Criticize Famous and Powerful Figures, Win Fame and Fortune!

Robyn Blumner, the new CEO of Center For Inquiry, in a podcast interview with Hemant Mehta

I think Richard Dawkins is purposefully misunderstood at times as a way to generate clicks on some bloggers’ page. It’s because his name brings page views and eyes so why not generate a lot of heat around something that is pretty tame if you really unpack it.

Sigh. This again?

Dear Ms. Blumner: Do you really think the way to fame and fortune as a writer is to alienate famous and powerful writers with millions of followers?

Richard Dawkins used to support and publicize my writing. Once I started criticizing him, he stopped. It made a serious dent in my income. And criticizing Dawkins and other powerful atheists for sexism, racism, etc. led to years of harassment, threats of rape and death — which is still ongoing.

People don’t criticize powerful figures for clicks and attention. We do it because we’re trying to make this community better. If you disagree with criticism of Dawkins, address the content. Don’t impugn our motives. This is a hard road, and we don’t take it for fun.

(Amy Roth takes this apart really well, as does PZ Myers and Monette Richards.)

Why I Support Foundation Beyond Belief

foundation beyond belief banner

You know about Foundation Beyond Belief, right? It’s the humanist philanthropic organization that channels money and volunteering from humanists, atheists, and other non-believers, into projects that improve this world and this life. As you may know, I’m on their board of directors. So when I ask you to support the organization (and tell you about the fun fundraising competition we’re having, and the fun auction that Be Secular is running for us!), I’m obviously biased. But I’m on their board for a reason.

You know how a bunch of us in the atheist movement keep saying that it isn’t enough to just not believe in gods? You know how we keep saying that organized atheism needs to provide some of what religion provides — including outlets for organized charitable, philanthropic, and social justice work? You know how we keep saying that organized atheism needs be address the interests and channel the energy of a wider variety of people than have traditionally been involved in it? You know how we keep saying that non-belief has implications — and one of those implications is that since there’s no gods and no afterlife, this life is the only one we have, and it’s up to us to make it better for everyone?

Foundation Beyond Belief is actually doing this.

Here are some of the organizations and projects FBB has supported:

transgender law center logoTransgender Law Center, running one-on-one legal clinics for transgender and gender nonconforming people.

Center for Reproductive Rights, using the law to advance reproductive freedom as a fundamental human right that all governments are legally obligated to protect, respect, and fulfill.

Community Change, Inc., approaching racism, racial relations, and racial responsibility from the perspective that racial inequalities are a white problem.

Global Village Project, an innovative special purpose school for refugee girls and young women with interrupted schooling.

Prison University Project, providing higher education programs to people incarcerated at San Quentin State Prison.

Pure Earth, bringing a scientific approach to pollution reduction meant to benefit extremely poor communities abroad.

DC Central Kitchen, tackling food distribution availability in Washington, DC.

Men Can Stop Rape, mobilizing men to create cultures free from violence, especially men’s violence against women.

Akili Dada, a full-service developmental program aimed at helping Kenyan girls and women build leadership skills.

Modest Needs Foundation, working to meet the needs of the hardworking, low income members of society, who are often left without a safety net when unexpected expenses occur.

innocence project of texas logoInnocence Project of Texas, securing the release of those wrongfully convicted of crimes in Texas, and educating the public about the causes and effects of wrongful convictions.

You see what I’m getting at?

A lot of us are saying, and have been saying for some time, that organized atheism needs to do this sort of work. Foundation Beyond Belief is doing it. And we need your support.

We’re doing a big year-end fundraising drive. Your donations will be matched up to $20,000, thanks to a generous matching donation from the Bella and Stella Foundation. And we’re doing a fun fundraising competition, for both individuals and community groups! Prizes for individuals range from T-shirts, autographed books & other secular swag to trips to conferences or shows by celebrity atheists. For groups, FBB will provide speaker(s) to the group that gets the most mentions and/or raises the most funds using the #HumanistsCare hashtag. Detail are at the link. If your atheist/ humanist/ freethought group is looking for a fun activity that will get your group more involved in community service, this is a great one.

Be Secular is also running an auction to support Foundation Beyond Belief, starting at 11:00 AM Eastern time on December 1, 2015, and running for 36 hours (through 11:00 PM Eastern time on December 2, 2015). Items range from small to high-end, including art, jewelry, vacations, signed celebrity photos, and more.

And if you don’t want to do the auction thing or the fundraising competition thing, you can also just… well, donate. You can make a one-time donation, which will be used to fund FBB operations; or you can make a monthly donation in any amount (as low as $5 a month), which will go to fund the causes you care about. (And yes, you can tell us which areas you’d like your money to go to!)

Foundation Beyond Belief is walking the walk. Please join us, and help pave the way. Thanks.

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.

Dear Conference Organizers: A No-Fooling-Around Note About Diversity

chairs at conferenceDear conference organizers:

Thank you so much for inviting me to speak at your conference. I would love to make this happen if it’s possible! I like speaking at conferences: I like meeting new people and re-connecting with old friends, and I especially enjoy meeting with organizers of local community groups. And, of course, I like selling books. :-) I’m happy to speak at local conferences, regional conferences, national and international conferences. My honorarium is low, and my travel requirements are pretty minimal. If I can fit this event into my schedule, I’d love to do it.


If your speaker lineup is overwhelmingly white, I am not willing to speak at your conference.

And when I say this, I mean it. I am not fooling around. Specifically, I mean this:

If you send me a confirmation with a list of scheduled speakers, and that list is overwhelmingly white, I will withdraw from your conference.

I’m sorry to come across like a hardass. But experience has taught me that I have to be. Experience has taught me that if I don’t say something ahead of time, I will often wind up on an overwhelmingly white speaker lineup. Not always — a lot of conference organizers already get this, and are on it — but often. Experience has taught me that, even if I do say something ahead of time, I will still sometimes wind up on an overwhelmingly white speaker lineup. We will then have to have an awkward conversation, where I explain that I’m withdrawing from the conference and why.

Here is a list of prominent atheists of color, and organizations of atheists of color. Many of them are excellent speakers, as are many of the organization leaders. Many of them, like me, have low honoraria and minimal travel requirements. If you book me for your conference, and you then put together an overwhelmingly white speaker lineup, you will have an open slot in your schedule. Please consider filling it with one of these people. Better yet: Please look at this list before you start putting together your speaker lineup, so you have a diverse lineup to begin with.

I understand that event organizing is very difficult, and conference organizing is especially difficult. I understand that it’s hard to co-ordinate schedules, balance content, and arrange for travel and honoraria that will fit your budget. So here’s a tip: When you’re putting together a speaker lineup, START with diversity. START by inviting African-Americans, Latinos, women, disabled people, transgender people, people of Asian descent, people of Middle Eastern descent, other people of color, lesbian and gay and bisexual people, people who have left religions other than Christianity. Don’t just invite the usual suspects, fill up three-quarters of your lineup — and then go, “Crap! Diversity!” and scramble to fill in the last two or three open slots with people who aren’t white, middle-class, college-educated, cisgender, straight, able-bodied, ex-Christian or lifelong-atheist men.

Again, I’m sorry to be a hardass. Generally speaking, I’m an easy speaker to work with: again, my honorarium is low, my travel requirements are pretty minimal, and I try to be as flexible as possible. But this is an extremely high priority for me. In my opinion, this issue — making our communities more welcoming and more supportive of a wider variety of people than are currently participating — is the most important issue currently facing organized atheism in the United States. Diverse speaker lineups at conferences isn’t the only thing we need to do to address this issue, of course, or even the most important thing. Very, very far from it. But it’s one of the things I can do something about. So I’m doing it. Thanks for understanding. Hope we can make this work!

Greta Christina

P.S. This also applies to harassment policies/ codes of conduct. I won’t speak at a conference that doesn’t have one. That’s been less of an issue lately, though — almost all atheist and skeptic conferences have them now — so I didn’t feel a need to write a whole thing about it.

Note: Yes, this is in reference to a specific event — and no, I’m not going to tell you which one. It was a private conversation, and I’m going to respect 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.

Secular Social Justice Conference, Houston, January 30-31

secular social justice flyerI don’t often go to conferences if I’m not speaking at them. I’d like to, I just can’t afford it. I did, however, pay my own way to go to Skepticon this year. And I’m going to the Secular Social Justice Conference.

I heard AMAZING things about last year’s predecessor, Moving Social Justice. I wasn’t able to go — I had a previous commitment — but everyone I talked to who did go said it was extraordinary and life-changing. So I am absolutely not going to miss it this year.

Here’s a little more about it, from the conference website:

In a global climate in which the criminalization and economic disenfranchisement of people of color of all genders and sexualities has become more acute, what role can secular humanism play in communities of color in the U.S.?

Last year’s Moving Social Justice conference featured an incredible array of activists, organizers and educators from the secular and social justice communities. Building on that momentum, the 2016 Secular Social Justice conference will be held January 30 and 31st at Rice University in Houston, Texas. The conference will address the lived experiences, cultural context, shared struggle and social history of secular humanist people of color and their allies. It will focus on topics such as economic justice, women of color beyond faith, LGBTQ atheists of color, African American Humanist traditions in hip hop, racial politics and the New Atheism and more.

Speakers include Sikivu Hutchinson, Anthony Pinn, Soraya Chemaly, Heina Dadabhoy, Debbie Goddard, Sincere T. Kirabo, Alix Jules, Donald Wright, Monica Miller, Frank Anderson, Maggie Ardiente, Georgina Capetillo, Daniel Myatt, Juhem Navarro-Rivera, and Secular Sistahs, with more speakers (I believe) still to be announced. And it’s cheap: $40, and $25 for students. January 30 and 31 in Houston (here’s info on courtesy hotel rates). Hope to see you there!

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.

#mencallmethings: “hideous,” “ugly,” “cunt”

Content note: misogyny

On Twitter:

Screen Shot 2015-11-15 at 5.51.01 PM

Screen Shot 2015-11-15 at 5.51.13 PM



#Mizzou event at #skepticon was just a PR event for white videographer. Totally inappropriate and fucked-up use of platform. [For those who weren’t following it, this was in reference to this incident, for which Skepticon has apologized.]

Asshole on Twitter:

Man, this is one stupid feminist-because-she’s-ugly cunt!

It’s almost magical how women named “Greta” are invariably hideous!

#mencallmethings, Intersectional Edition! It’s weird how speaking about racism got me hit with misogynist slurs and hate-trolled about being an ugly feminist. No, actually, it’s not weird. It’s entirely predictable.

Also, can I just say: hate-trolling about my name? That is deeply weird, so irrelevant as to be incoherent. It’s like saying, “It’s almost magical how women born in Chicago are invariably hideous,” or “It’s almost magical how women with mild asthma are invariably hideous.”

[Read more…]

Living in Interesting Times, and Letting Go of Sixties Envy

Yesterday, journalist Shaun King posted this on Facebook:

Listen, I need you to understand what I’m about to say. This is what I taught the students at Morehouse last week.

2015 is not what we thought it was. The deadliest hate crime against Black folk in the past 75 years happened THIS YEAR in Charleston.

More unarmed Black folk have been killed by police THIS YEAR than were lynched in any year since 1923.

Never, in the history of modern America, have we seen Black students in elementary, middle, and high school handcuffed and assaulted by police IN SCHOOL like we have seen this year.

Black students, who pay tuition are leaving the University of Missouri campus right now because of active death threats against their lives.

If you EVER wondered who you would be or what you would do if you lived during the Civil Rights Movement, stop. You are living in that time, RIGHT NOW.

There’s a particular piece of this that jumped out at me: “If you EVER wondered who you would be or what you would do if you lived during the Civil Rights Movement, stop. You are living in that time, RIGHT NOW.”

This is something I’ve been thinking about, A LOT.

electric kool-aid acid test coverWhen I was younger, I used to have a lot of Sixties envy. I was born in 1961, so I was a little kid in the Sixties, a pre-teen and teenager in the Seventies. And I used to have a lot of Sixties envy. When I was younger, I saw the Sixties as colorful and adventurous and exciting; when I was somewhat older, I saw them as a time of great political change, a time when you could really make a difference. And I envied people who’d gotten to be part of it. For years, I passionately wished that I’d been an adult, or even a teenager, in the Sixties.

In recent years, I have been letting go of that.

I’ve been looking at the deep polarization in this country; the rabid, bigoted, willfully-ignorant hatred of the Tea Party; the “We don’t care, we don’t have to” government serving its rich cronies and treating its citizens like children or criminals; the filthy rich turning the planet into a wasteland and treating anyone who tries to stop them like children or criminals; the pointless and apparently endless wars overseas; the grotesque hostility to black people, poor people, LGBT people, immigrants, women, for saying they want to be treated with basic human decency; the rapidly-changing attitudes about gender, race, family, drugs, sex, religion; the people who are terrified of that change and are responding to that fear with hatred.

And I’ve been realizing: Oh. This must have been what the Sixties were like.

1968 Democratic National ConventionI grew up in Chicago, and in the summer of 1968, my family went on a long camping trip. All I knew at the time was, “Camping trip! Rocky Mountains! Grizzly bears! Dinosaur National Park!” It wasn’t until years later that my parents told me the reason for that camping trip: my folks were beatnik hippie lefties, and Chicago in the summer of 1968 was a really fucking scary place to be, and they wanted to take the kids and get the hell out of Dodge.

I get that now.

I do not, in fact, want to get the hell out of Dodge. (Except temporarily, for an occasional breather.) I get that the saying “May you live in interesting times” is, in fact, both a curse and a blessing.* I do feel weirdly privileged to be living in interesting times. I feel weirdly privileged to be part of all this, to be part of social change movements that will be shaping the world for decades to come.

But yes. Shaun King is right. I have sometimes wondered who I would be or what I would do if I lived during the Civil Rights Movement; the Women’s Liberation movement; the early gay rights movement; the early ecology movement; the peace movement. And we are living in that time, RIGHT NOW.

I hope I’m doing okay. It’s really fucking hard.

*(It’s not an ancient Chinese saying, by the way.)

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 Brown Crayon: A Lesson In Racism, Literally Taught By a Teacher at School

eight crayons 200So I was in first grade. How old is that? Six? Seven? Our classroom activity for the hour was coloring in coloring books: I have no idea what the purpose was, if any sort of teaching was intended or if we were just being kept busy. But we’d been given coloring books with pictures of children doing wholesome activities of everyday life, brushing their teeth and riding bikes and whatnot. And we’d been given standard sets of first-grade crayons, fat crayons in eight colors. Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, brown, and black.

So I looked at these crayons, thought about which color to use for the faces and bodies, and settled on brown. Of the eight, that was the color that most looked to me like an actual human skin color. I briefly considered yellow — it was closest to my own skin color, and I’d also heard “yellow” used to describe people of Asian descent, usually when People Of All Races in late-Sixties folk songs were being referred to as white, black, red, yellow, and brown. But I looked at the yellow crayon, with its bright canary color — and nobody I knew, of Asian descent or any other, had skin anything like that. So brown it was.

I didn’t really think about it that carefully. My thought process as I’m describing it here makes it seem a lot more thought-out than it was. It was a quick, almost reflexive decision — more like, “Hm. People. Eight colors. Yellow? (Quick scan of abovementioned reasons.) No. Brown? Sure.” It was a quick decision — and to me, it was an obvious one. To be honest, if we’d had a bigger crayon selection with the color troublingly labelled “flesh,” I probably would have picked that, or another color that looked like me. But we didn’t. We had the eight colors — and of those, brown was the one that looked like people. The school I went to was pretty racially mixed, the neighborhood I lived in and had lived my whole life in was pretty racially mixed, and I really didn’t give it much thought. I wasn’t working to advance the cause of black visibility or anything; I wasn’t an early Social Justice Warrior. I was just a literal-minded six or seven year old, in 1967 or 1968, coloring pictures of people to look like my friends and neighbors.

So we handed in our coloring books, or the teacher collected them, I don’t remember. A little while later, the teacher came over to me, with this concerned look on her face. And she asked, “Greta — why did you make all the people in your coloring book black?”

And when I say concerned, I mean CONCERNED. This was not a casual question. This wasn’t the teacher talking to lots of different students about their coloring books; this wasn’t asked in the casual context of a general discussion of the coloring books, like, “So let’s talk about how you decided how to color your books. Why did you make the flowers purple? Why did you make the house yellow? Why did you make the people brown?” No. This was not that. The teacher very deliberately came over to me, personally — only to me, as far as I could tell — and asked why I’d made all the people in my coloring book black. And she was worried. Kids can tell. I could tell. She wasn’t angry or scolding or anything like that. She was just seriously worried. This was a red flag to her, a sign that Something Was Wrong.

I want to emphasize again: This was a racially-mixed school, in a racially-mixed neighborhood. And it was a fairly liberal school and neighborhood. So this was weird to me. Looking at it now, I’m sure I’d gotten thousands of unconscious racist messages from my family — but consciously, they were good 60’s and 70’s liberals, politically active about lots of things including racism, and with lots of friends of lots of different races. I’m sure I got thousands of unconscious racist messages from my family. But this was the first time I can remember seeing white anxiety about black people so explicitly spelled out.

And it freaked me the fuck out.

I answered my teacher honestly. I explained about the eight colors, and how brown was the one that looked most like people. She accepted the answer — or at least, she dropped the issue. But I could tell she wasn’t satisfied. I could tell she was still concerned.

inside out fear disgust sadness angerUnderstand, I was a very good kid — “good” in this case meaning “smart, good at school, trusting of teachers and parents and other authority figures, and anxious about pleasing them.” Very, very anxious about pleasing them. So this worried me. Had I done something wrong? Was there something wrong with me? At the same time, I knew something was wrong — not with me, but with her, with this conversation. So this stuck with me. I chewed it over, and chewed it over, and chewed it over. If I’d been Riley in “Inside Out,” this would have been a memory bubble dropping straight into the Core Memory file, a memory swirling with a mix of colors: purple for fear, green for disgust, red for anger, and blue for sadness. But I didn’t have the language to explain it at the time.

I have that language now. Let me spell it out.

I was being taught that there was something weird and scary about not making “white” the default race.

This was not a subtle, unconscious thing; this was not a glance, a gesture, a decision to cross the street or clutch the purse tighter. I was being overtly taught — by a teacher, in my school, during class time, in the context of a class assignment — that there was something weird and scary about not making “white” the default.

I was being taught, by a teacher, in school, that there was something weird and scary about seeing pictures of people brushing their teeth, riding bikes, engaging in wholesome activities of everyday life, and not automatically seeing them as white, and doing whatever I could do with my limited eight-color crayon box to make them white. I was being taught, by a teacher, in school, that there was something weird and scary about seeing pictures of people, engaging in wholesome activities of everyday life, and seeing them as black.

I was being taught, by a teacher, in school, that there was something weird and scary about seeing my black and brown classmates, teachers, neighbors, friends, as people.

I’m sure other people have much uglier stories of being taught much nastier forms of racism in school, much more blatantly, by much more bigoted teachers. (Exhibit A: the black teenager who was recently assaulted and arrested by a cop in her classroom for breaking school rules.) Actually, that’s a big part of the point.

Given everything I know about my grade school, I doubt highly that my teacher thought of herself as racist. To this day, I don’t know what she was worried about — or rather, what she told herself she was worried about. I don’t know if there’s some troubling thing teachers are taught to look for if kids draw pictures of kids who don’t look like them, or if in her mind it was just garden-variety conformity policing, This Is Weird And Different So I’d Better Check It Out. I doubt highly that she thought of herself as racist. But I know what I heard in her voice, what I saw in her face. What I heard in her voice, what I saw in her face, was, “This white child filled her coloring book with pictures of black people. When this white child thinks of people, she thinks of black people. Crap. Something must be wrong.”

I know this lesson hasn’t gone away. I know that the thousands of lessons like it haven’t gone away; I know that all the work I’ve put into unlearning these lessons are only a partial success, that this will be an ongoing adult education project for the rest of my life. I know that it took years of education, years of seeing it pointed out again and again, to notice when movies and TV shows have all-white casts, to notice when the only black characters are servants, criminals, athletes, and entertainers. I know that it took years of education to understand that black people being harassed and beaten and killed by police are not isolated incidents; that for black people in the U.S., brutally racist police forces are an ordinary experience of everyday life. I know that I still have the reflex, learned at a very young age, to clutch my purse when I pass a youngish black person on the street; I know that I have to consciously make myself not do this. When I think about that teacher’s lesson, and the thousands of lessons like it, I still have the swirly ball of emotion — but with less fear than I had at six or seven, and with more disgust, more sadness, more anger.

brown crayonI’m also grateful for the other lessons. I’m grateful that I had the degree of consciousness that I did have, even at age six or seven, to notice in this conversation that something was wrong. I’m grateful to everyone in my young life, to everyone in my school and my neighborhood and my family, even to my fucked-up parents, who all taught me, by word and deed, not even that black lives matter, but that black people exist, and are people. I’m grateful to everyone in my young life who taught me to look at a box of eight crayons, and see that the brown crayon looked like people.

But I still have the swirly ball of emotion, the fear and disgust, the anger and sadness, at the fact that still, to this day, this is a lesson that needs to be taught.

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 Part About Black Lives Mattering Where White People Shut Up and Listen

This piece was originally published in The Humanist.

black lives matterListen 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,” “be easier to deal with,” 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.

White people in the U.S. are brought up to expect a lot — often without realizing it, often without even realizing that these expectations exist and that people who aren’t white expect very different things. (If you’re in doubt about this, go read White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh — or, for a funnier version of the same idea, Product Review: The Invisible Backpack of White Privilege from L.L. Bean by Joyce Miller.) And one of the things we expect most is an audience. We expect to have the floor. We expect that when we talk, people will listen. We expect that our ideas will be taken seriously; that any disagreement will be respectful and deferential; that we’ll be treated as authoritative, even when we’re talking out of our asses.

We expect that our voices will matter.

But you know what? In this national conversation about racism, our voices don’t matter so much. They’re not completely trivial — for one thing, we should be talking with other white people when they’re being racist — but they’re peripheral. They’re not what’s really important.

the new jim crow book coverBlack people know a whole lot more about racism than white people do. Black people know more about racist policing, and racist police brutality. Black people know more about racism in employment, education, fiscal policy, election policy, drug policy, prison policy, urban planning, labor laws. Black people know more about microaggressions, the small pieces of unconscious racism they encounter every day, dozens of times a day, from the day they’re conscious until the day they die. Black people, and other people of color, are the experts in racism — in a way that white people will never be.

And maybe more to the point: This national conversation about racism? It’s about black people. It’s about black lives, black experiences. It’s not about us — except in the ways that we affect black people, and other people of color.

For white folks, this is a huge reversal. Again: We are brought up with the unconscious, unexamined expectation that our experiences are the ones that matter — and the lives of black people and other people of color only matter when they affect us. For a quick and dirty demonstration, look at popular culture. Look at how often black actors play supporting roles, while white actors get the lead. Look at how often entire casts are overwhelmingly white, with just a handful (at best) of black actors or other actors of color. Look at how white characters across films and stories are varied and multi-dimensional, while black ones largely fall into a handful of tropes. Look at the absurdly common trope of the Magical Negro (seriously, look it up), swooping in with their uncanny wisdom to fix the white hero’s life. The message gets hammered in again and again: White lives matter, and black lives don’t, except when they affect white lives.

Well, guess what? In this national conversation about racism, white voices are not the ones that matter. It’s not just that we aren’t the experts. It’s not just that black people and other people of color know way more about racism than we do. It’s that this conversation is not about us. We are the supporting cast this time — and we need to listen to the leads.

Here are a few specific ways to listen.

Between the World and Me book coverWe can read books and articles by black authors.

We can follow black writers and activists on social media.

When people on social media link to writing by black writers — we can read it. We can click on the actual article, and not just read the headline. We can read the whole piece, not just the first paragraph. If we haven’t read the whole piece, we can hold off on coming to conclusions and shooting our mouths off.

When a unfamiliar concept comes up in a conversation about race — we can Google it.

We can accept that we have racist ideas — all of us, every single one — and not react with “I’m not a racist, how dare you say that!” when someone points one of them out.

If a black person says something about race that we don’t agree with — instead of arguing, we can ask. Instead of jumping in with “That’s wrong, WRONG WRONG WRONG, I don’t know about that or understand it so it can’t be right,” we can ask: “I’m not familiar with that idea or fact — can you please explain it, or point me to a resource that explains it?”

If a black person says something about race that we don’t agree with, we can ask — but we can also not expect them to educate us on demand. We can understand how exhausting and demoralizing it can be to do Racism 101, a dozen times a day, every day, for a lifetime. We can acknowledge that doing Racism 101 is not an obligation, and when black people decide to do it with us, they’re doing us a favor. We can ask — and accept if the answer is, “I am not in the mood, here’s a nice Racism 101 resource” — or even, “I am not in the mood, do your own damn Googling.” We can understand that our desire to be educated, on demand, at the very moment we want it, by the exact person we want it from, does not take priority over black people’s desire to talk about what they want, when they want, with whom they want. Again — we can understand that this is not about us.

If we’re talking about racism, we can share and quote black voices.

If we’re protesting in the streets, and reporters try to talk with us, we can say, “This isn’t about me. This is about black lives. Talk with them.”

If we’re criticized in a conversation about racism, we can listen to the content, and let go of the tone it was said in. We can recognize that the conversation is not about us, and that our hurt feelings over being told “You said something racist” are not as important as, you know, racism.

If we’re criticized in a conversation about racism, we can think about the content, before we respond to it. Instead of reacting immediately, we can stop talking, think, look things up, talk with other people, think some more, and let ourselves cool off, before we respond.

If we’re criticized in a conversation about racism, we can consider whether we need to respond at all, with anything other than, “Sorry,” or even, “I’m not sure I agree, but I’m listening, let me think about that.” We can remember that our opinions are not the most important thing.

We can quit responding to critiques of racism with “Lighten up,” “You’re being too sensitive,” or “That’s so PC.” That is literally saying to black people, “The things that matter to you don’t matter to me. They shouldn’t matter to anyone. They don’t matter to anyone — they only matter to black people, and black people don’t count.” (Also, as humanists and rationalists, we should note that as debate points, “Lighten up,” “You’re being too sensitive,” and “That’s so PC” are entirely lacking in content. All they say is “That isn’t important and I’m going to dismiss it” — while dodging the actual point.)

And whenever this is uncomfortable or painful or upsetting, we can remember — did I mention this already? — that this is not about us. We can remember that as upsetting as these conversations might be for us, racism is a thousand times worse. We can remember that white people have been the protagonists, the center of attention, for centuries — and we can let these conversations be about, you know, the people they’re actually about.

I get that this can be hard. We all think of ourselves as the center of our own universes, and we all want things to be about us. And humanists especially love to talk. We love dialogue, debate, the free and open examination and questioning of ideas. I love those things, too. But if we care about racism — and if we’re humanists, we bloody well better — we need to care about justice, human rights, ethics, and compassion, more than we care about the sound of our own voices.

And in this national conversation about racism, that means shutting up and listening.

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.

Skepticism, and Emotional Responses to Terrible Ideas

This piece was originally published in Free Inquiry.

(Content note: passing mentions of spousal abuse, rape, intense racism, homophobia, transphobia)

earDoes being a good skeptic mean listening calmly and patiently to every idea, and considering every idea with a completely open mind?

Strike that. Let me phrase that question in a more honest way, a way that makes my position clear: Where on Earth did we come up with the cockamamie notion that being a good skeptic means not having an emotional response to terrible, harmful ideas, and not treating those ideas with the contempt they deserve? Where did we get the notion that being a good skeptic means treating every idea, no matter how ridiculous or toxic, as equally worthy of consideration? Where did we get the notion that bad, harmful ideas should not make us angry, and that we should never get angry at anyone who brings them up?

Ron Lindsay recently wrote a piece, “Questioning Humanist Orthodoxy: Introduction to a Series” (No Faith Value blog, May 18, 2015), in which he criticized, among other things, humanists who respond angrily and emotionally to supporters of the death penalty, and who don’t calmly make what Lindsay considers to be good, rational arguments against it. PZ Myers has already responded to the core content of Lindsay’s essay (“Brave Ron Lindsay,” Pharyngula blog, May 19, 2015), so I’m not going to do that here. And in any case, I don’t want to pick on Lindsay: he is very far from the only person to put forth this idea. Several prominent atheists and skeptics have chided progressives for expressing anger over debates about abortion (citations collected at “Having a Reasonable Debate About Abortion,” Greta Christina’s Blog, March 13, 2014), and Massimo Pigliucci described these debates about abortion as “a tempest in a teapot” (“David Silverman and the scope of atheism,” Rationally Speaking blog, March 14, 2014).

This is a very common idea in the skeptical world: the idea that being a skeptic means being willing to entertain and discuss any and all ideas, with a completely open mind, with no attachment to any particular outcome — and with no emotional response.

And it’s an idea that should be taken out into the street and shot.

homosexuality can be cured newspaperLet’s set aside abortion and the death penalty for a moment. Let’s use some different examples, ones that will make my point more clear. Let’s imagine that someone shows up at your dinner party, or comes into your online forum, and says that husbands should be allowed to beat and rape their wives. Or that homosexuality is a serious and dangerous mental illness, and gay people should be locked up in mental institutions. Or that black people aren’t fully human.

How are you going to respond? Are you going to say, “Hm, that’s an interesting idea — I don’t agree, but I’m curious why you think that, let’s calmly look at the evidence and examine the pros and cons”?

Or are you going to say some version of, “That is vile. That is despicable. The fact that you’re even proposing that is morally repulsive. Apologize, or get the hell out”?

And assuming that you did call the idea vile and toss the person out — how would you respond to someone telling you, “You’re a bad skeptic! You shouldn’t be so emotional! If someone is questioning black people’s basic humanity, you should be willing to debate that dispassionately, and with an open mind!”? [Read more…]

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!