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The accidental exclusion of non-white atheists - Comments

SourTomatoSand's Avatar Comment 1 by SourTomatoSand

Hang on...

There are issues that black and Asian atheists face that white atheists do not, for example, greater pressure to adhere to the religion of the communities in which they live. Since first writing about my atheism in public, I have been contacted by a number of Asian people who don't believe in God but feel they have to carry on the pretence of being a Muslim because they genuinely fear that the consequences of "coming out" would be unbearable.

Well, that answers the 'why aren't there more high-profile non-white atheists?' question.

Wed, 17 Nov 2010 14:40:52 UTC | #548816

green and dying's Avatar Comment 2 by green and dying

Comment 1 by SourTomatoSand :

Well, that answers the 'why aren't there more high-profile non-white atheists?' question.

Yeah but this piece wasn't really about that.

Wed, 17 Nov 2010 14:51:18 UTC | #548821

The Plc's Avatar Comment 3 by The Plc

Alister McGrath, John Lennox, William Craig, Joseph Ratzinger, Rowan Williams, Alvin Platinga… if you're a regular Cif belief reader, you'll already have spotted the pattern – these are the names of arguably the most prominent, outspoken religious believers and "theologians" in the world. There's something else you should notice – they are all white men. The religious and theological movements are dominated by white men and I think this is a problem.

Wed, 17 Nov 2010 15:02:35 UTC | #548825

green and dying's Avatar Comment 4 by green and dying

Comment 3 by The Plc :

Alister McGrath, John Lennox, William Craig, Joseph Ratzinger, Rowan Williams, Alvin Platinga… if you're a regular Cif belief reader, you'll already have spotted the pattern – these are the names of arguably the most prominent, outspoken religious believers and "theologians" in the world. There's something else you should notice – they are all white men. The religious and theological movements are dominated by white men and I think this is a problem.

If they are wanting to be inclusive and encourage all kinds of people with all different life experiences to be part of their community then yes that is a problem.

Wed, 17 Nov 2010 15:11:52 UTC | #548830

jamiso's Avatar Comment 5 by jamiso

These are issues that the white "leadership" of the atheist and sceptic movements have largely ignored because they are not issues that concern them. But these issues should concern all atheist

The author seems to think that this isnt a concern...it is, and has been addressed. Its part of the reason Dawkins talked so 'stridently' about labeling children. However, what can actually be done about that?

while black and Asian people may not be actively excluded from atheist and sceptic gatherings, the lack of black and Asian people as speakers or audience members might be one reason why many black or Asian people feel such events are not "for them".

That is rather circular

Some of my Bangladeshi friends still find it awkward to socialise with my

This would probably be the biggest issue

white friends

Wed, 17 Nov 2010 15:11:54 UTC | #548831

Letsbereasonable's Avatar Comment 6 by Letsbereasonable

Comment 3 by The Plc :

Alister McGrath, John Lennox, William Craig, Joseph Ratzinger, Rowan Williams, Alvin Platinga… if you're a regular Cif belief reader, you'll already have spotted the pattern – these are the names of arguably the most prominent, outspoken religious believers and "theologians" in the world. There's something else you should notice – they are all white men. The religious and theological movements are dominated by white men and I think this is a problem.>

Good one. I wish the white/black/Asian thing would go away. Most of the trainspotters I see at railroad stations are white males. I think we need to force some blacks and women to be interested. They are way too under-represented.

Wed, 17 Nov 2010 15:19:54 UTC | #548833

root2squared's Avatar Comment 7 by root2squared

By Asian, he means Muslim for the most part. For the rest of the Asians, usually it's not that big a deal to come out as an atheist.

I'm not sure why everything has to be represented by every race, gender, and group. All groups are free to form their own little groups if they feel uncomfortable with some other group.

Wed, 17 Nov 2010 15:20:09 UTC | #548834

NH King's Avatar Comment 8 by NH King

The Plc,

Except that in every community in the US, and from what little I've seen, the world, there is a very visible presence of religion. It's not hard to find churches dominated by a local minority. Yet in my town, even as a white male, I cannot find a secular group. How is a black female supposed to find a secular group that has shared cultural experiences?

Unlike religion, there is not a strong local presence of atheism or skepticism in most communities, so we need to follow the global crowd. This is great for those of us that have joined, as we share global ideas and global experiences. But this article is about those people who feel as connected to the white culture as they do to their religious neighbors.

There are, whether the author likes it or not, racist undertones to this predicament. Do Asians and blacks find us that uncool? I'd say no, not really. But the "in-group/out-group" wiring of human nature that has been so abused by religion is showing itself in a more basic sense. We'd be wise to acknowledge this, work with it, and advance ourselves to a more inclusive group. I also think the author is speaking more in terms of cultural comfort rather than racial division.

Wed, 17 Nov 2010 15:21:13 UTC | #548836

Bob1's Avatar Comment 9 by Bob1

Fair point

So what can the leading 'non-white' atheists do to address this within their communities?

I must disagree with the title. I would say it is not an exclusion, not even an accidental exclusion, as that implies the non-white atheists are shut out and made to feel unwelcome by mostly white atheists, even though it is by accident, but the onus still rests upon the white atheists.

The non-white atheists the author writes about are rather being held back by their own communities and their own perceptions of pressure from within those communities, they are not being excluded, not even accidentally, by the mostly white atheist leaders.

It is rather, as the author indicates, a failure by atheist leaders within those communities, to seek out inclusion, involvement and representation due to actual and/or perceived social and/or cultural pressures from within their own communities and/or families etc.

Wed, 17 Nov 2010 15:24:26 UTC | #548838

Enlightenme..'s Avatar Comment 10 by Enlightenme..

Comment 3 by The Plc : The religious and theological movements are dominated by white men and I think this is a problem.

Maybe, but they are doing some outreach work, take The Family for instance, helping Uganda to deal with the homosexual problem.

Wed, 17 Nov 2010 15:38:42 UTC | #548845

Stevehill's Avatar Comment 11 by Stevehill

It's a very "Guardian" piece, therefore probably not to be taken to seriously (political correctness gone mad, don't you know?).

Nobody would be happier than me if Ayatollah Khameini came out as an atheist tomorrow.

Wed, 17 Nov 2010 15:41:28 UTC | #548848

Enlightenme..'s Avatar Comment 12 by Enlightenme..

The recent talk by NdeGT and RD, at a majority African-American campus, was noted upon for the poor attendance generally, and even further the seemingly unrepresentative audience.

There are surely multiple other fairly mundane reasons for the imbalances of interest; Nerd simply ain't cool enough yet, f'rinstance.

The ubu AASSoc I attend is not only seemingly incapable of attracting non-whites, but also people from the other side of the old 'Two-cultures' divide. Girls are also outnumbered.

Wed, 17 Nov 2010 16:05:56 UTC | #548854

mgjinich's Avatar Comment 13 by mgjinich

Non-white atheists? Please, read and watch Neil deGrasse Tyson. He is superb!!!!!!

Wed, 17 Nov 2010 16:06:56 UTC | #548855

keddaw's Avatar Comment 14 by keddaw

We (like there is a 'we' in the atheist community) should have second best speakers at events, choose them solely on the colour of their skin, otherwise we might appear racist.

We should have second best speakers at events, choose them solely on the colour of their gender, otherwise we might appear sexist.

We should have women waiting, willing and ready to Marry ex-Muslims so they'll come out to their family.

Equality, boys and girls, means what it says on the tin.

Wed, 17 Nov 2010 16:10:12 UTC | #548856

Jos Gibbons's Avatar Comment 15 by Jos Gibbons

To be a true 'community', atheism needs to move away from its white, male image and encourage black and Asian people to join. ... The atheist and sceptic movements are dominated by white men and I think this is a problem.

What is the measure of the success we have had on the membership front? Is it good news the list of non–white writers defending atheism has gotten very long indeed? Unfortunately, they aren’t very visible. Have the people Shaha lists failed to encourage others to read their work? No; they bring this up a lot. In the past few weeks alone, multiple articles on this topic have been discussed and Dawkins has appeared in a video on a panel discussing the issues of faith and science in the black community. Why, therefore, have not enough people heard of most of those on the lists we saw in those articles? Because journalists have a disease forcing them to use the name Richard Dawkins in every discussion of atheism, even if it’s got nothing to do with him. Shaha, you ARE a journalist. If you want to help, I suggest in addition to the complaints in this article you also link to some of the resources I’ve referenced (you will find them somewhere in the recent archives for this site, or I could do it for you), and I suggest you mention some of these people by name in any article similar to this one you pen later on.

I really don't want to come across as an Asian with a chip on my shoulder, so if you'd prefer to hear an argument from a white person about the need for the atheist movement to engage with minority groups, please stop reading now and watch this brilliant lecture by Greta Christina.

Well, I don’t want to seem like a white person with a chip on his shoulder, but I will point out several silly ideas people have about racism later in this article which will show I am one. Greta Christina is a very sensible person, and she has a lot of good recommendations. But I do feel a need to take issue with much of what Shaha writes here, and it has nothing to do with the fact I share my ethnic group with Christina instead. Shaha misses opportunities (see above), he conflates key issues, and he says things I think both racist and profoundly wrong, but more on that later.

There are issues that black and Asian atheists face that white atheists do not, for example, greater pressure to adhere to the religion of the communities in which they live. ... Sure, there are some white people who might face these same issues, but I would suggest the problem is more widespread in, for example, some Muslim communities than in the typical readership of the Guardian.

This has nothing to do with race. It has everything to do with how mean–spirited are the local theists, and this boils down to their specific religion and location. The only reason it looks like race matters here is because religion is so much about childhood indoctrination, rather than a proper case for claims, that race correlates very strongly with it in practice. If Hussein doesn’t believe in a deity and has a harder time about it than I do, it’s not because of his race; it’s because his background is a Muslim one. If Robert faces difficulties somewhere between those of Hussein and me, it’s not because he is white, as then why is he having greater trouble than me? It’s because his background is, for example, American Christianity. Too many of the people who fuss about race in our world use the term as if it were interchangeable with any and every attribute stereotyped as linked to it, and that is as racist an attitude as any.

we must ensure that black and Asian people are not just made to feel welcome but actively encouraged to join atheist and sceptic movements.

Are we not doing that already? One doesn’t have to have much in common with Richard Dawkins to join in. In fact, there are no rules at the door at all. If you don’t believe in a god, you’re an atheist no matter how much others may dislike you sharing that with them. And I have never heard of a group for atheists which excludes any non–white races. Oh, actually, I tell a lie; I have heard of groups for black atheists. No doubt these help to fill the sort of perceived need Shaha considers. And may many more atheist groups of any and every type form – except utterly unjustifiable ones, like those limited to people already finding joining such groups easy, such as white people presumably.

Simply arguing that black or Asian people are free to go along to gatherings of atheists or sceptics is to ignore an uncomfortable truth: people tend to be more comfortable with people who are like them. Some of my Bangladeshi friends still find it awkward to socialise with my white friends, despite the fact they get on perfectly well with their white colleagues at work. This doesn't make them racist and it isn't necessarily because they feel white people are racist, it's just a consequence of the same thing that makes goth kids gravitate towards other goth kids and Asian kids gravitate towards other Asian kids on the first day of college.

It sounds like racism to me. I went to a school full of racial diversity. No–one there limited their friendships to people of their own race, and no–one would have doubted such attitudes would constitute racism. We as a society have much to be ashamed of in our history. But we have much to be ashamed of today too re: racism. And it sounds to me like a form of racism is responsible for the low visibility of non–white atheists, but specifically the racism of non–whites.

While black and Asian people may not be actively excluded from atheist and sceptic gatherings, the lack of black and Asian people as speakers or audience members might be one reason why many black or Asian people feel such events are not "for them".

Anyone who won’t do something because not many people of their race are doing it is a racist. There were plenty of activities at my secondary school where white people were few and far between, but that never discouraged me, because I’m not a racist. I am of the view it is as racist to judge an activity by its participants’ race as it is to judge participants’ race by the activity. Because if black, white, yellow$ etc. people are all equal, who cares how many of each are in the room?

$ I think this is the right term, but I apologise unreservedly if it is not.

Wed, 17 Nov 2010 16:10:33 UTC | #548857

keddaw's Avatar Comment 16 by keddaw

There are some non-white atheists, I'm thinking of Salman Rushdie and Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

Maybe it is because of the Muslim reaction to them that others don't follow their lead. Perhaps the issue lies with Muslims, not atheists.

Wed, 17 Nov 2010 16:20:43 UTC | #548866

Layla's Avatar Comment 17 by Layla

Comment 14 by keddaw :

We (like there is a 'we' in the atheist 'community) should have second best speakers at events, choose them solely on the colour of their skin, otherwise we might appear racist.

We should have second best speakers at events, choose them solely on the colour of their gender, otherwise we might appear sexist.

That makes the assumption that there aren't first rate speakers who are women or any other race than white that actually deserve a place at events.

We should have women waiting, willing and ready to Marry ex-Muslims so they'll come out to their family.

This also makes the assumption that the only Muslims we're interested in are men.

Wed, 17 Nov 2010 16:24:47 UTC | #548867

edlewis's Avatar Comment 18 by edlewis

"There are issues that black and Asian atheists face that white atheists do not, for example, greater pressure to adhere to the religion of the communities in which they live."

Wow, is he really claiming that because the colour of their skin is different that they must therefor face greater pressure? Is it not possible for a person with white skin to come from a strong religious back ground, possibly even a strong background than another person with slightly darker skin? If he is indeed saying that black and asian communities are inherently more religious then that would be a perfect explanation of why the most prominent atheists are white, it simple numbers.

If on the other hand he is trying to communicate the idea (however poorly) that close knit minority groups (of all colours and genders) face greater social pressures to conform then I would gladly agree with him. But that is an issue that carries across more boundaries than theist/atheist. I would imagine that in a close knit community of atheists that a lone religious believer would face similar turmoil.

Of one thing I can be sure, change must come from within. An outsider cannot simply walk into a community and start telling people how to think. They can, however spread the their message to as many people as possible and hope that someone will hear that message and begin to take action within their own community.

If the author truly believes that the people he listed are not doing enough to represent minority groups (by being white), then why hasn't the author of this article stepped forward and taken a leading role in the atheist community? How about you stand up and make a difference yourself instead of complaining that the people that are trying to make a difference are the wrong colour!

Wed, 17 Nov 2010 16:31:21 UTC | #548870

edlewis's Avatar Comment 19 by edlewis

That makes the assumption that there aren't first rate speakers who are women or any other race than white that actually deserve a place at events.

No, it is merely pointing out that speakers should be chosen based on the quality of what they have to say, the colour of their eyes, hair, skin or car makes no difference whatsoever, nor does it matter if they are male, female, transgendered or other.

Wed, 17 Nov 2010 16:43:44 UTC | #548877

Nunbeliever's Avatar Comment 20 by Nunbeliever

This article really gets on my nerves. For fuck sake! We are of course trying to get more people from muslim countries to join forces with us. But, it is not that easy! It is not "our" (being a white male myself) fault that muslim societies are generally backward societies where coming out as an atheist might get you killed or severely harrassed! It is not "our" fault that merely criticising islam (even if you are a white male) might get you killed or labelled islamophobic.

What does this guy actually want from the white atheist males? Many are already putting themselves in danger of being victims of muslim fundamentalists. What about Ayaan Hirsi Ali? She's living under constant protection for being an asian female atheist. I think she's gotten a quite warm welcome even in the more prestigious venues. I am quite sure most white male atheist leaders (sigh) would welcome muslim voices in the public debate about atheism and religion. The talk about asians and caucasians not being comfortable socializing with each other is pure bullshit in my opinion!

It is that old loose-loose situation we are all too familiar with. If atheists actively try to reach out to muslims we are called islamophobes or imperialists. If we don't we are called racists! Just do something about it yourself and stop your mindless whining! That is my response to Alom Shaha!

Wed, 17 Nov 2010 16:45:17 UTC | #548878

keddaw's Avatar Comment 21 by keddaw

Comment 17 by Layla :

Comment 14 by keddaw :

We (like there is a 'we' in the atheist 'community) should have second best speakers at events, choose them solely on the colour of their skin, otherwise we might appear racist.

We should have second best speakers at events, choose them solely on their gender, otherwise we might appear sexist.

That makes the assumption that there aren't first rate speakers who are women or any other race than white that actually deserve a place at events.

No, as edlewis points out, it simply shows that we should not be choosing speakers based on anything other than their ability/attraction as speakers.

We should have women waiting, willing and ready to Marry ex-Muslims so they'll come out to their family.

This also makes the assumption that the only Muslims we're interested in are men.

That one almost works, but since the comment in the article was:

I have been contacted by a number of Asian people who don't believe in God but feel they have to carry on the pretence of being a Muslim because they genuinely fear that the consequences of "coming out" would be unbearable. They fear being ostracised from their family and friends, and "not being able to get married".

It appears a valid assumption that only men have contacted him as it would be just as bad for a woman to contact a man she is not related to as it would be to come out as an atheist in most of those communities.

Wed, 17 Nov 2010 16:55:04 UTC | #548885

beanson's Avatar Comment 22 by beanson

I have no interest in an atheist 'community'- I couldn't care less if non-whites are not coming forward as atheists- more fool them I say. As RD keeps banging on: it's the truth of statements that is of primary concern- alll the other guff (diplomacy, community, strategy etc) comes a poor, distant second

Wed, 17 Nov 2010 16:58:07 UTC | #548888

Layla's Avatar Comment 23 by Layla

It appears a valid assumption that only men have contacted him as it would be just as bad for a woman to contact a man she is not related to as it would be to come out as an atheist in most of those communities.

Sorry but that's not a fair assumption at all.

Wed, 17 Nov 2010 17:28:53 UTC | #548905

David Schultz's Avatar Comment 24 by David Schultz

I have no problem accepting his argument that many nonwhite atheists are especially inhibited from coming out due to unique social pressures within their respective communities. However, sorely missing from the article is even a single concrete suggestion of what could be done to encourage nonwhite participation. He pleads with what he perceives to be the white male atheist "leadership" (whose existence is apparently the whole problem) to "do something to stop turning a blind eye to this important issue" and to "reach out to (black and Asian atheists) specifically, not generally." But what on earth does this mean? Should postings about atheist meetings include the phrase "blacks welcome" or some such thing?

Wed, 17 Nov 2010 17:29:12 UTC | #548906

Kenny18's Avatar Comment 25 by Kenny18

the new atheist movement started in Europe and America so it's perfectly reasonable to expect most participants would be white. And what can Richard Dawkins do about a an Asian (although I think he means Arab) who doesn't believe in God but is too scared to say so in case his/her family murders him/her?. And what's going to a public talk about atheism going to change about their family's views? The best thing we can do to integrate immigrants into a more reasonable set of beliefs is have them go to the same schools as British kids which is not happening. Politicians will never get rid of faith schools AND THAT'S THE BIG PROBLEM NOT A FEW WHITE MEN.

Wed, 17 Nov 2010 17:29:47 UTC | #548907

green and dying's Avatar Comment 26 by green and dying

Comment 21 by keddaw :

It appears a valid assumption that only men have contacted him as it would be just as bad for a woman to contact a man she is not related to as it would be to come out as an atheist in most of those communities.

Um it's way easier to secretly contact someone than it is to secretly tell everyone you're an atheist.

Also many (most?) female Muslims in this country do actually have contact with unrelated men regularly. They go to school, or university, walk around the streets like anyone else, own a phone and a computer...

Wed, 17 Nov 2010 17:36:20 UTC | #548910

Layla's Avatar Comment 27 by Layla

Comment 19 by edlewis :

That makes the assumption that there aren't first rate speakers who are women or any other race than white that actually deserve a place at events.

No, it is merely pointing out that speakers should be chosen based on the quality of what they have to say, the colour of their eyes, hair, skin or car makes no difference whatsoever, nor does it matter if they are male, female, transgendered or other.

But when the majority of speakers appear to all be from one small demographic it should make you wonder why.

I don't know why but it's a worthwhile question to ask. You can't just assume "Oh, well, that's naturally the case because all the best speakers just happened to be men and white!" because unless you believe whiteness or maleness gives you special talents there would have to be something keeping women or (for lack of a better word) non-white people in general from taking part and that would be something it's worthwhile to change (unless you think white people or men are the only people that matter).

It's not necessary to be defensive. Nobody is attacking white atheists or blaming them for being the wrong colour. Nothing in that article even blamed white atheists for the situation he describes, it just tried to raise awareness among white atheists of this issue.

I agree it would have been more helpful if in addition Alom Shaha had written in more detail about what he believes would be a good strategy for tackling this problem.

Wed, 17 Nov 2010 17:41:20 UTC | #548914

Layla's Avatar Comment 28 by Layla

What about Ayaan Hirsi Ali? She's living under constant protection for being an asian female atheist.

Sorry, I know this is nitpicking but Hirsi Ali is not Asian. She is from Somalia.

Wed, 17 Nov 2010 17:46:22 UTC | #548916

r0ck3tm4n's Avatar Comment 29 by r0ck3tm4n

I am not sure that there is an "atheist movement". We are not asking anyone to join our group. There is no membership and no fees. We are simply asking people to unsubscribe or opt out of the religious movement. There are no criteria for opting out other than an ability to call "BS" when you see it.

Wed, 17 Nov 2010 17:47:55 UTC | #548917

green and dying's Avatar Comment 30 by green and dying

Comment 27 by Layla :

It's not necessary to be defensive. Nobody is attacking white atheists or blaming them for being the wrong colour. Nothing in that article even blamed white atheists for the situation he describes, it just tried to raise awareness among white atheists of this issue.

He actually went right out of his way not to blame anyone - "accidental exclusion," "I have not written this to accuse anyone of racism." He anticipated the defensive white people (as did I). Still not enough, though, apparently.

Wed, 17 Nov 2010 17:48:31 UTC | #548918