Greta Christina has a post up about her experiences from a recent Secular Student Alliance conference. During a portion of the event, participants sat at different tables, at which they discussed various topics as they related to the atheist/freethinker community.
The topic at her table was “Diversity — Minorities,” and Christina related some of the take-away points from the brainstorming session about how the community could be more welcoming to black people and other non-white ethnicities (As it happens, she used the term “people of color” throughout the post, with which I am not terribly comfortable because although it’s apparently no longer offensive to black people and others, it does seem to be, as NAACP spokeswoman Carla Sims has said, to be “outdated and antiquated.”).
Here is a truncated list of what members of the atheist/freethinker community could do to be more inclusive at conferences and meetings of like minds:
- Invite more people of color as speakers, at conferences and for individual speaking events.
- Don’t be afraid to talk about race.
- Do joint events with groups/ organizations of people of color.
- Support appropriate events hosted by groups of people of color, such as service projects.
- Don’t glom onto people of color when they show up at your group or event. (People of color sometimes say that, when they show up at all- or mostly-white atheist groups or events, they’re swarmed by overly friendly people who are SO DELIGHTED that a non-white person has shown up, in a way that’s overwhelming, and that’s clearly directed at their race. Don’t do this.)
- Don’t expect individual people of color to speak for their entire race.
- Listen to people of color — actively. …
- Don’t assume people of color are religious.
- Co-protesting – show up at protests about racism, and about issues that are strongly affected by race, such as economic justice or the drug war.
She then included this addendum outlining a different comment policy for that particular post to which readers should adhere (italics mine):
This conversation is for people who already agree that increasing racial diversity is important to the atheist community and the atheist movement, and who think positive action should be taken to improve the situation, and who want to discuss how to go about that. If you want to debate this core proposition — if, for instance, you think the atheist movement should be entirely race-blind, and that paying any attention at all to race and racism is itself racist — this comment thread is not the place.
I don’t know that I agree with that entire statement, thus the reason I am posting on my own site and not commenting on her blog.
While I think it is highly commendable and admirable to be proactive in welcoming blacks, Hispanics, etc., into the community of nonbelievers, as well as discussing topics of race in an open and respectful manner — if that’s a goal the community wants to pursue — I don’t necessarily think that racism can die — as well it should — until we move past race itself, just like BET or Black History Month, both of which, to me, insult black people by giving them their own special television station and their own special month of the year, as if black history and culture can’t be celebrated and remembered all year and on all television stations. It can, and it should be.
So, while some of the goals in racial inclusiveness are certainly admirable, I think we are approaching a time where the notion of “race” needs to go the way of the dodo and be replaced, simply, with “culture.” For, if we want to learn about how different groups of people live their lives and interact with the rest of the world, we can do that through learning about their culture and about what makes their particular culture unique, and by that token, worthy to be celebrated in its own right. I think when we frame the discussion, admirable as it might be, in racial terms, we may be in danger of taking one step forward and two tentative steps back.