In my continuing series where I reach out to men in leadership roles in the secular, skeptic, humanist and atheist communities, I bring you a lovely essay from Dale McGowan. Dale is the Executive Director of Foundation Beyond Belief.
This story may restore a tiny bit of your ‘faith’ in humanity and it gives some darn good advice on how some may find footing to move forward. We don’t have to rehash the entire story of how it got to this point again and again. People just have to start doing the right thing. Starting now.
But I’ll let Dale explain.
Dale’s comments after the jump.
From Dale McGowan:
In summer 2008 our family had an Obama yard sign in front of our house in Atlanta. Within the week there was an angry scrawled note in our mailbox. We were “helping to destroy the foundation of this country,” it said. “The terrorists want him to win” because he’s a Muslim. The next day, our sign was gone.
I knew my kids would feel violated and afraid. We’d only been in Atlanta for a year and were fish out of water in more ways than one. My ten-year-old daughter said she felt like crying and asked if everyone was mad at us.
One or two stupid, anonymous cowards had made us feel suddenly surrounded by hate. Even with my longer perspective, it actually felt to me as if every silent house on the block was staring.
Then one neighbor – a man so Republican that he has signed pictures of George and Laura Bush in his garage – heard that our sign was stolen. He was furious. He apologized and asked if there was anything he could do. It made a huge difference to us, instantly undercutting the illusion that the act somehow represented the majority. Even when we found the sign, put it up again, and had a hole shot in it (no kidding), his expression of support, and a number of other neighbors who added theirs, helped us keep our own perspective during a difficult time.
But apparently I didn’t learn a thing from this. For the past year I’ve been shaking my head in sick disbelief at the abuse many women in the freethought movement are getting, but I’ve stayed silent. I’m not talking about the discussion of gender and privilege itself, which (to my surprise) still needs to happen in some depth, but at the insane, hateful attacks, including literal threats of rape and murder, that are raining down on the Skepchicks and others taking part in that important discussion.
Silently shaking my head does nothing. The women under this kind of attack can’t hear my head rattling, so they can only assume I don’t care, when I actually care deeply. I think it’s the difficulty of putting this massive, deranged genie back in the bottle that keeps so many of us quiet. But that’s a poor excuse that only keeps the victims feeling isolated and besieged.
Fortunately I don’t have to deal with the whole genie to do something useful. I don’t have to go back to the elevator and work my way forward, defending and countering and challenging and apologizing and repairing my way down to the present. I can start right here and now by saying out loud that violence and threats of violence – physical, verbal, emotional – are completely out of bounds, no matter what the topic, no matter what your opinion. They don’t speak for me, not one tiny bit, and they don’t belong anywhere near the rational community we imagine ourselves to be. Once we establish that, we can begin to pull the lessons of the late 20th century forward – none of this is new ground, after all – and have this important discussion.
Finally, we HAVE to begin calling people on their anonymity. If it’s protecting someone from harm or exposure, fine. If it only gives them the freedom to harm others, we have to go after it as a huge part of the problem. As long as our community lives and connects primarily online, the problems of the medium are going to continue getting in the way of sane, civil, productive discourse.
Thank you for standing with us Dale and thank you for reminding us that we need others to speak up.
More to come.