The following is a letter from Winterwind, a reader who recently submitted a response about his experiences at the RDF:
I was a regular lurker and sometime commenter at RDF for several years. I stopped visiting the site two years ago and have never looked back. It was the best decision I have ever made, to leave that stinking cyber dungheap.
I regret leaving because it was a great place to read some interesting scientific articles and hear some very intelligent commentary. However, as time progressed, the most vocal commenters began to toxify the environment with their unchecked bullshit and privilege. They insisted that feminists, anti-racists and so on were just woolly-headed irrational thinkers, because sexism and racism no longer exist in the glorious West (such maladies only exist in backward countries populated by brown people with Arabic names, see Professor Dawkins’ “Dear Muslima”).
Sadly, the most vocal members of the RDF community are spoilt white heterosexual man-children who really belong on a site like 4chan, but instead wrap themselves in the mantle of rationality and skepticism to bash and disregard the experiences of people from minority communities.
Several times I saw threads in which Skeptical Dudebros announced that feminism was just another baseless religion, because sexism no longer existed in the West or was greatly exaggerated. While they could understand women in foreign (read: Muslim) countries being feminists, American and European women already had the right to vote and own property! That proves there’s no such thing as sexism, so American women are just whiny irrational bitches. And why do we need to attract more women? I don’t even see gender! All our leaders are men because they’re just better than women are, based on merit. (Gee, I wonder why women are underrepresented in the atheist community. I guess women are just less rational than men. It has nothing to do with the fact that the most vocal members of the atheist community are basically a nerdy old boys’ club.)
I saw similar threads in which White Skepticdudes declared that it was an empirical fact that racism no longer existed in the West – after all, black people aren’t lynched any more, and Barack Obama is president – so therefore there was no need for “Black Skeptics” or anti-racism or whatever. In fact, black people are the ones who are racist for wanting special “Black Skeptics” groups to themselves! White Skeptics don’t even see race, that’s how progressive they are! Racism doesn’t exist, it’s all in our imaginations, and if we just stop talking about it, it’ll magically go away. People who bring up racism are the racist ones. (Gee, I wonder why people of colour are underrepresented in the atheist community. I guess minorities just lack the brainpower to be skeptical. How sad.)
It must be nice to pretend racism doesn’t exist. It’s a bit harder for me, because when I was at school (just a few years ago) I had people calling me “black bastard”, “nigger”, “curry”, “Gandhi” at least once a week. Some of them bashed me. Perhaps they hadn’t yet received the memo that racism doesn’t exist any more?
Whenever I go out, even just down to the shops, I try to make sure my hair is neatly combed, I’ve shaved and I’m wearing nice clothes. Because if I don’t shave, or my hair is messy or I’m wearing scruffy or “low class” clothes, people assume I’m a terrorist or gangster or shoplifter because of my skin colour. Even when I look nice, the staff follow me around the shop anyway.
“Where are you from?”
“No, where are you really from?”
“Wow, your English is so good! You’re always so quiet, I just assumed… ”
(Apparently only foreign people are quiet and keep to themselves?)
“In order to apply for this position, you need very good English skills…”
“I have very good English skills. I won prizes in school.”
“Oh! Well, Mr… uh… I can’t pronounce your name, so I’ll just call you Kevin.”
“Are you a refugee?”
“Sadly, there is no refuge from stupidity.”
I waited for somebody to call these idiots out on RDF, but they never did. So I had to do it myself. And whenever I tried to say that, you know, maybe racism does exist, and some people don’t see it because they have the privilege of belonging to the majority, I was attacked for being irrational and hysterical. And suddenly I was now the racist one, for suggesting that white people in the West might not understand institutional racism because they don’t experience it directly and in-your-face the way the rest of us do.
From his own writings, Professor Dawkins shares many of these retrograde views. Quite apart from the whole “Dear Muslima” crap, in The Ancestor’s Tale he expressed astonishment that we call people “black” even though they might have quite light complexions. Apparently no one bothered to explain to him that black, like African American, is a community, a culture, an identity, not a simple description of skin colour. He also couldn’t understand why a black person descended from slaves might be upset to find out that his Y chromosome came from Europe. (Hint: think about how that Y chromosome ended up in his genome. I’d be upset to learn that my great-grandmother was probably repeatedly raped by the man who owned her like an animal).
I realised that sticking around and trying to improve the site was a waste of my time. It had degenerated into a bunch of privileged dudes having an intellectual circle-jerk over how they were more rational than everyone else, especially dirty Muslims, women and brown people. They insisted that religion was the most evil thing in the world. Was that really true, I wondered? Personally, I have been hurt much more by racist people than by religious people. If they’re going to fight against one but not the other, are they really making the world a better place? And what about other issues like sexism, homophobia, ableism, transphobia, poverty, social injustice… the list goes on. If you’re going to fight against religion claiming that it’s evil, but pretend every other bad thing doesn’t exist, and even actively engage in racism and misogyny yourselves, then why the fuck am I even on this website?
I have better things to do with my life than trying to argue against a tsunami of stupidity, my lone voice drowned out by a hundred “rational” others. There are other sites on the internet (like Freethought Blogs) where you can learn about science, read intelligent commentary and spend time with like-minded people without being subjected to puerile xenophobic idiocy.
(Note to anyone who wishes the atheist or skeptical communities were more inclusive. Look at RDF.net and do exactly the opposite. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that your experiences are the only correct, rational ones. Don’t drive people of minority backgrounds away by refusing to listen to them and making them feel unwelcome. Be open-minded and willing to learn from your fellow human beings. If you’re not willing to do that, then organised atheism will always be a bastion of rich, white, straight dudes who pat themselves on the back for being better than everyone else, and wonder why no one wants to join them. Freethought Blogs is a very good counterexample. There’s a range of voices from different backgrounds, and I feel more welcome here.)