“White atheists are the WORST!”: Discrepancies in Identifying Racism

I am writing this post despite the sense that the last three posts I wrote unrelated to Islam are about race and I am kind of eyeing how it throws off my usual variation here.

Before I introduce all the twitter drama, let me recount the incident to which it refers—infamously christened EG, or ElevatorGate.

Rebecca Watson, an atheist feminist and the well-known writer of Skepchick, delivered a lecture on hostility toward women in the atheist community. As she entered an elevator at a very late hour following the presentation a man asked her whether she’d come up to his room for coffee, an invitation Watson declined. Watson casually mentioned the incident in passing, denouncing that a man would advance right after she disclosed such behavior as a source of discomfort for her and advising guys to get a clue.

For this Watson was accused of hating men and received a number of death threats.

Then Richard Dawkins took it upon himself to criticize her—since she is a Western woman—for complaining about misogyny, because there are Muslim women in the world who are having their genitals cut dammit. Thus the old tactic of silencing a woman by telling her she should be grateful she isn’t being stoned to death was employed. Not only was Watson accused of misandry, but of cultural insensitivity and racism—for talking about how she didn’t go out with some schmuck. Insert gif that reads, “I turned down someone for coffee–therefore I hate Muslims” here.

That is Dawkins’s logic. Of course, Dawkins and his supporters, as racially sensitive and globally aware as they are, failed to notice that the only people making this claim were white. They also failed to notice how extremely offensive this comment was to the Muslim women (some of whom are also Western women) that these men supposedly care so much about, women who can save our damn selves and don’t need white knights like Richard Dawkins conveniently using our oppression to silence white women thank you very much.

Yesterday on twitter, as I was speaking to Ozy, one of my awesomeful friends, some douchebag decided to introduce himself to the conversation, and this happened: (he parades in at the 5th tweet)

“Primitive.” Your language isn’t suggestive of racism at all. (I take it though that he was referring to religiosity.) Opening with condescendingly informing me Islam and feminism are incompatible (thanks XY)* and that believing in God is like believing in mermaids is totally logic and not proselytizing. Geez, you’d think calling Dawkins a racist ass is equivalent to criticizing a religious leader.

Then, unable to resist, he unblocked me to tell me

in reference to my telling Ozy that I don’t need a man to lecture me about my feminism. And then he blocked me again. Because he is so in control. The best part is when he re-tweeted my tweet denouncing white atheists to his followers as an example of hypocrisy. Dude thought he struck gold. He must have pissed himself in excitement when I said that. In fact not only did he re-tweet it, he then linked it.

Awwwe, he wants to marry my tweeeeet!

The guy has class:

Oh the virgins. Yay. No Islamophobia here–move along!

Let me stop here to say that I acknowledge atheists, who are at an immense systematic disadvantage, have a lot to be pissed off about. I know I disparaged the strong reaction to my criticizing Dawkins and likened him to a religious leader, but religious leaders who mock other religions in an equally belittling manner as Dawkins aren’t met with nearly the same level of hatred as atheists who mock religions. Unlike the presumptions of this jackass, this is not about atheism. This is about racism and people not knowing what the hell that is—and not understanding the underpinnings that classify something as racist and thus perpetuate racism. And how these people are usually white. Another atheist had taken the time to ask me to clarify this allegation against Dawkins—and he had been of color; naturally the concern was understood.

It annoys me to no end when people can’t identify racism unless it’s overt. Dawkins doesn’t even know he’s racist because he’s “obscured” the essential message of inferiority behind the sentiment that Muslim women need to be saved from the heinous crimes of Muslim men, which has a thousand different oppressive implications–and this guy was doing the same racist thing. Then I blatantly state “white atheists are the WORST” and there’s outrage because that’s the only thing they can recognize as a generalization! Even when Dawkins’s and others’ wordy prejudice actively illustrates racism as a contextualized function rather than being a simple declarative. They don’t register it until it’s made frank for them and put in the simplest terms–which means they don’t understand racism at all. They just look for a formulaic sentence.

It reminds me of advice I read on tumblr. “One of the worst ways to stop someone from telling sexist jokes is to tell him the joke isn’t funny. He’ll assume that you’re humorless and that he needs to save the good stuff for the right audience. If you really want someone to stop telling sexist jokes, you need to tell him, ‘I don’t get it’ and then step back as he tries not to say, ‘It’s funny because women are stupid.’ “

That’s just it. They can’t tell unless it’s in the simpest terms. Because they don’t really understand racism or sexism, don’t understand the dynamics of the systematic functions of oppression. They just know a formula of a sentence. They don’t understand racism is systematic, not a sentence, and therefore something like a sentence is racist when it contributes to that racist system.

I don’t know how long I’ll leave this up–it feels lowly like gossip, but I’ll keep it for at least a while to get the point across. Or edit it somehow to take out that stuff… somehow, since that’s the reference.

*–WILL EVERYBODY STOP TRYING TO SAVE ME PLEASE!

23 responses

  1. Also, I love that you’re now a fanatic. It was very brave of him, a poor, oppressed Western white male atheist to stand up to a Muslim bully like you!! Now you’ll probably set fire to his house and behead him!! (That’s what you people do, right? It’s in the QUR’AN! Which you claim you’ve read, but that’s obviously TAQIYYA!!)

  2. I have found myself numerous times, replying to sexist jokes as “not funny” and then presuming to explain why. From now on, I’m going to take that adivce and shove it in their faces! Thanks Nahida hope your having a blessed last week of ramadan :D:D

  3. What a douche this Jay Thompson is. So self-congratulating and condescending that it makes me want to barf. I especially like it how he has a label to dismiss everybody: the Muslims, the feminists. I have no doubt he has a lot more of these “bits of wisdom” that allow him to dismiss every other group he wants to deprive of a voice.

  4. It must be the month of morons attacking Muslimahs on Twitter, seen a few of them barging into conversations lately. This man is an idiot.

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  6. I love this post. I’ve been following this whole Dawkins stuff for a while and this is just more proof to me that these people are completely unaware of their own privilege and racism.

  7. Aw, to echo what @Winterwind said, what a brave man, to stand up for his opinions like that!

    I admit, in my few month hiatus from really paying attention to my blog, I haven’t really missed the random strangers appearing out of nowhere to explain to me why I’m wrong. Funny, that. Although I have now gotten to experience the joy of people doing that to your face, which is . . . not more fun.

    Since it’s come up here, a random but slightly-related question I was considering posting on my site: where does academic research stand in all of this? I’ve read several blogs recently in which people have said, more or less point-blank, ‘if you’re not a woman/woman of color/person of color/Muslim/Christian/etc, just don’t talk, or please follow these very specific rules before commenting.’ I’m never quite certain how to approach those people – on the one hand, if they’re discussing issues related to religious history, often they’re discussing things about which I know a great deal (and, in a couple of cases, getting things wrong that I think are relevant to the discussion), but on the other hand, I am, in fact, a white, Western academic, and don’t want to enter someone else’s internet space and violate the boundaries they’ve established. But on a third hand (also, dear Lord how often have I wished for three hands?!), I sort of feel like Ozy’s law should function in here somewhere – even as a white woman in America, I *am* affected by Islamophobia and racism, just more indirectly.

    Sorry for the tl;dr comment, but would love your imput!

    • I don’t think sexism is ever taken as seriously as an -ism as any other–you’re still a white woman so frankly I don’t see why you wouldn’t be allowed to comment in religious spaces.

      One would think because there are religious women of color of course, but if it’s religious men telling you not to comment I am pretty pissed off at that idea. (You’re not allowed to comment in Christian spaces unless you’re Christian? Really? GET OUT OF MY UTERUS FIRST.) Religious men of color might have a reason, but I’d be furious if they didn’t think twice before telling a woman not to speak! Exactly because that reason is race, not religion. No, I’d have a serious issue with any man telling you not to speak even because of race. I’d tell you to shut up myself before he’s allowed to do it. In my experience the ones who preemptively do that usually silence women of color as well and accuse us of being traitors when we criticize them–because they’re against unearned privilege unless it’s their unearned privilege, and racism is the only thing that matters because it actually affects them.

      That said of course people are entitled to their spaces, and I understand the reservations about academic approaches and the need to prioritize experience because its so often dismissed exactly because those experiences are that of people who are marginalized, but I think as long as you’re not overturning the latter it should really be fine. I don’t believe dropping in to correct something would be in any way harmful. It’s not like you (you personally) sound like an asshat or anything.

      “Don’t be an asshat” is a good rule for general discourse. And I often find that when I say, “Don’t comment unless you’re _____,” I still give an initial chance to those I’m excluding. Try once and if they delete your comment leave it alone.

  8. Ugh, what an asshat that guy was! Nahida, I totally agree with you. What is it about atheism that appeals so much to privileged white men? I guess if you live your whole life with privilege, you might think so highly of yourself that no one, not even God, can have power over you? Before I was Muslim I was agnostic, but I never had the arrogance to proclaim atheism. I can understand doubt, but outright rejection of anything other than what can be seen by the naked eye? How arrogant, how unenlightened. And then to step in uninvited to your conversation and try to crap all over your beliefs….ugh….asshat. I’m glad you didn’t take down the post. Keep fighting back – you’re better at debate than me, sister :)

    btw I’m white, but married to a man of color, who still technically has to check the box for “white” on forms because there is no category for brown/tan/arab/north african :( a discussion for another day….

    • How is Atheism arrogance? This guy was an asshole, but atheists themselves are not any more arrogant than anyone else who claims a belief.

      “Before I was Muslim I was agnostic, but I never had the arrogance to proclaim atheism. I can understand doubt, but outright rejection of anything other than what can be seen by the naked eye? How arrogant, how unenlightened. ”

      What an insanely judgmental, “unenlightened” statement.

    • “What is it about atheism that appeals so much to privileged white men?”

      I’m not sure why white men are overrepresented in popular atheism in the modern West. However, freethinkers and people who reject conventional religion have existed in every time and culture.

      From Wiki:

      “Abu Issa Muhammad ibn Harun al-Warraq (Arabic: أبو عيسى محمد ابن هارون الوراق‎) was a ninth century skeptical scholar and critic of Islam. He was a mentor and friend of scholar Ibn al-Rawandi in whose work The Book of the Emerald he appears… Al-Warraq challenged the notion that Islam was a revealed religion. He argued that if humans are capable of figuring out that, for instance, it is good to be forgiving, then a prophet is unnecessary, and that we should not heed the claims of self-appointed prophets if what is claimed is found to be contrary to good sense and reason. Warraq admired the intellect not for its capacity to submit to a god, but rather for its inquisitiveness towards the wonders of science. He explained that people developed the science of astronomy by gazing at the sky, and that no prophet was necessary to show them how to gaze. He also said that no prophets were needed to show them how to make flutes, either, or how to play them.”

      “Abu al-Hasan Ahmad ibn Yahya ibn Ishaq al-Rawandi (Persian: ابو الحسن احمد بن یحیی بن اسحاق راوندی‎, Arabic: أبو الحسن أحمد بن يحيى بن إسحاق الراوندي‎), commonly known as Ibn al-Rawandi (Persian: ابن راوندی‎; born 827 CE–died 911 CE[1]), was an early skeptic of Islam and a critic of religion in general. In his early days he was a Mutazilite scholar, but after rejecting the Mutazilite doctrine he adhered to Shia Islam for a brief period and later became a freethinker who repudiated Islam and revealed religion… Al-Rawandi abandoned Islam for atheism and used his knowledge of Islam, learned from his father, to refute the Quran. Al-Rawandi is reviled by Jews, Muslims and Christians as a result of polemics he authored against all religions… ‘God has bestowed upon human beings the gift of intellect, by which they can judge right and wrong. If what the prophets announce corresponds to what the intellect decrees, then prophets are superfluous. If it contradicts what the intellect decrees, then one should not listen to them.’… The Zumurrud criticizes prayer, preoccupation with ritual purity, and the ceremonies of the hajj: throwing stones, circumambulating a house that cannot respond to prayers, running between stones that can neither help nor harm. It goes on to ask why Safa and Marwa are venerated, and what difference there is between them and any other hill in the vicinity of Mecca, for example the hill of Abu Qubays, and why the Kaaba is any better than any other house.”

      “Abul ʿAla Al-Maʿarri (Arabic أبو العلاء المعري Abū al-ʿAlāʾ al-Maʿarrī, full name أبو العلاء أحمد بن عبد الله بن سليمان التنوخي المعري Abū al-ʿAlāʾ Aḥmad ibn ʿAbd Allāh ibn Sulaimān al-Tanūẖī al-Maʿarrī, born AD 973 / AH 363, died AD 1058 / AH 449) was a blind Arab philosopher, poet and writer. He was a controversial rationalist of his time, attacking the dogmas of religion and rejecting the claim that Islam possessed any monopoly on truth. Al-Maʿarri taught that religion was a “fable invented by the ancients”, worthless except for those who exploit the credulous masses. ‘Do not suppose the statements of the prophets to be true; they are all fabrications. Men lived comfortably till they came and spoiled life. The sacred books are only such a set of idle tales as any age could have and indeed did actually produce.’… Al-Maʿarri criticized many of the dogmas of Islam, such as the Hajj, which he called, “a heathen’s journey”… His religious skepticism and positively antireligious views are expressed in a poem which states “The inhabitants of the earth are of two sorts: those with brains, but no religion, and those with religion, but no brains.”

      “Payasi was a materialist philosopher in ancient India and was possibly a contemporary of Buddha. In the Payasi Sutta, it states “Once everyone was seated, Prince Payasi said, ‘Reverend Kumara, I maintain that kamma does not have effects. I believe that there is no life after death, no world beyond our own. I think that angels and demons are things from a child’s dream.'””

      “I guess if you live your whole life with privilege, you might think so highly of yourself that no one, not even God, can have power over you?”

      When a white atheist man calls a Muslim woman’s beliefs primitive, or uses an imaginary straw Muslima to dismiss concerns about sexism, there is privilege going on. But let’s not label all atheists privileged relative to all religious people. There are plenty of Christians who think Muslims have no right to build mosques in Western countries, or that gay people have no right to marry; Muslim men who think that women should not intrude in the mosque or public places; Religious people in majority-religious countries who think those who don’t share their beliefs are immoral or doomed to eternal torment. These are all examples of privilege and religion working together, not opposing each other. Clearly believing in God and being privileged are not mutually exclusive.

      “Before I was Muslim I was agnostic, but I never had the arrogance to proclaim atheism.”

      There are arrogant and humble religious people, and arrogant and humble atheists. Looking at things another way, being religious can be arrogant and not believing can be humble. Don’t you know some religious people who think, “I have the truth. My path is the right one. I am better than others. Believe as I do or you’ll go to hell. The Creator of the universe created humans specially, and cares about me, and takes an interest in me and has plans for me.” And there are atheists who think, “In the face of a universe we petty humans can never hope to understand, it is better not to pretend to knowledge about our purpose that we can’t have. We are a cosmic accident living on a tiny speck of dust in this vast universe and no one is out there to look after us, so we have to look after each other.”

      “I can understand doubt, but outright rejection of anything other than what can be seen by the naked eye?”

      I don’t think this is a bad thing. We can’t believe in every idea that ever existed, so we all have to reject some of them. Each of us just draws the line in different places. If you’re a Muslim, you probably don’t believe in the pagan gods of Mecca: al Lat, Manat and al Uzza. Christians don’t believe in Zeus, Aphrodite and Hera.That’s a denial, but it’s not necessarily arrogance. Goddesses don’t fit into your world view where only One God exists. Well, in my world view, I can only accept things as having an independent existence if there is reasonable evidence. Faith alone is not enough. That doesn’t mean I think my path is the only right one, or that people with different beliefs are stupid.

      The problem with this dude is not that he’s an atheist, but that he doesn’t understand why Dawkins’ remarks were sexist and patronising, and thinks that he can attack all religions equally without understanding the particular ways Islam has been demonised in the West as a savage, violent, primitive religion practiced by backward people who live in deserts. He doesn’t understand why it’s problematic to use language that portrays as Muslim women as helpless victims needing to be rescued by white civilisation, and Muslim men as uncivilised thugs who need to be taught manners or defeated by Europeans.

      You don’t have to be an atheist to be a racist idiot. Trust me. Take it from someone with dark brown skin who’s met plenty of religious people. Some of the worst racism I experienced as a kid was in a Catholic school.

      This is not a conflict between religious people and atheists. It is a conflict between people who are concerned various about forms of prejudice like racism and sexism, and people who just don’t care about the experiences of others.

      • In retrospect, what I wrote was unkind and not really true, since many atheists are good people who are not racist or sexist or arrogant, and the opposite is certainly true of many religious people. I think I’m just really annoyed by the asshat who jumped into Nahida’s conversation on Twitter, and people like him, those who think that everyone who has a belief system is stupid or primitive or oppressed. Winterwind and Rooted in Being, I don’t think either of you fits that category. But there sure are a lot of them posting on Winterwind’s blog and on any news article about Muslims (or any religion, for that matter.) What I really can’t comprehend is, even for the privileged, how can anyone deny the existence of racism and sexism? The proof for that is everywhere!

        Thanks for the thoughtful reply, Winterwind, and Rooted in Being, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to offend – my comments were coming from an emotional place.

      • Don’t worry, Narjis, I understand. There are plenty of times when I encounter hateful religious people and I catch myself thinking, Damn, I hate religious people, they’re so annoying. And then I have to remember the good religious people I’ve met.

    • Totally! Nahida would destroy him in an actual debate about Qur’an. Wish I could witness that, but the guy is too chicken to meet her at the podium.

  9. Also I checked out Winterwind’s post and was appalled at the racist commentary where privileged men were arguing that racism and sexism doesn’t exist. Grrrr

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  11. I’m really enjoying your posts. I wish I had something intelligent to say, but I don’t. I’m a white atheist, and I’m following you on twitter now (I’m Bill_the_pony…I’m just telling you so it’s less stalkery).

  12. Hey! I just googled around and saw this link. Therefore as a woman of colour, Middle Eastern, bisexual, feminist and atheist, I want to say a BIG THANK YOU!
    I thought I was the only Middle Eastern WOC atheist who really can’t Dawkins and his fanclub at all! Finally I can catch some breath!

    Anyway, keep up the good work!
    Sincerely Dana Orkideh

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