A petition in support of a more diverse freethinking community

Adam Lee of Daylight Atheism has created a petition on Change.org:

We support making the atheist movement more diverse and inclusive. It’s long been clear that the skeptical movement has a preponderance of white men. While we don’t disdain their participation, we believe skepticism is valuable and important to people in all walks of life, and in accordance with that principle, we consider it vital to have a movement that reflects the demographics of the society we live in. If our community continues to be dominated by white men, it will become increasingly out-of-touch and irrelevant as Western society becomes increasingly multiracial and multicultural and as non-Western countries gain economic and cultural power.

To that end, we urge the atheist and skeptical organizations to make a conscious commitment to diversity: to intentionally reach out to people of all ages, genders and ethnic backgrounds to speak at our conventions, to serve on our boards of directors, and to be the public faces and representatives of skepticism. We believe that there are talented, dedicated and eminently qualified people of every gender and every race, and that seeking them out will strengthen our movement and broaden its appeal.

I’ve talked about the value of diversity a number of time on this blog:

The list goes on. The TL/DR version of my views on diversity is that the wider variety of perspectives a group can draw from, the stronger it is, and the fewer mistakes it will make. Gender and race are two very obvious types of diversity that many voices have been pointing out as being absent from the discussion of secularism, skepticism, and freethought. The move to expand the appeal of the movement, at least by removing obvious barriers to participation, is an attempt to strengthen a movement that is rapidly coming to terms with its own limitations in terms of who it is reaching out to, and whose voices are represented.

I think if you ask people “Do you support diversity?”, most would say “yes” pretty quickly. The tricky bit arises when someone proposes a specific policy to actually improve diversity. All policies require change, and change makes people uncomfortable. They feel like they’re being forced to give away something that they deserve, and that doesn’t seem fair. Even if it wasn’t fair (and I certainly don’t grant that assertion except for the sake of argument), the fact remains that unless you believe that no changes are necessary at all, something’s gotta give.

If you do sincerely believe that no changes are necessary, then you are by extension saying that anyone who is not happy with the status quo does not have a reasonable complaint. That’s your prerogative, certainly, but I really have to start wondering about what attitudes motivate your view of the community. If you look out approvingly over a strongly majority-white, majority-male landscape, you should know that your view stands starkly at odds with a large group of people who have felt unwelcome to date – not because of their behaviour or their choices, but simply because of how their ‘group’ is treated by the majority. In a world that is increasingly becoming aware of the value of diversity and the dangers of monocultural environments, a community that stands (on principle) in opposition to attempts to increase diversity is doomed to failure and obsolescence (please see the Republican Party in the United States).

The atheist and freethinking community/communities are not immune from this kind of political reality, and to suggest that it is in their (our) best interest to refuse to make the types of adjustments and accommodations that every other group is making is, to be frank, utterly ridiculous. And while I am usually loath to speculate on the conscious motivations of people who oppose social justice, we know very well from the psychological literature that most of these types of attitudes find their start in the subconscious and then find ‘creative’* post-hoc ways to justify their a priori conclusions.

At any rate, if you support the idea of diversity and are willing to follow through on the attempts to make it a reality, sign the petition. If you support the idea of diversity but aren’t willing to do anything to actually make a change, then you might need to spend some time examining your own feelings and assumptions about why you think people in underrepresented groups don’t participate (and, I suppose, why you feel that those members of those groups who have been offering specifics are not worth listening to). If you don’t support the idea of diversity, then I guess there’s only one thing to say:

A woman screams "What the FUCK'S wrong with you?"

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*A word I use somewhat ironically. Anyone who uses the term “ultra-PC professional whiners” is about as creative as a Xerox machine.


  1. mythbri says

    If you look out approvingly over a strongly majority-white, majority-male landscape, you should know that your view stands starkly at odds with a large group of people who have felt unwelcome to date – not because of their behaviour or their choices, but simply because of how their ‘group’ is treated by the majority.

    Nuh-uh. They don’t see race (or gender). Everything is fair. It’s more racist/sexist to acknowledge differences and work expand demographics. Etc., etc.

  2. Melany says

    I have a small amount of money I budget for charity. I used to use that for membership in several skeptics/atheist groups. Several of them have let me down on these issues and I have since moved those donations to other causes (specifically 2 charities that are local and deal with homelessness and women’s justice). I would like to see freethought organizations spend a little less time pointing out the social injustice perpetrated by religious groups, and a little more time on becoming INVOLVED advocates of social justice.

  3. says

    I think you’re not alone in that opinion, Melany. I know for sure that the SSA is working toward that, and Sikivu Hutchinson focuses a lot on this issue in Los Angeles. Our own community here in Vancouver kind of got stalled when this conversation started, but there are a few things happening, which is good.

    Part of the issue is that awareness of the abuses caused by religion is a social justice issue. Criticism and activism aren’t the same thing, I am freely willing to admit. That being said, the freethinking community is tasked with providing a consistent voice on that issue. Yes, we should talk about and advocate for other social justice causes, but this one is our ‘home turf’, so I understand why people get a bit spikey about other social justice topics infiltrating the “no gods” message. There is a balance to be struck, and I don’t think we’ve reached it yet.

  4. mythbri says

    other social justice topics infiltrating the “no gods” message

    That’s the thing, though – you can’t trot out examples of social injustice perpetrated by religion and belief in the supernatural, and cling to other forms of those same social injustices (all the while thinking that you’re superior to those poor, deluded, oppressive religious fools).

    If you use examples of religious sexism and racism in your “no gods” message, then you have no right not to recognize the same in your own community.

  5. freemage says

    So, beams and motes, yeah. (Just ’cause I don’t believe in the book in toto anymore doesn’t mean I don’t remember the actual good moral arguments it makes…).

  6. says

    Yeah, that’s the thing: if it’s an abuse when religious people do it, it’s an abuse when atheists do it.

    And if we can’t be bothered to do better than religious people, what basis do we have for criticizing them for treating women, or other marginalized groups, badly? None.

    Ignoring diversity and the concerns of non-white non-male peoples deprives the movement of some essential tools.

    I suppose without that, the movement could still focus on opposing creationism and promoting science education, but even there, you can get into how students of color are often disproportionately disadvantaged by receiving substandard educations.

    It’s literally everywhere.

  7. says

    I finally signed myself. The delay was mostly deciding whether to sign as my online person or my real person. I chose online as I feel I am known this way and just signing my irl name would have less impact (not the Willo name has much impact). I hope that more and more people realize that diversity, intersectionality is important for all of us.

  8. jrumrill says

    That was the most articulate and succinct argument for diversity that I have ever seen. You are great.

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