Ask Crommunist Anything

Many of you may not know that I am fairly active on Reddit. I discovered r/atheism just over a year ago and began branching out to other subreddits shortly after that. For all the (mostly justified) criticism that r/atheism garners, it is a wonderful place for atheists who can’t be part of a physical community. There is a lesser-known subreddit called r/blackatheism that aggregates content relevant to black atheists. One of the moderators suggested that I post an AMA (Ask Me Anything – an open-ended opportunity to ask questions and have them answered).

So I did.

I don’t know if any of you have questions that you’d like to ask me about being a black atheist, about blogging, about personal stuff in my life, or whatever. If you do, head on over to the linked AMA and submit your question.

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  1. jamessweet says

    Okay, I’ve got one. I almost asked this when you first posted it, then changed my mind, but then I learned in the other post that you have one white parent so you are probably better qualified to answer this question than I had thought.

    I have found that, in my opinion at least, a sizeable fraction of children of mixed-race couples have this sort of charming beauty to them. Not only white/black, but any mixed race pairing. It’s not always true, of course, but some of the most remarkable looking children I’ve seen have been children of mixed race parents.

    The question: Is this a racially insensitive thing to say? I know that just because a comment is positive does not mean that it is okay, especially when the comment involves stereotyping — which, let’s face it, is what I am doing here. Is saying “Mixed race children are so beautiful!” as bad as saying, “Boy, black guys sure are good at basketball!”?

  2. jamessweet says

    Thanks for the article, and the honest answer. I think the article is a little bit incorrect to completely dismiss the idea that genetic diversity could have any benefits… I mean, I doubt very many mixed race individuals have sickle cell anemia or Tay-Sachs disease. But the overall point is well-taken. I hadn’t really been thinking of it that way anyway.

    It sort of felt like it was a racially insensitive thing to say (which is why the only person I’ve said it to before is my wife, and I hesitated to even ask, even though you said “Ask me anything”), but I couldn’t really put my finger on why. The article helps clear it up pretty well.

    Money quote:

    [H]onestly, how many normal, everyday mixed people do you make note of? What does it take for you to even get to the point where you know for sure that we are mixed? Chances are, for us to be noticed on that level, we either have to be in the media (which is going to obviously over-represent the “hot” mixed folks), or else we just have to stand out from the backdrop of everyday life. And if we’re good-looking, that’s one way to do so.

    I mean, how often do you think about or even ask some “below-average” guy or gal, “wow – you have such an interesting look, what is your racial background?” Right. You don’t. So you likely aren’t even aware of the thousands of mixed people you walked right by on the street that were not “beautiful.”

    The flip side also being, how many people do I see and say, “Wow, that person has such an enchanting and interesting look to them,” and they are not mixed race and I don’t tally it in that column.

    Yep. Confirmation bias. I think the author is right. Thanks.

  3. jamessweet says

    And by the way, thank you for being the kind of guy where I feel like I can ask this question. As I said, I sort of felt like it was not okay to say things like that, but I couldn’t really put my finger on why. I can’t really think of anybody besides you who a) would be qualified to give me an answer and b) I’d feel comfortable asking. I really appreciate your openness and your willingness to discuss issues that where I might find myself occasionally straying out of bounds.

  4. says

    Well obviously I’m glad you feel comfortable talking about this stuff with me, but you don’t have to thank me for simply being who I am. I want us all to have the language and confidence to have this discussion. That’s why I write about this topic. It’s gratifying to know that a) you put some thought into the question before asking it, and b) you felt comfortable admitting that you didn’t know something. If we all do that (in general, as well as in this specific circumstance), the world gets a lot better immediately.

  5. says

    I have a question! Two, actually.

    Have you spent much time in the US? If so, where and what kind of (if any) cultural differences did you notice?

    (I’ve only been to Canada as a child. I remember nothing except a double-decker bus. Sadly I know almost nothing about it.)

    And here’s a really dumb one: Is it a Canadian thing to say “Bye-Bye” instead of just “Bye”? I sometimes listen to a CBC radio show called “As it Happens” on my local public radio and I always find myself stupidly wondering this. They say it all the time!

    They have a lot of humor segments on the show, so I can see using it then. But sometimes they’ll do a really serious segment and when ending a phone interview say “Bye-Bye”, and the other person will invariably respond in kind. It always strikes me sweet and friendly, yet oddly appalling at the same time. Bye-bye is something I would reserve for children and close friends and small, cute animals. I can’t tell if that’s just me or not though.

  6. says

    I took a car trip across the northern states when I was a kid, I’ve been to Orlando, NYC, Boston (love that place), and Philadelphia for travel. Never been to the southern US (unless you count Orlando), and hope to never have to go. That country scares the bejeezus out of me.

    I don’t think ‘bye bye’ is a Canadian -ism. Buh-bye I’ve heard, but I’d be surprised to learn that it’s a dialect thing. One that I HAVE noticed is that Canadians will say “sorry?” when they haven’t heard something you’ve said. Americans, by contrast, say “huh?” Not all Americans, but if the person responds “huh?” to a statement, they’re an American. Same with saying “yeah” or “sure” when someone says “thank you” – that’s an American thing.

  7. dianne says

    That country scares the bejeezus out of me.

    Can I ask why? I can think of a number of things about the US that scare the crap out of me, but I’m wondering what you found frightening.

  8. says

    Yikes. Where to start…

    The wide proliferation of open hatred and bigotry – so much so that it is mainstream and ‘acceptable’ for a politician to run on an anti-gay, anti-woman, anti-science, anti-PoC platform. Severe racial imbalance and the decent chance that I will be randomly stopped and frisked by police for standing on the wrong corner, possibly arrested/pepper sprayed/tased/shot. The fact that people think it’s normal or even a good idea to walk around with a loaded weapon. The fact that unless I walk around armed to the teeth with medical insurance I could end up with a life-altering debt load for a stubbed toe. The likelihood of getting molested for trying to board a plane, and the people who think that policy should be extended to buses and trains as well…

    There’s a lot of reasons I don’t want to go to the States. That’s just the first handful that popped into my head.

  9. Ace of Sevens says

    Does it bug you when people call you African-American? (I’m assuming that since you have spent at least a little time around Americans, this has happened.)

  10. P Smith says

    Males (they are not men) who say “Asian women are hot/exotic” are as bigoted as those who speak derisively of Asian people’s eyes. Objectifying people is idiotic.

    This is going to sound like a horrible “Yes, but”, but….

    Where does objectification and bigotry end, and personal preference begin? (Obviously, they are rhetorical questions.) There are certain features I like to see on women (no, not the chest), and women who lack it aren’t as visibly appealling to my eyes. Is that taste, or just distasteful?

    And in regard to mixed ancestry, wouldn’t anyone reading agree that no one ethnicity is “perfect”, that there are attractive features in all groups? That a person of mixed ancestry might be attractive in a unique way (not “better”, unique) because he/she draws from both? People of mixed parentage are visibly different and it can make them attractive in their own way, different from both sides of their family.

    I hope it’s clear that I’m only referring to “eye candy” here. In conversation and everyday personal contact, looks become irrelevant. Looks wouldn’t stop me from socializing with anyone.


  11. StevoR says

    Okay, here goes :

    Do you think racism is an intrinsic part of being human – that to some degree or other we are *all* racist and its just that some people are aware of this and try harder not to be than others?

    If somebody knows they are racist and tries to be aware mindful of that and tries not to “give in” to their racist impulse does that make them not racist or still somewhat racist?

  12. jamessweet says

    Where does objectification and bigotry end, and personal preference begin?

    Yeah, that’s a tough one. I’ve thought about that some myself.

    Particularly in regards to sexual attraction, even if some aspect of one’s personal preference is a result of unconciously reinforced prejudices, it’s not like one can really help it, y’know? You can change how you act on it, and I suppose that examining prejudice might make preference change over time… with the operative word being “might”. But you can’t really instantly change what you find attractive any more than you can suddenly “decide” to like olives.

  13. jamessweet says

    I know it’s Ask Crommie, but can I give my answer too? 🙂

    I think it’s very natural (not good, just natural) to view people who are different and unusual from what you are used to with suspicion and fear, and even contempt. We seem to be pretty naturally keyed in to an in-group/out-group distinction, and it’s difficult to avoid that. Even for those who are consciously aware of it enough to (mostly) suspend the suspicion and fear, it’s nearly impossible not to treat someone differently if they have some trait which is unfamiliar to you (e.g. this is why people like me sometimes inadvertently find ourselves being overly polite or friendly to people of other races… Once you are consciously aware of there being a difference, it is almost impossible to not have that manifest in some way)

    The good news is that I don’t think there is any evolved reason why the in-group/out-group distinction has to be keyed off of skin color. I think that people who grow up in well-integrated societies do not tend to have this issue. While I think “Don’t trust people who seem different from the people you are familiar with” is coded into our DNA, I don’t think that’s the case with “Don’t trust people whose skin color is different from yours.” As long as you grow up in a racially diverse setting, I don’t think it is necessarily a problem.

    (And just to be clear, when I say “coded into our DNA”, I do not mean it is inevitable. Just that it’s difficult and takes constant mindfulness.)

  14. Pteryxx says

    Where does objectification and bigotry end, and personal preference begin? (Obviously, they are rhetorical questions.)

    Actually, Natalie Reed addressed those questions in some detail here:

    Trans fans: The question of fetishization

    If it’s a phenotype trait a human being can have, someone somewhere is turned on by it. And that’s completely okay. The last thing I want to do is start arbitrarily policing people’s sexuality.

    But where things get problematic is when we get overlaps between the phenotypes and social categories. When it goes from “I think long, dark, straight hair and smaller than average breasts are sexy” to “I’m into Asian girls”, it starts getting murky and difficult and linked to categorism…

  15. Pteryxx says

    james, that’s a really good answer. (I saved it.) I’d like to add that it’s also possible to acculturate people (and animals) to variety itself. As in, training them to respond with curiosity instead of fear when something strange happens. Personally I suspect that when people are NOT stressed or desperate, they’ll mostly still HAVE ingroup/outgroup identification, but the reactions would be less harmful.

  16. says

    I reject the binary “racist” and “not racist”. Racist, like “skeptic” is a word that describes institutions, attitudes, and behaviours, not people. We are all susceptible to bad ideas, and if we adopt an approach of self-scrutiny we can minimize the effect that those attitudes have on our behaviour.

  17. dianne says

    If it’s ask Crommunist anything, I’ll ask…Is it a bad thing that I spent more time snickering at your post on “Americans: not quite as dumb as I thought” than thinking deep thoughts about it?

  18. jamessweet says

    Is it too late for this one? I thought of another one this morning that I’d be interested in your opinion on. Namely: What do you think of the word “niggardly”?

    My opinion on this has evolved somewhat. When the controversy first erupted, by reaction could be neatly summarize as, “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.” These days, while I still hold a very special facepalm for those whose, ahem, niggardly vocabularies caused them to go completely apoplectic at David Howard’s use of the word, I have come to feel that the unfortunate homophonic similarity will inevitably cause negative associations even among some who are fully aware that the words are not only different, but etymologically unrelated. It is a word probably best avoided.

    I find it interesting that Julian Bond spoke out in unreserved support of Howard’s right to use the word. While, as I say, I’ve come to disagree slightly, it’s always encouraging when an organization shows the ability for nuance and philosophical consistency over identity politics. A similar example is the way in which the ACLU is equally willing to defend free speech for the religious as it is to fight government-sponsored religious speech. This is in contrast to the Liberty Counsel, which some say as the anti-ACLU, but it really isn’t since they will always take the side of the Christian in any case.

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