Further thoughts on Dawkins and Harris

Richard Dawkins has double down once again. Hell, he’s digging a hole so deep that it’s got to be getting pretty hot in there.  You can read the latest Tweets from Dawkins here, where he shits on PZ Myers, ostensibly a friend of his.  What are his reasons? I don’t know? Why does he dismiss the criticisms-explained at length, from many people-about his actions or those of Sam Harris?  I don’t know.  What I do know is that both Dawkins and Harris have a problem.  They refuse to confront the ugly shit inside them. The following is a comment I left at Pharyngula:

As I started to compose this comment, I thought: we’re not asking much of people like Dawkins and Harris. That all people are asking is that they listen to what we’re saying. That they open themselves up to criticism and accept that they can be wrong. That they peel back their layers of privilege and recognize the signs of the internalized sexism they’ve carried with them their entire lives.

But then I thought:
Framing it that way appears as if this is an easy task.
I remember when I started confronting my biases. It *wasn’t* easy. I remember when I started seeing how women were treated. When I started listening to what women were saying. When I started recognizing the signs of sexism.
I was horrified.
It was everywhere.
I couldn’t escape it.
I couldn’t go to work and escape it.
I couldn’t go to a gay bar and escape it.
I couldn’t go to the movies or turn on the tv and escape it.
I saw it in the way people dressed.
I saw it in the way people acted.
I saw it in the way people spoke.
I saw it in the way people interacted.

One of the most striking moments for me came when I was sitting at a local gay bar and having a conversation with a friend. We were talking about effeminate gay men and drag queens and dating sites and more. This was maybe 2 years ago. I’d accepted that feminism was a worthy cause and was becoming comfortable calling myself one. But I was still in the process of understanding the sexist views I had.

Well one of those sexist views up and slapped me across the head right then and there.

I realized as my friend and I spoke, that all those people talking about how they won’t date a “girly gay man”…
•or those times when I said that phrase, followed by “I want to date a man bc he’s a man. I don’t want a date a man who acts like a girl”…
•or those people who put at the top of the Adam4Adam, Manhunt, or Grindr profile “not interested in nellie men, only want masculine men”
…I realized then and there that we…I…was trapped in thinking about gender in very rigid terms. I realized that I thought “men are supposed to be this way, and women are supposed to be this way”. I thought that any deviation from that was wrong. I thought that there was something wrong with a man acting like a woman, or having traits or characteristics typically associated with women. I realized how deep sexism ran. It runs so deep it affects how we view ourselves, as well as the people around us. It shapes our opinions of our friends, our family, our coworkers, even strangers.
It.
Runs.
Deep.

Reflecting on that, I realize now, that we *are* asking for a lot from Dawkins and Harris.

But you know what?
We’re not asking the impossible.

We are not asking either of them to do anything we aren’t willing to do ourselves…what we are continually doing ourselves. We’re asking them to be better people. We’re asking them to look deep inside themselves and confront all that is ugly within them.

That’s where it becomes difficult.
Who wants to accept that there’s ugly shit inside you?
Who wants to accept that you can be capable of being a sexist/homophobic/racist/transphobic bigot?

That is hard to do.
It ain’t easy.

But that’s how we’re going to become better people.
That’s how we become a better species.
It’s not going to be a cakewalk. It won’t be unicorns and butterflies and chocolate covered strawberries. It’s going to be tough and it’s not going to end. It’s going to be a continual process that we carry with us for the rest of our lives.

Confronting the internalized issues that we all have is not easy.
But it’s damn well worth it.
And it’s something Every. Fucking. Person. Should. Do.

That’s the only way we’re going to reshape this world and leave it better for those who come after us.

I…We are not holding Sam Harris or Richard Dawkins to some impossible standard. We’re holding them to same standard we hold ourselves and others to. They continue to fail to measure up to that standard.

One day I hope they’ll recognize what they’re doing and dig deep…deep into their core and realize that they have some shit to come to terms with. I hope they do this because not believing in gods is NOT. FUCKING. ENOUGH.

Further thoughts on Dawkins and Harris
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A few privilege checklists

  What does it mean to have privilege?

Privilege refers to the idea that in human society, some groups benefit from unearned, largely-unacknowledged advantages that increase their power relative to that of others, thereby perpetuating social inequality. Privilege is generally invisible to those who have it, and a person’s level of privilege is influenced by multiple factors including race,gender, age, sexual orientation, and social class, and changes over time.  Privilege has many benefits, including ones that are financial or material such as access to housing, education, and jobs,  as well as others that are emotional or psychological, such as a sense of personal self-confidence and comfortableness, or having a sense of belonging or worth in society.  It began as an academic concept, but has since become popular outside of academia.

 

What are the types of privilege? There are many.  I’m going to highlight a few: white, straight, and Christian privilege.

Peggy McIntosh explains White Privilege:

Through work to bring materials from women’s studies into the rest of the curriculum, I have often noticed men’s unwillingness to grant that they are overprivileged, even though they may grant that women are disadvantaged. They may say they will work to women’s statues, in the society, the university, or the curriculum, but they can’t or won’t support the idea of lessening men’s. Denials that amount to taboos surround the subject of advantages that men gain from women’s disadvantages. These denials protect male privilege from being fully acknowledged, lessened, or ended.

Thinking through unacknowledged male privilege as a phenomenon, I realized that, since hierarchies in our society are interlocking, there was most likely a phenomenon of white privilege that was similarly denied and protected. As a white person, I realized I had been taught about racism as something that puts others at a disadvantage, but had been taught not to see one of its corollary aspects, white privilege, which puts me at an advantage.

I think whites are carefully taught not to recognize white privilege, as males are taught not to recognize male privilege. So I have begun in an untutored way to ask what it is like to have white privilege. I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets that I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was “meant” to remain oblivious. White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools , and blank checks.

Describing white privilege makes one newly accountable. As we in women’s studies work to reveal male privilege and ask men to give up some of their power, so one who writes about having white privilege must ask, “having described it, what will I do to lessen or end it?”

After I realized the extent to which men work from a base of unacknowledged privilege, I understood that much of their oppressiveness was unconscious. Then I remembered the frequent charges from women of color that white women whom they encounter are oppressive. I began to understand why we are just seen as oppressive, even when we don’t see ourselves that way. I began to count the ways in which I enjoy unearned skin privilege and have been conditioned into oblivion about its existence.

My schooling gave me no training in seeing myself as an oppressor, as an unfairly advantaged person, or as a participant in a damaged culture. I was taught to see myself as an individual whose moral state depended on her individual moral will. My schooling followed the pattern my colleague Elizabeth Minnich has pointed out: whites are taught to think of their lives as morally neutral, normative, and average, and also ideal, so that when we work to benefit others, this is seen as work that will allow “them” to be more like “us.”

I want to highlight one thing in particular:  “I was taught to see racism only in individual acts of meanness, not in invisible systems conferring dominance on my group”  

This is something that many people-especially white people-seem to misunderstand (or not understand at all).  Racism isn’t just calling a black person a nigger, calling a Jewish person a kike, or calling someone from South Korea a gook.  It’s more than just white people denying People of Color the right to use certain water fountains or forcing them to sit at the back of the bus.  It’s about a system in place that grants rights, benefits, and advantages to one ethnic group or race.  This group has the social, political, economic, and religious power.  In the United States, the racial group with all that power are white people.  Combined with prejudice against people of other races or ethnicities, this is racism. Some examples of White Privilege are:

35. I can take a job with an affirmative action employer without having my co-workers on the job suspect that I got it because of my race.

36. If my day, week or year is going badly, I need not ask of each negative episode or situation whether it had racial overtones.

37. I can be pretty sure of finding people who would be willing to talk with me and advise me about my next steps, professionally.

38. I can think over many options, social, political, imaginative or professional, without asking whether a person of my race would be accepted or allowed to do what I want to do.

39. I can be late to a meeting without having the lateness reflect on my race.

40. I can choose public accommodation without fearing that people of my race cannot get in or will be mistreated in the places I have chosen.

41. I can be sure that if I need legal or medical help, my race will not work against me.

42. I can arrange my activities so that I will never have to experience feelings of rejection owing to my race.

43. If I have low credibility as a leader I can be sure that my race is not the problem.

44. I can easily find academic courses and institutions which give attention only to people of my race.

45. I can expect figurative language and imagery in all of the arts to testify to experiences of my race.

46. I can chose blemish cover or bandages in “flesh” color and have them more or less match my skin.

47. I can travel alone or with my spouse without expecting embarrassment or hostility in those who deal with us.

48. I have no difficulty finding neighborhoods where people approve of our household.

49. My children are given texts and classes which implicitly support our kind of family unit and do not turn them against my choice of domestic partnership.

50. I will feel welcomed and “normal” in the usual walks of public life, institutional and social.

 

These are just a few examples.  Many more exist.  A lot of people have a hard time understanding privilege, because th
ey think of it in terms of something granted; as if they woke up one day and won a prize.  “I bequeath you White Privilege! Stand now and get thee gone to make use of your privilege as you may!”  Nuh uh.  It doesn’t work that way.  Privilege is automatically conferred as a result of being part of a particular social group.  Another problem had by some is the idea that one should feel guilty for having a particular kind of privilege.  Nuh uh part 2.  When someone is told to “check their privilege”, they’re being asked (or told) bluntly to take a step back and recognize the ways in which they benefit from a particular situation that others, who do not share in that particular privilege, do not benefit from. No one is being asked to feel guilty (and that’s not the point of being asked to ‘check your privilege’). It’s intended to be a way for the privileged to try and understand what it means to lack privilege along some axis.  One should not be faulted for being privileged in some way, but they can be asked to recognize that they do have that privilege and keep it in mind when they interact with others (I view recognizing privilege as an aid in empathizing with people from other social groupings).  Sometimes it can be easier to comprehend privilege if the concept is looked at from a different social perspective, which is easy, as there are several other types of privilege.  As a gay man, I’m well aware of Straight Privilege (though I prefer Heterosexual, as ‘straight’ has connotations of being “right”, which then means being gay carries a connotation of being “wrong”; think of the phrase “on the straight and narrow“).  

  • When I talk about my heterosexuality (such as in a joke or talking about my relationships), I will not be accused of pushing my sexual orientation onto others.

  • I do not have to fear that if my family or friends find out about my sexual orientation there will be economic, emotional, physical or psychological consequences.

  • I did not grow up with games that attack my sexual orientation (IE fag tag or smear the queer).

  • I am not accused of being abused, warped or psychologically confused because of my sexual orientation.

  • I can go home from most meetings, classes, and conversations without feeling excluded, fearful, attacked, isolated, outnumbered, unheard, held at a distance, stereotyped or feared because of my sexual orientation.

  • I am never asked to speak for everyone who is heterosexual.

  • I can be sure that my classes will require curricular materials that testify to the existence of people with my sexual orientation.

  • People don’t ask why I made my choice of sexual orientation.

  • People don’t ask why I made my choice to be public about my sexual orientation.

  • I do not have to fear revealing my sexual orientation to friends or family.  It’s assumed.

  • My sexual orientation was never associated with a closet.

  • People of my gender do not try to convince me to change my sexual orientation.

  • I don’t have to defend my heterosexuality.

  • I can easily find a religious community that will not exclude me for being heterosexual.

  • I can count on finding a therapist or doctor willing and able to talk about my sexuality.

Like White Privilege, Straight Privilege confers unearned benefits and advantages that allow people with that privilege to move through life with few annoyances and obstacles.  For example, I went to a meeting at my new job today, and while sitting among nearly 40 other people of varying ages and races (and, likely, sexualities and genders and on and on), I wondered how accepting *this* group of people would be to a gay person.  For a heterosexual person they never need to consider this.  They don’t have to think before they talk about their loved ones. They never have to think twice before telling their coworkers what bar they went to last night.  No, this isn’t the end of the world, but privilege isn’t all about the ways in which the privileged possess so much more power than the non-privileged (though that can be the case).  Remember, it’s about advantages and disadvantages.  In my above scenario, despite the fact that this is 2014, I *still* wonder how people are going to react to finding out I’m gay (I live in the Southeastern US, which is the heart of the Bible Belt, and a lot of people remain openly homophobic-though this isn’t limited to the South).  So I don’t reveal that aspect of myself, unless directly asked, or if I find that a particular setting is open to homosexuals (like my last job was).  This is stuff heterosexuals don’t have to think about.  They’re privileged that way.  I hope one day that heterosexual privilege (as well as all other forms) diminishes or disappears altogether.  No one should be conferred unearned privileges (if you do earn them, great, but they shouldn’t be granted solely based on one’s membership in a particular social group).

Another form of privilege is Religious Privilege.  In the United States, the dominant religion by far, is Christianity (not that this is one monolithic religious system; there are a great many strains of Christianity).   What does it mean to have Christian Privilege (if you live in a country where the dominant religion is another belief system, you can substitute that religion in place of Christianity; c.f. living in a country dominated by Islam or Buddhism)?

  • You can expect to have time off work to celebrate religious holidays.

  • Music and television programs pertaining to your religion’s holidays are readily accessible.

  • It is easy to find stores that carry items that enable you to practice your faith and celebrate religious holidays.

  • You aren’t pressured to celebrate holidays from another faith that may conflict with your religious values.

  • Holidays celebrating your faith are so widely supported you can often forget they are limited to your faith (e.g. wish someone a “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Easter” without considering their faith).

  • You can worship freely, without fear of violence or threats.

  • A bumper sticker supporting your religion won’t likely lead to your car being vandalized.

  • You can practice your religious customs without being questioned, mocked, or inhibited.

  • If you are being tried in court, you can assume that the jury of “your peers” will share your faith and not hold that against you in weighing decisions.

  • When swearing an oath, you will place your hand on a rel
    igious scripture pertaining to your faith.

  • Positive references to your faith are seen dozens of times a day by everyone, regardless of their faith.

  • Politicians responsible for your governance are probably members of your faith.

  • Politicians can make decisions citing your faith without being labeled as heretics or extremists.

  • It is easy for you to find your faith accurately depicted in television, movies, books, and other media.

  • You can reasonably assume that anyone you encounter will have a decent understanding of your beliefs. 

 An article from USA Today highlights one example of Christian Privilege:

An atheist airman at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada was denied re-enlistment last month forrefusing to take an oath containing “so help me God,” the American Humanist Association said Thursday.

And in a Sept. 2 letter to the inspectors general for the Air Force and Creech, Monica Miller, an attorney with the AHA’s Apignani Humanist Legal Center, said the airman should be allowed to re-enlist without having to swear to a deity, and instead given a secular oath. Miller said the AHA is prepared to sue if the airman is not allowed to re-enlist.

According to the AHA, the unnamed airman was told Aug. 25 that the Air Force would not accept his contract because he had crossed out the phrase “so help me God.” The airman was told his only options were to sign the religious oath section of the contract without adjustment and recite an oath concluding with “so help me God,” or leave the Air Force, the AHA said.

That is unconstitutional and unacceptable, the AHA said.

“The government cannot compel a nonbeliever to take an oath that affirms the existence of a supreme being,” Miller said. “Numerous cases affirm that atheists have the right to omit theistic language from enlistment or re-enlistment contracts.”

As stated, that is unconstitutional.  The government cannot compel anyone to take any oath of affirmation about any deity (nor could the government compel anyone to reject belief in a deity).  The words “so help me God” are so ubiquitous in society that people don’t think anything of them.  But the phrase is clearly a reference to a deity, and as atheists do not believe in a deity (nor should anyone as there’s no reason to believe any deity exists-whether its Loki, Dionysus, Isis, or Jehovah).  For religious people, especially Christians, the phrase might mean something to them (or it might not), but there’s no conflict for them to address when saying it.  That’s not the case of a non believer.  I wouldn’t want to say “so help me God” either, bc it’s an expression of religious belief that I don’t share, and I do not believe I should be forced to adhere to any system of religion.  In principle, citizens of the United States are supposed to have freedom of religion  (in practice, this isn’t often the case).  

A few privilege checklists

Talking about Ferguson & Race

Ferguson: Why atheists should care — and what they can do 

This guest column is written by Dr. Anthony B. Pinn, the Agnes Cullen Arnold Professor of Humanities and Professor of Religious Studies at Rice University and a leading scholar of black nontheism.

I’m troubled by the taking of yet another black life, but I’m also baffled: Why are some people, including many atheists, so surprised by the tragedies of racial violence—as if the United States hasn’t had a steady diet of discrimination? And why aren’t more humanists and atheists speaking out?

As Cornel West and W. E. B. Du Bois before him noted, race matters. It is a matter of willful ignorance to think otherwise; to deny the continued existence of racial hostility is a marker that one is out of touch with life in the U.S.

Sure, there are ways in which theological arguments can distract people from the harsh realities of life and blind some to the dynamics of racial discrimination. But theists aren’t the only ones who sometimes fail to grapple seriously with the consequences of racial dynamics in the U.S. Too many atheists and humanists assume their appeals to reason and logic are a prophylactic against racism.

This is a mistake—a bad mistake. Behind the humanist hero Thomas Jefferson was a host of dehumanized, enslaved Africans.

Humanists often claim to be informed, frequent readers, and more intelligent than theists—so the common mantra of  “I just don’t know much about African Americans” doesn’t work. Those who make this claim in a society marked by easy access to information should be embarrassed by such intellectual laziness.

It’s just as easy to find a copy of Du Bois’s The Souls of Black Folk as it is to find a copy of Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion, okay?

I sympathize with Dr. Pinn. He thinks atheists should be more informed and better educated about the realities of racism in the United States.  I’m inclined to agree with him, but there is a slight problem. If you read the entire post, you’ll note that he uses ‘atheists’ and ‘humanists’ interchangeably. This is problematic.  Atheism is defined as ‘a lack of belief in a higher power or powers’.  It is not a set of beliefs. It is NOT believing. Humanism is a set of beliefs. Specifically,

Humanism is a philosophical and ethical stance that emphasizes the value and agency of human beings, individually and collectively, and generally prefers critical thinking and evidence (rationalism, empiricism) over established doctrine or faith (fideism).

Atheists are often Humanists-I’m one for instance.  I do not believe in any higher power or powers, and I *do* believe in the value and agency of human beings, and I think that since there is no deity to assist humanity, it is our responsibility to use critical and rational thinking to solve the problems of humanity.  I think that since we share this planet, and we as a species are social creatures, that we ought to do our best to minimize harm and maximize happiness, not just for ourselves, but for other humans, and animals as well.  I’ve encountered and interacted with many wonderful atheists and humanists who feel the same way I do, and many of them are involved in the Atheist movement and seek to make it more inclusive for a broad range of people, especially those who belong to marginalized groups.

Not every atheist feels this way.  As I’ve seen in the last 4-5 years, there are atheists who are concerned with making the world better, only insofar as it relates to the existence of religion and religious beliefs. Among this group are atheists who are actively opposed to efforts at making the Atheist movement a safer space for those who belong to oppressed groups.  Some atheists dislike the idea of those in the movement advocating for social justice for women, LGBT individuals, People of Color, and other marginalized groups. In my experiences, these atheists are dictionary atheists who adhere to a limited definition of atheism-a dictionary definition. Their concerns are largely focused on eliminating the direct effects of religious belief in society, such as opposing creationism in the classroom or ensuring the continued separation of church and state (in democratic countries like-ostensibly-the US).  They don’t want to go any further though.  They think that atheism should end there.

As a result of this disagreement between dictionary atheists and social justice atheists, there have been a series of rifts in the Atheist community with Social Justice Atheists on one side of an ever growing chasm, and Dictionary Atheists on the other (my interactions with the DAs has made me despise a great many of them, and I’m more than happy for the chasm to grow wider).  The lack of concern on the part of many Dictionary Atheists for their fellow humans disgusts me.  I’ve seen them engage in sexism, misogyny, transphobia, homophobia, and ableism.  I’ve seen them engage in an ongoing campaign of cyber harassment of female bloggers (to the point that some have withdrawn from online participation in the Atheist movement).  I’m aware of one group of them that has set up an entire website dedicated to haranguing and opposing those atheists who also are interested in advocating for social justice.    I am unsure if Dr. Pinn is aware of this group of atheists, but they definitely are not Humanists.  It may be that these are the types of atheists he is criticizing for not speaking up about racism in the US.

There are atheists, however,  that have spoken up.  I’ve interacted with these people, and they are passionate about improving the quality of life for all people, including-obviously-black people.  I’ve watched these dedicated individuals working to signal boost the events of Ferguson over the last few weeks. Many of these people have tirelessly dedicated their time to helping spread the word of the horrible actions of the Ferguson PD, the death of Michael Brown, the militarization of the police in the US, gun violence, racism in our culture and more. Most of the updates on Ferguson that I’ve blogged about are the direct result of efforts of many atheists to get this information out to people.  I’m very grateful to these people, and I’m proud to call many of them my friends.  These are the type of people embodying exactly what Dr. Pinn advocates.


DIFFERENT RULES APPLY

The boy asked his mother, “So I should just put my hands in the air?”

“Yes,” his mother said. “Just put your hands in the air.”

“If I put my hands in the air, will the police not shoot?” he asked.

“Probably not, but you can’t be sure. Some people say you should just kneel or lie down, don’t ask questions, just get down on the ground.”

“If I lie down on the ground, they won’t shoot?”

“Probably,” she said.

I recognized the exhaustion in that “probably”—a parent trying to explain a fundamentally unfair fact of life in the most neutral terms possible, so as not to make a child prematurely paranoid or cynical or bitter, and realizing that there are no words with which to do such a thing. After my son and I left the restaurant, though, I was disturbed by a mental image of this small boy dropping face-down on the ground at the sound of a cop’s voice—thinking just
maybe he wouldn’t get shot. I thought of Oscar Grant, who was detained by police on a BART platform on New Years Day, 2009, and got shot in the back anyway. To death.

“Is that what you’re supposed to do? Get down on the ground?” my son asked.

He’d heard about Ferguson. It was everywhere.

I said, “Not necessarily. Some police want you to put your hands up. Some don’t ask you to do that. It depends. I guess the main thing is to just do what the police officer tells you to do. Don’t make any sudden moves.”

“Can the police just shoot people?” he asked. He seemed genuinely worried.

“They’re not supposed to just shoot people,” I said. “There are supposed to be rules about when you can and can’t shoot a person. Sometimes mistakes happen and people who shouldn’t get shot do get shot. And there are other times when…”

And I trailed off because I realized I was evading the real issue.

“It happens, and it’s horrible,” I told my son,” and in a lot of cases the reasons why some people get shot and others don’t get shot are unfair, or they don’t make sense, but you….” I trailed off again.

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“White people just aren’t as likely to get shot by police,” I told him.

“Why is that?”

“There are a lot of reasons why that’s true, and we’ll talk about them later, but that’s the bottom line,” I said. “It’s not right, but it’s the truth. That’s what that woman was telling her son about.”

My mind added: …in a conversation that most white dads would not be having with their white elementary school-age sons. 

Why didn’t I say this out loud to my son? I don’t know. Something was holding me back.

Maybe it was the fact that my son has friends of different races and ethnicities, and I didn’t want to burst what I thought was an idyllic bubble, if indeed he lived in one, which he probably doesn’t.

No, that wasn’t it.

I wasn’t protecting my son from anything. I was protecting my son’s image of his father, or what I imagined that image to be.

And I was protecting myself from myself. I was lying to myself about myself.

I was reminded of something my best friend, a skinny Irish guy from Bay Ridge, told me. He was hanging out with his dad one afternoon. Out of the blue his dad told he should always be grateful for the greatest gift his dad and mom ever gave him.

“What gift is that?” my friend asked.

“Your white skin,” he said. “If you’re white in this country, you’re ahead of the game. You get more chances. You get more second chances. That’s the gift your mother and I gave you—and we didn’t have a damn thing to do with it!”

My friend’s dad was being bitterly sarcastic. But he was also being honest about white privilege.

I believe that there’s a difference between knowing something and understanding it. You know how you’ll try to communicate something very important to you to another person and sometimes they’ll wave you off with an impatient, “I know, I know”? That’s knowing: I got the gist, filed it away, I don’t need to think about it again. Knowing is comprehension; understanding is deeper because it comes from empathy or identification.

All of which is a wind-up to say: having grown up in a mostly black neighborhood near Love Field airport in Dallas, and having been a diligent liberal for most of my adult life, I already knew there was such a thing as white privilege, and was properly horrified by it, but I didn’t truly understand what it meant, on a deep level, until one summer night in 2006, when I was spared arrest or worse thanks to the color of my skin.

(read the rest here)

 

BEYOND FERGUSON: POP CULTURE THROUGH THE LENS OF RACE


HANDS UP: LOS ANGELES PROTEST AGAINST POLICE VIOLENCE


 Their buddy, Darren Wilson, shot and killed Michael Brown, and somehow *they’re* the victims?!


 

Blame poverty, not race, say Ferguson’s white minority

For the love of all the nonexistent gods in the heavens, white people saying this, please shut up and listen.

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Talking about Ferguson & Race

Talking about Ferguson & Race

Ferguson: Why atheists should care — and what they can do 

This guest column is written by Dr. Anthony B. Pinn, the Agnes Cullen Arnold Professor of Humanities and Professor of Religious Studies at Rice University and a leading scholar of black nontheism.

I’m troubled by the taking of yet another black life, but I’m also baffled: Why are some people, including many atheists, so surprised by the tragedies of racial violence—as if the United States hasn’t had a steady diet of discrimination? And why aren’t more humanists and atheists speaking out?

As Cornel West and W. E. B. Du Bois before him noted, race matters. It is a matter of willful ignorance to think otherwise; to deny the continued existence of racial hostility is a marker that one is out of touch with life in the U.S.

Sure, there are ways in which theological arguments can distract people from the harsh realities of life and blind some to the dynamics of racial discrimination. But theists aren’t the only ones who sometimes fail to grapple seriously with the consequences of racial dynamics in the U.S. Too many atheists and humanists assume their appeals to reason and logic are a prophylactic against racism.

This is a mistake—a bad mistake. Behind the humanist hero Thomas Jefferson was a host of dehumanized, enslaved Africans.

Humanists often claim to be informed, frequent readers, and more intelligent than theists—so the common mantra of  “I just don’t know much about African Americans” doesn’t work. Those who make this claim in a society marked by easy access to information should be embarrassed by such intellectual laziness.

It’s just as easy to find a copy of Du Bois’s The Souls of Black Folk as it is to find a copy of Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion, okay?

I sympathize with Dr. Pinn. He thinks atheists should be more informed and better educated about the realities of racism in the United States.  I’m inclined to agree with him, but there is a slight problem. If you read the entire post, you’ll note that he uses ‘atheists’ and ‘humanists’ interchangeably. This is problematic.  Atheism is defined as ‘a lack of belief in a higher power or powers’.  It is not a set of beliefs. It is NOT believing. Humanism is a set of beliefs. Specifically,

Humanism is a philosophical and ethical stance that emphasizes the value and agency of human beings, individually and collectively, and generally prefers critical thinking and evidence (rationalism, empiricism) over established doctrine or faith (fideism).

Atheists are often Humanists-I’m one for instance.  I do not believe in any higher power or powers, and I *do* believe in the value and agency of human beings, and I think that since there is no deity to assist humanity, it is our responsibility to use critical and rational thinking to solve the problems of humanity.  I think that since we share this planet, and we as a species are social creatures, that we ought to do our best to minimize harm and maximize happiness, not just for ourselves, but for other humans, and animals as well.  I’ve encountered and interacted with many wonderful atheists and humanists who feel the same way I do, and many of them are involved in the Atheist movement and seek to make it more inclusive for a broad range of people, especially those who belong to marginalized groups.

Not every atheist feels this way.  As I’ve seen in the last 4-5 years, there are atheists who are concerned with making the world better, only insofar as it relates to the existence of religion and religious beliefs. Among this group are atheists who are actively opposed to efforts at making the Atheist movement a safer space for those who belong to oppressed groups.  Some atheists dislike the idea of those in the movement advocating for social justice for women, LGBT individuals, People of Color, and other marginalized groups. In my experiences, these atheists are dictionary atheists who adhere to a limited definition of atheism-a dictionary definition. Their concerns are largely focused on eliminating the direct effects of religious belief in society, such as opposing creationism in the classroom or ensuring the continued separation of church and state (in democratic countries like-ostensibly-the US).  They don’t want to go any further though.  They think that atheism should end there.

As a result of this disagreement between dictionary atheists and social justice atheists, there have been a series of rifts in the Atheist community with Social Justice Atheists on one side of an ever growing chasm, and Dictionary Atheists on the other (my interactions with the DAs has made me despise a great many of them, and I’m more than happy for the chasm to grow wider).  The lack of concern on the part of many Dictionary Atheists for their fellow humans disgusts me.  I’ve seen them engage in sexism, misogyny, transphobia, homophobia, and ableism.  I’ve seen them engage in an ongoing campaign of cyber harassment of female bloggers (to the point that some have withdrawn from online participation in the Atheist movement).  I’m aware of one group of them that has set up an entire website dedicated to haranguing and opposing those atheists who also are interested in advocating for social justice.    I am unsure if Dr. Pinn is aware of this group of atheists, but they definitely are not Humanists.  It may be that these are the types of atheists he is criticizing for not speaking up about racism in the US.

There are atheists, however,  that have spoken up.  I’ve interacted with these people, and they are passionate about improving the quality of life for all people, including-obviously-black people.  I’ve watched these dedicated individuals working to signal boost the events of Ferguson over the last few weeks. Many of these people have tirelessly dedicated their time to helping spread the word of the horrible actions of the Ferguson PD, the death of Michael Brown, the militarization of the police in the US, gun violence, racism in our culture and more. Most of the updates on Ferguson that I’ve blogged about are the direct result of efforts of many atheists to get this information out to people.  I’m very grateful to these people, and I’m proud to call many of them my friends.  These are the type of people embodying exactly what Dr. Pinn advocates.


DIFFERENT RULES APPLY

The boy asked his mother, “So I should just put my hands in the air?”

“Yes,” his mother said. “Just put your hands in the air.”

“If I put my hands in the air, will the police not shoot?” he asked.

“Probably not, but you can’t be sure. Some people say you should just kneel or lie down, don’t ask questions, just get down on the ground.”

“If I lie down on the ground, they won’t shoot?”

“Probably,” she said.

I recognized the exhaustion in that “probably”—a parent trying to explain a fundamentally unfair fact of life in the most neutral terms possible, so as not to make a child prematurely paranoid or cynical or bitter, and realizing that there are no words with which to do such a thing. After my son and I left the restaurant, though, I was disturbed by a mental image of this small boy dropping face-down on the ground at the sound of a cop’s voice—thinking just
maybe he wouldn’t get shot. I thought of Oscar Grant, who was detained by police on a BART platform on New Years Day, 2009, and got shot in the back anyway. To death.

“Is that what you’re supposed to do? Get down on the ground?” my son asked.

He’d heard about Ferguson. It was everywhere.

I said, “Not necessarily. Some police want you to put your hands up. Some don’t ask you to do that. It depends. I guess the main thing is to just do what the police officer tells you to do. Don’t make any sudden moves.”

“Can the police just shoot people?” he asked. He seemed genuinely worried.

“They’re not supposed to just shoot people,” I said. “There are supposed to be rules about when you can and can’t shoot a person. Sometimes mistakes happen and people who shouldn’t get shot do get shot. And there are other times when…”

And I trailed off because I realized I was evading the real issue.

“It happens, and it’s horrible,” I told my son,” and in a lot of cases the reasons why some people get shot and others don’t get shot are unfair, or they don’t make sense, but you….” I trailed off again.

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“White people just aren’t as likely to get shot by police,” I told him.

“Why is that?”

“There are a lot of reasons why that’s true, and we’ll talk about them later, but that’s the bottom line,” I said. “It’s not right, but it’s the truth. That’s what that woman was telling her son about.”

My mind added: …in a conversation that most white dads would not be having with their white elementary school-age sons. 

Why didn’t I say this out loud to my son? I don’t know. Something was holding me back.

Maybe it was the fact that my son has friends of different races and ethnicities, and I didn’t want to burst what I thought was an idyllic bubble, if indeed he lived in one, which he probably doesn’t.

No, that wasn’t it.

I wasn’t protecting my son from anything. I was protecting my son’s image of his father, or what I imagined that image to be.

And I was protecting myself from myself. I was lying to myself about myself.

I was reminded of something my best friend, a skinny Irish guy from Bay Ridge, told me. He was hanging out with his dad one afternoon. Out of the blue his dad told he should always be grateful for the greatest gift his dad and mom ever gave him.

“What gift is that?” my friend asked.

“Your white skin,” he said. “If you’re white in this country, you’re ahead of the game. You get more chances. You get more second chances. That’s the gift your mother and I gave you—and we didn’t have a damn thing to do with it!”

My friend’s dad was being bitterly sarcastic. But he was also being honest about white privilege.

I believe that there’s a difference between knowing something and understanding it. You know how you’ll try to communicate something very important to you to another person and sometimes they’ll wave you off with an impatient, “I know, I know”? That’s knowing: I got the gist, filed it away, I don’t need to think about it again. Knowing is comprehension; understanding is deeper because it comes from empathy or identification.

All of which is a wind-up to say: having grown up in a mostly black neighborhood near Love Field airport in Dallas, and having been a diligent liberal for most of my adult life, I already knew there was such a thing as white privilege, and was properly horrified by it, but I didn’t truly understand what it meant, on a deep level, until one summer night in 2006, when I was spared arrest or worse thanks to the color of my skin.

(read the rest here)

 

BEYOND FERGUSON: POP CULTURE THROUGH THE LENS OF RACE


HANDS UP: LOS ANGELES PROTEST AGAINST POLICE VIOLENCE


 Their buddy, Darren Wilson, shot and killed Michael Brown, and somehow *they’re* the victims?!


 

Blame poverty, not race, say Ferguson’s white minority

For the love of all the nonexistent gods in the heavens, white people saying this, please shut up and listen.

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Talking about Ferguson & Race