Improving Diversity in the Atheist Movement May 2, 2011

Improving Diversity in the Atheist Movement

During the recent American Humanist Association conference in Boston, the Secular Student Alliance held a “Leadership Track” for students.

One of the talks was on “Diversity in the Atheist Movement” and it featured Jen McCreight, Debbie Goddard, and Greta Christina — which is a female-friendly Holy Trinity of Heathens.

Each of the women brings a different perspective to the table, so if you have some spare time, watch the video. It’s a long one, but it’s focuses on one of the most important issues we have to grapple with.

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  • I’m not likely to find time to watch this, but for me the point remains: Why in heck should atheists want to get together and be in a movement anyway? I’d rather stay in my room. If the white males don’t make room for diversity, this issue affects me not.

  • Michael

    Is there a cliff notes version around somewhere?

    I honestly don’t understand the problem, but I’m not excited to watch 1.5 hours to find out… there must be a good post addressing it somewhere.

    Never mind, I’m watching the whole video. See you tomorrow.

  • I think we only went for about 40 minutes before a lengthy Q&A started. 🙂

  • Michael

    Wow, it goes by really quickly. I enjoyed all three speakers. I think the main point I took away from it (aside from the many good general tips for socializing) is that as a “movement,” you can’t just expect groups of people you think fit in with you to just gravitate into the movement. You have to actively show them that they fit with the movement by manually recruiting some.

    Hey Jude: atheists want to get together and be in a movement for pure, simplistic tribal reasons. You don’t have to physically “get together.” We’re gathering right here, right now. I’ve never actually gone to a meeting in person, but it’s still important that others do so on my behalf. We need to at least encourage others to do so for us.
    If you’re trying to conflate atheism with anarchism or antiestablishmentarianism, don’t. Go ahead and be both. They can make good compliments to atheism, but being an Atheist requires neither.
    If you’re worried about being falsely represented within whatever cohesive group forms and decides that they ‘represent’ you, don’t worry about that, either. It’s already happening in many other forms of political and social systems. Passively abstaining from participation will never starve that beast. A timeless curse of social civilization is that each of us must waste resources managing our interactions with the collective group. In this specific case, savvy atheists want to get together to help encourage a more accurate representation of the group.
    In case you couldn’t tell, I don’t enjoy group gatherings. With respect to the secular movement, I don’t attend anything greater more demanding than this blog. There are always reasons for this. You’ve already recognized some kind of value in this kind of participation.

  • Cameron Brown

    This was a great talk. Just great. I’ve been begging our group on campus to try and care about, say, doing service projects, and it went sorta…


    And every other issue raised is also very valid.

  • m

    Next time get a microphone for the questioners or have those who are miced repeat the questions. I had to abandon the Q & A.

  • To increase diversity, you have to actively moderate your group. There is no alternative. Left to drift:

    — Newcomers don’t receive the attention to deserve to introduce them around and make them feel welcome

    — Nobody is policing the members who lack the social skills to make it comfortable for new members

    Obviously, freethinkers are a very inclusive group, but if you are so inclusive that you are unwilling to tell people to stop it sometimes (or even ban them from the group) you are permitting your “culture” to be dominated by your loudest members, who are often your least socially balanced members.

    This can lead into a negative cycle, where the more socially balanced people are least likely to put up with this, so they leave. So the group on average becomes more awkward and more awkward.

    Beyond diversity, this issue applies to personal attacks, volunteerism, cliques, and more. Everything that creates a fantastic group can and should be managed, as long as that management doesn’t become so strict that it’s no longer fun, or dragged outside mainstream norms.

    You need to have the backbone to respond, “Of course you have freedom of speech, but this is a private group and you can speak freely elsewhere if you’re going to argue too aggressively or make it awkward for us to welcome women and minorities.”

  • Michael

    Yeah, you definitely will have trouble hearing the questions at all. I think the answers to the questions are worth listening to. They stand on their own well enough.

  • Aj

    Debbie Goddard uses an ad hominem, it’s disappointing, because others could say look at who wants to increase diversity, and I’m sure people wouldn’t like that kind of irrationality so to be so dismissive of people using the equivalent is not cool. I don’t think diversity is inherently valuable, and none of the speakers tried very hard to validate their goal.

    Humanism is based in science and philosophy, much of its influences come from Europe, and that’s not going to change, if it’s a problem then we might as well give up. I think shifting the focus of groups to attract new members is a good way to discourage existing members. Science is interesting, and well you know what you can do if you don’t agree.

    The belief that the United States government invented HIV and then deliberately spread it, is as acceptable, as understandable as homophobia and racism to me. Frankly, I find it bizarre that people would blame science for an incident of a treatment developed by a brilliant international team of scientists in Britain not being given to people.

  • Michael

    Aj, do you think the current science crowd has any responsibility toward other groups?

  • bigjohn756

    I finally watched a few minutes of this. What’s the deal with the lighting going up and down–very irritating. I am going to download it and then just listen. The light show makes it far too distracting to watch.

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