More Atheist Leaders Who Aren’t Dawkins or Harris: Alix Jules

In June, I wrote a piece for AlterNet, titled 8 Awesome Atheist Leaders Who Aren’t Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris. The gist: When a media outlet decides that atheism is important, they all too often turn to Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris. Then, when Dawkins or Harris puts their foot in their mouth about race or gender — again — the reporter cries out, “Atheism needs better leadership! Why doesn’t atheism have better leaders?” Atheism does have better leaders — so I profiled eight of them, to bring just a small fragment of the range and variety of atheist leadership to more people’s attention.

At the end of that piece, I wrote, “And these eight are the tip of the iceberg… I could write a new profile of a different atheist leader every week, and still be at it ten years from now.”

So I decided: Why not do that?

I don’t know if I’ll do it for ten years. But for at least a while, once a week I’ll be profiling and interviewing a different leader in organized atheism.

Alix Jules 1This week’s profile/interview: Alix Jules. Jules is President of Black Non-Believers of Dallas (BNOD), an organization created to provide networking opportunities for nonbelieving peoples of color. It is open to everyone; however, its focus is to provide a safe space for godless black and brown nonbelievers. They provide a southern beacon to our friends in shared disbelief, reminding them they’re not alone. Jules is also Board Member/Treasurer of Secular Avenue, a 501(c)(3) organization formed to help secular people in need to achieve safety, stability, and autonomy. The initial focus of Secular Avenue is SAFE, a program to assist people who are unsafe at home due to leaving religion, religious extremism, domestic abuse, or coming out as LGBTQ. He occasionally contributes to writing projects, blogs, podcasts, rallies, protests, etc.

GC: Tell me about a specific project or projects your organization is working on.

AJ: Black Non-Believers of Dallas is sending a child to Camp Quest this year through our sponsorship. We had more than normal cries of “reverse discrimination” this year, so we may start raising money a little earlier for next year where we’d like to sponsor more children nationally.

Secular Avenue is always fundraising to help survivors. The more money we take in, the bigger the impact on lives. Secularavenue.org

Personally, I’m very excited about the Secular Social Justice Conference in January, the Black Nonbelievers Anniversary celebration in 2016 and Apostacon this year in Sept, which will be held in Dallas. I’m excited to be speaking at each.

Where would you like to see organized atheism go in the next 10 to 20 years?

Honestly, I’d like to see so much progress in secularism in the next 20 years that the organized atheism movement becomes obsolete.

It might be a little Utopian, but the idea of generalized godlessness or normalized agnosticism, minus any theocratic undertones or allusions to doctrine, would be awesome! I’d like to see Atheism so mainstream that we’ve replaced the term “Atheist Leaders” with “leaders who just happen to be Atheist.” All without controversy.

That would at least signal some muting of the booming religious right and maybe even indicate an abridgment of their encroaching religious agendas. As a humanist, I find that there are so many other things to focus on including civil liberties, general inequalities, education, health, wealth disparities, various forms of privilege, and all the bad “isms” and bigotry. God’s just not that important. Unfortunately, many of those aforementioned “isms” still center on what his followers believe he demands.

In contrast, growing global religiosity in places like Africa (where unchecked superstitious beliefs, witchcraft, and homophobia run rampant) will demand attention from the worldwide atheist and secular humanist communities.

However, I fear, as we’ve seen with our response to American #BlackLivesMattering, that ideas such as #AllBlackLivesMattering or #AfricanLivesMattering will culminate into a self-aggrandizing show of telethon sponsorships, denial of the role played by certain racial actors in creating the problem, or passive acceptance that those #BlackLivesOverThereDon’tMatterEither.

What do you think are the main challenges facing organized atheism now?

Atheists are human too and many of them refuse to accept that. There is some narcissism that comes with organized atheism. We “know better” when it comes to god. That’s almost a universal affirmation. Unfortunately, being presumably right about one thing does not make us necessarily right about everything. That’s fallacious. We are prone to many of the aforementioned “isms,” but instead of justifying them “because god” we’ve shifted to shielding ourselves from our own criticism.

This is particularly the case when addressing race.

Every few years people want to classify atheism as a mental illness. Of course I disagree with this assessment, however if we were to plot it on an axis like an illness, I’d guess that Atheism would have an extremely high co-morbidity rate with colorblindness.

There also tends to be lack of acknowledgement of the intersectionality of issues where organized atheism could have impact, but my arguments are besieged by claims of scope creep, flat out denial, or ally paralysis. On issues such as the flag, police brutality and/or murder, false incarceration issues, etc., you’ll find less than prominent ministers shouting from the rooftops – but nothing from their more prominent godless peers.

Figuratively speaking, imagine the message if the president of a national atheist organization known for running brash anti-theistic billboards in December, were to show up on the ground to protest the treatment of “humans beings” as “black people” at the hands of the police.

Imagine that.

Alix Jules 2Do you consider yourself a “new atheist”? Why or why not?

I do, but less so today than I once did when I joined the “new atheist” movement. I’m an atheist that happens to be black, or a person of color, but everyone sees black first (colorblind or not). When I came out as an atheist, I was very out. I still have the in your face T-shirts.

However, I’ve shifted over the years to adopt more of a Humanist label. I don’t shy away from the term “Atheist,” but my humanity is tested daily and my humanism compels me to do more than “not believe in gods.”

In addition, it can become an operose task to embrace a movement that although growing in diversity, isn’t at its core inclusive. Actively addressing what’s wrong with the world, rather than meandering through life self-satiating on the fruits of knowledge, drives me. My atheism is somewhere between byproduct and fountainhead of my humanism – and I try my best to not let it become a wedge distancing me from other humans that need help.


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.

What Should People *Not* Say to Grieving Nonbelievers?

tearsI’m writing a piece for AlterNet, tentatively titled “Things Not to Say to Grieving Nonbelievers” — and I’m collecting stories.

If you’re an atheist or other nonbeliever, and you have a story (or stories) about things believers said to you when you were grieving that were callous, insensitive, disrespectful, clueless, or otherwise hurtful or upsetting — I want to hear about it. To the best of your recollection, please tell me what the circumstances were, what was said, who said it (i.e., was it a friend, a sibling, etc.), and why it was upsetting. If you only feel comfortable telling part of this, that’s fine.

You can post your story or stories in the comments here — or, if you prefer, you can email them to me at gcgreta@doubtfulpalace.com. (If you email me, please put “Grieving Nonbeliever” in the subject line.) Please be sure to tell me what name you want to be quoted under (if you don’t, I’ll err on the side of caution and make up a pseudonym for you). Let me know if you have any questions. 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.

“The lion’s share of what is on Facebook”: Some Thoughts on Online Politics

In response to my earlier post, Some Notes to Progressives on Criticizing Conservatives, I got this comment:

Greta, what you are citing is not issue advocacy. It is mindless and immature ranting, which is the lion’s share of what is on Facebook. I have almost given up trying to have anything resembling an exchange of ideas on Facebook. It is just not the type of forum that is conducive to a rational discourse, without heavy moderation and a commitment among participants to keep it at a sensible level. Too much ignorance for me.

It’s a commonly expressed sentiment, so I wanted to amplify my reply. Thus, this blog post.

Facebook thumbs upSorry, but I don’t buy the idea that “oh, that’s just Facebook.” For one thing, it’s not true (or it’s often not true). I’ve seen, and participated in, many very good political conversations on Facebook and other social media. Yes, it requires heavy moderation and a commitment among participants. That’s true of any online forum.

For another: Interaction on social media is human interaction. [Read more…]

Some Notes to Progressives on Criticizing Conservatives

Ahem.

Based on some Facebook interactions (I won’t post them here, but you can see the interactions in this thread), I have a couple of notes to progressives on criticizing conservatives.

Note 1: Can you please not criticize Ann Coulter by talking about her prominent Adam’s apple, or saying she looks like a man? It’s sexist, and it’s transphobic. It’s sexist because you’re criticizing a woman in the public sphere by insulting her appearance, when that shouldn’t be relevant. And it’s both sexist and transphobic to insult women by saying they look like men: it reinforces the rigid gender binary, and reinforces the gender policing of trans people. There are approximately 879,500,403 legitimately negative things you can say about Ann Coulter. There’s no need to resort to sexism and transphobia. Thanks.

Aaaaaaaaaaand, Note 2: When someone says, “Hey, when you criticize conservatives, can you please not do it in this sexist and transphobic way,” and you reply (paraphrasing here, but not by much), “I’M NOT BEING TRANSPHOBIC OR SEXIST, THEY’RE A TERRIBLE PERSON SO I SHOULD BE ABLE TO SAY ANYTHING I WANT ABOUT THEM INCLUDING INSULTING WOMEN FOR LOOKING UGLY AND TRANS, AND I’M GOING TO THROW IN SOME HOMOPHOBIC INSULTS AT A CONSERVATIVE I THINK IS GAY WHILE I’M AT IT, YOU’RE BEING PC AND UNDERMINING FREEZE PEACH, DON’T TELL ME TO STOP I WILL DO WHATEVER I WANT FOREVER” — you have 100% failed at being an ally. In fact, you’ve 100% failed at being progressive. You are more interested in rooting for Team Progressive and dissing Team Conservative than you are in actually advocating for the issues that progressives supposedly care about.

I’m just sayin’, is all.


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.

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!

Eight Atheist Leaders Who Aren’t Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris

This piece was originally published on AlterNet.

If you’ve read anything about the blossoming atheist movement, there’s a good chance it was about Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris. And if you’re a reasonably progressive person who cares about sexism and racism, and you’ve read about Dawkins or Harris, there’s an excellent chance that the top of your head came off.

There’s this pattern with media coverage of organized atheism. When a media outlet decides that atheism is interesting and important, they all too often turn to Dawkins or Harris. Then, when Dawkins or Harris puts their foot in their mouth — again — the reporter cries out, “Atheism needs better leadership! Why doesn’t atheism have better leaders?”

Atheism does have better leaders. Plenty of them. Organized atheism has hundreds of leaders, arguably thousands — leaders of support organizations, charitable organizations, advocacy groups, online communities, local groups, and more. I’d like to introduce you to eight of them.

(Transparency note: All the people on this list are colleagues, and some are friends.)

Rebecca Hensler 1501: Rebecca Hensler. In 2011, Hensler founded Grief Beyond Belief, a support organization for people who are grieving without belief in an afterlife or a higher power. They provide online and face-to-face opportunities for people to share compassion, advice, and resources without the intrusion of religion or spiritualism. Since 2011, they have expanded to a confidential Facebook-based support group with over 1,800 members and seven other volunteer administrators; a website with a library of over 300 links to faith-free grief writing, podcasts and videos; and secular grief-support workshops at freethought events around the US. Right now, they’re working on bringing secular grief support workshops to as many communities as possible.

Where would you like to see organized atheism go in the next ten to twenty years?

Well, first of all, I want everyone who joins the organized community with respect and goodwill to feel welcomed, included and represented, regardless of gender, economic resources, race, education, political leanings or age. That means that so-called leaders need to cut the crap and check themselves and each other regarding how they treat people who aren’t in the same demographic as the “Four Horsemen.” I don’t want to be part of a community that says, “Welcome to new atheism; now fork out a couple hundred bucks to register for a conference and prepare for a weekend of microaggressions and invisibility.” When nonbelievers who never even knew there was an organized atheist community encounter it through Grief Beyond Belief, I want them to feel like there is a place to plug in where their needs are considered and their contributions — whatever they may be — are appreciated.

Over the next decade, I see the secular support movement growing, meeting an ever broader range of needs, and becoming more visible. I envision the organized atheist community developing as a structure with four sides: a political side including activists, lobbyists and politicians (because we will be seeing out atheist politicians within the next decade); an academic side, including scientists, historians and philosophers; a communications side including writers, podcasters and video producers; and a supportive side meeting the emotional, social and welfare needs of nonbelievers. Imagine what we can do if we all work together and respect and benefit from each other’s work!

What do you think are the main challenges facing organized atheism now?

First of all, there’s the realistic fear many have of living as out atheists. People who are physically safe being out, with sufficient resources to cushion themselves from potential harm, must let go of the need to feel comfortable too. There will be a substantial amount of feeling uncomfortable before the majority of Americans are cool with us. We went through it as queers and most of us survived it. Atheists can do it too; at least atheists aren’t fighting an epidemic at the same time.

Secondly, there’s the way the mainstream media is always looking to the same people to speak for our movement. We need to encourage the visibility of the everyday people doing the work of growing and nurturing the community. What is it with movements needing leaders and spokespeople anyway? Just once could we create change without elevating certain people above the rest as symbols of that change?

Thirdly (and you knew I would get to this) there are conflicts within the atheist movement. We often neglect to assume best intentions, which is a strategy necessary for healthy collaboration. But assuming best intentions with our fellow atheists is a challenge when there is a small cadre of atheists whose intentions are not kind or respectful but threatening and abusive, specifically towards women who identify and criticize sexism. There are also a substantial number of community members, many of whom I call friends, who don’t always differentiate that cadre’s hateful and violent speech from respectful disagreement. This has led to a ever-widening chasm between the “let’s all get along” folk and a number of prominent atheist feminists.

The hateful cadre? They can go to nonexistent hell. No one who makes any kind of threat belongs in the atheist community. The rest of us would benefit from figuring out how to work together. That would require the “let’s all get along” folk to stop referring to threats and hate speech as “disagreement.” And it would require us feminists to be very careful ourselves about not mistaking disagreement or ignorance for unforgivable bigotry. As Bernice Johnson Reagon said, “a coalition is not a home”; we should not need to agree or even feel comfortable with each other to work together.

Do you consider yourself a “new atheist”? Why or why not?

Hold on while I google “New Atheists”…

Honestly, I’m not sure. I think and write a lot about atheism, but mostly in terms of what people need to be well and happy in the only lifetime we’ve got. Part of the definition of a New Atheist appears to be encouraging others to let go of faith-based beliefs and base their actions on reason and knowledge; that’s not my role in the atheist community.

However, the secular support movement helps people live with the challenges and troubles that come with being human without turning to myths or mysticism, and that makes leaving religion easier for those who choose to. And I’m not certain the secular support movement would have arisen in the organic way it has without the rise of new atheism first. So maybe I’m post-new-atheism… [Read more…]

Godless Perverts Social Club Thursday July 16: After Marriage Equality, What’s Next?

Godless Perverts Social Club banner 7-16-15

The Godless Perverts Social Club is meeting tonight, Thursday July 16! We’re picking a discussion topic ahead of time — and this time, the topic is After Marriage Equality, What’s Next? Marriage equality is now legal across the U.S. So what’s next for sexual and gender politics? In the fight for secular sexual liberation and against the religious right, what issues should be our priority? Should we be focusing on transgender rights, employment and housing discrimination, homelessness among LGBT teens? Should polyamorous marriage be on the table? How shall queer communities face the problems of racism and classism? And how can atheists and skeptics support the fight for secular, evidence-based policies about gender and sex?

So please join us! Community is one of the reasons we started Godless Perverts. There are few enough places to land when you decide that you’re an atheist; far fewer if you’re also LGBT, queer, kinky, poly, trans, or are just interested in sexuality. And the sex-positive/ alt-sex/ whatever- you- want- to- call- it community isn’t always the most welcoming place for non-believers. All orientations, genders, and kinks (or lack thereof) welcome. Admission is free, but we ask that you buy food and/or drink at the cafe if you can: they have beverages, light snacks, full meals, and milkshakes made of literal awesome sauce.

The Godless Perverts Social Club meets on the first Tuesday and the third Thursday of every month, 7-9 pm, at Wicked Grounds, 289 8th Street at Folsom in San Francisco (near Civic Center BART). Admission is free, but we ask that you buy food and/or drink at the cafe if you can: they have beverages, light snacks, full meals, and milkshakes made of literal awesome sauce. [Read more…]

Greta Speaking in Manteca, CA! Plus San Juan Puerto Rico, and Winnipeg Manitoba

Hi, all! I’m speaking tomorrow (Wednesday, July 15) in Manteca, CA, on the topic of “Coming Out Atheist – How To Do It, How to Help Each Other Do It, And Why”! Plus I have speaking gigs coming up in San Juan Puerto Rico, and Winnipeg Manitoba. Details are below. If you’re in or near any of these cities, I hope to see you there!

Coming Out AtheistCITY: Manteca, CA
DATE: Wednesday, July 15, 2015
TIME: 7:15 pm
TOPIC: Coming Out Atheist – How To Do It, How to Help Each Other Do It, And Why
SUMMARY: Coming out is the most powerful political act atheists can take. But coming out can be difficult and risky. What are some specific, practical, nuts-and-bolts strategies we can use: to come out of the closet, to support each other in coming out, and to make the atheist community a safer place to come out into? What can atheists learn about coming out from the LGBT community and their decades of coming-out experience — and what can we learn from the important differences between coming out atheist and coming out queer?
LOCATION: Manteca Library, 320 W Center St, Manteca, CA
HOST: Stockton Area Atheists and Freethinkers
COST: Free. Suggested donations of $20 to support this and future colloquiums are appreciated.
EVENT URL: meetup.com/Stockton-Atheist/events/219545698/ [Read more…]

Dream diary, 7/10/15: Walking the line

sao-joao-avenueI dreamed that there was a new hobby sweeping the nation, called “Walking the Line” or just “Walking.” On an agreed-upon day, people would come out in the streets and walk down the line in the middle of the street, carrying interesting objects. When they passed each other, they would offer each other the object they were carrying, and decide whether or not they wanted to trade. It occurred to me at one point that it might be dangerous, but it was clear that the car drivers were respectful of the hobby and were driving very safely.

This was an extremely pleasant dream: I ran into lots of people I know and like, and got to enjoy looking at many interesting objects.


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 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.