The practical reason why atheists should care about diversity

I’ve long argued why increasing diversity if the right thing to do for ethical reasons – hey, we shouldn’t be unintentionally excluding people based on their race or ethnicity, right? But as those arguments don’t seem to work for some atheists, let’s turn to the numbers:

Within three decades, there will no longer be a majority racial or ethnic group in the Unites States according to new Census Bureau projections released this week. Among the other findings: the country is growing slower than expected.
Michael Cooper reports on the first set of projections issued by the Census Bureau based on the 2010 Census results. “The next half century marks key points in continuing trends — the U.S. will become a plurality nation, where the non-Hispanic white population remains the largest single group, but no group is in the majority,” the bureau’s acting director, Thomas L. Mesenbourg, said in a statement.

When I’m 55, I’ll be looking at a country that looks less and less like pasty ol’ me. And that’s fine! But this should give atheist activists pause. Our groups and organizations are already disproportionately white – I can usually count the number of black people attending a major conference on one hand. Our base of white folks is slowly dwindling, while the predominantly Catholic Hispanics and Christian African Americans are growing. Now we’re a minority within a majority, but we’re going to be shrinking even more.

Please, no racist fear-mongering that whites and/or atheists need to go pop out more babies. There’s a more reasonable and more ethical (whoops, ethics again!) solution. If we can make atheism relevant to racial minorities now, that will result in fewer children being raised in religious households down the line. It’s easier to get people on board now and watch the ripple effect, than wait thirty years and say “Hey, we’ve been ignoring you all this time, but you totally want to join now, right?!” And this doesn’t mean just standing around going “Well, we’re not actively discouraging minorities!” while discussing the History of European Freethinkers for the 39873th time. We need to address relevant issues like skepticism applied to drug laws and incarceration rates, or replicating religious community without the religion, or…well, maybe we should just listen to what they have to say without taking it personally.


  1. says

    Seems like a pretty obvious point to me.

    I want to see critical thinking and skepticism spread. The quicker the better. Because it would generally make a more sane and rational country for me to live in, among other things, and being a powerful country it would radiate out from there.
    Not actively discouraging minorities is not a strategy, or at least a failed strategy, for expanding skepticism.

  2. jenny6833a says

    I think we should advertise our atheism, and do so in ways that are relevant to each of the many racial/ethnic groups. Atheist conferences should happily accept all who respond. Yet, I don’t want to engage in evangelism at the personal level.

    Above all, I don’t want to turn atheism into an organization or, inevitably, a proliferation of competing atheist sects.

    I don’t want to become like them.

  3. cartboy says

    Always afraid to say things that might get taken wrong but here goes. IMHO it seems Catholic hispanic are a little more in the real world mind set than many others.

  4. says

    Good to see you blogging again.

    I think you make a very valid point here but maybe the point at stake is not about level of attendance but specifically about what those levels of attendance reflect.
    After all, Europe has managed to go a long way down the line without having to ‘make atheism relevant to group x’ in terms of what is discussed at conferences and conventions. In fact, I can’t recall ever knowing such things even existed until about a year ago, yet i happily find myself in a society with around 50% of the population claiming no religious belief.
    i think what i am proposing is that conference attendance demographics is not the issue, the issue is that ethnic minority communities tend to have far stronger levels of religiosity (same here in the UK) and that the issue at hand is how you get a foothold in those communities and make atheism acceptable and accessible. If i seem somewhat vague as to what that would actually entail doing then that is because haven’t got the first clue :) (at least i am honest, hehe!)
    Maybe when you DO hit 55 and the country looks less ‘pasty’ the situation may start to resolve itself? After all that lack of pastyness is to a large extent brought on by the greater and greater numbers of mixed race relationships. Maybe with that will come the cultural mixing and questioning of faiths that inevitably must ensue? Heres hoping!


  5. says

    “Please, no racist fear-mongering that whites and/or atheists need to go pop out more babies.”

    (sarcasm) OK, instead I am going to go out and adopt babies of color and indoctrinate them into atheism! Mwahahahah!!! ;)

    (serious) No, really. My wife is intersex, so we couldn’t pop out babies even if we wanted to. We’ll probably just adopt whatever we can get. I’m not going to be concerned about color. And, of course, teach them critical thinking, which should lead to them being atheists.

  6. says

    Adding to the choir: Good to see you throwing down.

    I would be interested to read a more lengthy expansion on what you mean when you write, “…replicating religious community without the religion” — both the positive aspects and, assuming the positive isn’t already obvious, the less than comfortable ramifications of human organization.

  7. says

    (submitted before adding:)

    The idea of inclusiveness might tie in with that of being open about one’s rejection of cult dogma. The history of atheism describes individuals who protected themselves from outsiders. I don’t think it is an accident that the modern culture of public atheism still tends toward exclusivism. It might sound ridiculous, but emphasizing inclusiveness in community might go hand in hand with public transparency.

  8. tychabrahe says

    I don’t know. This doesn’t sit well with me.

    We need to reach out and recruit minorities to atheism so that when POC are the majority we atheists won’t find ourselves in the back seat to the numerically superior Hispanic Catholics and Black Baptists?

    How about there are already Hispanic and Black atheists now, and we should reach out to them because diversity makes us stronger NOW, because they have things to contribute to our discussions and our events and our experiences NOW.

  9. Holms says

    Tychabrahe, I think that we can take what you said as a given, but what Jennifer posted was an additional reason for those that seem to need one.

    Also, I hope you’ve been feeling better lately Jen.

  10. =8)-DX says

    Yeah, diversity-positiveness should be the norm society-wide, not just at atheistic conferences – we should actively ensure that women, ethinic and sexual minorities get a say during atheist events, support and look for diversity-opinioned podcasts and blogs.

    I’m a bit lacking on the last two, which is all I can do, so I’ll try remedying that.

  11. naturalcynic says

    Oh, noooez. She’s baaack with her blogsite with intelligent comments that I will feel compelled to pay attention to!!!!11!! IOW, glad to see that you’re contributing again.
    Perhaps the best way to analye this situation is to find out how much there has been a change in the proportion of atheists PoC. If that proportion has increased over the past decades as it has for Whites, then it would seem likely that trend will continue.

  12. says

    I was just thinking about this point recently too. Atheist and skeptical groups can’t be content to be all white because the country is changing.

    Great to have you back. :)

  13. says

    Cethis says, “Atheist and skeptical groups can’t be content to be all white because the country is changing.”

    Why must there be atheist and skeptical groups? Before I was an atheist I was unchurched. Since becoming an atheist, I’ve been ungrouped.

    Ungroupedness is good.

  14. B says

    Isn’t the best strategy one of just speaking up and letting people know that we are not evil, and actually fairly nice? If someone wants to believe in a god, that’s their business, if we want our numbers up, they should go up only because people come to their own conclusion, not because a bunch of atheist went out and recruited them for their demographic value to the movement.
    Sorry, I can’t agree.

  15. says

    B says , “If someone wants to believe in a god, that’s their business, if we want our numbers up, they should go up only because people come to their own conclusion, not because a bunch of atheist went out and recruited them for their demographic value to the movement.”

    Agreed, except for the part about ‘movement.’ If someone wants to believe in a god, that’s their business; if someone doesn’t, that’s also their business. We don’t need ‘groups.’ We aren’t a ‘movement.’ We’re just individuals who don’t believe in a god.

    In my strongly cynical moments, I suspect that those who want to turn atheism into a ‘movement’ composed of ‘groups’ are fired by ambition to become the atheist pope — or a cardinal or bishop — and at least an atheist priest..

  16. eric1rom says

    A movement wouldn’t be mandatory. There’s no card.

    OTOH, a movement could give aid to those who would be atheists, if they had the cognitive tools to be one. Not everybody is an academic, nor even academically inclined. And some people LIKE groups.

    No one’s gonna make you genuflect to The Atheist Pope, secular be its name.

  17. says

    Groups are fine, so long as they’re optional and so long as they stick to atheism and potlucks. Moreover, we should definitely advertise and should maintain a strong presence in all media — with the message that gods aren’t needed and do more harm than good. But, when atheism defines itself as more than just lack of belief in gods, for example when ‘social justice’ becomes a required tenet, then we’re on our way to becoming a religion or something so close it doesn’t matter. At that point, cardinals, bishops, and priests — by one name or another — will appear as will atheist sects split along differences in what constitutes social justice.

    And I’ll be busily sniping from the periphery, just as I am now.

  18. B says

    jenny6833a says “We aren’t a ‘movement.’ We’re just individuals who don’t believe in a god.”…..
    Agreed, movement was a poor choice of word.

  19. B says

    eric1rom says “A movement wouldn’t be mandatory. There’s no card.”
    Yes, and you can’t start a activist group on the basis of what you don’t believe. You have to put a stake in the ground on what you do believe and work from there……
    A+ cannot make it because the A part is NOT a stake in the ground…it is NO stake in the ground.
    It seems the stake that has been placed in the ground is feminist issues……oops…better check my privledge….I will be quiet now.

  20. says

    Glad to see you blogging and I hope you enjoyed your time off and got some much needed rest.

    And yes, you are right that besides the “it’s the right thing to do” argument the pragmatic argument is also strong (something some Republicans are starting to learn on the electoral front) and it would still be strong even if the US weren’t to become a majority-minority country (there’s billions of people of colour in the world).

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