Religion

Dear Associated Press: That Picture Was of Sunday Assembly LA’s Main Speaker

Update: The issue is to be rectified.

A mega-church is defined as a church that has “2,000 or more in average weekend attendance.” Seeing as Sunday Assembly can measure its attendance in hundreds, not thousands, it doesn’t quite qualify. Nor have there been enough Sunday Assemblies for there to be anything approximately approaching “average weekend attendance.” So much for the AP’s reporting choices (which have gone on to influence ABC NewsVoice of RussiaSalon, and even The Raw Story).

In terms of connotations rather than strict denotation, I’m going to quote Hemant.

Semantics aside, there’s another problem with the coverage. As many of you have alerted me to the fact, I’d be remiss in not mentioning the fact that a picture of me is trending on Yahoo News. What the Associated Press missed what that I was not only an attendee, I was the main speaker for the Los Angeles iteration of Sunday Assembly.

Yes, this out and proud atheist was invited to be the main speaker for Sunday Assembly Los Angeles, which was held this past weekend. The LA event page listed the word “atheist” and there were plenty of allusions to atheism, godlessness, and even hints of anti-theism at Sunday Assembly LA. Whatever might have happened at other locations, the Los Angeles version of Sunday Assembly had a very clear target audience: those who believe in no gods and follow no religions, including those who self-identify as atheists.

As I mentioned in my talk there, which was about people overlooked by history to whom we can be grateful, the gathering was, by far, the most church-like thing I’ve ever attended in my ex-Muslim life. It felt odd and I wasn’t sure what to do with myself when asked to clap, stamp, sing, and otherwise show my enthusiasm in a vocal way. All the same, as the picture of me that’s trending shows, I had an awesome time.

If only the the caption had managed to mention the fact that I was, as I mentioned, the main speaker for the event.

Why is this important to me? Obviously, it represents something of a missed opportunity for promotion for me. More importantly, the erasure of my name and my role in the event angers me because it’s coverage like this that promotes the notion that atheism is still a white-dominated old boys’ club. The reason I’m happy to put my name and face on things is to directly combat and challenge that idea, to ensure that both those curious about and wary of atheism are aware that it isn’t just for a certain class of people. I cannot work to do so if reporters at an event fail to recognize that one of the pictures they chose to depict the event just happens to include its main longform speaker. Such neglect contributes towards the further stigmatization and marginalization of non-white, non-male atheists.

To the contributors at the Associated Press responsible for this omission, I ask that you do your job and amend the caption to include my name and my role in Sunday Assembly Los Angeles.

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Heina Dadabhoy

Heina Dadabhoy [hee-na dad-uh-boy] spent her childhood as a practicing Muslim who never in her right mind would have believed that she would grow up to be an atheist feminist secular humanist, or, in other words, a Skepchick. She has been an active participant in atheist organizations and events in and around Orange County, CA since 2007. She is currently writing A Skeptic's Guide to Islam. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.

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3 Comments

  1. Yes, a disappointing oversight on AP’s part. They might have taken note that you were not the only non-white or non-male on the stage. Moreover, a survey of the audience would have shown that this event had a distinctive non-white, non-male balance. That was one of our goals and one we will continue to emphasize as we move forward, both on stage with speakers and performers and off with the communities to whom we reach out. Heina, you are an important face in the atheist movement, and not just because of your lovely café mocha complexion or lack of facial hair. You are a representative of the up-and-coming generation of secular Americans, the ones that are inheriting the movement from the old, white guys like me and bringing it into the consciousness of the mainstream. Personally, I would like to thank you being an important part of the first Sunday Assembly in the City of Angels.

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