A couple weeks ago I had the delight of attending Skepticon for the first time. It. Was. AMAZING. Honestly, I don’t think I’m exaggerating to say that it was the most fun I’ve ever had in my life. I made a bunch of new friends, battled to the death in a backyard arena filled with Nerf guns, and partied with a bunch of my skeptical heroes. I got to high-five Rebecca Watson, meet Brendan Powell Smith the creator of The Brick Testament (who combines two of my favourite things in the world), have a drink with Heina of Skepchick, watch Matt Dillahunty perform closeup magic, and discuss the American-centricity of much of the skeptical movement with Debbie Goddard. I will definitely be going back next year.
None of that, of course, mentions any of the talks that were given: all of which were amazing. I want to take a moment, however, to share with you the final talk of the weekend, given by Professor Anthony Pinn on the topic of how to promote racial diversity within the skeptical and atheist movements.
It’s unfortunate that this was the last talk, as a lot of people had already left what with flights to catch and treks home to make, but from what I understand this was not the fault of the Skepticon crew: evidently he was originally to open the weekend, but couldn’t due to a scheduling issue. Professor Pinn expressed that he feels many people of colour are disillusioned with their churches and would be prepared to leave them if only there was somewhere else to go: that the Skeptical movement needs to meet the black community “where [they] are.”
There was one particular moment in the Q&A when a woman in the audience asks (paraphrased) “You say that the skeptical community needs to meet you halfway. What steps can we take to accomplish this?” And while Professor Pinn answered the question very well, I’d just like to point out one thing:
He never said the skeptical community needs to meet the black community “halfway”. The skeptical community needs to go to where the black community already is.
This should be a pretty obvious notion. Not everyone is going to be aware of the skeptical community, and it might not even occur to them to look for us. But more than that, people of colour face a lot of challenges that white folks (simply by virtue of being in the majority) don’t have to deal with. They have specific issues that they have to deal with that are going to be much more important to them (understandably so) than whether Bigfoot exists, or how to defeat Pascal’s Wager for the bajillionth time. If the skeptic community wants to attract more members from more diverse backgrounds, then they need to address the issues that those potential new members want to see addressed.
At a local level, churches understand this. That’s why you see a lot of them providing services like daycares and rehab programs; or even just social functions like potlucks. There are very specific things that churches do in order to make themselves essential in the lives of their congregations. If the skeptical movement is going to compete, we need to meet them on the battleground where they already are, and not at some ambiguous halfway point that requires the people we’re trying to attract to take the initiative themselves.
So what are these issues that people of colour want us to address? I don’t currently know. They’re not necessarily going to be issues that affect me. And that’s why we need to ask people of colour what they need and listen to their answers.
And finally, if you don’t think that diversity is something we should strive for: ask yourself what you’ve gotten out of being a part of the skeptical community. Read the stories of all the people who had a great time at Skepticon and events like it (including mine above). Think how much better your life is without religious guilt or superstition or false beliefs. Think about any benefits you’ve received by being a part of this community and ask yourself why you don’t think other people deserve those same benefits.