A Couple of Thoughts on the Skeptic Community And Calling Out Racism

I’m not going do to anything in depth on Bria Crutchfield’s comments at the Great Lakes Atheist Convention. I do want to say two things in (relative) brief, though.

To the people who are saying that she shouldn’t have publicly chewed someone out for asking a racist question because “Anger isn’t going to help educate people or change minds” (and there are, in the least, commenters who are saying this quite unambiguously),  I want to say this:

First, yes, it can. I think about the arguments people make even when they make them angrily. I suspect so do most of us. The skeptic community is a community that prides itself on the idea that we are capable of considering the substance of someone’s argument independent of the manner in which it is delivered. For us to about-face and claim that none of us could possibly learn anything from someone, simply because that someone is expressing their opinion angrily…

Screen Shot 2013-08-20 at 4.50.34 PMIronic is a pretty big understatement. If we are incapable of being educated simply because we were put off by someone’s anger, then I’d have to say that as a whole, our community is unspeakably terrible at skepticism.

Second, can we consider for a moment that maybe the successful education of us white people is not the only possible positive outcome from someone speaking out against racism?

A while back, someone commented to David Silverman that some of the billboards that American Atheists put up are more likely to offend than to deconvert believers. His response was that the billboards were not for believers. They were for the already de-converted, who needed to know that there was a place for them.

Consider the possibility that even if not one single white person came out of that Q&A session feeling like they had learned something (which I doubt), that does not mean that the callout was useless. Establishing ourselves as a community where racism will be called out is a benefit in and of itself. Establishing a lack of tolerance for racist questions as a community norm makes our community better. It helps make our community a place where people who have to deal with racism every single day of their lives might reasonably expect better. Even if no white people were educated in the making of this callout, that effect alone is a benefit to our community.

As one eloquent commenter put it: “I don’t care about your intent when you say something racist. I care that people who are constantly being harmed by racism just got harmed again, and my first goal is not to teach you, it’s to make sure all those harmed people know that what you just said is not okay.”