Racism – it exists. It’s not easy to talk about, it’s something most of us don’t want to talk about in the hope it will just go away. It hasn’t. I find it awkward to talk about it myself, largely because I grew up in a majority; so I am not sure I can really understand, though I try to be empathetic with, the direct effects of racism. Being raised a white, protestant female in a region of the USA which is pretty dominated by white protestants, doesn’t exactly put me in the minority. Yes I am female, but I have also had advantages.
I was born during the Civil Rights Movement in the USA. I don’t remember segregation, I was a baby, but I am a product of the after effects of the US South trying to heal. I grew up watching Sesame Street – a Children’s program which was a champion of diversity. I grew up with an LP of ‘Free to Be You and Me”. I grew up in a time where all children were required to read To Kill a Mockingbird.
I am not saying racism disappeared during this time, or in any sense the Southern USA is a paragon of equality, sisterhood and brotherhood, but in the 70s the way the State thought best to combat racism was through education. To this day, I am a firm believer that much racism is a result of ignorance. Ignorance isn’t synonymous with stupidity; Ignorance is a lack of knowledge. But to behave in ignorance usually isn’t the best thing to do.
This is what is so devastating about Richard Dawkins’ recent tweet about Muslims. He may not be intending to be racist, but it is pretty ignorant and willfully uninformed not to realize that is what he sounds like. Saying something like Interesting concept: a simple statement of undeniable FACT can be offensive, is just ignorant, yet many people believe that Dawkins is among the world’s living geniuses. His PR says he is supposed to be really smart and thoughtful. Dawkins, who identifies himself as a Humanist and is in fact highly educated, most of us think (myself included) should know better.
I do understand the counter-argument to this will be – ‘he was just stating a fact’. But this again is somewhat ill-informed as Martin Robbins points out; factual statements are always made in some sort of context. He argues this much better than I could even attempt to in his article for the New Statesman. Though his fact is ‘true’ it is still an incredibly ignorant thing to say. Life, as the man who wrote Unweaving the Rainbow should know, is complex. Most of the Nobel prizes are won by people in the developed world – no surprises there – which has to do with all sorts of things. Better opportunities for those in the establishment (at least historically), exclusion for so many years of anyone but white males. The list could go on.
Richard Dawkins has often complained in writing, on Twitter and in speeches – that we give religion much more respect than it deserves. Perhaps he is right, but in my estimation it is pretty ignorant to combat this by being deliberately offensive. His defense of he’s just “stating of facts” just makes him appear even more ignorant. I find this rather sad and in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.