Representation

I wrote before about the importance of diversity. I’d like to continue that discussion and talk about representation. I believe that if we want to create a vibrant, engaging Humanist community then it needs to be diverse and accessible to everyone, and it is our duty to make it so.

Does it matter if a group is predominantly white/male/heterosexual/able-bodied? That doesn’t necessarily make them racist/sexist/homophobic/ableist. However, it does make them less likely to be aware of the issues, concerns and culture of any group outside those of which they are members. Because time and resources are limited, the group may find themselves focusing on issues that concern the majority. But other people may find themselves alienated by a group which doesn’t address or acknowledge their concerns.

At this point, I’m certain that some of you will be exasperatedly thinking “There’s nothing stopping anyone from getting involved!”. This is true, but as we have discussed above there may be factors which are offputting or make the environment unwelcoming. There is also nothing stopping someone joining and then organising events or creating their own events and groups which better reflect their interests. However, the responsibility should not be on those unrepresented groups and individuals to convince the dominant group to listen, it is the responsibility of the dominant group to listen to, learn about and represent a broad range of cultures and issues. I should make clear here that I have no objection to the creation of groups with a specific focus, but this does not absolve the main group from its obligation to maintain a dialogue with the other groups.

Let’s place this into a scientific context. If I am carrying out research on a particular issue, my first step is to find and read the relevant literature. It would not be acceptable if I only read the literature from one lab or theoretical view point. If I want to carry out good research, I need to consider all the available sources and understand their arguments and findings, even if I disagree with them or their views are not fashionable. If I do not do this, I am being ignorant and producing flawed research, and quite possibly wasting my time reinvestigating something which has already been established or disproved. Likewise, if I am interested in the human condition, I need to consider all perspectives, not just my own.

Humanism is a philosophy which is open to all. There are no requirements or preferences regarding race, sex, class, physiology or any other variation among people. In fact, Humanism benefits directly from a diverse and rich community. The more knowledge and wealth of human experience that comes together, the more we learn to think about things and see them from another perspective. For this reason, I want to see a Humanist culture that embraces diversity, that proactively engages with other communities. I want to hear about the experiences and views of humanists of every age, ethnicity, nationality, political stance, sex, gender, transgender, sexual orientation, disability, class, former religion and more besides.

In order to do this, Humanist organisations and individuals need to make an effort. We must educate ourselves and interact with other groups. There are plenty of organisations happy to provide speakers and materials about racism, homophobia, ableism, sexism and more besides. It only takes a quick search on the internet, in a library or good bookshop to find information about thinkers from a wide range of cultures. It’s all out there, there’s nothing stopping us from going out and finding it (recognise this argument from somewhere?). Also, if you want to guarantee a diverse range of issues and participation, then encourage those who are underrepresented to participate at higher levels. The more diversity among your members and organisers, the more likely you are to get a range of views and ideas.

It doesn’t matter if its experienced by the many or the few, all these issues are human issues and as humans they are of concern to us all. My dream of Humanism is of a diverse community engaged in many dialogues and all learning from each other.

8 Responses to “Representation”


  1. 1 Mike August 5, 2008 at 2:17 am

    I agree with the sentiment but there’s also always a danger of overdoing it. Over-concentrating on disadvantaged groups can not only sometimes be patronising, it can also put off members of the dominant group. A balance between the two is necessary.

  2. 2 Clare August 5, 2008 at 10:33 am

    You definitely have to be careful of being patronising. I think the trick is to make sure that you have a good variety of things and there should be something for everyone. Also, if you think about where religion still has the biggest impact on controlling people’s everyday lives, it’s in the arena of women’s rights, gay rights and sexual behaviour.

  3. 3 thoughtcounts Z August 26, 2008 at 2:47 am

    I agree with the above two comments insofar as it’s important not to overdo things in general. But as long as the emphasis is on education and awareness rather than quotas and creepy recruitment or something, I’m not so worried about that excess actually happening.

    Encouraging diversity is something valuable in its own right, but there are also some pragmatic benefits (which in turn have results that are valuable in their own right). The humanist community could be a really useful ally to, and could find really useful allies in, a lot of the groups referenced in the post above. We have experience in being marginalized by government officials and policy, and we’re a small minority. While the discrimination and problems we face certainly sound pretty peachy compared to what other minorities face and have faced, we still intellectually and emotionally understand why tolerance and inclusiveness are important. Just as Jews actively participated in the civil rights movement in the ’60s, and have long worked for separation of church and state advocacy, the humanist community is in a great position to ally with other, not-directly-related groups working for particular types of social justice, because justice is good whether or not you’re getting the short end of the stick in the status quo.

  4. 4 Clare August 26, 2008 at 10:10 am

    I agree that humanists have great potential for working with others as a lot of what we believe is concerned with civil rights. In a way, you could say that we have an obligation to. If you’re, say, an LGBT rights group fighting against traditional or religious views, it can help to have an atheist/humanist/secular group calling out the religious arguments and pointing out that they have no place in a rational discussion of human rights for everybody.

  5. 5 Lynet August 28, 2008 at 10:48 am

    Does it matter if a group is predominantly white/male/heterosexual/able-bodied? That doesn’t necessarily make them racist/sexist/homophobic/ableist. However, it does make them less likely to be aware of the issues, concerns and culture of any group outside those of which they are members.

    Good point. I think that’s actually one reason why a lot of my favourite atheist blogs link to at least one theist. Atheist blogs that link to theists are more likely to be aware of theism as it actually is, rather than getting stuck on the stereotypes.

    I realise I’m twisting your point entirely, but that’s what you made me think of. If humanists are to engage with the world, we need to listen carefully to everyone — including non-humanists! It’s good to have minorities in your group, but it’s also just as important to listen to the minorities that aren’t (or in this case can’t be) in your group. It gives you a much more accurate picture of the issues.

  6. 6 Clare August 28, 2008 at 1:36 pm

    I’m a big fan of humanists becoming involved in interfaith work actually. We’re really lucky at Edinburgh University that the chaplaincy welcomes humanists and involves us in their activities. It’s a lot more interesting than building straw men and knocking them down.


  1. 1 The Uncredible Hallq » Humanist Symposium, day late edition Trackback on August 25, 2008 at 9:33 pm
  2. 2 Carnival time! « This humanist Trackback on August 26, 2008 at 12:31 am

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