Race and gender in the atheist movement?

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pantsheadmagee
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Re: Race and gender in the atheist movement?

Post by pantsheadmagee » Sun Sep 13, 2009 9:36 pm

FXR wrote:
pantsheadmagee wrote:
FXR wrote:Unless an organisation has rules and tangible practices preventing blacks or females from joining then she should be asking questions of the people who did'nt join instead of the people who did.
I believe that the point that she's making is that the movement does have practices making it more difficult for people who are not white, and/or people who are not male, from participating equally. Again, I recommend actually reading both posts before blaming nonwhite people (not just blacks you know) and women (and of course nonwhite women) for Just Not Participating Enough.
I'm not blaming non white/non male people for not joining non black/ non female people in an organisation. I'm speaking about her attitude and her misdirection.
All she's complaining about is that if an organisation is made up of a certain type of people their interests naturally will tend to dominate their view. The way to cure that is to find out why the people who have not joined don't. She could level the same accusation at lesbian organisations or African Heritage Appreciation organisations. She's also talking for black people and hetrosexual women instead of to them or better still letting them talk for themselves. If more of them joined and participated there would be no problem. Asking them why they don't join might be a bit more useful I'd think. If it was written by a non white/non male person about non female/non black people it might be more insightful since the non white/non male person could provide insights into why they were put off joining the non female/non black people.
First of all the reason that I said non-white, as opposed to 'black', is because a large proportion of people who aren't white also aren't black. It's not being PC, it's being accurate, and accurate language is something which I think is very important, no matter what you are discussing.

Also, in her posts she's saying a lot herself about why certain people are less likely to join. As a relatively well-known female atheist blogger, she experiences being involved in secular/atheist organisations and whatnot from that perspective. Therefore, she has herself experienced a bunch of the issues involved and has some pretty direct suggestions for how to prevent any issues that currently exist from getting any worse. Like she said- all that's required is to change the self-perpetuating cycles, and in a new movement everything's in flux anyway so that's relatively easy.

As for "if more of group-x joined and participated there'd be no problem"- well, yes! That's her point- working out how to get from a place of having organisations dominated by a particular minority (through no deliberate fault of their own!), to tweaking just a small few things so that more of underrepresented-group joined and then any problems that were there would more or less fix themselves. The problem is working out if there's any issues within groups that make them appeal specifically to a particular group, working on dealing with those issues in order to make groups more inclusive. It's all well and good to say that there would be no problem if a certain thing happened, without doing any work to actually make that thing happen, you know?
pantsheadmagee
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Re: Race and gender in the atheist movement?

Post by pantsheadmagee » Sun Sep 13, 2009 10:05 pm

Dev wrote:
pantsheadmagee wrote:way to miss the entire point there. If you read further you might see her quite well-written criticism of precisely the kind of reaction you have just had.
Perhaps you could post it?

All I took from it was,

Problem: Too many white men in atheist movement (I would like to see this backed up)*
Solution: Acknowledge problem without necessarily agreeing on causes , invoke affirmative action, causes are independent of solution.

Personally I think it is a matter of priorities for non-whites and women. Fighting secularism is something that takes second to womens rights and black rights and gay rights for most people. Something straight white men aren't as concerned about (since they aren't women, black or gay). This would explain why many non-whites are less likely to get involved in the atheism movement. They are more likely to be engaged in other liberty movements.
Okay, the predominance of men and of white people in the atheist movement is well documented. Also, pretty damn obvious. Name ten famous atheists off the top of your head? I'll bet most of them are men. Most people aren't men, therefore there's a discrepancy. Ditto to white people. It ain't rocket science! Actually, I posted these articles here because when I read them I was reminded of a recent thread here about the relative lack of women in the atheist movement in Ireland. I figured that since you lot had already noticed a discrepancy, you might be interested in hearing what Greta Christina had to say on the topic- I find she generally makes a lot of sense.

As for the priorities- that is an interesting point which makes a lot of sense. People might have a bunch of allegiances, but there's only so many hours in the day. This could, in fact, be a general explanation for why in any group it's the most relatively-privileged subgroup who end up most involved. However, it does mean that the interests of that most-relatively-privileged group often automatically end up being assumed to be the interests of the entire group, which tends to only reinforce existing relations. Interesting, though, and a difficult one to tackle. It's hard to say that you should get, say, the working-class single mother who's an atheist to be on your committee when she's obviously pretty damn busy already and the middle-class guy with plenty time on his hands is happy to volunteer. However, then you have the problem that issues of non-privileged groups within the movement just plain don't occur to the people doing the work. And if you bring them up, then they often get pissed off because, well, they're already volunteering a bunch of their time and it's thankless enough and now you want them to do what?

Again, it's a difficult one.

On the other hand, there's also the point to be made that, y'know, straight-white-men kinda should be working on issues of racism, sexism, homophobia, yadda yadda yadda as much as anyone else is. I mean, nonwhite people may be the ones dealing with the effects of racism, but it's white people who, y'know, started it and generally are in need of getting their act together. It's all well and good to see, say, homophobia as a gay/bi issue but it's not the gay and bi people who're going around calling people f*****s and generally being a$$holes to 'em, you know? I figure, nonwhite people have to deal with enough racism on a day to day basis, it's up to me as a white person who isn't about to, say, have a bunch of fascists beat the crap out of me, to actually call people on it. Know what I mean?

Also, who's to say that secularism isn't a race/gender/etc issue? I think that it absolutely is! Religion's been used to justify slavery, oppression of women, oppression of gay people.. hell, I know left-handers who've been told they were going to hell for daring to write with the 'wrong' hand! Secularism, rationalism, scepticism, and all of the rest of it absolutely ties into all of those other issues, and has more potential for dealing with prejudices and inequalities in our society than any other tool we have, in my opinion.

pantsheadmagee wrote:
FXR wrote:Unless an organisation has rules and tangible practices preventing blacks or females from joining then she should be asking questions of the people who did'nt join instead of the people who did.
I believe that the point that she's making is that the movement does have practices making it more difficult for people who are not white, and/or people who are not male, from participating equally.
What practices other than the "white men are more likely to hire white men" point?

Also I'm sure she is speaking from a North America/Europe background where the majority of people are white. Which will be reflected in any movement or institution. *60% of China is atheist along with significant portions of many ex-communist (many of which are African or South East Asian) countries and countries in South America.
Well yes, she's talking about the US, I think, and I'd like to move the discussion on to Ireland. Since, y'know, there's bugger all we can do about things in China and a whole lot we can do about things here.

Honestly, I do not know exactly what the answer to that is. It's a question that would take more than one off-the-cuff forum post to answer. Although the "white men more likely to hire white men" point is absolutely a point, and an important one at that. If other groups, who are already underrepresented, have to work harder to get to the same point, then they're just going to be even more underrepresented. Then again, if the white men doing the hiring are aware of this tendency, I'm sure they're more than capable of taking it into consideration and working to act in an unprejudiced manner.
pantsheadmagee
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Re: Race and gender in the atheist movement?

Post by pantsheadmagee » Sun Sep 13, 2009 10:06 pm

lostexpectation wrote:if people really want to get involved the will if they don't they won't


and if they come across some bias's either intentional or unintentional, they try and sort with and still get involved

Well, yeah. I mean, that's what greta's trying to do here. And since this issue has already been raised on this forum, that's what I'm trying to do. Sorting involves talking, dontcha know ;)
smiffy
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Re: Race and gender in the atheist movement?

Post by smiffy » Mon Sep 14, 2009 3:11 pm

F*ck f*ck f*ck!!! I just spent ages writing a reply to this, but lost it by clicking on a link by mistake. :x

I'm not going to write it all out again, so I'll try and very briefly recap what I was going to say

- It's obvious that 'the atheist movement' is dominated by white men, and a lot of what passes for debate (on the internet anyway) is typified by some really tiresome macho bullsh*t.

- The writer makes some interesting points, but there are some blindspots in her piece.

- When she talks about people focussing on their own priorities, she's only looking at those who dominate the atheist movement, rather than those outside. The point Dev made is very valid. If you are from a minority group (for ease of argument, women included in this term) and you are the kind of person who gets involved in politics, are you more likely to get involved in feminist, anti-racist, LGBT activism rather than the more nebulous terms of atheism or secularism?

- While secularism is important to minority groups, particularly on certain specific issues, achieving progress on those issues doesn't require involvement with explicitly atheist organisations. Examples I have personal knowledge of: reproductive rights and divorce reform.

- Her solution seems very mechanical. Will greater representation of minority spokespeople in atheist movement necessarily bring about greater participation from those groups?

- She conflates terms a little too easily, and makes some (to my mind) false analogies. The terms atheist/atheist community/atheist movement are not interchangeable. Is it even valid to talk about an atheist community? Comparisons with LGBT community/communities which she explicitly references just don't hold up. It smacks a little of a certain type of progressive politics which sees everything in terms of identity politics, very specific to the United States. In the case of atheism, is there any substantial 'community' outside the internet? It seems very insular. Similar points can be made about the idea of an 'atheist movement'.

Okay, I'm not giving the writer enough credit, and it was an interesting couple of pieces. Also, the points above are much shorter than I originally wrote, and over-simplify the points I was trying to make. That said, I've spent far too long on this already. :(
Atheism is a religion the same way that NOT collecting stamps is a hobby - Scott Adams
FXR
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Re: Race and gender in the atheist movement?

Post by FXR » Mon Sep 14, 2009 3:41 pm

pantsheadmagee wrote: Well yes, she's talking about the US, I think, and I'd like to move the discussion on to Ireland. Since, y'know, there's bugger all we can do about things in China and a whole lot we can do about things here.
Is it relevant to read about a US problem and import it to somewhere else? The reasons an organisation has a particular make up in the US might not be the same reasons that apply here. Are you basing this on surveying organisations here first? I'm not saying you did'nt I'm just wondering.
Human communication is a very rickety rope bridge between minds. Its too narrow to allow but a few thoughts to cross at a time. Many are lost in the chasms of noise, suspicion, misinterpretation and shooting the message through dislike of the messenger.
Dev
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Re: Race and gender in the atheist movement?

Post by Dev » Mon Sep 14, 2009 9:18 pm

smiffy wrote: - It's obvious that 'the atheist movement' is dominated by white men
I suppose since I was the one who asked for some source on this claim I should say why, since it is challenging the obvious. I agree that the atheist movement probably is dominated by white men. However this is the single most important point to the whole discussion and this thread. Why bother talking about it if otherwise?

While these people (Hitchens, Harris etc. ) have the most visibility what about those down the chain, I saw a link posted here a while back on youtube and it was some black dude (can't remember his name) arguing against a white pastor. It isn't the first time either, I've seen some latin dudes and other black fellas arguing for atheism. Perhaps many non-white atheists aren't given coverage because they don't have a Ivy League education (something that is WASP dominated) or because simply the media prefers to air white males (something the media has been known to do). In which case discrimination in the media and elite academies would have a knock on effect in our movement or at least the perception of it.

I just have a bad feeling that taking the top slice of the atheist movement and using it to represent the rest of the movement may not be accurate. I don't expect people to take these concerns with a lot of weight but surely you can agree there is some plausibility which can be alleviated with some facts demonstrating the make up of the atheist movement. Perhaps Michael Nugent could let us know if Atheist Ireland is disproportional to the rest of Irish society.
smiffy
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Re: Race and gender in the atheist movement?

Post by smiffy » Tue Sep 15, 2009 11:12 am

Dev wrote:I just have a bad feeling that taking the top slice of the atheist movement and using it to represent the rest of the movement may not be accurate. I don't expect people to take these concerns with a lot of weight but surely you can agree there is some plausibility which can be alleviated with some facts demonstrating the make up of the atheist movement.
That's a fair point, although I guess I would question the extent to which there is any substantial atheist movement apart from the 'top slice' compared with, for example, the feminist movement, green movement, labour movement etc. I tried to get into that in a bit more detail in my original deleted post, but didn't really address it in the one that made it up.
Atheism is a religion the same way that NOT collecting stamps is a hobby - Scott Adams
MichaelNugent
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Re: Race and gender in the atheist movement?

Post by MichaelNugent » Tue Sep 15, 2009 5:04 pm

Dev wrote:Perhaps Michael Nugent could let us know if Atheist Ireland is disproportional to the rest of Irish society.
I’ll check the membership records. Anecdotally, I would guess it is disproportionally white male.

At organisational level, Grania Spingies has been one of the driving forces from the start of Atheist Ireland, and at political level Ivana Bacik opened our AGM.

Internationally, there are some powerful role models for non-white-male atheist activists, but the media tends to focus more on the “Four Horsemen”.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Taslima Nasrin and Maryam Namazie are all high-profile public campaigners against religious oppression.

Natalie Angier’s article about her atheism in the New York Times preceded the current spate of “new atheism” books.

Ariane Sherine started the atheist bus advert campaign.

Julia Sweeney wrote and performed ‘Letting Go of God’.

I am sure there are many more. It could be useful to compile a comprehensive list.
smiffy
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Re: Race and gender in the atheist movement?

Post by smiffy » Tue Sep 15, 2009 5:50 pm

MichaelNugent wrote:Julia Sweeney wrote and performed ‘Letting Go of God’.
Wasn't that ... you know ... a bit rubbish?
Atheism is a religion the same way that NOT collecting stamps is a hobby - Scott Adams
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