June 01, 2016

Thoughts on Online Activism and Safeguarding Diversity


It’s a PC buzzword, used by social justice warriors, a loaded verbiage grenade to be launched when they don’t agree with the direction of an organization, or when they believe that the organization isn’t paying attention to the causes they think it should pay attention to.


I’ve been thinking about diversity a lot over the past year. I shared how deeply I was shaken by the Mother Emmanual African Methodist Episcopal Church Massacre last summer—and it tipped off a long look at the organizations and movements that I involve myself with and how they approach diversity.

You may have gleaned this already, but my two key “isms” are atheism and feminism. Both of these have diversity issues, in my opinion, that they don’t always address well—despite the fact that they have the tools to do so.

And it’s mind-boggling. It’s absolutely mind-boggling because, first and foremost, diversity is so fucking important, guys. It’s important for idealistic reasons, yes, but more than that, it’s important for our very survival. Greta Christina said in Coming Out Atheist that, “Numbers make us stronger—and making the movement more inclusive brings in more numbers”, and I agree, whole-heartedly.

Diversity isn’t a burden; it’s the key to the kingdom.

Creating inclusive spaces isn’t about bowing to politically correct pressures. It’s about creating a movement that is strong and healthy. It’s about getting the numbers to get ourselves taken seriously.

Maybe it’s too pragmatic of me to point this out, but it’s the truth. If people are leaving your movement, it’s unhealthy. If people don’t want to publicly admit to being a part of your movement…it’s unhealthy.

Healthy movements recognize that they are only as strong as their parts.

Greta also pointed out that the issues that social justice issues are movement issues….because they affect members of the movement. Here, she’s speaking about the atheist community, but it can just as easily apply to feminism:

Social justice stuff is atheist stuff. 
Sexism, racism, classism, ageism, trasnphobia, disability issues, and more—this is atheist stuff. 
It’s atheist stuff because there are female atheists. African American atheists. Hispanic atheists. Trans atheists. Working class and blue collar atheists. Young atheists, old atheists, disable atheists, atheists with mental illness. Atheists of Asian decent, Middle Eastern decent, Native American decent. Making the atheist community and movement welcoming to all these people, and more—that is not mission drift. That is one of our core missions. 
And this is why the social justice crowd keeps hammering on about it. When the atheist community and movement fails to be welcoming to a large and diverse population of atheists—we have failed at our mission. (Coming Out Atheist, 360)

But this is only one point in favor of diversity, in my opinion. The other is that it should be so damned easy in the world we live in. For real, guys, it should be ridiculously easy—we literally have the entire world, the entire accumulation of human knowledge for much of the history of our species for several thousand years, at our fingertips. We can reach massive audiences with just a few key strokes. We can easily amplify voices, because platforms are free and accessible to everyone.

We have the Internet. Movements benefit from numbers. Numbers benefit from diversity. Diversity benefits from the internet.

When we let it.

Jessica Valenti wrote about the importance of online activism in Full Frontal Feminism, saying:

And this is what’s amazing about online feminism—ten years ago, if a woman was reading a feminist publication it was because she already identified as a feminist. Now, young people find feminism accidentally or randomly—through online searches and social media—all the time. This doesn’t mean that feminism has become accepted by the mainstream, of course. Too many people—public figures and regular folks alike—still don’t call themselves feminists even thought hey have feminist values and believe in feminist issues. But the tide is slowly turning. And the more blogs, tweets, Tumblr posts, and Facebook share that tell young women that they are, in fact, hardcore feminists, the closer we’ll get to creating the change we need to make all women’s lives better. (5-6)

Thanks to the internet, we can reach audiences that aren’t already vested in our message or our cause or our whatever. We can reach people who just…stumble across us.

Valenti is talking about feminism, but much like Greta’s quote above, it’s easy to apply the same idea to atheism. I am pretty sure you can’t throw a rock in an atheist forum (please don’t actually throw rocks—I do not advocate rock throwing to prove this analogy) without hitting someone who essentially stumbled across their lack of belief in some way on the internet. It’s a common element in deconversion stories.

We have an unprecedented ability to reach people. We have an unprecedented ability to amplify a symphony of voices.

Diversity’s not an inconvenience. It’s not a bug in the system.

It’s the future of it.

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