On my own blog, an argument came up — while I was so slammed with work as to be all but totally disengaged from the greater blogohedron — that just happened to become extraordinarily timely through a coincidental confluence that bears mentioning. Liam, on an older post, defended the idea that people encouraging diversity were in fact engaging in “reverse racism”, serving as an excellent foil for my argument that diversity is itself a laudable goal.
This happened concurrently with John Loftus’ rather abrupt departure from Freethought Blogs, and his slamming the door on the way out hard enough to rattle the china on the walls — he intended to do damage on the way out by picking several fights with so-called “mean atheists” when his chief concern was that the commentariat, not the bloggers, were mean to him when he launched on our network and that he’d therefore have a harder time reaching out to Christians. He was invited expressly because he had a perspective that was, while not totally unique, certainly underrepresented in our blogging group, with the hope that when people move their blogs to our network it grows the network readership overall. That doesn’t make him the “token ex-Christian” not even the “token ex-Protestant minister”, so when he suggested that Natalie Reed was only brought on for diversity’s sake rather than her personal qualifications, many of us bloggers rightly rankled.
When he was suggested as a potential new blogger here, John Loftus was pretty much jumped at by all involved, because most of us thought his work was important and he brought a specific voice that nobody here had. I was excited and honoured to have him here, and did a lot of (unpaid) work to migrate his gigantic blog export as I’ve done for many other bloggers. The export and conversion was problematic, owing largely to Blogspot’s inability to export his huge blog as a single file before the script timed out. We commisserated over a week, managed to get archives through 2007 through no small effort on either of our parts, and he was quite cordial and amicable, so I was happy to have done it. Then he threw his temper tantrum, and changed my mind about him entirely.
John Loftus’ exact words, so I am not accused of taking this out of context:
Natalie, you are ignorant. I have never heard of a single person who railed against an education except people who don’t have one, and I have never heard of a single person who railed against a critical thinking class except people who have never taken one.
You continue spouting ignorances and you don’t even realize it.
Sheesh, and to think you’re here at FtB’s. I guess it doesn’t matter what one’s credentials are to be here, now does it? After all diversity is much more important.
Followed immediately by:
Oops, my mistake, you didn’t rail against a critical thinking class, sorry.
That was the part he apologized about — not the “credentials” dig, not the “ignorant” bit, not the elitist or bigoted suggestion that her only value is in her diversity. This was in direct response to Natalie’s incredulity at Loftus’ assertion that Natalie Reed has no right to criticize him because she’s never taken a critical thinking class. That such thinking was elitism, that to require a person to have a certain education before they’re allowed to comment on another person’s tactics denies the underprivileged a voice.
Her being brought on board Freethought Blogs happened shortly before Loftus decided to quit, so he saw some folks express reservations that she was a new blogger and thus “unproven”, and he saw a number of us demand that she be given a chance because she looked to us like “rookie of the year” material for everything she’s ever written. I was one of the latter group. Everything she’d written at Skepchick and Queereka was fantastic, she knows her subject matter backward and forward, and frankly, it doesn’t matter that she’s young and untrained and unprivileged with a first-class education in my eyes. What matters is her actual work. Her writing is nothing short of insightful and engaging and challenging, and it really matters in the grand scheme of things, probably far more than my own pitiful offerings. I won’t go into the back channel politics any more than that.
John has since apologized for his emotional outbursts and for denigrating Natalie’s abilities or the reasons she was brought on board. At Greg’s blog, not to Natalie. And he continued to concurrently escalate his “war against FtB”. Regardless, John’s original grievances against Natalie are illustrative of exactly the sort of mentality that Liam expresses in that earlier post I mentioned, in Liam’s case with regard to the Women In Secularism conference and what implications it has on women joining the skeptical movement in general:
If people want to join, they will join, why should we go looking for minorities? why are they any more valuable than anyone else who wants to join?
There are a great number of mental biases we as humans are encumbered with, owing to the fact that our brains were evolved rather than designed. Among those biases are a number of unconscious ones that skew against people that don’t look, act, or think like ourselves. So, when chiefly white heterosexual males drive discourse, and attempt to create a “one size fits all” movement (borrowing from a commenter elsewhere), this movement will fit white heterosexual males most comfortably because they are the default — they are the ones who made the proverbial sweater we’re all expected to wear. The very idea that a community should be a pure meritocracy, that egalitarianism should be enforced by disregarding anything but qualifications, completely misses the point that unconscious biases exist.
Corporations and governments have recognized that these unconscious biases toward the people already in power will entrench those people as the only ones “worth having”, so to speak. Studies have been produced showing that employee turnover, job satisfaction and theft all improve with more diversity, and while most Fortune 500 companies have diversity programs, most companies overall do not. Addressing these diversity issues creates a better team, and if you have a hundred applicants to a job and only pick the most meritorious on paper, you might be missing the RIGHT pick for that job because you’re not taking into account who would make the best teammate, or who would bring the most novel ideas to the job owing to having a different background, or who has a different worldly experience to balance out all the drab monoculture you’ve already got going on.
Witness all the fooforaw over the Bestest Atheist Awards always including no women or people of color, and the counterclaim that they should not be included to exist as tokens. If your public face is nothing but white men, if you’re unconsciously biasing yourself toward the type of person you personally are, nobody will think the community is anything but your type of person.
Freethought Blogs brings in bloggers with a mind to try to cover as many aspects of the idea of freethought and anti-dogmatism as it can. While we skew heavily liberal and feminist, and skew heavily male and white and heterosexual, every one of the bloggers here offers a unique perspective. Even the white male hetero liberal feminist bloggers (*ahem*).
I joked about being the Token Canadian when I joined up, but quickly got superceded by Crommunist the Token Black Guy, and Natalie the Token Transgendered Girl, both of whom are also Canadian. And yet all three of us talk about unique aspects of life in Canada, when we do talk about life in Canada. I talk about video games, comics and other such geekery that Ed can only snark about (being the anti-geek that he is), and PZ is exposed to in a much more limited fashion. If I, Crommunist or Natalie were expected to be clones of Ed or PZ, what would we have to say that’s so compelling you to read?
As another illustration, Chris Rodda writes about Christian Nationalists exclusively, but almost never brings up the fact that she’s openly gay, which means she was brought on board entirely without respect to her sexuality. Because that’s just not what she blogs about, though she has the ability to do so and may in the future. What she has blogged about in the past and what she blogs about presently, the rampant historical revisionism done by David Barton and his ilk, is valuable to the atheist and secular communities. It therefore has a place here, without regard to her gender identity. And if she was expected to be a clone of Ed or PZ, mocking Barton et al exclusively rather than thoroughly documenting what they say and how it’s wrong and mocking them thereafter, she’d lose any unique value she has to offer to this community.
And Libby Anne of Love, Joy, Feminism came in to a flurry of freakouts over her comment policy, which was for the most part identical to how John Loftus wanted to run his blog — play nice with the freshly ex-Christians so they don’t have to come away with the impression that every community is Pharyngula. Some commenters took umbrage with that policy, but the more respectful ones at least stated that they would not comment if they had nothing salient and non-confrontational to say. This is important to Freethought Blogs as a community. Libby Anne represents one path out of the Quiverfull movement for those poor souls who are treated by this Christian cult as a baby factory. These people deserve a community, and a voice, and the fact that she joined Freethought Blogs only means more diversity in the blogs we have on offer.
There are a few targets for improvement, of course. We’ve discussed in the back channel bringing on a parenting blog, bringing on a death / grieving blog, finding a voice for latinos. None of these blogs would be launched as tokens — as people to represent diversity visually, who are given little to no actual voice. They would have a true, egalitarian voice in the realest of senses. They would have their own communities and their own free hand in how to run said communities. As I’ve said before, we all run our own blogs exactly how we want, and while we have community with one another in the form of that back channel, and collaborate and corroborate and comment on one another’s efforts, every blogger is an island — we all just share the hardware. And yes, we share it with two eight-hundred-pound gorillas in PZ and Ed, but they do not have special place here excepting in that they jointly take care of the hardware concerns. Mostly because they’re the biggest hardware resource hogs.
The important part of my standing shoulder and shoulder with Ophelia Benson or Chris Hallquist or Justin Griffith or Stephanie Zvan or Daniel Fincke or Jen McCreight or Mano Singham or Cuttlefish or anyone else on this great network is not what color, gender, or species each is. It is that every one of us can take up different strategic positions in the overall fight against freethinking by the religious castes. It is that we are all dividing the field so we can conquer. And we are here, together, on this same hardware, because we are excellent teammates and we can take multiple approaches, even when we disagree with one another (sometimes vehemently).
Bringing new blogs on in order to cover different perspectives we don’t already have, enriches and strengthens the Freethought Blogs community and brings new commenters and new demographics to the community. Capturing audiences we don’t already have is important. We can’t bring on 40 duplicates of Pharyngula, or we’d just saturate the market. It’s way more important to focus on diversity in our endeavour, to provide safe landing points from dogmatism for women, for gays, for transfolk, for people of color, for people looking for a way out of cults and religions, for people just looking for community, for people from different countries, for people of different ethnicities, for people of different life experiences. Diversity is its own good, it is its own value, and given that an express preference for diversity is a direct confrontation of many of our unconscious biases, any effort to build communities of the less-represented folk is a good and skeptical thing for us to be doing. Skepticism addresses cognitive biases and cognitive flaws directly; this is just another example of us doing exactly that.
Besides, have you seen what a shit-ton of clones of Pharyngula might become?