Listen. To read more, read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!


Comforting Thoughts book cover oblong 100 JPGComing Out Atheist Bendingwhy are you atheists so angryGreta Christina is author of four books: Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why, Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless, and Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More.

7 Things People Who Say They’re ‘Fiscally Conservative But Socially Liberal’ Don’t Understand

money closeup

Social and economic issues are deeply intertwined.

“Well, I’m conservative, but I’m not one of those racist, homophobic, dripping-with-hate Tea Party bigots! I’m pro-choice! I’m pro-same-sex-marriage! I’m not a racist! I just want lower taxes, and smaller government, and less government regulation of business. I’m fiscally conservative, and socially liberal.”

How many liberals and progressives have heard this? It’s ridiculously common. Hell, even David Koch of the Koch brothers has said, “I’m a conservative on economic matters and I’m a social liberal.”

And it’s wrong. W-R-O-N-G Wrong.

You can’t separate fiscal issues from social issues. They’re deeply intertwined. They affect each other. Economic issues often are social issues. And conservative fiscal policies do enormous social harm. That’s true even for the mildest, most generous version of “fiscal conservatism” — low taxes, small government, reduced regulation, a free market. These policies perpetuate human rights abuses. They make life harder for people who already have hard lives. Even if the people supporting these policies don’t intend this, the policies are racist, sexist, classist (obviously), ableist, homophobic, transphobic, and otherwise socially retrograde. In many ways, they do more harm than so-called “social policies” that are supposedly separate from economic ones. Here are seven reasons that “fiscally conservative, socially liberal” is nonsense.

*****

Thus begins my latest piece for AlterNet, 7 Things People Who Say They’re ‘Fiscally Conservative But Socially Liberal’ Don’t Understand. To read more, read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!


Comforting Thoughts book cover oblong 100 JPGComing Out Atheist Bendingwhy are you atheists so angryGreta Christina is author of four books: Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why, Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless, and Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More.

To Block Or Not To Block: A Social Justice Question

Please note: This post has a different comment policy from the usual one. That policy is at the end of the post.

hand on keyboardI have a question for all you other Social Justice Warriors out there. When people say racist, sexist, classist, ableist, homophobic, transphobic, etc. crap in our online spaces — should we block them? Or should we engage with them, and try to educate them?

Let me narrow that down somewhat. I’m not talking about when people say crap that’s aimed at us, at a marginalized group we’re part of. I’m talking about when people say crap about another marginalized group. I’m talking about what white people should do when people say racist crap; what men should do when people say sexist crap; what cis people should do when people say transphobic crap; etc. I’m talking about how to ally.

I’ve seen very good cases made on both sides of this question. I’ve read very good pieces by African Americans saying, “Please block the assholes saying racist shit in your Facebook page already, why on Earth are you tolerating that?” (Alas, I can’t find the pieces I read saying this — I really need to learn to bookmark this stuff. Links in comments would be appreciated.) And I’ve read very good pieces by African Americans saying, “Don’t just block these folks. That’s the easy way out. We don’t have access to these people, you do, we can’t educate them — so as painful and difficult as it is, it’s up to you to do that.” (Here’s one example of this, the one that keeps getting cited when this topic comes up.)

It’s one thing when people demand, “Educate me!” — and then ignore, derail, move the goalposts, argue without listening, repeatedly ask questions they could get answered with ten seconds of Googling, and generally show bad faith and a complete lack of interest in being educated. I’m not talking about when willfully ignorant fools demand, “Educate me!” I’m talking about when people I’m working to ally with point to those fools and say, “Educate them!”

Please note: I’m not asking whether I have the right to block people. I know I do. I’m not talking about what I have the right to do. I’m talking about what’s the right thing to do. I’m finding myself somewhat stymied, and I want to hear from people I respect.

Here’s the conundrum I’m experiencing. [Read more…]

Some More (Slightly Less Charitable) Thoughts About “Special Interest” Atheist Groups

black nonbelievers logoSo I wrote a piece a few days ago, with a partial answer to the question, “Why do there need to be atheist groups for specific kinds of atheists? Why should there be black atheist groups, Ex-Muslim atheist groups, women’s atheist groups?” It was a fairly calm, civil, patient piece. But some of the commentary on it gave me a much less patient, much less charitable view of this, airquotes, “issue.”

No, the commentary wasn’t hostile. That’s not it. See, a number of people pointed out that there are plenty of “special interest” atheist sub-groups that are entirely uncontroversial. (Within the atheist movement, anyway: I’m sure the Christian Right doesn’t much like them.) There are atheist parenting groups. Atheist book clubs. Atheist hiking clubs. Heck, there’s an entire national organization, the Secular Student Alliance, devoted entirely to meeting the needs of a specific sub-group of atheists — namely, atheist students — and supporting their student-centered groups.

And in the years I’ve been involved in organized atheism, I have never once heard a peep of complaint about any of these.

I have never once heard anyone say, “Why do student atheists need a national organization just for their groups? Why can’t they just go to the regular off-campus atheist group?” “Why do atheist parents need their own group and their own activities?” “Doesn’t the atheist book club splinter and divide our community?” “Isn’t the atheist hiking group segregation — discrimination against people who don’t hike?”

Never. Literally never.

secular student alliance logoQuite the opposite. If these sub-groups and specialty groups can get enough members, and if the groups survive and flourish, it’s seen as a good thing. It’s seen as a way to draw new people into the atheist community: if there are atheists who aren’t that interested in the other group activities, but who like to hike or talk about books, the atheist book club or hiking club might bring them in. And it’s understood that parents and students have particular interests and needs — particular scheduling concerns, and activities they’ll want to do, if nothing else — so again, having groups dedicated to them is actually going to draw more people into organized atheism. And it’s also recognized that if a group is surviving and flourishing, then, self-evidently, there’s a desire for it. There might be a little competitiveness — especially if one of these special-interest groups shoots up as its own thing rather than as a sub-group of an existing group, and especially if it starts drawing members away. But as a general principle, it’s understood that these special interest groups are a Good Thing.

So why is it such a problem to have special groups for black atheists, or women atheists, or atheists from other marginalized demographics?

[crickets]

My not-very-charitable interpretation: A lot of people don’t want to recognize that women, African Americans, other marginalized demographics, even have particular needs and interests and concerns.

After all, if you accept that, then you have to accept that racism exists and is a thing, that sexism exists and is a thing, that other marginalizations exist and are things. To understand why black atheists or women atheists might want their own groups, you have to understand some harsh realities about what it’s like to be a woman or an African American — realities that make the experience of being a woman really different from that of being a man, realities that make the experience of being African American really different from that of being white.

And when you accept that racism, sexism, and other marginalizations really exist and are things, a whole lot of other dominoes start tumbling down. You have to accept just how large and pervasive and terrible some of these marginalizations are. You have to accept the fact that you, yourself, sometimes contribute to these marginalizations, even without meaning to. And if you’re a halfway decent person, you have to start working to make a difference.

It’s much easier to maintain the pleasant fiction that, while readers and hikers and parents and students might have their own needs and interests and experiences, marginalization and oppression can’t possibly shape people’s experiences — certainly not enough that they might occasionally want to spend time with other folks who’ve been through the same crap.

Accepting the reality of marginalization knocks over a whole lot of dominoes.

Starting a book club? That hardly knocks over any.


Comforting Thoughts book cover oblong 100 JPGComing Out Atheist Bendingwhy are you atheists so angryGreta Christina is author of four books: Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why, Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless, and Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More.

Why Do There Need to Be “Special Interest” Atheist Groups?

black nonbelievers logo“Why do there need to be atheist groups for specific kinds of atheists? Why should there be black atheist groups, Ex-Muslim atheist groups, women’s atheist groups? Why should there be local groups, national organizations, online forums, dedicated to atheists with these specific identities or experiences? Doesn’t that splinter and divide our community? Isn’t that segregation, discrimination — exactly the things we’re fighting against? Why can’t these folks just join the regular atheist group?”

This question comes up a lot. In almost every discussion of diversity in the atheist community that I’ve seen, it’s come up at least once. A lot of people have written and spoken with good, clear, specific answers to these questions. (Here are just a few links.)

But I had a conversation recently at an atheist event that gave me a new perspective on the answers, one that will hopefully help shed some light for some people who have a hard time with this.

So. If you’re wondering why there need to be special-interest atheist groups, ask yourself this:

Why do you need an atheist group?

Why don’t you just join “regular” groups? Why don’t you just join the Elks Club, the bowling league, the knitting circle, the book club, the Democratic Club, the Socialist Workers’ Union, the PTA?

I know many of the answers. Because in those “regular” groups, you’re likely to encounter anti-atheist bigotry and discrimination.
Because in those “regular” groups, even if people aren’t overtly and consciously anti-atheist, they may unintentionally say or do things that are bigoted against atheists, or ignorant about us — and sometimes that ignorance can be very stubborn, even willful.
Because you don’t want to always have to do Atheism 101.
Because even if nobody ever says or does anything bigoted or ignorant against atheists, you still sometimes want to spend time with people who have similar experiences to yours.
Because atheists’ experiences and perspectives can be really different from those of religious believers — we often handle things like death, suffering, political and social change, sexuality, and other issues in ways that are very different from believers, and it can be helpful to socialize and organize with people who share those experiences.
Because our needs and interests are often different from those of believers — and groups that aren’t atheist-specific can often show a complete lack of concern about those needs and interests.
Because even if nobody ever says or does anything bigoted or ignorant against atheists, intentionally or unintentionally, you can still sometimes feel like the Other, like an outsider, if you’re the only atheist in the group, or one of the few.
Because we sometimes want a place to strategize, or just to vent, about anti-atheist bigotry and ignorance, or even about religion itself — and we often don’t feel comfortable doing that around religious believers.
Because having an atheist group creates atheist visibility: it lets other atheists know they’re not alone, it helps us find each other, it pushes back against anti-atheist stigma, it does all the other good things that increased atheist visibility does.
Because the whole idea that an atheist group somehow isn’t a “regular” group is insulting.

So. Keep all that in mind. Remember the reasons you want and need an atheist group. And now ask yourself again: Why do there need to be atheist groups for specific kinds of atheists?

I hope I don’t have to spell this out. But I’m going to anyway:

Every single one of these answers also applies to “special-interest” atheist groups.

exmna-logoBlack atheists, women atheists, ex-Muslim atheists, other specific sub-groups of atheists, want and need their own groups because they/we often encounter bigotry and ignorance in the “regular” atheist groups — usually unintentional, sometimes intentional, often stubborn and even willful in its ignorance. (And don’t tell me that this never happens just because you’ve never seen it. You don’t always know what to look for. In fact, you’re almost certainly doing some of this yourself, without knowing it: unconscious racism, sexism, etc. is pretty damn near universal. This is thoroughly documented: if you’re an evidence-loving skeptic, you shouldn’t be denying it.) Because they/we don’t always want to do Race 101, Feminism 101, Islam 101. Because even if, by some miracle, there were absolutely zero prejudice and ignorance in your atheist group, they/we still sometimes want to spend time with people with similar experiences. Because even if there were no prejudice or ignorance in your atheist group, being the only black person, the only woman, the only ex-Muslim, can still make them/us feel like the Other. Because…

…You get the idea. I don’t need to fill in every search-and-replace. Or at least, I hope I don’t have to.

The parallels aren’t exact, of course. This kind of “search and replace” that substitutes one kind of marginalization for another can be tricky: not all marginalizations are the same, and while these parallels and analogies can help create understanding, sometimes they do the opposite. Saying things like “I understand what it’s like to be black in the United States, since I’m an atheist and we’re oppressed too” can be seriously off-putting, to say the least. (Yes, atheists in the U.S. are at the bottom of the list of who people would vote for. We aren’t getting killed by cops every four days.) So I’ll spell this out: There are reasons atheists form groups that don’t apply to “special-interest” atheist groups, and vice versa.

secular woman logoBut a lot of the reasons are the same. If you understand why atheists want and need an atheist group, you should understand why black atheists, women atheists, ex-Muslim atheists, other specific kinds of atheists, want and need their groups. So if you want them to feel welcome in your atheist group as well — support them in that.


Comforting Thoughts book cover oblong 100 JPGComing Out Atheist Bendingwhy are you atheists so angryGreta Christina is author of four books: Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why, Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless, and Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More.

The Pros and Cons of Caring Deeply About Other People’s Suffering

This piece was originally published in The Humanist.

The Pros and Cons of Caring Deeply About Other People’s Suffering

Minuses:

Symbol_thumbs_down.svgYou get to suffer. When you care deeply about other people’s suffering, you suffer too. Not as much as they do, generally, but you still suffer. You feel a small piece of what it feels like to be homeless, to be a suicidal gay teenager, to be sexually assaulted, to be beaten for being transgender, to have your teenage son shot for the crime of existing while black.

You don’t get to go for the big bucks. Unsurprisingly, there’s not a lot of money in caring about other people’s suffering. Unless you’re very, very lucky (like if you write a song about other people’s suffering that goes to Number One), the best you’ll probably do financially is to be reasonably comfortable. And even if you do get lucky, you’ll probably turn around and plow a good chunk of your good fortune into alleviating the suffering you care about.

You get to waste a lot of time. You get to spend a lot of time trying to persuade other people that the suffering right in front of their faces is real; that the people who are suffering shouldn’t be blamed for it; that working to alleviate suffering isn’t futile. (When I was writing about misogyny recently, and was asking people to say something about it, I saw people seriously argue that speaking out against misogyny was a waste of time, and that nobody’s mind would ever be changed by it.) This isn’t a waste of time, in the sense that it often is effective, and it does amplify the work you’re doing and get other hands on deck. But it’s a waste of time in the sense that it’s valuable time spent arguing for what should be obvious. It’s valuable time that all of you could have spent just doing the damn work.

And when you’re persuading people that suffering is real and that they should give a damn, you get to feel just a little bit guilty about it. As you’re desperately trying to pry open other people’s eyes, you get to feel just a little bit bad about the life of suffering you’re exposing them to.

You get to feel guilty. You get to worry about whether you’re doing it right, whether you should be working on something different, whether you could do better. You get to feel vividly conscious of the ways that you, yourself, contribute to other people’s suffering: buying products made by exploited labor, banking with banks that exploit the poor, driving cars that spew greenhouse gas. Every time you don’t take action, every time you don’t help, every time you don’t donate money or don’t volunteer time or don’t hit “Share” or “Retweet” on the fundraising letter, you get to feel bad about it. And every time you do donate or volunteer or spread the word, you get to worry about whether you could have done it better, or whether you could have done more.

You get to feel helpless. A lot. Once you open yourself up to other people’s suffering, you quickly become aware of just how much of it there is, and how little you personally can do about it. You get to feel overwhelmed. You get to be vividly aware of the fact that no matter what you do, no matter how much you work and sacrifice, at the end of your life there will still be a massive amount of suffering in the world. I sometimes think the helplessness is worse than the guilt, that the guilt is a defense mechanism against the helplessness. Feeling like you could have prevented suffering gives you a sense of control, makes you feel like you can prevent it in the future. As crappy as it is to feel like you could have done something and didn’t, I think it’s sometimes harder to feel like there’s nothing you could have done.

And you never, ever, ever get a break. You never really get a vacation; you never get to retire. When you do go on vacation, you think about the lives of the people who clean your hotel rooms and wait on your tables. You leave generous tips, and feel how inadequate that is. It’s like the red pill in The Matrix: once you’ve swallowed it, you can’t un-swallow it. Once you know, really know, about other people’s suffering, you can’t un-know it. You have to care about it, and feel it, and feel guilty about not doing enough about it, and feel helpless over how little you can do about it — for the rest of your life.


Symbol_thumbs_up.svgPlusses:

You get to have a life that matters. [Read more…]

The Riots That We Care About

“A riot is the language of the unheard.” -Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., March 14, 1968

It’s been occurring to me that Martin Luther King wasn’t totally right. Riots aren’t always the language of the unheard. When white folks riot over sports events or pumpkin festivals, it’s not the language of the unheard. It’s the language of people who get heard plenty, people with a toxic sense of entitlement about being heard, people who never fucking shut up.

But who does the media and the culture clutch their pearls about? People who riot because they’ve been stretched way past the breaking point, who riot because they’ve been kicked and kicked and kicked and kicked and kicked and are fucking well kicking back? Or people who riot because they like to, because they think it’s fun, because they think the entire world literally belongs to them and is their toy to destroy if they want?