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.