Back in February, prominent atheist and dipshit (in my opinion) elevated to the status of secular humanist superhero, Richard Dawkins, went off the deep end with a racialized term on Twitter. And I don’t mean that he simply posted a tweet containing an offensive word and then conceded that he made a mistake, using the same word in his sloppy apology, because he hasn’t apologized. He defended his use of the term and continued to apply it frequently while people continued to flood to his page to inform him that what he had done was egregiously offensive to people of colour—but especially to people of African heritage and to many Muslims. It is only now that the atheist community is responding to his defence, apparently unaware of exactly how offensive Dawkins himself is willing to be, in light of three articles on “new atheism” and Islamophobia. Here is a link to the third (focused primarily on Sam Harris), which contains links to the previous two.
And if you’re looking for evidence of what I’m talking about, scroll through for screen shots (trigger warning: racism, Islamophobia). Here’s the one that started a whole series:
I’m fairly certain we can all agree that poaching elephants is heinous. What I don’t understand is why he felt it necessary to drag a racialized word like “barbarians” into the statement. Clearly several other people couldn’t understand it either, because he was immediately called on it, as anyone looking at this screenshot can see in the first two replies. I actually hadn’t seen this until his reply somehow appeared on my own Twitter feed:
This is the tweet that made it into my Twitter feed, and I replied to both Dawkins and the person defending his racism, demanding to know whether they mutually agreed that language exists in a vacuum or if either of them has heard of the term “racialized”. I tried to leave it at that, having called it out, but I didn’t fully realize how deeply this had actually effected me until at least a couple of weeks later. Now for the record, I am a white person. I am a settler living on the occupied territories of the Coast Salish peoples, who are indigenous to this land. I am regularly participating in indigenous culture and learning about their traditions from the radical grassroots resistance among their communities, as well as indigenous elders (many of whom are survivors of attempted cultural genocide on their own territories, while I was being raised by white trash rednecks with a chip on their shoulders about being poor—on the occupied indigenous territories of the Cree, Blackfoot, and Nakoda peoples). I am an anti-racism and anti-colonialism activist, regularly applying what privileges I have inherited as a white person to confront, challenge, and resist racism and colonialism. I am also a Slavic Jew (by ethnicity) who is here on these territories because my blood family fled attempted genocide during World War II; and when we got here, that part of my identity was buried beneath several layers of white privileges, cultural and linguistic assimilation, internalized racism, settler privileges, colonial labels describing the other aspects of my heritage (erasing the fact that this has all happened to us before, because we have simply accepted it and embraced our new reality), and absolutely heinous trans-generational abuse. I am also the grandchild of a man who I deeply suspect was a Nazi sympathizer during the occupation of Denmark, for the evidence is undeniable. In other words, my history with racism — both individual and institutionalized – runs several layers deeper than the colour of my skin alone.
But what does Dawkins have to say to his defence, when he has made the error of making a racist remark? A slightly—and I mean very slightly—more nuanced “NO U.”
Now we observe Dawkins responding to continued call-outs on his racist comments, by feigning ignorance of how the word “barbarians” is racialized and has been for several centuries, and then nonchalantly grinding his choice in jagged language deeper into the open psychological wounds of everyone who has ever had this term hurled at them as a racial slur—the living descendants of peoples who had this term hurled at them by invading white colonists; who then subjected the colonized peoples to genocide, slavery, occupation of their territories, and colonization of their very minds. These are crimes against humanity not forgotten soon enough to make Dawkins’ decision defensible in any manner; and which have been repeatedly followed with re-colonization, re-occupation, attempted eugenics, cultural genocide, re-enslavement, and the widespread destruction of their lands for the extraction of resources running beneath their feet.
But no, Dawkins disagrees, and he thinks he’s equally as entitled to using the internet as a platform for his ideas about where the word “barbarians” comes from as anyone calling him out for airing them. In his mind, all ideas are of equal value when he says they are, which is not when people who are targeted by the racism he promotes are demanding social justice.
It is absolutely remarkable to me that of all people, an evolutionary biologist should be so unfathomably ignorant about colonial history and the role of systemic racism in keeping it perpetuating. Maybe he really just needs some help wrapping his head around it, or maybe he allies himself with the eugenicists who would happily corrupt his life’s work to make a case for their life’s work. I’ve just finished publishing this really long entry on “colonialism 101″ to give everyone who finds this page a head start to understanding the scale and magnitude of what Dawkins currently thinks is just banal. And it is precisely because I finally finished writing that piece, as well as the continual atheist/secular movement knee-jerk reaction to virtually any challenge of their favourite self-appointed superheroes, that I am now publishing this one. If we fail to understand the role of colonialism in the social inequalities we spend all our time fighting against, we will repeat all of it, even as we’re convinced we’re “liberating” oppressed peoples. Sound familiar? It should, because it’s the reason promoted as the primary principle behind continuing the war in the Middle East. Or at least that’s what we’re being told on the nightly news, when we’re not being told about how Israel is entitled to defend itself—with genocide.
It is also utterly astounding to me that an evolutionary biologist treats the social construction of race as a biological fact, if and when it suits him, to continue defending his own racism. This is generally referred to as race realism, and the next logical step in this thought process is to go off on a diatribe about how racism “doesn’t exist” because the differences between races are “real”. I’ve already mentioned the role of ideologies like these in the advancing of eugenics several times in this blog post. Before anyone starts hand-wringing or concern-trolling on this very point, the relationship between racist ideologies—such as race realism—and eugenics is not a slippery slope argument. It’s a historical fact that is written into my very blood as a person of Jewish ethnicity and embedded in virtually every aspect of Canadian and US settler society in its current state. Unless you are also a Holocaust denier or in denial of the several genocides attempted against the indigenous peoples of Turtle Island (North America) by colonial state powers, you know that this is not a slippery slope argument. I will not answer anything of the sort any further, or even publish a sentiment along these lines if it should manifest on the comments section of this post.
Lucky for the rest of us, we finally get to see, momentarily, something completely different come out of Dawkins. While still not an apology and then followed immediately by further bullshit, it provides an opportunity to further elaborate what some of the fundamental differences are between providing a mere criticism of a belief system (a legitimate exercise) and engaging in colonial oppression by frosting our criticisms, and particularly those of Islam, with a thick icing of racism and Islamophobia.
A fundamental difference between Catholicism in Canada and the US, and Islam in the Middle East, is their relationship to place. While both are Abrahamic faiths, and both have played significant roles in perpetuating colonization of several parts of the world, Islam is indigenous to the Middle East while Catholicism is an import to Canada and the US. Though Islam is arguably a colonial corruption of pre-colonial spirituality that existed for centuries in the area prior to the rise of Islam, that is virtually never part of the criticisms being offered by North American and European atheists criticizing the role of Islam as an integral aspect of an entire network of interdependent oppressions. Over its relatively short history, Islam has become an equally integral aspect of many Middle Eastern cultures. When criticism of Islam is coupled with racism and Islamophobia, the immediate and long-lasting effect of this obvious repetition of colonial history is to further radicalize Islam and all its adherents. Even the millions of non-violent adherents. After all, we have been blowing their countries up for the past ten years and telling them how they need to run their governments — as if we have that worked out so well, spectacularly exemplified in front of a global audience as indigenous peoples rise up from the squalor and plight we have systematically condemned them to, to demand they be treated with inherent respect and dignity for the first time in our nations’ very short histories. We have been mass-murdering their civilians for over ten years to show them how badly they need a proper Western “democracy”. And then we come along and tell them that all the stereotypes that come from our history textbooks about when we tried to “civilize” them are true, while we criticize an integral aspect of the culture that unites them in anti-colonial resistance? What, are we really this fucking obtuse?
Meanwhile, Catholicism is directly culpable for several attempted genocides against indigenous peoples in Canada and the US, right alongside the Anglican church and our respective governments — who helped enact Catholic colonialism into our laws, constitutions, and treaties. Catholicism continues to advance several critical threats to and assaults against the rights of women and LGBTQs in our own countries as well as many more. And though Catholicism exists in Canada and the US embedded into a largely secularized society, its sway as an arm of our respective colonial governments gives it a might equivalent to that of any multi-billion-dollar corporation. Do not even pretend to not know exactly what that means, with the newly appointed US ambassador to Canada being a former agent of Goldman-Sachs. In Canada and the US, a militant opposition to Catholicism almost makes sense—if it weren’t missing multiple other structures that play equally important roles in the same problem, when that is the only militant opposition one harbours as a citizen of either nation. And Catholicism is racialized here as much as Islam is in the Middle East, but because of its import status, it isn’t racialized in the same way. Thus, it isn’t racist to criticize Catholicism in Canada and the US, because it is equivalent to criticizing systemic white settler privilege stemming from genocide.
Of course, Dawkins doesn’t seem to get the message, and neither do a majority of his devout followers—a so-called humanist movement that idolizes someone who promotes racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, and when it suits him, race realism.
Update: It’s only been two hours since I published this post. Already, more than one atheist has come forward with the exact same argument to defend Dawkins’ use and repeated defence of racialized language. That argument is that Dawkins didn’t use the word “in bad faith” (see also: bonus points for irony).
In light of this, and due to the fact that I do not know of a quantitative measure by which one can express exactly how obtuse one would need to be to use this argument to defend Dawkins, I hereby propose the “Dawkins” as that unit of measure of exactly how obtuse a person is being.
I also cordially invite all those who are willing, to join me in my existing boycott (of several years’ duration) of Richard Dawkins. Stop buying his books, stop giving him credit for his arguments, and stop promoting his hatred. The only way to tell him that his racism, xenophobia, sexism, and Islamophobia are all unacceptable to you is to stop throwing your money and compliments at him.