Tag Archives: Alt-Right

We White Atheists Need to Start Giving A Damn About Racial Justice

Jeremiah Traeger

Jeremiah Traeger

White atheists, it’s past time we get real.

 

And with this first sentence I’m already foreseeing the push-back. For those who have already written me off for playing in “identity politics”, or who think I’m just a self-loathing man trying to spread white guilt, I suppose it may be a lost cause to try and reach you. For the rest of you still reading and who aren’t yet on board, allow me a chance to appeal to your morals and ideals in our mutual quest to make a better world.

 

Yes, atheism doesn’t lead to any moral conclusions; anything without deities is technically compatible with an atheist’s worldview.

 

Yes, merely being white also doesn’t require you to behave in a moral way, and being white doesn’t mean you have done anything wrong. Furthermore, your race or any privilege that comes along with it shouldn’t be sources of guilt.

 

I’m neither appealing to your atheism nor your whiteness, I’m appealing to your morals and sense of duty to your fellow humans. I am doing so within the context of secular and humanist activism, and where society places us based on these identities. I’m recognizing our differences and encouraging your use of privilege. I am appealing to your morality within the context of how atheist activism is currently structured. And right now, we have a lot to work on.

 

By now, you’ve already heard much of the news of the Charlottesville march filled with neo-nazi and KKK marchers. Were you aware that an expert in the alt-right describes this population as more secular than the general population? This includes Neo-Nazi and famous punch recipient Richard Spencer, who is a self-described atheist.

 

The more prominent and famous figures haven’t exactly done much to disavow or even separate their activity from this movement. Their behavior can appear ostensibly benign, such as Sam Harris’ platforming of “race realist” Charles Murray, which ultimately ends up endorsing prejudice under the guise of scientific inquiry. This promotion of white supremacy   blatant revisionism and whitewashing, like when Dave Rubin promotes a woman seeking a “final solution” for Muslims and elevates far-right xenophobic voices such as Tommy Robinson and Lauren Southern, throwing softball questions at them with only the smallest hint of pushback possible.

 

By contrast, what is happening in our own communities to combat alt-right behavior, or to push back against scare tactics? There are a good handful of secular organizations that have explicitly condemned the march (American Atheists, American Humanist Association, Freedom From Religion Foundation, and more), which is good. Are we doing more than trying to distance ourselves from the problem?

 

Black atheism certainly has a presence in the movement. Black Nonbelievers has been around for around six years, and has other affiliated groups specifically to build communities and address concerns specific to the experiences of black atheists. In 2016, the American Humanist Association developed alliances based on doing more social justice based activism, including the Black Humanist Alliance. However, the AHA received plenty of pushback for having the audacity to bring humanist efforts to these specific focuses. When racial justice activists spoke at the recent American Humanist Association conference, they received walkouts on their talks and pushback that other white presenters didn’t receive, as speaker Trav Mamone documents. Speakers like Alix Jules and Mandisa Thomas have both had a history of being treated differently than other speakers at atheist conventions, simply due to being atheists of color.

 

But somewhat equally importantly, whenever issues such as police brutality and racism are brought up within atheist circles we are met with knee-jerk pushback. We are met with cries of “identity politics” and pandering to the “regressive left”. We get Pepes in our Twitter mentions, coming from the same alt-right news sources and communities that fuel the aforementioned white supremacist marchers. Meanwhile, the ostensibly “non-racist” liberal atheists who profess to hold progressive values do little to combat blatant bigotry, and are likely to dismiss any problems simply because being an atheist has nothing to do with race (as if the entirety of our values and behavior must stem merely from our nonbelief).

 

We atheists often pride ourselves on being free of religious dogma that reinforces hatred and bigotry to our fellow humans. We often claim the moral high ground on issues such as gender and sexuality (often rightfully so), since we no longer have the chains of gender roles prescribed to us arbitrarily. But how can we as humanists claim moral superiority on race issues if we not only don’t take any action to combat racism, but we are actively tolerant of those who spread harmful race-based beliefs?

 

The day after the Charlottesville White Supremacist march, I went to Denver and attended a resistance-focused march in solidarity with Charlottesville, where thousands of other people showed up to send a strong message against White Supremacy. Speaking at the march were at least three religious leaders, all encouraging their fellow marchers to take action in their communities. I don’t share their supernatural belief and felt excluded to some extent by the prayer given that day, but at the same time I recognized their capacity for mobilizing their faith communities towards positive action.

 

My local Boulder and Denver areas have little excuse, as they both have secular organizations that meet regularly. It’s possible that some members of these organizations attended, but if so they weren’t as visible as the multiple churches that attended with large signs. Furthermore, neither group made any public show of support on social media.

 

If we white atheists supposedly care about combating racism and want to fight for justice, what’s the point if we aren’t showing up? I understand that our time and energy is limited and many of us want to focus on specific causes to make our efforts as individuals more effective. However, you would think that there would be some secular representation in issues of justice. This is barely the case, especially from white secularists, and as it currently stands humanists of color tend to be rebuffed whenever they want to create change from an evidence-based humanist perspective. What ends up happening is that many religious folks show up, and the atheists don’t.

 

To be clear, religious culture is largely responsible for racism and xenophobia in the world. We cannot pretend that Christianity has clean hands in the issue, and it’s certainly one of the largest factors in far-right terror. After all, religious symbolism and scripture ties deeply into Nazi and KKK ideology. But at the very least, we can say there are religious communities that are actively working to reverse that behavior (particularly in black churches).

 

We could sit in the theoretical abstract and recognize that being an atheist doesn’t directly tie to caring about racial justice, but why does this excuse not matter when there are atheist organizations helping the homeless, doing community service, helping disaster recovery, and performing international service? None of these tie to being an atheist either, yet all of these are active areas of humanism. Why is the race an issue that is so hard for us atheists to overcome? It should be obvious.

 

Finally, it’s worth saying that if we try to create a “big tent” inviting anyone in merely by being atheist, we are actively breeding the alt-right culture that is already fairly nonreligious. Karl Popper’s paradox of tolerance tells us that by being tolerant of any and all persons involved in our communities, then that gives license to accept anyone’s intolerant behavior within the community.

 

It is no longer good enough for white atheists to be “not racist” (to whatever degree we can be non-racist). By making space for racism and bigotry in atheist and humanist circles, we are actively breeding the culture that was alive in Charlottesville and threatens to spread across the world. We are complicit in incubating the same nihilistic anti-humanistic attitudes that we see on 4Chan and r/atheism, ones that lead to hatred and intolerance. If we white atheists truly care about diversity and humanism, we can no longer be content with simple non-bigotry, we have to take steps to combat it. It may be the case that we can’t prevent these attitudes from spreading in other areas, but we should feel morally obligated to do what we can in areas we do have control over.

 

In the words of Angela Davis, “In a racist society it is not enough to be non-racist – we must be antiracist.” Let’s apply that to our own communities, and take the log out of our own eye.

 

The fact that many of us speaking about this now only after Charlottesville speaks to our privilege and complacency with the world as it currently exists, and I include myself in that criticism. Racial justice activists and atheists of color have been speaking about this for years. If you read many of their works or listen to their talks, there is little surprise that Charlottesville was little more than a logical conclusion of our current societal structure at work. Let’s correct that mistake and actively listen. If we are truly critical thinkers and skeptics, we should undergo this collective endeavor towards truth and justice by hearing voices from all perspectives and life experiences. While the truth is independent of who says it, we will get the fuller picture from those who have those life experiences rather than those who can merely describe it.

 

For starters, I recommend this year’s “When Colorblindness Isn’t the Answer: Humanism and the Challenge of Race” by Anthony Pinn, which paints a thorough picture why humanists need to care about racial justice. Continue to listen to humanists of color. I recommend Sincere Kirabo and Ashton P. Woods, as well as Alix Jules. If you like podcasts, listen to Angry Black Rant, with my friend Ishmael Brown.

 

In addition to that, start taking action. Even if you take little steps, it’s an improvement towards positive change. Call out racism in your family and communities (including your atheist and freethought groups). If you have a platform, elevate voices of color. Look for black businesses to support. Call and write your congresspeople in your local community regarding laws and policies that target people of color. Follow racial justice organizations for events you can volunteer and contribute to. SURJ is a fantastic organization where we white folks can become educated and learn where to take steps towards progress.

 

Hopefully we white atheists can learn these lessons and turn them into positive change. Let’s get over the fact that atheism doesn’t dictate what actions we should take. Atheism in itself doesn’t dictate that we create nonreligious communities and fight for separation of church and state, yet we do it anyway. We already take action beyond just being “merely atheist”. Let’s take action to prevent the spread of white supremacy.

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If the Alt-Right Actually Cares About Free Speech, they Need to Ditch Donald

Jeremiah Traeger

Jeremiah Traeger

I haven’t tended to write about potential existential-threat-in-chief Donald Trump, because most of the important things have been said about him already. I would think that all it would take to point out that he is simply unfit for office would be for the news to report the words that he says. Unfortunately, I appear to have a pathological disorder where no matter all the evidence in front of me that tells me I should keep my expectations low for human behavior, as I never cease to be disappointed. Americans are more than willing to vote for this nationalistic four-time bankruptcy filer with no sign of slowing down.

However, I don’t think it has been emphasized enough just how much of a threat Trump is to our most cherished amendment: the one that gives us license to free speech, free expression, and religion. He’s built a platform on “saying what he thinks” and avoiding “political correctness”, but his words indicate a backlash from these things far worse than mere social consequences. Say what you will about the Regressive Left and the SJWs, and complain that your voice isn’t needed in a queer-only safe space or that white people are asked to move to the back of a BLM protest. These aren’t requests enshrined in law, but a mere grassroots effort to shift the focus to the people who aren’t the dominant voice. As such, these “politically correct” behaviors are hardly the authoritarian left they are made out to be, contrasting to what Donald Trump proclaims to want to enact. He wants to use government force to make people to speak the way he wants to, and does so proudly as he proclaims himself as the “Law and Order” candidate. His avoidance of political correctness extends far beyond that of himself, but he wants it explicitly encoded into the rulebooks across the United States. Anyone who remotely values free speech should honestly be terrified.

Donald_Trump_by_Gage_Skidmore_2

[Image: Donald Trump] Photo By Gage Skidmore at Wikimedia Commons

For one thing, he clearly doesn’t value the free press whatsoever. In his own words, “We’re going to open up those libel laws so when The New York Times writes a hit piece, which is a total disgrace, or when the Washington Post, which is there for other reasons, writes a hit piece, we can sue them and win money instead of having no chance of winning because they’re totally protected”. It says a lot about a potential president’s perception of free speech if he wants to make it far easier to literally prevent people from legally sharing their opinions. Do I really need to dredge up my high school government notes to share why a free press and the ability to criticize is so important? I might think that the Breitbarts, the Blazes, and the Foxes are absolute trash and have blood on their hands for the sea of bloodshed and bigotry that has harmed the marginalized across the country. My issue is not, however, that they have the right to criticize liberals and president Hussein Obama, but that they do a terrible job. Trump, however, cannot seem to take any criticism and has no compulsions of using the force of law to prevent it.

Indeed, Trump is no stranger to the SLAPP suit, which has plagued all kinds of activists in the skeptical movement for merely criticizing others (the last link is a bunch of scientists doing a mere study, not activists). The point of these often pointless lawsuits is to force the victim to choose between being extorted tens of thousand dollars on legal fees or to shut up. According to Trump, “I spent a couple of bucks on legal fees, and they spent a whole lot more. I did it to make his life miserable, which I’m happy about.” There is a mantra from free speech advocates that I largely agree with that the best cure for bad speech is more good speech in response, and this absolutely defies it. Instead of this, according to the Donald, we should just enshrine criticism as categorically unallowable.

In theory, these libel suits could be filed by anybody, against anybody, and therefore anyone has equal access to it. However, due to the defense costs, it has the effect of only working for the rich and silencing the poor. It is infected with the corporate-dicksucking attitude that plagues the rest of America of allowing the rich to buy off the law for their own benefit. Donald Trump won’t have to even consider whether he should file a SLAPP suit in the future if he gets his way, but the nearly 30% of people in America (and increasing) that fall under the lower class have no hope. This is textbook “free speech for me, but not for thee”.

There’s another prong of free speech regarding Trump that shouldn’t even be disputed, but I live in a country with approximately 50 million assholes who will dispute it, so I suppose I’m obligated to. I’m referring, of course, to his complete disregard for actual religious freedom.

Trump will say that he supports religious freedom, but he says a lot of things. He actually cited religious freedom within the context of free speech in his RNC acceptance speech, stating that he wants to repeal the Johnson Amendment. This will effectively give special privileges of churches above other nonprofit organizations to endorse candidates and invoke political speech, something tax-exempt organizations are unable to do. This is an explicit government endorsement of religion, which violates the second prong of the Lemon Test (and possibly other two prongs) which states that “its principal or primary effect must be one that neither advances nor inhibits religion.” For this, it values religious speech over secular speech. So much for free speech for everyone.

This is no surprise, coming from a guy who needs the evangelical vote to even hope to get elected. He has no problem doing this sort of pandering to his voter base. This advocacy for evangelical speech is in his contrast to explicit denial of the freedom of religion for Muslims. This is practically a pillar of his platform, so I shouldn’t really need to go into it, but it would be irresponsible to mention it. This is a man who wants to ban Muslims from immigrating “until we can figure out what’s going on”. This is a man who wants surveillance of mosques. This is establishing an institutional thought crime for having particular beliefs. I may agree with the right that it’s silly that Democrats tend not to name and criticize the ideas of Islam, but that barely contrasts with fascist authoritarian ideal of punishing the people who hold these ideas. But this fascism is hardly out of place from a man who would like to kick a man out of the United States for not pledging a mindless loyalty oath to a country that continues to denigrate people who look like him.

It’s absolutely baffling the lengths that Donald Trump will go to actually swing against “political correctness”. Sure, he’s welcome to make “anti-political correctness” as part of his platform just as much as Barack Obama is able to talk about “hope and change”. But to enshrine anti-political correctness into law? Trump seems perfectly happy to do this, judging by his comments showing that he doesn’t take kindly to stores saying “Happy Holidays”, and would apparently want to improving America by saying “We are going to start saying merry Christmas again.” Besides his laughably false premise that stores can’t say Merry Christmas, it’s an absolute false equivalence. People are “politically correct” around the holidays because they want to be inclusive to people of diverse religious beliefs. Stores are “politically correct” likely because they also value lots of customers and want to make everyone feel welcome to shop there. By contrast, this anti-political correctness of forcing America to avoid these is an overreach into the personal lives of citizens, and is drastically more authoritarian than any trending politically correct phrase.

donald-trump-racist

[Image: Donald Trump meme. “How could I be racist? My President is one of the blacks”]

And do I even need to mention Donald’s apparent desire to censor that bastion of open dialogue and discussion, the internet? Apparently so, because so called free speech advocates apparently don’t care to address it, so I have to. It’s astonishing that anyone could support this man with such a laughable idea, which is not only laughable as a law in the United States, but has the potential to overreach and censor other countries.

None of this is surprising from a man who apparently doesn’t even understand the First Amendment. Demonstrating that Trump definitely needs some better fact-checkers in his campaign, he sent out a complaint on Twitter that protesters in Chicago were violating his First Amendment rights. This isn’t the broad usage of “free speech” that refers to open dialogue, avoiding shouting down, and getting all sides represented regardless of how absurd*. He literally invoked the word of law. It took constitutional lawyer and professional taker-of-no-shits Andrew Seidel to set him straight.

 

TrumpSeidel

[Image: Andrew Seidel trashing Donald Trump on Twitter. Transcript below]

@realDonaldTrump: The organized group of people, many of them thugs, who shut down our First Amendment rights in Chicago, have totally energized America

@AndrewLSeidel: The First Amendment protects citizens from the government, not from unfriendly audiences. The President couldn’t “open up libel laws against the media without violating two 1st Amendment rights: free speech and press. The President couldn’t assault reporters or have his staff rough them up so as not to dirty his tiny hands. The government didn’t shut down your rally. In fact, the police didn’t even raise safety concerns (despite what you’ve said). The protesters were exercising their First Amendment rights to free speech and assembly. That’s why the police didn’t shut them down. You see @realDonaldTrump, the First Amendment protects everyone, including fascists like yourself. The First Amendment is the only thing that allows you to be such an insufferable, insubstantial blowhard.

In fact, the best thing I can say about Donald Trump’s policies regarding free speech is that they are about as impossible as creating a 2,000 mile-long wall, which is to say that his best quality is that he won’t be very good at doing his job. Many of his proposals are blatantly unconstitutional, and far out of the reach of a president. It bears repeating that the president is not a dictator and he will still have to go through the checks and balances of other branches of government to enact any sort of substantial change on the country. And considering Trump’s apparent lack of knowledge on any of this and his total lack of government experience, he will not be able to accomplish much. Still, the president is allowed to make executive orders, and I don’t think any free speech advocate should be willing to allow him any of that power.

In light of this, I don’t understand how any of the alt-right lets this slide. It baffles me that speakers like gay-against-his-best-interests Milo Yiannopoulos will go to campuses on a supposed platform of free speech and open dialogue, and then openly fight for Donald Trump to become the leader of the free world. The violations against dialogue on the left are simply incomparable. Maybe you’re upset that you get social backlash from using “faggot” and “tranny”, but that’s merely a cultural shift and there’s no law against you being an asshole or a bigot. Maybe you’re upset that you’re kicked from a conversation, but that’s simply someone blocking you from Facebook or rejecting you from a support group or safe space. If you want to talk about harassment or banning policies on social media or campuses, I’m willing to have the conversation, but those are policies for those spaces. By contrast, Trump threatens an authoritarian regime that literally forces Americans everywhere from expressing themselves or saying what they want. It’s a blatant totalitarian enforcement of what people can say or think, and unlike most leftist stances, it explicitly wants the backing of the government behind it. This is a no-brainer. The alt-right can go on all it wants about being shouted down or getting backlash on social media. If they truly want to be seen as advocates of free speech, they need to explicitly denounce Trump and fight against a blatant push for fascism in this supposed land of the free, instead of proudly endorsing him. Until then, they cannot be taken seriously, and this double-standard must be called out.

 

EDIT: The day this post went up, as if Trump wished to prove my point, he and his campaign stifled free speech not once, but twice.

-The campaign, after allowing University of Arizona newspaper The Daily Wildcat to get credentials to report on Trump’s speech in Phoenix, removed the team from the press area with no explanation.

-At this speech, he demanded that we screen immigrants through an ideological test, stating that we should only keep people  who “share our values”. This is thought crime.

Republicans don’t share my values either, can I send them to war-torn Syria and trade them for the refugees?

 


*There are two different usages of “free speech”, the legal usage and the idea of “free and open dialogue”. I still think it’s ludicrous to conflate the two and rope in the second usage, but I’ll use it if I must.

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