Last year I published an article entitled, “Ain’t I a skeptic?”. In it I talked about my frustration with the way women’s and minority issues are often dismissed offhand particularly in atheist/secular and skeptical circles, that generally claim to be above such things. All I can say is that nothing has changed. The language of color-blindness and post-racialism continues to dominate in the secular community just as it does within the country at large, despite the growth of systemic inequality and the deaths of innocent young people, due to flawed legal statutes like stand your ground. Earlier this week I published an Open Letter to Dave Silverman about his views on equality and afterward I posted some links on twitter making reference to Silverman and his mistaken notion of equality. This is what happened next:
What is equality without human value? The graphic above demonstrates that we have criminalized the bodies of transpersons of color at an alarming rate. If we believe the current estimates that place the percentage fo transpersons in the U.S at 0.3%, then you have to admit that our society has implicitly deemed these people as disposable. Multiple interlocking systems of oppression impact LGBT persons of color like inter-generational poverty, racial discrimination, xenophobia, lack of living wage jobs, insufficient education, workplace & housing discrimination, etc. But
when you aren’t subject to when you benefit from these forms of discrimination it is difficult to empathize with the oppressed minorities that do not. Remember, our founding fathers were speaking of freedom, liberty, and equality whilst slaves were tending their properties, emptying their chamberpots, building their fortunes and “warming” their beds. So again, we have to rethink what is “basic and foundational”. Where did those ideas come from who were they meant to include? And by extension, who and what do they continue to exclude?
Secular organizations (not necessarily atheist/skeptical communities) of all sorts, many of which even claim to be interested in the struggle for “equality” are benefitting from systems of inequality and injustice or by appropriating the experiences of people of color and other minority groups. One such example is the Human Rights Campaign. It was recently revealed today that HRC has received donations from company that manufacture drones. The very same drones that have killed innocent men, women, and children in the “Middle East”. HRC has been criticized by many groups but particularly by LGBT persons of color for campaigning aggressively for “marriage equality” while failing to address adequately issues that disproportionately impact POCs (ex. issues related to homelessness, poverty, survival sex work, violence towards LGBT persons of color). This from an organization the has human rights in its name! But clearly not in it’s priorities.
This is the point I was making to Dave Silverman who uses the language of equality and appropriates the experiences of minority groups to condemn religious authorities when it is convenient. Dave Silverman like many atheist celebrities condemns conservative religious political forces who seek to limit the rights or women or say force women to wear a hijab but are silent of the abuse of African immigrants in Israel. They condemn what they view as the efforts of the religious right to create, in essence a theocracy, but they say nothing of the authoritarian abuse of power against minority groups in the United States via forced sterilization for example. That is because by and large the women who suffer this type of abuse do not fit conveniently into their narratives, though in actuality western religiousity factors heavily into racial constructions and into the way we view punishment for crime, among other things (as I described in my article “Ain’t I a Skeptic”).
This is why I am growing very weary with this movement and the way it selectively chooses convenient narratives to blame religious authorities for this or that but has no genuine interest in a broader discussion of human rights. This white paternalism is part and parcel of the white savior industrial complex that ignores abuses in it’s own back yard in favor of more remote and or convenient enemies that it can fit neatly into it’s narratives. Like many organizations which advocated for marriage equality blaming the black community for Prop 8 (despite evidence to the contrary), or blaming Islam exclusively for political extremists and anti-western sentiment, or blaming the black church and it’s “uncle tom house negro” race traitors for the problems of the black community.
I am even also tired of calls to unify under a single banner or to rally behind this or that group while they continue to ignore minorities and the realities we face, hence the letter to Dave Silverman. But a few days later, I read an article which defended the leadership of many mainstream groups and said that we should stop the “infighting” and be thankful. Here is an excerpt:
So maybe not all atheists agree on the same political ideologies, though I would ask anyone to show that the overwhelming majority is not liberal, leftwing based ideologists, instead of selfish or theocratic ones. If there is one thing all atheists have in common politically it is that we are not the religious right…
Without atheists united in some form of community, the US would be lost overnight to a theocratic right. Ready to overturn whatever secular laws remain in the constitution. While some atheists are worried about definitions, the right is worried about overturning women’s rights, ending marriage equality and enforcing bad economic policies that drive more Americans into poverty.
While we are busy infighting claiming, “no one speaks for me”, the right is speaking and gathering followers. If we continue to run around unorganized, they will overtake this nation…
These are the groups who put the weight on their shoulders to make sure the theocratic right do not overtake the US and anyone who believes in upholding the secular history of this nation and the further secularization that rebuilds the wall that separates church and state that the right has spent decades taking apart. We should be thanking these groups and individuals in this fight, not chastising them for being “the face” of atheism as many have…
You can get behind the groups you like and ignore the ones you don’t. You never have to state that any particular person speaks for you, but you can allow those people to speak and make your world better, and if you disagree, then speak up. Ignoring it and simply saying it is not a movement means you will let others speak for you. Silence is an action, the action of inaction.
The community is forming whether you like it or not, you can either get on board and help in this struggle or you can simply opt out and watch change happen one way or the other and do nothing to help or stop it. The good news is, while some sit back and criticize the work of these community activists, these activists don’t stop working. They do the dirty work even when some in their own community refuse to thank them.
*The emphasis is mine btw
Dan Arel asserts that most atheists are “leftwing based ideologists” and that we are not the “selfish” religious right, though many atheists are socially liberal on issues like gay marriage, access to birth control, and mainstream feminist principles which center largely on economic issues (i.e. equal pay), I don’t think that means that they are leftwing or liberal on other issues of importance. A great deal of atheist support the reduction of the social safety net and have been by and large silent on immigration, violence against LGBT persons, healthcare, ongoing racial disparities, and even on the “enforc[ement] of bad economic policies that drive more Americans into poverty”.
In the next paragraph he uses an appeal to emotion to attempt to scare the reader into believing that somehow if we don’t subordinate our views/voices to those at the helms of the greater movement that the “right” will overtake our nation. IF that is the case where was the outrage at the SCOTUS ruling on the Voting Rights Act? Where is the effort from the atheist/ non-believing community to counter discriminatory voting laws that would disenfranchise racial and ethnic minorities, the elderly, and college students? What weight have they taken upon their shoulders? Last time I checked, the only way to rebuild that wall between church and state is through the ballot.
Remember: “Silence is an action, the action of inaction.” Or something like that, right?
While Arel says we can” get behind the groups you like and ignore the ones you don’t” why is it that many in leadership continue promoting this agenda that polices what labels we use and dictates to us which battles are “basic and foundational” rather than allowing us to determine that for ourselves. And between this and some of the “work” some of them do, I’m not sure that there is much to thank them for.