You and I Ain’t Nothing But Savages

neanderthal

“‘insufferable smug white male making snide comments in loafers.’ Racism & sexism are fine, so long as they point in the right direction!”

“Learn to think clearly and use language precisely. You may JUSTIFY racism & sexism towards white males. But it’s still racist & sexist.”

Says Richard Dawkins. Who once responded to a point made by Rebecca Watson about objectification among atheists and skeptics with the following words, showing his usual wit and charm:

Dear Muslima

Stop whining, will you. Yes, yes, I know you had your genitals mutilated with a razor blade, and . . . yawn . . . don’t tell me yet again, I know you aren’t allowed to drive a car, and you can’t leave the house without a male relative, and your husband is allowed to beat you, and you’ll be stoned to death if you commit adultery. But stop whining, will you. Think of the suffering your poor American sisters have to put up with.

Only this week I heard of one, she calls herself Skep”chick”, and do you know what happened to her? A man in a hotel elevator invited her back to his room for coffee. I am not exaggerating. He really did. He invited her back to his room for coffee. Of course she said no, and of course he didn’t lay a finger on her, but even so . . .

And you, Muslima, think you have misogyny to complain about! For goodness sake grow up, or at least grow a thicker skin.

Richard

It’s very curious how Dawkins talks about racism and sexism against whites, especially since a not-insignificant portion of the reaction to his comments about Watson was about how he should check his “White Male Privilege,” a phrase that tends to make us crackers do mental gymnastics. The more far-reaching, and I would say accurate, comments would also add in “rich,” since his wealth and celebrity affords him more opportunity and influence.

Back to the quotes at the top, which drew criticism from people pointing out, rightly, that white men don’t really suffer a whole lot of either racism or sexism, since both are institutionalized to serve the politically powerful (which in the Western world is predominantly white, male, and rich). Naturally, some goal posts had to be shifted:

Foe [sic] Christ’s sake, there could be absolutely NO racism of any kind against white people. I am talking solely about the MEANING of a WORD

Silly people! When he was saying, “You may JUSTIFY racism & sexism towards white males,” he was saying that no such thing existed! So obvious.

Maybe he should be given the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he was only referring to what the words “racism” and “sexism” mean. If that were the case, though, why would he do so using the same talking points fed to right-wing fundamentalists who think Barack Obama is coming for their guns? Not similar to, not kinda like, not in the vicinity of, the exact same talking points?

It has baffled me that fellow atheists and agnostics look to this man as some intellectual leader. A man who insists that if religious fundamentalists were as bad as the worst atheists, there would be no genocide, war, or abuse of power (Josef Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao Zedong anyone?). A man who also considers it his privilege to use the plight of Muslim women in the Middle East as truncheons to silence voices amongst atheists that point out that, yeah, there’s plenty of misogynists in the non-religious camp as well.

At least, it baffled me until I realized, “Yeah, we totally would.” Just as sexism and genocide are not solely the province of religion, neither is hopping onto the bandwagon of a strutting alpha male. Dawkins is a terrible philosopher, and a worse advocate, but he is cocksure. That’s going to appeal to people who are inclined to agree that religion is bad and science is good (shit, it’s worldview I share). And there’s nothing more human, for better or worse, than joining a tribe to feel safe. Safe from enemies, sure, but also safe from our own critical gaze.

I mean, who wants to listen to their own flaws? Who wants to be reminded their biological urge to fuck not only drives how they interact with women, but has also helped set up a culture that leads to Steubenville, calling female critics “cunts” for not liking The Avengers, or, yes, Muslim women being stoned to death? Who wants to be reminded that staring at a woman’s breasts (come on, straight guys, we’ve all done it at some point) is actually kind of creepy? That we instantly see black, or Hispanic, or Arab men and think “threat,” and that’s just wrong? That we’re not as civilized or as intelligent as we consider ourselves? I know these things bother me: I know better and still have moments where I’m guilty. That’s the power guys like Dawkins hold: to make people feel safer, knowing they’re on the “right” side because a rich guy with an English accent tells them they are. Faults be damned.

Dawkins has gotten very successful off that ability. Made a lot of money. Gets to appear on the TV and write a bunch of books and tweet himself into the conversation of every tragedy, controversy, or misadventure that pollutes our culture, sometimes even making himself the central character in the black comedy that is the news cycle. Yet, he’s still human, so it’s only natural he would feel threatened if someone pointed out he’s a rich white man making snide comments about the poor, the brown, and the women.

Wouldn’t you or I?

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