Thank you so much for inviting me to speak at your conference. I would love to make this happen if it’s possible! I like speaking at conferences: I like meeting new people and re-connecting with old friends, and I especially enjoy meeting with organizers of local community groups. And, of course, I like selling books. 🙂 I’m happy to speak at local conferences, regional conferences, national and international conferences. My honorarium is low, and my travel requirements are pretty minimal. If I can fit this event into my schedule, I’d love to do it.
If your speaker lineup is overwhelmingly white, I am not willing to speak at your conference.
And when I say this, I mean it. I am not fooling around. Specifically, I mean this:
If you send me a confirmation with a list of scheduled speakers, and that list is overwhelmingly white, I will withdraw from your conference.
I’m sorry to come across like a hardass. But experience has taught me that I have to be. Experience has taught me that if I don’t say something ahead of time, I will often wind up on an overwhelmingly white speaker lineup. Not always — a lot of conference organizers already get this, and are on it — but often. Experience has taught me that, even if I do say something ahead of time, I will still sometimes wind up on an overwhelmingly white speaker lineup. We will then have to have an awkward conversation, where I explain that I’m withdrawing from the conference and why.
Here is a list of prominent atheists of color, and organizations of atheists of color. Many of them are excellent speakers, as are many of the organization leaders. Many of them, like me, have low honoraria and minimal travel requirements. If you book me for your conference, and you then put together an overwhelmingly white speaker lineup, you will have an open slot in your schedule. Please consider filling it with one of these people. Better yet: Please look at this list before you start putting together your speaker lineup, so you have a diverse lineup to begin with.
I understand that event organizing is very difficult, and conference organizing is especially difficult. I understand that it’s hard to co-ordinate schedules, balance content, and arrange for travel and honoraria that will fit your budget. So here’s a tip: When you’re putting together a speaker lineup, START with diversity. START by inviting African-Americans, Latinos, women, disabled people, transgender people, people of Asian descent, people of Middle Eastern descent, other people of color, lesbian and gay and bisexual people, people who have left religions other than Christianity. Don’t just invite the usual suspects, fill up three-quarters of your lineup — and then go, “Crap! Diversity!” and scramble to fill in the last two or three open slots with people who aren’t white, middle-class, college-educated, cisgender, straight, able-bodied, ex-Christian or lifelong-atheist men.
Again, I’m sorry to be a hardass. Generally speaking, I’m an easy speaker to work with: again, my honorarium is low, my travel requirements are pretty minimal, and I try to be as flexible as possible. But this is an extremely high priority for me. In my opinion, this issue — making our communities more welcoming and more supportive of a wider variety of people than are currently participating — is the most important issue currently facing organized atheism in the United States. Diverse speaker lineups at conferences isn’t the only thing we need to do to address this issue, of course, or even the most important thing. Very, very far from it. But it’s one of the things I can do something about. So I’m doing it. Thanks for understanding. Hope we can make this work!
P.S. This also applies to harassment policies/ codes of conduct. I won’t speak at a conference that doesn’t have one. That’s been less of an issue lately, though — almost all atheist and skeptic conferences have them now — so I didn’t feel a need to write a whole thing about it.
Note: Yes, this is in reference to a specific event — and no, I’m not going to tell you which one. It was a private conversation, and I’m going to respect that.