Alex Gabriel’s recently compiled list called “100 of Britain and Ireland’s Secular Thinkers You Should Know About, Who Aren’t White Men” includes some really wonderful people (many of whom I have worked with closely). It also includes people who are not so great. Given the inconsistencies, it does give me a sense of a “racism of lower expectations”. It seems you don’t need to have done much to be on the list; you don’t even need to live in the UK or Ireland or be “secular” or a “thinker” for that matter – just as long as you aren’t white and male. [Also, many who have spent a lifetime working for secularism haven't even got a mention.]
Of course, it’s always good to find out about secularists we might not know of but the list starts by denigrating white men rather than promoting secularists on their own merit. The title of the original list of which this is an updated one is even worse: it was called “100 interesting atheists in Britain who aren’t old, white, privileged straight men”.
Frankly, I find the practice of reducing people in this way – white and male – to be just as abhorrent as reducing them to let’s say “Muslim”. There’s an implication of a homogeneous community where none exists and an assumption that based on one’s colour, age or sex, one is automatically a certain way or privileged, which is not the case. Reducing people in this way ignores where people stand on issues, their politics, their choices, and their struggles. It ignores class politics. Plus it’s demeaning and dehumanising.
I would stand with Richard Dawkins and A C Grayling (mentioned in the list as examples of “white men”) any day of the week and not with someone like Saeed Kamali Dehghan who is on the list and is Iranian-born like myself but who has made a career (at the Guardian no less) out of defending the “reformist” faction of the Islamic regime of Iran. He wouldn’t be called a secularist unless you redefine the term to mean only those who are not “white men”.
Of course this is not to say that we shouldn’t be promoting secularists and atheists who aren’t visible and aren’t given a platform. As someone mentioned on the list, I know full well the difficulties of not being seen or heard and the importance of support like that which Alex is trying (albeit poorly) to give. There has to be better ways of doing it.
Also, this is not to say that sexism and racism don’t exist (read this piece by Soraya Chemaly on why there aren’t more women in atheism) but one doesn’t choose their allies and friends based on their colour or their sex or age…
I know it has become fashionable with multiculturalism and cultural relativism to create imagined communities based on identity politics but it is regressive to do so. This point of view basically sees all white men as problematic and makes excuses for Islamists in the name of tolerance and respect. I know this is not what Alex is doing but this type of thinking is what leads to liberals and lefties defending Islamism as a defence of “Muslims” and “minorities”.
Megan McCauley’s recent Tweet is a good case in point in what happens when one sees things this way. She says:
…Islamophobia is an act of white supremacy when it comes from a white perspective, like say Dawkins
What nonsense. Of course Megan is free to defend Islam and Islamism all she likes but she will need a better argument for it than hiding behind Dawkins’ skin colour. Most importantly, from my point of view, these types of “arguments” in addition to being regressive also hurt international and human solidarity. You can’t speak out against Islamism’s barbarity if you’re a “white male”, if you’re an “old white male”… Where does it end?
What happened to good old fashioned solidarity where you spoke out against injustice just because it was unjust? And even if Megan doesn’t see it, Islamism – under the banner of Islam – is slaughtering countless human beings across the globe and we need people to speak out – “white” or not.
Speaking out doesn’t make Dawkins a “white supremac[ist]“, any more than my opposing the Islamic regime of Iran makes me a defender of US militarism or vice versa. You need to see people’s criticism’s within a context and by looking at where they stand on issues, their politics, and so on.
Cultural relativism has been bad for so many reasons including defending the holocaust of our era but it has also been bad for people like Megan – making lazy criticism acceptable.
Either way, we can’t stop our criticism of Islam, religion or Islamism, which by the way Megan kills more “Muslims” than anyone else.