Friday, May 4, 2012

Black Atheist? I thought we were all the same.

There's an overriding viewpoint within the atheist community; we are all the same. The notion is true to a point. We are all the same kind of animal but we do have different experiences. Those experiences shape our identity and help frame what we think of ourselves and what we want others to know. I have not been totally forthcoming with the first few words. It's not just "we are all the same, but I am saying this because if you document your individual experience, I may become uncomfortable and I cannot/will not relate to you. I'd much rather you not say it at all". I've seen that view pushed mainly by white male atheists. I'm not suggesting most of them do it but from my own interaction and with conversations with others, I know some of them push the view. Some of them think that by you offering your experience, they must shut up. Some also believe, in a religious sort of way, colorblind(race does not matter, we are all the same) attitudes, gender is a non-issue, etc are ways to move forward to bring about collective cohesion. Those views are totally wrong. Ignoring essential self identifying characteristics is not a necessary or a sufficient condition in order to understand the experience someone is trying to convey. What you have to understand is the person is telling you something very important through a specific lens which they have deemed vital. Ignoring the importance of their lens is ignoring a critical part of them.

The notion of "collective cohesion" comes with a price for those people who do not adhere to the rules. Documenting your story can only be done under a certain set of conditions. You cannot upset the status-quo by attaching race/gender to your journey to "being an atheist". The privileged class will distribute the rules of engagement and attempt to police you if you get out of line. Some words are met with silence, trepidation, anger and frustration. Any word, such as Black, female, or any other word which denotes something very specific about the person offering the words is subjected to questions such as "why must you use that word", "why can't we move beyond gender/race", or "this could be applied to anybody". The latter I take as a subtle "shut up" move. You're not saying it could not happen to anybody. You are saying it happened to YOU.

Gender/race are social constructions with real world implications which shape our experiences. There's a massive difference between saying "I don't see gender/race" and "I don't use gender/race to negatively judge another person. I don't always succeed in that endeavor but I am not willfully acting like they don't exist". We all judge. What matters is the metric by which we judge and what/how we judge. The first statement is the one whih aims at collective cohesion. The second is honest. If certain words bother you when a story is being told, to the point you want to have them eradicated, then you need to confront why that's the case. You're operating with a set of assumptions which may bring you some kind of psychological comfort. Why is that? How do you receive the images of the words you don't want to hear? How do you interact/have you interacted with the people who use those words that make you uncomfortable? Why are you uncomfortable? You need to justify the step you've produced. Some think the step is necessary to achieve cohesion and I call bull shit.

Some of us in the atheist community like to bury our heads in the sand when it comes to certain things. We act like our group does not contain misogynists, racists, or homophobes. Some have willfully tricked themselves into accepting colorblind notions but claim to be well rounded skeptics and freethinkers. Some truly believe the same skepticism applied to religious/spiritual claims is employed in other areas. Do not think that's the case at all. Many do not like to talk about gender/race because it makes them feel left out or uncomfortable. They've created an unnecessary bubble around themselves whereby to be "inclusive", you must fit inside their bubble. You must play by those rules. You do not and you should not. Use the words yyou deem necessary to articulate your individual experience.

There's absolutely no reason to think our shit does not stink. It is our duty to call out bull shit in our own community.

When I'm providing an experience it is not to say the experience is better than another. It in no way is a claim to exclusivity, which is another charge employed because some cannot/will not relate. The words they use to transcribe and transmit their experience means something to them and if you want an ally, it's in your best interest to listen. You don't need to ignore specific facts about me or anyone else to be an ally and a friend. We can embrace our differences, share our stories and work together. No one has to ignore anything for any goal.

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