Skepticon, the annual atheist convention, is taking place this weekend in Springfield, MO. Skepticon tends to be one of the more social-justice friendly atheist events, so I was a bit surprised when I heard that Danielle Muscato was organizing a segment about the recent events at the University of Missouri. The last-minute slot was scheduled to be a Q&A with Mark Schierbecker, an officer for MU SASHA, and the person responsible for trying to derail a conversation about racism into one about free speech.
There’s a significant number of reasons to be wary of letting Muscato organize such a panel. Danielle was doing pro bono Public Relations work for Mark Schierbecker, which makes the whole thing stink of opportunism. Additionally, not a single person of color or even allied protestor involved in the events at Mizzou would agree to be on stage with Schierbecker.
Needless to say, it did not go well. Over at Pharyngula, PZ Myers writes:
Right away, a problem: no black students were on the stage. No one was representing any other side of the story, and there was no plan to let anyone else speak. It was a disaster of a one-sided event.
I tried to listen, but I gave up when Muscato asked a ridiculous question: “Are you a racist?” Apparently, the purpose of this event wasn’t to actually address the issue of racism, but to make sure the white man with a camera got a chance to rehabilitate himself.
Shortly after the event, Muscato resigned as Schierbecker’s pro bono publicist, posting the following to her public Facebook page:
On stage, I attempted to give Mark several chances to clarify his apparently racist remarks as not racist, but in my opinion, I was unsuccessful. I no longer wish to be associated with him in a representative way. I deeply apologize to everyone present, and to the Skepticon organizers, and to anyone else who may see footage of this online later. Mark has a lot of white privilege to address. He acknowledges this. He should not have been given a platform at Skepticon to say these things, especially at the expense of discussion about the deeper and more systemic issue of racism, which is being pushed even further to the wayside because of my actions.
I want to acknowledge publicly that I made a mistake in hosting this session. I apologize and take responsibility for it. This should not have gone forward without #ConcernedStudent1950 voices.
Schierbecker for his part, seems to only be upset that he got caught being racist. I’m also told by friends at Skepticon that the organizers have a response forthcoming – I hope that they take accountability for not vetting speakers better.
As far as Muscato is concerned, I’m glad to hear that she is sorry for her hand in what happened at Skepticon today. I truly hope this isn’t another one of her poor attempts at PR spin. But given how many people tried to tell her this was a bad idea, I think the fact that she didn’t listen to those people deserves accountability. She gave someone who is openly antagonistic to social justice a platform to speak on racism (someone with a history of being wrong on this topic). That deserves accountability.
I’m glad she’s sorry, but I’m not really ok with that just being the end of it. Because when white people fuck up, the narrative is that it’s a learning experience, they were just “too trusting” and everyone moves on. When black people are even perceived to make mistakes, they are thrown from their desks at school, shot, assaulted at a pool party, and sent death threats.
Maybe at some point we as a society should find some sort of middle ground between those two extremes and hold all people to those same standards of accountability.
Update: Skepticon has released a statement taking full accountability for not doing a better job vetting the Q&A.
Featured Image by NonOrganical.