Afternoon InquisitionEvents

AI: The race is on. Or is it?

I’m just getting back to normal after returning Monday night from The Amaz!ng Meeting 8 in Las Vegas (well, back to “Sam normal” anyway). My brain has finally processed all the new information and wonderful entertainment the conference provided, and my liver has finally processed all the booze the parties provided.

Anyway, one subject that seems to always arise at science and skepticism conferences, and one that we discuss here at Skepchick quite often, is the issue of gender representation; that being, female representation among conference attendees and speakers.

Well, it seems to this casual observer that the number of female atendees is steadily growing. And this year, there were 17 women included on the list of speakers printed on the program for TAM, including our own Rebecca Watson, who moderated a panel of women talking about women in skepticism. Skepchick contributor, Karen Stollznow, was on a panel about paranormal investigations, which was moderated by Julia Galef of Rationally Speaking fame. And, Pamela Gay, Carol Tavris, and Jennifer Michael Hecht all had solo spots behind the mic.

I realize TAM is but a single event in a collection of many science and skepticism conferences, and things might not be ideal quite yet for some folks’ tastes, but in this one instance at least, gender representation is looking better.

However, it is still fairly obvious that race represenation has yet to enjoy such progress. Of the 1300 plus attendees, there were a handful of Asian and Hispanic faces in the crowd. A black couple sat in front of me on Sunday, and Skepchick’s own Maria was one of three Indian faces that I saw.

So let’s open up the floor to your thoughts on this subject.  

*First, what is your race (if it can be easily categorized)? Second, and more importantly, is race representation in science and skeptic communities an issue? What do you see as a solution(s)? Or, are the diverse heritages boasted by an ever-growing number of people making it a non-issue?

*In the interest of full disclosure, I am a honky mo-fo, cracker, who has been bronzed over from exposure to the sun, but who nevertheless falls into the category of white male.

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 3pm ET.

Sam Ogden

Sam Ogden

Sam Ogden is a writer, beach bum, and songwriter living in Houston, Texas, but he may be found scratching himself at many points across the globe. Follow him on Twitter @SamOgden

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55 Comments

  1. July 15, 2010 at 3:32 pm —

    First, my race is caucasian (Scottish, English and Welsh approximately equally).
    Second, I’m not certain about science, but in skeptic communities I believe race is an issue.
    Third, I don’t know what the solution is. I see the same problem (mostly caucasian representation) in my main hobby, roleplaying games. I don’t know what the solution is there, other than acceptance, time, and maybe outreach.

  2. July 15, 2010 at 3:37 pm —

    Caucasian. Romanian, Russian and some Polish blood.

  3. July 15, 2010 at 3:41 pm —

    White European, Boring I know. German, British and Swiss but still just White Caucasian.

    Hmm, race representation is a bit difficult to evaluate.
    In the research Institutes I work right now in the UK, we have maybe 3 black scientists out of around 200, but considering that only 2%percent of the country share that ethnicity that’s what you would randomly expect.

    Male to Female ratio is pretty equal I think. Although I should mention this is Biology.

    The only thing that’s disproportional is the number of Asian scientists, which is a lot higher then what you find in the local Population (although most just transfer from Japanese and Singaporean Universities) , and the number of Male scientists in senior positions. We have 62 groups and only 13 of them are headed by women.

    I think part of the Problem in science is that there are only that many group leader positions available, and a lot of people have been heading their groups for 30 years now.
    So that generation would have started their education 50 – 60 years ago.

    I would like to think that the discrepancy in senior female scientists is simply due to a lack of Females that have been practicing science that long. I’m guessing its only a matter of time until the Senior scientists retire and the positions are taken up by an equal amount of Male and Female scientist.
    Not sure if that will really happen, but I think at least part of the problem is that sexism from half a decade ago is still affecting the ratios of scientist in Biology today..

  4. July 15, 2010 at 3:42 pm —

    I am human.

    If you want more specific, I’m white-ish.
    Mainly scandinavian jewish but seasoned with some russian, roma and tartar ancestry all on my mum’s side. I know this because a few members of this side of my family have taken an interest in genealogy.

  5. July 15, 2010 at 3:50 pm —

    I think our energies would be much better spent at the root of the problem. I recommend everyone find a willing partner as phenotypically different as possible from yourself and do the horizontal natural selection until even nearby bonobos stand and stare in slack-jawed amazement. We could end the whole concept of race in one generation.

  6. July 15, 2010 at 4:15 pm —

    @davew: cowt

  7. July 15, 2010 at 4:24 pm —

    I’m caucasian (Scottish/English/Welsh) with a smattering of vague Native American that means nothing.

    As far as the department I’m a graduate student in chemistry in, the gender ratios here are about 60:40 female:male, but at the same time if you go up to the level of professor they’re about 20:80 female:male. Several of the female students have dropped from the Doctorate track to the Masters track just because they can’t pass the qualifying exams (ACS exams in the five big fields of chemistry).

    International to Domestic student ratio is probably about the same at the graduate level, but when you go to the Professor level it’s 90:10 International:Domestic. There are a *lot* of international professors here.

  8. July 15, 2010 at 4:26 pm —

    @davew: Then we’ll need to do it another generation to make sure we get all of the damn gingers out. That’s right, I’m getting in on the ground floor of hairism before it’s cool to do.

  9. July 15, 2010 at 4:39 pm —

    @LtStorm: Then we’ll need to do it another generation to make sure we get all of the damn gingers out. That’s right, I’m getting in on the ground floor of hairism before it’s cool to do.

    :-)

    “Drop trou, Paddy. We’re going to screw that pallid pate right out of the gene pool.”

  10. July 15, 2010 at 4:40 pm —

    @davew: The problem isn’t finding short, skinny black women. It’s finding short skinny black women who want a big pasty white guy.

  11. July 15, 2010 at 5:05 pm —

    If race doesn’t matter, then why does it matter? Its all skin-deep, if you ask me.

  12. July 15, 2010 at 5:05 pm —

    I apparently popped a couple of bubbles this year at TAM when I met some Skepchick posters in person for the first time and they’d been thinking I was black for a couple of years. Halincoh saw my avatar picture on my name tag and his mouth dropped open and he sputtered, “but, but you’re not black!?”. I think race representation in the skeptic community is clearly tilted toward Caucasians compaired to the general population and the why’s seem to me more related to similar representations in higher education. Education often leads to a more skeptical world view and to the end that race equality in education is better addressed in the future, the skeptical crowd will then reflect those changes. There is however another social issue in play I think. I had lunch with two black women at TAM this year and had a couple of great conversation afterward with one of the women. She was from Augusta Georgia and was one of eight siblings and she told me she was the only skeptic and only atheist among her siblings and her whole immediate family, and that if she came out as an atheist she would be disowned. Religion is often a higher priority in minority communities as well as family traditions and religion in first and second generation immigrant families. To what degree this plays in minorities not being involved in skepticism I don’t know but I’d guess it has an impact.

  13. July 15, 2010 at 5:07 pm —

    But, … what about the ginger ningas?

    The AI questions:

    I am a white caucasian female (1/2 dutch, 1/2 kiwi).

    I think that race in the sciences, skeptic movement, even the work environment, etc IS something that we need to think about, simply because homogeneity isn’t something that we should aspire to. Variety, different ideas, different cultures, they all motivate new ideas, creativity, etc. If we were all honky white males, marching to the same beat, how boring would that be?

    3) Solution? I dunno. I think it just takes time, and exposure. That’s exposure to different ideas, and culture, perves.

  14. July 15, 2010 at 5:08 pm —

    @James Fox: Gotta admit, James, it would throw me a bit… same with Mari not looking like Eddie Izzard.

    I, on the other hand, do look yellow-green in certain, and have been known to wear a Santa Hat (though I’m more inclined towards toothpicks than pipes).

  15. July 15, 2010 at 6:08 pm —

    Norwegian on one side, English on the other, and given that the surname came over with the Normans, probably more Scandinavian than not.

    My son is Korean on one side and we-don’t-know-what on the other, as his birth mother only told the clinic where she left him that she was Korean. Given his curly hair and the shape of his eyes, we’re pretty sure there’s something else than Asian there. He’s contemplating a DNA analysis.

    So, I’ve managed to raise one more-Asian-than-not kid as a skeptic.

    I think the social concept of “race”, unfortunately, has a lot to do with the unbalance of “white” v. “black” v. [insert minority here] skeptics. Churches are frequently the social heart of minority communities; in hard times, a belief in a better afterlife shores people up. [Hell, the music does it, all by itself.] If one is brought up in a culture where the local church is a refuge, where the congregation is family, it’s probably difficult to let go of that consciously, whether one truly believes in God or not.

    That, of course, can apply to white folk, too – my mother lived in Utah for 40 years. As an Episcopalian, she was in a minority group. Her church is a socially very liberal place, with a strong sense of community; when my mother was ill, women from the church came to stay with her in shifts until I could get to Utah. They reach out and house the homeless in the church, they’re pro-gay-marriage, they take care of one another. I can understand why someone would be reluctant to abjure belief in the God in question, for fear they’d lose all of the good things the church provides. I realise that being a ‘gentile’ amongst the Mormons is hardly equivalent to being black or Asian or Latino amidst the pallid descendants of Northern Europeans, but it provides a basis for understanding.

  16. July 15, 2010 at 6:20 pm —

    1) White
    2) While I would prefer to see a more ethnically diverse crowd at TAM my primary concern is WHY we don’t have better representation among racial minorities. My suspicion is that a lot of it is cultural and educational. I suppose if we wanted to find a “solution” we should ask ourselves why the proportion of women in attendance has been growing so strongly and try to draw parallels. I’ve definitely noticed fewer cultural and gender biases among TAM attendees than at other kinds of meetings. S’pose we just need to keep spreading the word.

  17. July 15, 2010 at 6:25 pm —

    Me, I’m a western european shit mix. Got some German, some English, and some Irish as the predominant background stuff.

    I hate both the race and the sex question. Every time I go to a skeptical meet-up, it seems like someone asks why there aren’t enough women. Asking a bunch of men, many of whom could be described as single nerds why they aren’t surrounded by women is like asking a bird why he has wings.

    After the initial question, it always comes down to “how do we encourage more [sex/race/et al] to come to these events?” It’s a dumb question. If we knew the answer, there would BE more people bearing that adjective at the event. But more importantly, why do we care?

    Skepticism is not a white male thing. It’s a way of thinking thing. Lots of people think that way. Some of them have boobs, some of them have different colored skin, and some of them even have both those things. By actively trying to appeal to particular demographics, aren’t we missing the point? Does it validate the skeptical society to be ethnically and sexually equal? Does it invalidate it if we aren’t?

    Don’t take that the wrong way. One of my favorite local skeptics to spend time with is a musician friend of mine. She’s half Philipino, smarter than me, and in all ways just a fantastic person. I would love to see more people like her at events, but by “like her” I’m mostly interested in the smarter than me and fantastic person part. Why do the other adjectives matter?

  18. July 15, 2010 at 6:35 pm —

    I don’t think we should be looking for a solution. After all, christianity was used by the white man to eradicate local cultures wherever he went. Now, nobody wants other races to think that another group of white people wants to impose what they might perceive a white way of thinking on them.

  19. July 15, 2010 at 6:53 pm —

    1) Human. No other races exist. Some cultures are correlated with skin colour and other exterior traits, but race as a concept for human beings was invented to facilitate genocide and slavery in the 16th century. But if you want to know what I look like, my skin is white, like most people in Scandinavia.

    2) Meaningless question, see above. Cultural representation, however, should be as broad as can be achieved. The insights of an African thinker will be different from those of a European or Asian one, and such differences are discernible even between parts of the same countries, often enough.

    3) Stop treating race like something that exists. Start dealing with cultural differences in a sensible and adult manner. That’s really the solution to all so-called ‘race’ problems.

    To illustrate the marvellous malleability of the race concept, Irish people were subjected to racism, and Nazi race theory set the Jew beneath the Negro. That this is nonsensical should be obvious to even the most casual observer.

  20. July 15, 2010 at 7:03 pm —

    @Blakut: That seems like a great example of a non sequitur fallacy. Christianity, in the historical context you mention, was an oppressive patriarchal expression of a cultural mythology. Skepticism is a philosophical framework that encourages the use of facts and evidence to evaluate claims and theories in a rational manner and who’s adherents typically promote egalitarian and feminist principles. . How are these similar?

  21. July 15, 2010 at 8:07 pm —

    @Autochton: How you articulated point one is possibly the best way, and certainly the most consise, of explaining ‘race dosn’t exist’ I’ve seen. Bravo.

    To throw my stats into the mix, I’m the almost the sterotype. White skin, Male, beard: just missing the glasses.

    I think our challange as skeptics to break more critical thinking and skepticism into the cultures associated with the missing ‘races’.

    @James Fox: Heh, I’ve experienced the same confusion. I was believed to be black by our guild leader in WoW when I played (I cleared up the confusion when I found out). I didn’t believe I had done anything as misdirecting as your avatar, I think it was just a case of assuming that people who have similar views are the same as me. I am often guilty of that online, in that I tend to assume that everyone is male until suggested otherwise.

    Wow… this went off on a hell of a tangent.. meh [clicks submit]

  22. July 15, 2010 at 8:20 pm —

    @Agranulocytosis: “I think part of the Problem in science is that there are only that many group leader positions available, and a lot of people have been heading their groups for 30 years now. So that generation would have started their education 50 – 60 years ago… I would like to think that the discrepancy in senior female scientists is simply due to a lack of Females that have been practicing science that long. I’m guessing its only a matter of time until the Senior scientists retire and the positions are taken up by an equal amount of Male and Female scientist. Not sure if that will really happen, but I think at least part of the problem is that sexism from half a decade ago is still affecting the ratios of scientist in Biology today..”

    Hmm. Good point. It’ll be interesting to see how this theory pans out over the next couple decades.

    Signed,
    A raised-off-the-reservation fully-assimilated-into-wider-society-that-happens-to-be-predominantly-white female Native American

  23. July 15, 2010 at 8:56 pm —

    I wonder if there are correlations related to education level and income, which have correlations with race/nationality/culture.
    But whatever the cause – surely reaching out as we do in so many ways, we will surely be increasing the diversity?
    I say that hopefully and without any evidence whatsoever. Its mostly bluesky dreams. :)

  24. July 15, 2010 at 11:17 pm —

    @Autochton:

    Okay, so next time we’ll discuss how to erradicate pedantry in blog comments.

    Well, “cultural represetation” works better for you. How ’bout “ethnicity”? Do anything?

  25. July 15, 2010 at 11:21 pm —

    @qyiet: Never intended to misdirect. The character has the same profession, shaving habits, size and sunglasses as me. The only difference is the skin color so more representative than most avatars really.

  26. July 16, 2010 at 12:14 am —

    Even though James Fox is not black we fast became friends despite this melanin deficiency. Seriously, James’ picture absolutely is a good Avatar for him. Knowing James now as I do, and befriending him was a definite highlight for me, I know that his intent was never, ever to misdirect.

    For me, race is not the issue as much as diversity of culture and race can sometimes influence cultural tendencies. Different cultures have different perspectives, superstitions, biases, legends, and sacred cows. Diversity is important because it’s easier to identify , though certainly not mandatory as was discussed in one of the panels at TAM, with someone of a similar culture and perhaps this diversity that can help spread the message of critical thinking with fewer speed bumps and road blocks regardless of race or culture.

    Time will tell.

  27. July 16, 2010 at 12:53 am —

    I’m Pakeha.

  28. July 16, 2010 at 1:36 am —

    @davew: cotw.

  29. July 16, 2010 at 1:43 am —

    @biguglyjim: well, i guess i look at it differently. the question i ask is this: are we doing something we don’t realize that is unintentionally omitting or excluding certain groups of people.

    i believe that is an entirely valid and valuable question. it’s good to look at ourselves with a critical eye. we’re not just in this to hang out with like minded folks, we’re in it to change the world for the better (at least i am), and the more diverse we are, the broader our thinking, and the more powerful our influence.

  30. July 16, 2010 at 2:18 am —

    @James Fox: They are not. But some might see it this way.

  31. July 16, 2010 at 5:10 am —

    Great questions!

    1) As a Jew with heritage from many countries, I’d probably be categorized as white based on appearance. Otherwise, Jews are generally considered a cultural/ethnic minority distinct from white people, so I think I might be able to offer some perspective.

    2) In science, Jews are way overrepresented (especially regarding their small share of the population!) However, it seems like their representation in the skeptical movement is tiny in comparison.

    Why do I think this is? Because Judaism, for the most part, encourages critical thinking and skepticism… and is itself an outlet for it. This may seem strange on the face of it, but there IS a key difference in mentality between Jews and Christians. In Christianity, faith without reason is a central tenet. Contrarily, Jews encourage questioning and analyzing everything… including the very existence of god. This has resulted in centuries of recorded arguments among Jewish scholars involving critical analysis of the religion, usually with no conclusion!

    Not to ignore the elephant in the room… there are certainly ultra-Orthodox sects of Judaism who seem to be, well, the opposite of what I’ve described. I was raised that way! And my Rabbis still encouraged critical thinking… even when it ultimately resulted in my rejection of religious belief! Though culturally isolationist (in an alarmingly bad way) and filled with propaganda, critical thinking still tends to be highly encouraged among Orthodox Jews.

    Conclusion: I think this outlet for critical thinking and sense of community lessens the need to find a separate community.

    P.S. I wouldn’t want to speak on behalf of any other races, but at a predominantly Hispanic and black university, I’ve discussed this topic extensively with other racial minorities (and studied science with them), so I may have some insight on that topic as well. I’ll leave it for now because this post is long enough as-is!

  32. July 16, 2010 at 5:21 am —

    @davew: COT f-in W

  33. July 16, 2010 at 8:47 am —

    Race: Regrettably human.
    Skin Color: 15 on Von Luschan scale.
    Ethnicity: Fluid.

    Opinion: Different ethnic representations at TAM are important for at least two reasons, 1) potentially unique perspectives, and 2) as a possible gauge of how well critical thinking is being received amongst an ethnicity.

    As to reason one, it took speaking with a transgendered person to understand that there is more to a persons gender identity than just a biological or mental component. It is also social, as in how a society percieves someone based on their clothing, their biological features and how it treats them.

    On reason two, what are the reasons only a handful of an ethnicity comes to TAM? Does that ethnicity not attend gatherings? If so, why? Do they go to other types of gatherings? If so, why? How is critical thinking represented in this ethnicity? How about atheism? Is it a problem of lack of awareness of the TAM gathering and if so, how to get knowledge of TAM out to the ethnicity in an effective manner?What organizations with connections to a specific ethnicity do a good job of getting information out to them?

    *tamps down anthropologist training*

    Uhm….full support behind davew’s master plan.

  34. July 16, 2010 at 10:15 am —

    @FunkyFish:

    That’s very interesting. I don’t think I’ve ever thought of Judaism as being inherently skeptical. But from an admittedly ignorant point of view, I can see the points you’re making. Hmm . . . .

  35. July 16, 2010 at 11:57 am —

    German/Irish as far as we know. My grandfather on my Dad’s side was adopted (just found this out recently) so we can’t be entirely sure what else might be back there. I’m just a typical, ultimately boring old white guy, I’m afraid. My legs are so white that I flouresce in sunlight.

    I can’t say I’ve personally noticed any racial disparities in skepticism or science, but I’m not in a place where I see many people in those fields in person.

    I also vote for James Fox as the Skepchick’s example that “On the Internet, no one knows you’re really a dog.” ;-D

    Over time, I suspect humans will converge on a basic “cafe au late” color as global travel continues to mix populations. But that’s just a guess on my part.

  36. July 16, 2010 at 12:12 pm —

    I’m Asian! (Half Vietnamese, half Chinese).

    I know we’d all like to be in a color-blind, raceless society, but the fact of the matter is that race cuts across cultural and sociological lines. It’s not a clean-cut line, but it certainly influences how people think, how people view science and nature, and how people treat others.

    If skepticism is to reach many different communities, it must appeal to and be sensitive of the issues that are important to those communities. My dad could not give a shit about psychics, but when I start to talk about Traditional Chinese Medicine he actually thinks I’m learning something at these skeptic gatherings.

    The solution? Continue what we’re doing, I think. Be welcoming and support minorities when they first enter the skeptic’s community. This makes them likelier to stay and likelier to bring their friends into the mix.

  37. July 16, 2010 at 12:25 pm —

    I’m kinda greenish yellow unless I’ve been in the sun and then I’m kinda brown. I come from a long line of people who turn brown in the sun and a few people who turn red in the sun. Where they come from, people are “supposed” to turn red in the sun. Who knows.

    I don’t think attempts to increase diversity actively really work. I think they result in a lot of pink people telling not pink people what they ought to be thinking. I think the goal should be to throw our efforts behind attempts to equitize education as a whole and ensure that the opportunity exists for people (pink and not pink alike) to think differently from their parents. Whether that results in more not pink people at skeptic events or not doesn’t matter, as long as those who want to come can.

  38. July 16, 2010 at 12:36 pm —

    @FunkyFish: With fundamentalist Christian and much of the evangelical Christian community I’d agree that faith without reason is often a central tenant; however in most mainstream and some orthodox Christian traditions that is not the case at all.

    My impression is that in general most skeptics have a very superficial understanding of Christian thinking, scholarship and traditions as they relate to academic, social and justice issues. Many in the skeptic community have moved away (fled) from conservative fundamentalists Christian communities and ways of thinking into skepticism, and often they proceed to paint all Christians with a brush dipped in their own particular past. That is not reasonable or rational and contributes to the perception of many Christians that skeptics are harsh, judgmental and unreasonable which then precludes any meaningful dialogue.

    And as far as the avatar goes I use it because my children love it and thought seeing a cartoon character so much like their father was beyond cool. And if ya donna like that I’m truly sorry for you.

    Biography of my avatar Cobra Bubbles: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Lilo_&_Stitch_characters

  39. July 16, 2010 at 12:49 pm —

    @James Fox: I see the name “Cobra Bubbles” and think you’re talking about an episode of GI Joe… or Trouble Bubbles, the nickname for flight pods.

  40. July 16, 2010 at 12:52 pm —

    @Mark Hall: “Cobra is a former CIA agent, and was involved in an incident at Roswell in 1973, presumably through which he knows the Grand Councilwoman. He mentions that he saved the earth from an alien race by convincing them that the mosquito was an endangered species, and that Earth should be turned into a wildlife preserve.”

  41. July 16, 2010 at 1:37 pm —

    I am Korean, although I was born in Venezuela, so I guess I am multicultural in many respect.

    As for whether race is an issue, I don’t know, but it does seem like the white caucasians are over represented. Although I am not completely sure, could be bias. But based on the responses on the comments, it seems so. If so, yeah, I guess we do need greater diversity, although I don’t know what we should do about it. Hopefully, someone has good answers.

  42. July 16, 2010 at 3:44 pm —

    @James Fox: Oh, I read it, and I remember the character.

    It doesn’t erase YEARS of being a GI Joe fanatic, however, that the name “Cobra” is always going to induce.

    Hell, I suspect Snake Plissken of being a Cobra agent (perhaps a Dreadnok) based on his name alone.

  43. July 16, 2010 at 4:15 pm —

    This is my first time here. I followed a link from Bad Astronomy and honestly after reading this post and the comments I’m a little disappointed. Not one person has mentioned that the Human Genome Project has proved that race does not exist!

    http://www.nowpublic.com/world/human-genome-project-announces-race-does-not-exist

    It would appear that many of you are confusing nationality and ethnicity with race.

    Honestly, I expected better.

  44. July 16, 2010 at 4:53 pm —

    @Mr. Brown:

    Well, Mr. Brown, is it too much for us to expect you to read the thread before lamenting that your expecations weren’t met?

    People have indeed mentioned that race doesn’t exist.

    And it seems that perhaps I have to remind otherwise bright people that often we use words and terms for their convenience. I’m pretty sure that most people here gleaned from the context that I was referring to “ethnicity” or “cultural representation” or “nationality” or “skin color” in the post. It’s convenient to use “race” since that word is easy to type, and especially since that word has been in the lexicon meaning ethnicity for quite a few years.

    But thanks for your concern.

  45. July 16, 2010 at 5:33 pm —

    Like many in the skeptic movement, I am a college-educated, mid-life white dude.

    Most cultures and cultural movements are composed of skewed demographics, especially younger or isolated cultures. Even though skepticism is an intellectual mantra, it is still a cultural phenomenon. As the skeptic movement matures, its demographics will trend towards those of the general population.

  46. July 16, 2010 at 6:00 pm —

    @Mr. Brown: While race may not exist as defined by genetic determinants, the perception that race is real and a barrier to social equality for some people cannot be swept away by fiat proclamation. As much as we’d all like to see that happen.

  47. July 16, 2010 at 6:24 pm —

    @James Fox: While race may not exist as defined by genetic determinants, the perception that race is real and a barrier to social equality for some people cannot be swept away by fiat proclamation. As much as we’d all like to see that happen.

    I agree completely. The problem of racism and discrimination in general is dividing people into two groups and considering one group to be inferior. The criteria used to discriminate doesn’t have to be rational for the effect to be devastating.

    I disagree, however, when that same criteria is used to try to fix the discrimination. The fundamental problem is the original division into groups and perpetuating this fallacy even by right-thinking people doesn’t fix anything. (I know this sounds like I think affirmative action is a bad thing. It wasn’t. The world isn’t as always as simple as I would like it to be.)

    What we do now is be as inclusive as possible. Make sure that cost is not a barrier to skeptical events. (I saw and applauded efforts in this direction for TAM8). We also need to advertise as broadly as possible. This is harder. Real advertising takes money which is in short supply for us. The circles that announcements for skeptical events travels in now skews heavily for the white, male, college-educated demographic that is showing up at the meetings.

  48. July 16, 2010 at 8:26 pm —

    @vreify: Well said.

  49. July 16, 2010 at 8:33 pm —

    @davew: The circles that announcements for skeptical events travels in now skews heavily for the white, male, college-educated demographic that is showing up at the meetings.

    I wonder if somewhere out there is a grant to advertise in other neighborhoods.

  50. July 16, 2010 at 11:02 pm —

    @Sam Ogden: It usually does surprise people. Keep in mind that it’s just my experiences, and plenty of people may completely disagree with me.

    @James Fox: Great point. I admit that I’m likely to be ignorant about all the different denominations of Christianity. It was just my perception of a common thread between most Christians I’ve encountered (quite a wide range of denominations) that to “accept Jesus Christ as your savior” is central to Christianity.

    In fact, I agree with your perception of skeptics painting Christians with the same brush… to take it a step further, I’ve found them painting “religious people” as a whole in that way. I think that stopping this judgmental attitude of other cultures is an important factor in increasing diversity. Thank you for helping me realize that I’m somewhat guilty of this too!

  51. July 17, 2010 at 11:53 am —

    I am very pale, of mostly Irish descent. Someone already brought up the fact that the Irish were victims of racism (we all forget the days of “Irish need not apply” signs) by other pale-skinned people. So, no, race is not always about color, and yes we are all one race, blah blah blah, etc.

    Those points, while all true, are somewhat non-sequiturs. They come off as posturing, as if one perceives the observation that skeptics/atheist conferences seem to be a sea of white as an accusation that they themselves are racists, somehow guilty of the crime of being white themselves. That is false. Carrie is spot on: there is nothing wrong with asking questions, being skeptical of ourselves, and trying hard to reach out to communities that are unfamiliar to us. No one is accusing you (or me) or doing anything wrong by being white and being a skeptic, that is foolishness. An observation is not an accusation. And waving the magic wand of our shared DNA is not the same as being inclusive and welcoming. Race may be a social construct and not a genetic fact, but we are social creatures talking about a social situation. Social constructs apply.

  52. July 18, 2010 at 12:44 am —

    Why am I reading when drunk? That’s what I wanna know. Hi James Fox. Miss ya.

    never operate heavy machinery or read skepchick when slightly inebriated.

  53. July 18, 2010 at 10:40 am —

    Like about all of you I’m a European mix (English, German, French, Irish, Scottish, who knows what else, maybe Golden Retriever…) I’m also female too which puts me in the minority skeptically. I have only been to one skeptic event sad to say (I saw SGU live in CT a couple years ago) and I was maybe one of about 3 women in the audience.. .it was kinda odd. I think everyone was of European descent too.

    I find it odd how there seems to be a high percentage of female religious nuts out there considering how patriarchal and non-female friendly the major religions seem to be. Women are able to give birth and yet we came out of the rib of Adam? Please! We are the source of the fall of man, we are to be submissive and looked down upon-c’mon! It makes me sick!

    As for ethnicity.. I think some of this religious business is culturally driven. I now live near a very African-American community and boy do a lot of them seem to be into the whole religious thing (tho I know a few who are not.. always exceptions..) but I think there is a lot of pressure for them to be religious and it seems really unacceptable to be otherwise and I see it in the papers, with co-workers, in the institutions, etc. Of course we whites get that too as well as any other “group” but it’s an observation. Catholicism is also intensely ingrained in the Hispanic community too. Maybe some are “in the closet” skeptics. I am far from an expert in this area but maybe it’s a cultural factor.

    I still find it fascinating how these “churches” aka money-making businesses (but for a select few) can still have so much power, money and influence spreading their bullshit! It pisses me off!

  54. July 19, 2010 at 1:41 pm —

    @Sam Ogden: “It’s convenient to use “race” since that word is easy to type”

    It’s also wrong, from a scientific (and indeed skeptic) point of view. And really, to anyone not in the USA, it’s not nearly so useful a shorthand, because we don’t have as much of a history with that term, nor is it used today. My immediate reaction whenever someone does use it is to suspect overt racism coming to the fore, as a result. ‘Ethnicity’ is codespeak, around here, for “those brown folks what speak funny” – so that term is a bit poisoned as well.

    All it does, talking about cultural systems as if they’re linked to certain genetic phenotypes, is muddy waters, confuse people, and erect barriers. I don’t give a rat’s ass what skin colour the guy or girl I’m talking to has – I’m far more interested in what’s beneath that skin, specifically, what’s in their heads. If you think otherwise, then you are a racist. Thinking someone is better because of their skin colour is just as racist as thinking they’re worse. And just as stupid.

  55. July 19, 2010 at 7:00 pm —

    All academic discussions aside, I’m white (and female).

    Race and gender representation is an issue (in basically every field, so I’ll ignore the specifics).

    I think there are a lot of circumstances at play that affect the ratios of actively participating members in the skeptic community. For one, minorities (color, gender, religion, whatever) — or, those not “in power” as I like to think of them — have more at risk in speaking out against cultural/societal norms. In addition to other cultural factors mentioned for race, there are still many women who feel (or who take on) more responsibility for “home life” and may not be able to get away to TAM (or similar events) because they are taking care of the kids, the in-laws, their parents, the pets, the yard, the house, etc.

    I only discovered TAM through my husband. Without him, I would never have heard of the event nor known the term “skeptic”. I agree with the previous poster (not looking back to see who — sorry) who suggested reaching out through non-traditional avenues. We just have to decide which avenues those will be (and it probably shouldn’t be the old while men who choose them).

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