The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Posts Tagged ‘minority’

African Americans for Humanism Launches!

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 10, 2012

I know I’m a little late to this party, but better late than never.  I’m very happy to spread the news about a new secular, skeptical organization which will cater to a highly under-served minority in the skeptical community: African Americans for Humanism!  Check out their announcement and website, and pass it along…

Black Nonbelievers Are Speaking Out

African Americans for Humanism (AAH) has launched an advertising campaign highlighting the rise in religious skepticism among African Americans. Coinciding with Black History Month, this national multimedia effort showcases religious skepticism in the African American community and features prominent African American humanists from history along with contemporary activists and organizers.

Debbie Goddard“African Americans who question religion often feel rejected by religious family and friends, and by the greater black community,” said Debbie Goddard, director of AAH. “But there is a rich heritage of religious skepticism and humanism in black history. By featuring the historical faces as well as the modern in our ad campaign, we show people that questioning religion is not new and that there are many of us here.”

AAH poster runner Anacostia

The ads began appearing January 30 and January 31 in New York City; Washington, DC; Chicago; Atlanta; and Durham, North Carolina. This week, the campaign is being launched in Dallas and Los Angeles. Advertisements will be found on roadside billboards and in public transit sites. The Stiefel Freethought Foundation provided substantial creative and financial support for the campaign.

AAH hopes that the campaign will bring attention to the presence of and increase in religious skepticism within the black community, encourage those who have doubts about religion to share their concerns and join other freethinkers in their local communities, and educate many about the history of black freethought. 

All of the ads display the same message: “Doubts about religion? You’re one of many.” In the ads, images of writer-anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston, poet-activist Langston Hughes, and social reformer-publisher Frederick Douglass are paired with contemporary freethinkers. Representing their respective hometowns are activists leading the way for African American nonbelievers, including Mark D. Hatcher of the Secular Students at Howard University, Mandisa L. Thomas of Black Nonbelievers, Inc. (Atlanta), Kimberly Veal of Black Nonbelievers of Chicago, Jamila Bey of African Americans for Humanism–Washington, DC, Veronique Matthews of the Triangle Freethought Society, Leighann Lord of the Center for Inquiry–Harlem, Alix Jules of the Dallas–Ft. Worth Coalition of Reason, and Sikivu Hutchinson of Black Skeptics Los Angeles.

For more information, including ad images, information about historical African American freethinkers, photos, and videos, please visit We Are AAH.

AAH supports skeptics, doubters, humanists, and atheists in the African American community, provides forums for communication and education, and facilitates coordinated action to achieve shared objectives. 

In an irrational world, those who stand for reason must stand together.

AAH logo 2012Please stand with us by making your most generous tax-deductible contribution to African Americans for Humanism today.

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Posted in religion, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Why the Skeptical Movement Needs “More Than Men”

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 5, 2012

**Note: for some background you may find reading my previous two posts on this issue to be useful…

Diversity in Skepticism: One White Guy’s Perspective

Note to My Fellow Men at Conferences: Women Don’t Dig Douchebags

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Those of us who have been in the skeptical movement for some time have noticed something very interesting happening of late: the movement is becoming more diverse.  For example, when I attended my first skeptical conference, TAM 4 back in 2006, I noticed that most attendees were white men (I certainly have nothing against white guys, especially since I’m one of them).  By the most recent Amaz!ng Meeting this past summer, a mere five years later, I saw much more diversity, especially in the context of the ratio of men vs. women: about 40% of the TAM 9 attendees were women (while roughly half of the conference speakers were women).

Of course, I see this as a good thing.  But there will be some inevitable growing pains within the movement as the skeptical demographic grows larger.  Evidence of this fact is readily apparent from seeing numerous online arguments (some say flame wars) regarding various diversity issues within the last year or so.  Most of us will remember “Elevatorgate” and the ensuing discussion it set off; then there was the touchy question of how physicist Lawrence Krauss handled a situation regarding a friend’s run-in with the police over questions of inappropriate sexual behavior; and it seems the discussion set of by these (and other) situations shows no signs of abating.

Take, for instance, this recent blog post and related comment thread over at my skeptical colleague Stephanie Zvan’s “Almost Diamonds” blog titled “Dammit, DJ” (tip o’ the hat to Stephanie for letting me know I was invoked in the ensuing comment thread, hence this post).  I won’t go into the details here (read Stephanie’s post for yourself), but I would like to make a few quick, general remarks.

First, while some people within our movement seem to want to plant flags or “take sides”, I urge caution in this regard. I have seen some in the discussion of Stephanie’s post come down “on the DJ [that is, DJ Grothe] side” while others have come down “on the Rebecca [Watson, of Skepchick] side”, with many barbs and arrows slung back and forth.  I think this is a bit silly, folks.  I know both DJ and Rebecca, and I have worked (and partied) with both of them, and I can honestly say that I respect them both not only as skeptical colleagues but as social acquaintances as well.  I also think that both of them make valid and invalid points regarding this whole diversity issue; but I am willing to let them get out there and slug it out, because I view that sort of debate as not only critical, but fundamentally unavoidable, as the skeptical movement grows.  I, for one, am happy to see people such as DJ and Rebecca on the front lines of this argument.

Now, having said all of that, let me get to my second point: that is about the tone of these arguments.  I have seen far too many people act like utter assholes in these kinds of online disputes, to the point of seeing real threatening and insulting language being tossed about quite loosely.  It isn’t all one way (such things rarely are), but some of the most disturbing stuff seems to have been directed at women from men, so since I’m a guy I will briefly address that.

What is it about the Internet that brings out the worst in some people, to the point that they say the most foul and irresponsible things?  Men (and I use that term loosely) who try to use the Internet as a venue for spewing some of the filth that I’ve seen directed at some women are hardly worth the label of “men”, because that label only applies to mature males who are secure in both their manhood and their relationships with others (specifically, in this context, with women).  The douchebags who talk this smack anonymously are simple cowards, because I strongly doubt that most of them would ever dare to speak in that manner directly to a woman’s face in a public setting.  In short, the following picture describes these clowns pretty well…

Which brings me to my final point: the fact that these knuckle-dragging goons feel the need to use such thuggish language and behavior towards women illustrates perfectly well the need for more diversity within skepticism.  This also illustrates the need for more white guys like me to call out our fellow white male skeptics on this sort of bullshit and argue for more diversity.  Thus, I am happy to announce my involvement in a new effort to promote diversity and understanding on these topics via the More Than Men project: a project run by white guys with the purpose of speaking in white-guy speak to other white guys in the hopes that we can “talk to our own” and foster more understanding on these issues.  If you would like, I encourage you to check out the More Than Men website and consider making a contribution (not money, but thoughts) there.

So in closing, let me send a message to my skeptical brothers and sisters out there: guys, don’t be ashamed of who you are, but also understand that there is a profound need to understand things from a non-male, non-white perspective; and if you wish to grow the movement you cannot get around this need.  And ladies, please understand that it really is hard for some guys to gain this understanding of things from a non-male perspective; it takes time, and sometimes we will challenge you on certain points while agreeing on others.  And, quite frankly, on some things some men and women may never be able to see eye-to-eye, but we shouldn’t allow that to stop us from continuing the discussion.

Posted in skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Diversity in Skepticism: One White Guy’s Perspective

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 8, 2011

Like many within the skeptical community, I have been reading with interest the recent discussion which has been waged (or, should I say, raged?) on the topic of diversity within the skeptical movement.  Apparently, it all goes back to this article – Why White Men Should Refuse to be on Panels of All White Men – which led to this blog post over at Skepchick.  It also seems that there is a bit of a “storm” of controversy swirling as a result of the discussion generated by these articles.  I think Amy Roth, the author of the aforementioned Skepchick article, articulated it well with the following commentary:

What do you think? Are women and minorities just being ridiculous? Are the majority of public panel seats going to white men because they are the authorities on the topics and have the most interesting and valuable things to say? Should the members of minorities politely and quietly wait in the shadows until someone asks us to be on a panel? Should white men in positions of power speak up and refuse to sit in these circumstances? Is this favoritism, racism or ignorance?

So, since I suffer from the delusion that people care what I think, I shall share my thoughts on the matter here.  To begin with, here are a few reasons why I think some might give a rat’s ass what I think about this issue:

1. I am a skeptic, some would say a slightly prominent one (I remain skeptical of this, but whatever).  As such I sometimes appear on discussion panels at skeptical events.

2. I am white (actually, there’s a surprise here – read on), and I am male.

3. I am on the board of the Women Thinking Free Foundation, a skeptical organization dedicated to skepticism in regards to women’s issues.

4. I am a high school and college teacher, and as such I am in a profession which includes (compared to many other professions) a relatively high percentage of women and ethnic minorities.

I think the question of diversity within the skeptical movement is one we, collectively, should be addressing right now (however messily and/or noisily), especially given the demographics of the wider population and related generational issues.  That is, a generation ago when the modern skeptical movement was in its infancy, it was no surprise that the leaders were white men.  At that time in pretty much any walk of life (on the professional level), most leaders tended to be white men – I’m not saying this was right or wrong, I’m simply stating it as a fact.  As time went on, more and more women and ethnic minorities rightly concluded that they could do the work and contribute to society in a positive manner just as much as the standard white male.  Since that time, society has evolved (in a positive way, in my view) on these issues.

Now there are those who think that perhaps the skeptical movement is a bit behind the times in this sense, while there are those who think there is no issue to discuss.  Personally, I find myself agreeing with certain aspects of both these views (the notion that one must be “on one side of the issue or the other” is a false dichotomy, I believe, as such complex issues are not black-and-white).  Allow me to clarify…

I do think that those of us who are beginning to take more of a visible leadership role should be encouraging diversity within the skeptical movement.  I say this for multiple reasons, some which are idealistic and others which are simply pragmatic.  I agree with the idealistic egalitarian notion that all people – without regard to gender, race, etc – should have a fair chance to rise through the ranks and present their viewpoints, because someone from a different ethnic background or with different gender experiences than me will be able to approach various skeptical topics from an angle that I, as a white male, simply cannot do.  Please note that I am not endorsing a woo-filled post-modernist notion that “all views are equally valid”; that’s not what we’re talking about here, folks.  We are all still bound by the idea that there must be some kind of objective reality out there that we can interact with and understand using the tools of critical thinking, science, and skepticism.

What I mean is that I must, as a reasonable skeptic, to be willing to consider that I have an inherently limited perspective on certain topics that is the result of my cultural upbringing.  Thus, on topics related to issues of sexuality, gender, culture, and so on I would do well to interact with those who have a broader and different cultural perspective.  In fact, of the times I have participated in various skeptical panel discussions over the years, I have found the most diverse ones to be the most fruitful.

There’s also a practical side to the issue as well: if we wish to spread the skeptical message effectively, then we need to be able to reach out beyond that stereotypical audience from one generation ago – the white male.  As society has become more diverse, so must the skeptical movement become more diverse in order to keep up and avoid being viewed as an anachronism.  For this reason, because I believe in the broad message of the movement, we must encourage more diversity in terms of attendees to conferences and – yes – for participants in speeches, panels, and workshops.

However, in our desire to become more diverse, I must add a note of caution: this has to do with the surprise that I mentioned about my ethnicity above.  We must be very, very careful about making assumptions and snap judgments regarding the background of, say, potential panelists because we skeptics all fall victim to the same biases as everyone else.  Specifically, I am referring to the question of the ethnicity (or, shall I say, the apparent ethnicity?) of a person.  Case in point: I have identified myself as a “white” guy all throughout this article, and – truth be told – I typically self-identify as white/Caucasian when I fill out paperwork and whatnot.  After all, don’t I look white?…

Well, here’s the surprise: I’m about 1/16 Native American, specifically Choctaw Indian.  But I’m betting that you never would have guessed that about me if I had never told you, right?  I certainly don’t look like what many of us might assume a Native American might look like, and there’s the rub.  We skeptics are humans first, and as such we have all the failings of our fellow humans – including the tendency to make unfounded judgments about people based upon their appearance.  Food for thought, folks.

In closing, I would like to share one more observation on this matter: the fact that the skeptical community appears to be having a lively discussion of this topic is a very good thing.  That is because it speaks to the fact that we are a growing demographic, and as a growing demographic we are pushing beyond the once comfortable boundaries into uncharted territory.  That makes some people a little apprehensive, but personally I welcome this development because as skeptics we should be willing to push the edge, especially when it makes some (and even us) a tad edgy.

Posted in skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

Help Send Women to The Amaz!ng Meeting 9

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 22, 2011

If you have been involved with the skeptical movement for any amount of time, then you understand that women are traditionally under-represented in those circles.  Over the years, there have been more & more women getting involved, but progress is slow and I am of the strong opinion that we should do all that we can to address this disparity as efficiently as possible.

So in the spirit of lighting candles, I want to pass along to you a project in which I’m involved with the Women Thinking Free Foundation and Skepchick Surly Amy: we are doing The Amaz!ng Meeting 9 (TAM9) grants for women.  In other words, eligible women can apply for this grant and, if they get it, they will have their expenses paid (that is, the membership & registration fees for the meeting, not hotel or travel) to send them to TAM9 in Las Vegas this coming July!!! 🙂

Surly Amy provides more details in her blog post over at Skepchick…

Putting our Money Where our Mouth is for Women in Skepticism

It is a fact that women are underrepresented in science and in skepticism and while I may not be able to change the world overnight, I can at least help to change things in my general vicinity right here and now. I have decided to put my money where my mouth is and quite literally get more women involved.

I have spoke with the JREF and I have pledged to pay, out of my own pocket for at least one other women to go to The Amazing Meeting 9 in Las Vegas this year. And I have bigger aspirations. I am going to try to pay for even more women to go!

I have joined forces with The Women Thinking Free Foundation to help me. They will handle the application process so I have time to implement phase two. Phase two is making awesome art you can wear.

I have made (and am in the process of making) a series of LIMITED EDITION TAM 9 Surlies.  Each is one-of-a-kind and hand-painted, ceramic-awesomeness made by me. I am rolling up my sleeves and getting to work to make a palpable difference.

When you purchase a TAM 9 Surly you help us raise the money for MORE women to attend TAM 9. Together we can encourage other women to learn about science and critical thinking AND YOU get an awesome, handmade, one-of-a-kind souvenir. Even if you can not attend the conference you are still a part of making this year’s event better than ever! WIN!

Last year, I helped raise $2,000 for the American Cancer society with the help of Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy. This year, I want to raise money for women in skepticism but I need your help.

You can help out the cause by purchasing a limited edition TAM 9 Surly here. Let’s level the playing field and learn about science and critical thinking together.

Or if you do not want a necklace but still want to help the cause you can click the donate link here and donate directly to the fund.

I can’t promise that I can raise enough for all the women I’d like to send to TAM this year but I promise, I will personally pay out of my pocket to send at least one woman.

More info about TAM 9 can be found here.

To apply for The Surly and Women Thinking Free TAM 9 Membership Grant please download and fill out this form. You can download it as a .doc fill it out and email it to: Grants@womenthinkingfree.org
We will notify the grant recipients via email.

Posted in skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

 
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