Emotionally Present / Open Letter

Nothing Personal: Silencing Among Skeptics & Atheists

Quit bringing up your pet causes.

Stop making everything all about you.

Why does every conversation turn into one of your personal crusades?

How is it that every time you enter a discussion, it turns into a gender/race issue?

I get this kind of shit a lot, and I’m tired of hearing it. But more importantly, I’m tired of being quiet about it when someone I thought was my ally hits the de-friend button (or even the block button) simply because I responded after the fact, to remind them that this isn’t just personal. To remind them that a fucking lot more people than just one person are effected.

I have a better idea: stop silencing people who have experienced systemic oppression, who occasionally present you with dissenting opinions stemming from those experiences. Stop minimizing issues that effect as many as half the human population of the entire world, as a mere personal issue that you’re just so exhausted to have to hear all of once a month (or maybe twice if you are paying attention at any time in between). Stop pretending that you’re being oppressed because you’re mildly annoyed that your nearly utopian life is being interrupted today by a reminder that other people don’t have it as good as you do. And most of all, stop pretending that you can pull this shit on someone like me, and then pat yourself and your male-gendered fauxminist comrade on the back a week later when you speak out as superficially as possible against sexism (to meet your once a month quota, of course).

Just fucking stop it.

I’ve gotten the “pet cause” remark from a female atheist/skeptic when I expressed that I’d like to get involved in community action against the latest threat from pseudoscience, but I’m really zapped for energy because I’ve been putting it all into taking a stand against sexual harassment and slut-shaming in our streets. A man had just finished saying the exact same thing, except he was really zapped for energy because he’d been putting it all into studying for an exam that would give him a new credential. But she didn’t slam him. Just me.

I realize that there is no equivalence between a physician and some random feminist who didn’t quite finish pre-med before having their dreams systematically trampled by a combination of homophobia, transphobia, apathy on the part of anyone who could do anything meaningful to stop it, and a lifetime of prior trauma. I’m not trying to suggest we’re equals, because we’re different people. But you know something? That wasn’t just a shitty way to be treated. It’s the way I’ve been treated my entire life already, while the same people have been bending over backwards to impress him. And I’ll bet he doesn’t have a fucking clue what the difference is.

I’ve gotten the “all about you” comment numerous times now from atheists and skeptics of both male and female genders, generally whenever I’ve tried to raise my very legitimate concerns about the threat to women’s safety in our streets and their most basic inalienable rights in our country. One such conversation just about made my blood coagulate, I was so furious (and dehydrated), while multiple atheists and skeptics of both male and female genders kept repeatedly feeding into the derailing efforts of two men — how one personally defines sexism as if it’s everyone else’s responsibility to adapt to him instead of the other way around, and how the other can’t connect the relevance of sexism to science and skepticism — until everyone was just so sick and fucking tired of feeding the trolls, smacking their foreheads, and rolling their eyes, that they packed up and left all at once.

And somehow, I’m to blame, and I’m the one who’s making it all about me, and who’s being annoying and badgering about it. Yeah, I can [sarcasm] totally see how [/sarcasm] demanding to know how I can even begin to open up a conversation about issues such as the connection between pseudo-science, religion, and women’s oppression (not just my personal oppression, but that of half the fucking country), is forcing everybody to talk all about me and just me.  Meanwhile, [facetious] the guy who is demanding that his personal definition of systemic sexism takes priority over the existing definitions of both the words “systemic” and “sexism”, isn’t being egocentric at all [/facetious]. Just hate on the one person in the conversation at the time who is most visibly genuinely committed to confronting and challenging sexism on a daily basis.

Then again, this is a group that, it seems the majority (but by no means every one) of whom, simultaneously just do not get why they are almost entirely cisgendered white guys, while erecting (see what I did there?) as many barriers towards including anyone else as they possibly can. Especially by silencing dissenting opinions from a feminist framework, a direct experience of oppression, or a relevant observation of privilege/oppression dynamics. Why do I bother, again?

OH WAIT. I bother because all of these people frequently pay lip service to the idea of understanding oppression, the idea that they have social privilege, and the idea that subverting privilege produces a net good. Because most, if not all, of these people want to be social justice activists (even if they don’t want to listen to someone who is one, for no reason other than that they don’t have a degree).

Speaking of which: the personal crusades remark. You know what’s especially interesting about the most recent occurrence of this attempt to silence me (I mean, apart from the fact that it’s given me the bite to start this blistering rant)? This came out of a conversation about blowing the whistle on both police and mass media, to hold them accountable for doing their fucking jobs. There literally could not possibly be an issue further removed from the scale of personal crusade, than the tax-payer-dollar-funded law enforcement authority of Jane and John Q. Public, let alone (in)accurate reporting in mass media about when they royally fuck it up on the entire country’s tax dollars and at the expense of basic inalienable rights of members of the public. And that one came from an atheist and skeptic too. A prominent one, who likes to pat himself on the back for standing up against injustice.

I do not have big enough palms with which to facepalm. As a friend was telling me just yesterday, if guys like this patted themselves on the back any harder, they’d dislocate a fucking shoulder.

Enough is fucking enough. Grow a fucking spinal column and start walking upright. Sitting by your computer typing furiously away at someone on the other side of the continent isn’t doing fuck-all for the people who are right in front of you, to whom you’re being a complete dickshit.

It’s not doing anything to further social justice causes connected to people who have vanished from your very back yards and side streets while you weren’t looking, who no one with a voice of privilege is going looking for.

It’s not doing anything to make your pet cause/personal crusade inclusive, which means you aren’t part of a social justice movement. You’re part of a glorified popularity contest, and when I graduated from high school over ten years ago, I was fucking finished with this childish bullshit.

And before those of you who actually are my allies start getting teary-eyed with rage, I know not all of you are doing this. I also know how few of you actually say anything about it, and how many of you make up excuses to apologize for this behaviour even when you know it’s wrong. Your continued silence is no more a part of the solution than mine is, and this problem is much bigger in scale than our little microcosm of critical thought. The question now is what we’re all going to do about it.

Are we going to just keep getting fucking angry about it until one at a time, we all just wash our hands of it and leave?

Are we going to wipe our faux ally tears away with our honorary Tone Police badges, printed on customized Kleenex?

Or are we going to start holding each other accountable to act like vertebrates?

I may not have a Ph-fucking-D, but I didn’t just fall off the fucking turnip truck, either. It’s time for change.

3 thoughts on “Nothing Personal: Silencing Among Skeptics & Atheists

  1. Pingback: Colonialism, Racialized Language, & The Victim-Envying Complex of N. American Atheists | HaifischGeweint

  2. “The Community” is excellent at silencing and agreed it is time for a change…

    We create this with our insistence that we are better than vanillas while hiding from them in shame…

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