Ally: that word does not mean what you think it means.

Being an outspoken, visible atheist doesn’t mean you’re committed to social justice. Being an outspoken, visible atheist who likes to pay lip service to certain social justice issues doesn’t mean you’re a model social justice warrior. Exhibit #129,334: JT Eberhard.

There was an incident at a recent atheist conference that made JT uncomfortable, so he turns his discomfort into an occasion to lecture a justifiably angry black woman atheist on how to deal with “ignorant” questions by “naive” visitors.

I am so, so tired of seeing shit like this happen. Not really this, per se:

The problems all started when, during the Q&A of Mandisa Thomas’s talk, a woman asked her what black people were doing to fight black on black crime.  Was the woman’s question naive?  Yes.  Very.  And the naivety resulted in her asking a question that certainly had racist undertones, even if the woman was not intentionally being racist.  Mandisa handled it well.

But then, during the Q&A of Darrel C. Smith’s talk, Bria Crutchfield stood up and proceeded to give the woman an angry tongue lashing.  This went on for about five minutes (or maybe it just seemed like that long).  While Bria did answer the woman’s question, it was very embarrassing to the woman and trailed off into a number of red herrings such as “I’m here, get over it” as if anybody was suggesting that Bria or black atheists were unwelcome at the conference or silently sneered at by…anybody.

I mean, I’m not tired of seeing women like Ms. Crutchfield get their rage on in a clearly rage-worthy moment. I’m tired of high-profile, privilege-blind “skeptics” presume to play the Great Communicator and “rationally” explain to the hysterical “other” types how we’d all get along so much better if only they could be nicer to people who insult their humanity.

What other information might we like to see about the incident in question? From a commenter at JT’s blog:

Seeing that you stated that you left the room during Bria’s “outburst” I assume you did not hear her breakdown into tears at the end. I also assume that you were not present at the beginning of Bria’s talk where she apologized and clarified a few points.

If you would have witnessed the entirety of the “event” I don’t think you would have seen it as anything other than Bria’s frustration in having to educate people in a place that she hoped was already beyond that. It is often our “allies” that we get the most frustrated with, since for better or worse, we hold them to a higher standard because we hold them in higher regard.

When you want to see someone get angry about something because she just loves to have an excuse to get angry, keep following this blog. It happens sometimes. Ms. Crutchfield’s “tirade” was not the behavior of a woman who was looking for a fight and happened to get her wish; it was the reaction of a woman who was at the end of her rope, has had more than her fill of this derailment tactic, and knows far better than JT what it really means when someone asks about how blacks are combating “black-on-black crime.” In the comment section of Jen’s post, PZ Myers understands the feeling:

I’ve been where Bria was. No, not specifically, I’m a white dude…but I’ve had those experiences where someone says something so clueless and stupid and offensive that I’m rocked back and don’t rebut it right away, and then the rage simmers and builds and has to erupt somewhere. Usually, for me, in a blog post. Bria just erupted in a Q&A.

That question — “what are black people doing to fight black on black crime?” — is outrageously stupid. It’s the equivalent in inanity of a creationist telling me that evolution is just a theory, or that if evolution is true, why are there monkeys? It’s the kind of question only someone totally ignorant of the subject on which she is pontificating could ask. Naive? Fuck no. Dumb as dirt and a dozen times as damaging. She needed something more significant than just information — she needed a kick in the ass.

Jen points out that JT’s criticism is a load of tone-trolling, and that he has a long history of refusing to learn anything from private explanations of social issues which he has demanded from his friends. Anger isn’t the problem, nor is it inappropriate to call out public displays of racism in an equally public setting. The issue here is not that Ms. Crutchfield was unfair to the “what about black-on-black crime?” questioner—even JT admits that Bria answered the question!—it’s that her anger made JT uncomfortable.

Sometimes, making people uncomfortable is the only way to make them think. That is assuming they’re willing to learn anything new, which it appears JT isn’t:

Lately there’s been a lot of this attitude in the atheist movement, that every misstep out of naivety or ignorance, even if it’s insulting, makes someone a prime target for a shout down in a “public room” – as if humiliation and shame, while sometimes the proper tools, are always the proper tools.  When did we forget that people in the atheist movement are our friends and allies?

Basically, every clause in the above quoted paragraph is full of wrongness and dishonesty. Ain’t nobody got time to explain everything that’s erroneous about what he just said. I will address this much: it is not up to JT Eberhard to decide who is a friend or ally to Bria Crutchfield or anyone else dealing with real-life shit that he doesn’t understand. An ally is as an ally does, and a halfway-decent ally in this case would have listened to the substance of her anger rather than tell her how she “should” feel about hearing an insulting question for the umpteenth time.

If you bail out on ally-ship because someone got too angry for your liking, you weren’t really an ally to begin with. People who are paying attention to racism, misogyny, heterosexism and misogynoir (specifically, hatred of black women–I love learning new words!), and most especially those who have to deal with this shit in their lived experiences, have every right to be angry, and those who are “just asking questions” which have been done to death a million times already, have given up the right to play innocent.

Want to be a good ally? To start: shut up and listen. For example: try expending more mental energy to understand the anger of someone who’s reacting to racism than the one who set her off. In the information age, where Google is the best friend we always wanted, it is increasingly inexcusable to be uninformed about social justice issues at the time we bring loaded questions into a public setting. The mental gymnastics required to assume such questions come from a place of naiveté, rather than hostility, are a waste of oxygen and glucose.

Without anger, change would be impossible.

They’re coming to take away your de facto segregation!

Matthew Yglesias has already run the numbers on Stanley Kurtz’s paranoia, and found they don’t add up. I just want to talk about Kurtz’s idea of the Boogeyman:

Yet even critics have missed the real thrust of HUD’s revolutionary rule change. That’s understandable, since the Obama administration is at pains to downplay the regionalist philosophy behind its new directive. The truth is, HUD’s new rule is about a great deal more than forcing racial and ethnic diversity on the suburbs.

Oh dear! What could possibly be worse than forcing racial and ethnic diversity on the suburbs?!

The new HUD rule is really about changing the way Americans live. It is part of a broader suite of initiatives designed to block suburban development, press Americans into hyper-dense cities, and force us out of our cars. Government-mandated ethnic and racial diversification plays a role in this scheme, yet the broader goal is forced “economic integration.” The ultimate vision is to make all neighborhoods more or less alike, turning traditional cities into ultra-dense Manhattans, while making suburbs look more like cities do now. In this centrally-planned utopia, steadily increasing numbers will live cheek-by-jowl in “stack and pack” high-rises close to public transportation, while automobiles fall into relative disuse.

I’m sure the idea of being “force[d] out of [his] car” is terrifying for Mr. Kurtz, as riding the subway often involves sitting next to people of different colors.

You do know, don’t you, that there is no Constitutionally protected right to choose the ethnicity of your neighbors? If people choose to live in the suburbs for their racial homogeneity, then the suburbs can frankly go the way of the horse-drawn carriage. Parents should make sure to enroll their children in well-integrated schools so they don’t grow up to be Stanley Kurtz.


Won’t someone please think of the wealthy, famous Southern white people!

This is going to be quick and dirty because I am being nibbled to death by ducks and I need a drink.

Lindy West shows us the screencap of Anne Rice saying ridiculous shit in defense of Paula Deen:

I went and found the link to the post on Facebook.

Her post:

What’s happening with Paula Dean? Is it fair? I never heard of her until today, and wow, this looks like a crucifixion. Opinions, thoughts welcome. Thanks to Troy Hawkins for the link. I may be wrong but aren’t we becoming something of a lynch mob culture? Is this a good example of that? What are your feelings?

Further comments, as some of her readers support her:

Agreed. It’s so easy to persecute an older, overweight, unwise, crude, ignorant woman who may very well be a good person at heart who has achieved a great deal in her life. So easy to vilify her and hate her and try to destroy her life. Woe to anyone today who is not slender, young, clever and politically correct.


Absolutely. Thank you, Amanda. I lived in the south where I was born, and it’s almost impossible to describe to other people what really happens in cities like New Orleans and Atlanta. They just don’t get it. But all over this country I’ve encountered contempt for white southerners, hatred of them, disgust for them…a blind prejudice against them that is racism in its own way. I’m frankly sick of it. This woman is just what you said. She’s an old southern lady, and she never made these unwise remarks of hers to a black person. We have no evidence at all that she has ever personally insulted or injured any black employee or friend. These remarks were made off hand in private to a white person who has sued her and spread these remarks all over the world. It’s all pretty damn ugly if you ask me. I feel sorry for Paula Deen.


According to Wikipedia, Paul Dean was born in 1947 in Albany, Georgia. She has been sued by an employee who has quoted her as saying rather offensive things to the employee. I’m not sure what I think about all this. When I was living in New Orleans I heard racist remarks around me day in and day out from friends, employees and some relatives. I didn’t like it, but it seemed part of the world there. At the same time I witnessed love and harmony among black and white people on my staff and in my employee and was never aware of any discrimination in my organization. I’m not sure it’s all very easy for those who are not from the South to understand. Ideally, we should treat all human beings with respect, dignity and love; and all should have equal opportunities. Does this happen in the South? More or less than in the North? I don’t know. I do know this — the worst racist jokes I’ve ever heard in my life have been told to me by California liberals.

For our edification, Ta-Nehisi Coates has more info on Paula Deen’s racist antics. This is about more than her using the n-word around a white employee 20-odd years ago. This is about a pattern of racist behavior that has created a hostile work environment for her employees.

As Lindy West points out, you do not EVER use the phrase “lynch mob” to describe the backlash on a white woman who’s been caught engaging in racist behavior toward blacks. That terminology is the very opposite of appropriate for the situation.

However, once you’ve said those words and posted them on Facebook to your six-figure following, you’re not in a good position to complain about how it’s so unfair how white Southerners are stereotyped as racist bigots. You want to talk stereotypes of white southerners and how they suck, first of all you should try being an example of a non-racist white Southerner, but in the context of the Paula Deen situation, this is nothing more than a derailment. When we hear about a liberal Californian restauranteur mistreating their employees, then we will rain shit on the liberal Californian’s head, but their racist jokes do not make anything better for the employees who had to deal with Mrs. Deen’s racist jackassery.

Your defense of Southern culture appears to be, “Well, sure, people said racist shit, but it never made ME feel uncomfortable!” I am not impressed. We don’t measure American racial enlightenment by white people’s comfort levels.

As for the “old Southern lady” excuse, or, as other commenters put it, “she’s from a different era,” that’s still not helping. I don’t allow that excuse for my grandmother, who is a considerably older Southern white lady and nowhere near as cringeworthy as Paula Deen. We’re not criticizing her for being “older, overweight, unwise, crude, ignorant.” She does not have the excuse of being ignorant, unwise or crude. She’s a famous TV star who should have learned better by now. When I was a kid, the adults in my life educated and socialized me to believe that gender norms were written in stone, marriage was something all adults did if they had any choice in the matter, police officers were always trustworthy and drug addiction was a moral failing. I’ve gotten better since then. If Paula Deen hasn’t moved past the culture of Albany, Georgia in the 1960s, it’s because she doesn’t want to.

Book Review: Godless Americana

Friends, countryfolk, students of secularism, direct your attention this way, please. Grab your lined notebooks and pens and take a seat facing the board. It is time for the lessons you didn’t get in high school, or for that matter in college. Sikivu Hutchinson’s new book, Godless Americana, will offer you the history, sociology, psychology and social studies you’ve been missing while asking why black people in America are so invested in the supposed religion of their oppressors. Buckle your seatbelts and keep your hands inside the car, because you will travel a very long way in a short period of time.

As we have come to expect from Dr. Hutchinson, there are no sacred cows, no privilege unexamined, no prejudice left unexposed. She stands in the middle of a set of groups which encompass practically everyone in America, emphatically including several groups which count her as a member, and she calls them all out on their inequality-perpetuating shit. If you’ve followed the politics within the atheist movement at all in the past couple of years, you’ve probably noticed that even a mild criticism of the behavior of some elements in the movement will open you up to an avalanche of shit raining down on your undefended head. Godless Americana is the honey badger of intra-atheism politics, because if you are under the impression that Dr. Hutchinson and her book give the slightest fuck about the Shit Avalanche, you will soon discover that you are mistaken.

Go buy the book. Do it. Click on the picture and buy the book.

Dominant American society is full of white supremacism and patriarchy, the black community is shot through with patriarchy and heterosexism, the mainstream feminist movement is soaking in racism and classism, and the mainstream atheist movement is generously laden with the baggage of patriarchy, white supremacism and classism thanks to its roots in the emphatically inegalitarian culture that enabled its development. These issues are all related in keeping black and Latina women heavily invested in Christianity.

Of particular relevance to mainstream (white) atheist culture is Hutchinson’s exploration of a syndrome known as scientism. This is a word that tends to make atheist brains (including my own) shut down as soon as we hear it from the mouth of a religious apologist, but I urge my fellow white secularists not to let this turn them off the book. For the purposes of this review, I will draw a distinction between small-s science, as a system of investigation, and big-s Science, as a cultural institution and body of acquired knowledge. Scientism implies not an appreciation for the former, but an overreliance and unquestioning trust of the latter, without concern for its long history of unethical and abusive experimentation on marginalized people whose descendants are now understandably mistrustful of the representatives of Science. While science is a self-correcting system, scientists are only human and their work takes cues from the system of inequalities in which they grew up. For a concrete example of the problems with atheism’s enthusiasm for Science, Dr. Hutchinson surmises that if Science were to take on the question of why so many African-Americans are incarcerated, it would conclude that blacks are a deviant race and must be socially engineered. The efficacy of using hypothesis, experiment and evidence to answer a question is a separate issue from the actions of scientists, and that tension between ideal and practice has made Science a problematic institution for many African-Americans, especially women, who bore the brunt of Science’s disregard for informed consent and human dignity.

The main theme running throughout Godless Americana is that while investment in theistic religion is erroneous and itself a driving force in many social problems, the fact remains that secular society is inadequate to meet the needs of many African-Americans and Latinos, which is why these groups are so much more invested in Christianity than whites. It is in answer to the question of how atheism can become more diverse and relevant that it is in the atheist movement’s interest to focus more on social justice issues, particularly those concerned with poverty, incarceration and sexual violence, and less on church-state separation. It is also because addressing these inequalities is the right thing to do. If the atheist/skeptic/humanist movement wants to do good in the world, then it must take interest in the concerns of people outside of those who are already educated in physical sciences and can afford to attend conferences. If you find yourself tearing your skeptical hair out over the question of how the movement can attract more people of minority racial groups, and/or attract more women—and these are not separate and discrete groups—then a great place to start is to read Godless Americana. It’s a much better deal than paying for all those history and sociology classes, but be careful about reading it on mass transit: you might miss your stop.


Disclaimer: This here blogger received a free copy of the book from the author in exchange for an honest review. I have received no other compensation and have no financial stake in the book’s success. 

Very nice people can also commit racist acts.

Please read this excellent column in NYT by Ta-Nehisi Coates:

In modern America we believe racism to be the property of the uniquely villainous and morally deformed, the ideology of trolls, gorgons and orcs. We believe this even when we are actually being racist. In 1957, neighbors in Levittown, Pa., uniting under the flag of segregation, wrote: “As moral, religious and law-abiding citizens, we feel that we are unprejudiced and undiscriminating in our wish to keep our community a closed community.”

The idea that all racists are bad people has given way to the conclusion that only bad people can be racists. This reduction has created an environment in which everyone agrees that racism is a bad thing, but it’s nearly impossible to call a spade a spade.

The focus should not be on racist individuals. The focus should be on ideas, actions and policies that give rise to inequities and unfair treatment. Good people can do harmful, hurtful things and defend a status quo that hurts some people more than others. If everyone who participated in an unbalanced system was a terrible person, the world would contain nothing but terrible people. Let’s not mistake social criticism for character assassination.

Justice Scalia, what is that I don’t even.

Think Progress has cut through the Teal Deer of the latest Supreme Court case to show us that Antonin Scalia does not pass up an opportunity to play the “special rights” card.

Okay, the WordPress video insert doesn’t seem to be working today, so here’s the link to the video on YouTube:

Antonin Scalia said WHAT?!

I’ve pasted a lot of relevant passages from the transcript below the jump, but the Golden Heap of Nonsense is bolded.

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“He was raised to believe” that family is not so important.

I’m sorry to be doing this over the phone, your father has forbidden me from seeing you in person.  I’m sorry, he just cannot support your lifestyle anymore, he will not be speaking to you again, he asked me to tell you.

Ashley Miller’s father disowned her, just after Thanksgiving, because she’s dating a black guy. Her stepmother called to tell her the situation.

Your lifestyle is just not OK with him, he has bent as much as he will bend.  He has bent so much and you haven’t bent at all.

I insist on clarification, “My lifestyle?”

Yes.  Your father is an old Southern man, he was raised like that, he was raised to believe that races just don’t mix.  It was the final straw.  He loves you, he just doesn’t like you.

“So, this is entirely because he’s black?”

I told him it didn’t matter to you, that all you cared about was that someone didn’t believe in God and nothing else.  But he just can’t bend anymore. You knew this would be his reaction.

I was admittedly worried he’d disapprove, but then he’d meet the boyfriend and like him and it would be fine.  Also, my boyfriend isn’t even atheist.

We’ve gotten to the point in race relations in this country where we assume that acceptance of interracial relationships is a low bar to clear. We still argue about institutional issues like college admissions policies, mass incarceration, and racial profiling, but we don’t often hear about opposition to interracial romance.

However, Ms. Miller’s father is not alone in his belief that “races just don’t mix,” and he probably insists that this does not make him racist.

Take a closer look at this:

Your father is an old Southern man, he was raised like that, he was raised to believe that races just don’t mix.

That “belief” is not an evidence-based one, but it has resulted in copious, utterly unproductive misery for centuries. Races do mix, and there are a lot of people who wouldn’t exist otherwise. The entire racial group we call “Hispanic,” for example, is a result of “The gang’s all here!” reproductive interaction.

The explanation is that Ashley’s father was raised with a belief that interactions such as his daughter’s current relationship are not acceptable, and that he is addressing the conflict by cutting ties with his daughter rather than by challenging his beliefs. This belief, that racial boundaries are set in stone and some lines must not be crossed because “old Southern men” say so, is more important to him than his relationship with his only child.

This is why, whenever I hear someone support some nonsensical practice with “It’s tradition!” I am unimpressed. One might even say I’m skeptical of the idea of tradition itself. Some traditions are innocuous and fun. Some traditions are oppressive, nonsensical and break up families. The stepmother’s defense of her husband as “he was raised like that” is an appeal to tradition, and a strong example of why any idea whose main defense is that we’ve always done it that way, deserves our scrutiny, not our deference.

Alyson Miers is the author of Charlinder’s Walk.

Jon Michael Hubbard, what exactly are you trying to say?

The Arkansas Times shows us some choice snippets from a book authored by state Rep. Jon Michael Hubbard, who has very ugly taste in cover design:

“… the institution of slavery that the black race has long believed to be an abomination upon its people may actually have been a blessing in disguise. The blacks who could endure those conditions and circumstances would someday be rewarded with citizenship in the greatest nation ever established upon the face of the Earth.” (Pages 183-89)

Yeah. He elaborates that life in sub-Saharan Africa is so awful that even in slavery, blacks were better off in America. So…the Europeans that forcibly rounded up Africans and imported them to the Americas to become human livestock were actually doing them a favor, because it would’ve been worse to leave them to get on with their lives in Africa. Get it?

Ark Times goes on to share with us more of Hubbard’s pontifications about the fact that there are black people living in America, such as: African-Americans have difficult lives because they do not appreciate the value of a good education, school integration has basically ruined the educational system, African-Americans have not “firmly establish[ed] themselves as inclusive and contributing members of society” (I’m sort of scratching my head over what exactly he means by “inclusive”), and his thoughts on immigration are even more exciting.

He says slavery was a blessing because it gave Africans a chance to become Americans, but now that slavery is over, his view is that black folks ruin everything.

Does the book ever say, in so many words, that “I hate black people”? Because it should. That’s the basic thread that runs through all these ideas.


“What ARE you?” Human. Next question?

Kristin Booker would like everyone to stop asking her where her ancestors came from. It gets old when you get the same question every day:

“Where are you from?”

“Charleston, West Virginia.”

“No, I mean where are you FROM? What’s your racial background?”

“I’m black.”

[Insert pause/shock/dismay/disbelief.]

“No, I mean which one of your parents is white/Asian/other? Because you can’t be ALL black.”

This is where the compulsive pedant in me rears its head and says something about how probably a sizable majority of African-Americans have some proportion of European ancestry, so “you can’t be ALL black” is a brainless thing to say. There’s a difference between genetics and cultural identification, and when Booker answers with, “I’m black,” she’s making a cultural identification based on the fact that all of her parents and grandparents make the same identification. I could go on talking about the one-drop rule and what I like to call the “walking down the street test,” which is an important factor in race relations. (For example: when people see me walking down the street, they see a white person without ambiguity. This is simple enough for someone who looks like me, but a person of multiracial heritage could get a more varied reaction, which is where the annoying conversation comes in.)

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Rodeo announcer shocked to find audience less racist than he.

Someone thought this was a joke to tell in a public venue:

During a rootin’, tootin’ jamboree this weekend, the announcer made a joke about the First Lady being offered $50 to appear in National Geographic magazine. GET IT?!?!

But wait, there’s context. You see, jokester Ed Kutz was making a comparison between attractiveness of Mrs. Obama and potential future First Lady Ann Romney. Romney, he said, was offered $250,000 to appear in Playboy magazine (yeah, Playboy loves the 63-year-olds) whereas Obama, who possesses inferior attractiveness to Romney, was only offered a tiny, pathetic sum to appear in a magazine that often features pictures of animals.

As the commenters on Jezebel point out, the connection to National Geographic is more about naked pygmies than gorillas and chimps, but still. If you’re going to work a crowd into a froth by telling lame-ass jokes that amount to, “BECAUSE THEY’RE BLACK, GET IT?!”, there are subtler, more dog-whistle-ish ways to do it than by saying Michelle Obama is ugly. I guess you don’t have a problem with contributing to a culture that makes black girls feel like shit by telling them pretty=white, but your audience didn’t think it was quite so funny, now did they?

Now I’m gonna crawl back into my hole of allowing rumors of my death to germinate. I’m not quite dead yet; just no longer trying to hide my insanity.