Let’s talk about the other atheist movement.
I get it if you’d rather I discussed the brouhahas—the CFI/Dawkins Foundation merge, Richard’s second epistle to the Muslima, that chain of tweets, that disinvitation. I could do that, and maybe make a decent fist of it—could give you another flowchart, another acrostic, some more zingers. Right now, I just don’t care. There are other posts to be read; there will be other times to mock the movement Dawkins inspired, one that often insists it isn’t a movement, which hasn’t moved since 2006, but sits stickily back, wanking to the thought of its own rightness. Progressives spill a great deal of ink over that movement, talk that’s as cheap as it is lucrative. I want to talk about the other one.
Over the last twenty-four hours, with media fixated on Dawkins’ absence from one upcoming convention, atheists have been gathered at another in Houston. The Secular Social Justice conference, sponsored jointly by half a dozen orgs, highlights ‘the lived experiences, cultural context, shared struggle and social history of secular humanist people of color’. Sessions address the humanist history of hip hop, the new atheism’s imperialist mission and the lack of secular scaffolds for communities of colour in the working class US, whether for black single mothers or recently released incarcerees. Perhaps we could talk about this?
‘When African-Americans across the economic spectrum look to social welfare,’ convenor Sikivu Hutchinson writes, ‘they are more often than not tapping into . . . faith-based institutions. . . . Atheists who bash religion but aren’t about the business of building [alternatives] are just making noise.’ ‘There are compelling reasons’, Hutchinson wrote last autumn, ‘for black women to be attracted to atheism. The stigma of public morality, fueled by white supremacy and patriarchy, has always come down more heavily on black women. Religious right policies gutting reproductive health care disproportionately affect poor and working class black women.’
I want to talk about Hutchinson’s work with Black Skeptics LA, a group whose Women’s Leadership Project ‘trains young women of color high school students to do peer education outreach on violence prevention, reproductive justice, HIV/AIDS education, LGBTQ equality, undocumented youth advocacy and sexual assault awareness[, and] is the only program for girls of color in the Los Angeles Unified school district that explicitly addresses the relationship between organized religion, sexism, misogyny, homophobia and heterosexism.’ (BSLA gives scholarships to first-generation undergraduates from the area, designed for those who are or have been homeless, in care, undocumented or LGBT.)
I want to talk about #BlackLivesMatter, and the activists contextualising it outside the black church, including as humanism—Sincere Kirabo of Notes from an Apostate, Diane Burkholder of Kansas City Freethinkers of Color, Niki Massey of Seriously?!, Peter Mosley of barrierbreaker. I want to talk about the Foundation Beyond Belief, which made #BlackLivesMatter the focus of its planned conference last year.
I want to talk about how less than a day after November’s Planned Parenthood shootings, Massey went to escort patients in and out of an abortion clinic, describing it as the front line of moral combat against the US religious right. I want to mention Brianne Bilyeu and Stephanie Zvan, atheist bloggers who do the same work.
I want to talk about the women and people of colour Christopher Hitchens ripped off—about his parroting Aroup Chatterjee’s arguments on Teresa, minus their framing of her as a white saviour; his lifting of criticisms and the words ‘sacred cow’ from Barbara Smoker’s pro choice articles; his borrowing too liberally from Doubt: A History for author Jennifer Michael Hecht’s taste.
I want to talk about the Block Bot and its creators and maintainers—@VanguardVivian, @MAMelby and many others—and how a collective blocking tool conceived by movement atheists to screen out sexist harassment became so popular it spawned a mass of imitations and changed the way Twitter worked. (Having outgrown its origins, the Bot is widely used today by trans women and sex workers.)
I want to talk about the secular support movement. Rebecca Hensley and Grief Beyond Belief, helping bereaved nonbelievers outside religious pressures and frameworks. Secular Organisations for Sobriety, assisting addicts outside churches and without reference to higher powers. Sue Cox and Survivors’ Voice Europe; Recovering from Religion; Vyckie Garrison, Johnny Scaramanga and the Spiritual Abuse Survivors’ Blog Network, lending support to people with traumatic experiences of religion. The Clergy Project, aiding and employing atheists who lost faith while working in the church. Alom Shaha and the Apostasy Project, Imtiaz Shams and Faith to Faithless, supporting refugees from religion, giving vulnerable people a voice.
I want to talk about Miri of Brute Reason, Chris Hall of Literate Perversions, Greta Christina and other writers and activists building community for atheists with mental illness who need nonreligious peer support. I want to talk about Ania Bula, author of Young, Sick, and Invisible: A Skeptic’s Journey with Chronic Illness, about Benny Vimes and the Skeptability bloggers, who push for secular, scientifically sound affordable healthcare for US citizens with disabilities.
I want to talk about Hiba bint Zeinab and the Ex-Hijabi Fashion Photo Journal, which publishes selfies and essays by ex hijab wearers in their own words, on their own terms. I want to talk about all the feminist ex-Muslims I know—Kiran Opal, Sadaf Ali, Heina Dadbhoy, Hafidha Acuay, Shaheen Hashmat, so many more—who speak about their own experiences of Islam in their own words, on their own terms, opposing racism and religious abuse and refusing appropriation by the world’s Sam Harrises.
I want to talk about CFI’s Michael De Dora and the FBB’s Ed Brayton, who move endangered secularists and writers to safety from the world when they face violent threats. (Last year, when author Taslima Nasrin was targeted by the killers of Avijit Roy, Washiqur Rahman and Ananta Bijoy Das, CFI got her into the US and provided a place to live.) I want to talk about the cases I can’t talk about, involving non-celebrities and family abuse and escape plans that moved them half way round the globe.
I want to talk about Bisi Alimi and the Rainbow Intersection, a forum whose events discuss the interplay of race, sexuality and religion. (Twelve years ago, after attending anti-gay churches and being diagnosed with HIV, Alimi became the first Nigerian to come out on national TV, kickstarting a chain of events that forced him to leave the country.) A year ago, I spoke at one of the Intersection’s events, an ‘LGBT people and religion’ discussion that—rather than trot out clichés about how God is love and homophobes aren’t real Christians—actually gave a voice to queer apostates and abuse victims. This matters more than I can say.
I want to talk about Godless Perverts, and the atheists—Christina, Hall, Dadabhoy, Brooke Magnanti—whose work involves pushing for factual, shame-free, consent-based sexual culture. I want to talk about the near universal establishment of sexual harassment policies at secular conferences as a result of efforts by people like them.
I want to talk about atheist parenting, and the writers—Dale McGowan, Alix Jules, Myra Zepf—who discuss raising children without God (or the pressure to pretend) in funny, insightful, moving ways, give a helping hand to secular parents everyone whose decisions are questioned constantly.
I want to talk about progressive atheists who make amazing art: Graham Murkett’s humourous videos, DC Turner’s animations, Amy Davis Roth’s ceramics and installation art, Victoria Gugenheim’s internationally renowned bodypainting, Labi Siffre’s music, the Digital Cuttlefish’s poems and rhymes.
I want to talk about the tradition of socialist, socially conscious and progressive atheism, from the people who represented it a century back—Harriet Law, Emma Goldman, Rosa Luxemburg, the German Freethinkers’ League—to the SJWs continuing it today, the people on this list and the conferences supporting them: CONvergence, Lauren Lane and Skepticon, Freethought Blogs, Skepchick, Pitchstone Publishing.
I don’t want to talk about Richard Dawkins. Not today. I want to talk about the amazing, indispensable atheists I work with, and all the positive changes they’re making in the world. (I wish I had space to talk about all the other ones.)
This is my atheist movement, the only one that deserves to be known as a movement. I think it’s time the press started talking about it too.
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