Naturalistic Neurodiversity

Exploring our differences through science.

Ableism in Atheism Anonymous #54

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Do you consider yourself to be a person with a disability?


Have you (or do you personally know someone who has) felt out-of-place or limited your involvement with an atheist community because of disability-related situations?

Sort of.

I am a person with an able-body/mind, and my experience with the atheist community is limited mostly to the internet, but I do feel put-off and uncomfortable with the casual and rampant use of ableist language and comparisons.  Ableist slurs such as crazy, stupid, idiotic, witless/nitwit/fuckwit and various other things suffixed with -wit, crippled etc. are common.  Comparisons to mental illness, aneurotypicality, and lack of intelligence are also common.  I find these make me uncomfortable with involvement in atheist communities much as sexist remarks also makes me uncomfortable and unsupportive of specific atheist websites.

What steps could atheist communities take to become more inclusive?

I think meetups should be ADA compliant as well as feature persons with disabilities as speakers (whether its on a broader topic or specifically on disability related issues–for example J.T. Eberhard often speaks on broader community issues, but has also done talks about his experience with mental illness).  I also think atheist communities should enforce policies that create inclusive and welcoming spaces for persons with disabilities and don’t treat them as undesirable, wrong, or cudgels to beat other commenters with whom they disagree. On Freethought Blogs there are policies by both the blog writers and commenters to in general stop, discount, and disuse any sexist slurs or similar dismissive constructions; I think a similar style should be used in regards to ableist language.

Any other thoughts about ableism and atheism?

I think ableism like any other axis of oppression should be denounced and fought against by the atheist community. General social justice and humanistic principles are important to the strength of the community and movement and foster more inclusivity and diversity both in terms of persons and discourse.

Also, in regards to whether certain words are ableist or count as slurs, I’d prefer to err on the side of caution. I am in a position of privilege, so I am unable to definitively make such a call, however, other (non-atheistic) blogs and communities I follow that deal with ableism do count crazy, insane, stupid, etc. as ableist slurs, and as such I adhere to that. On that point, I’d also argue that it would be difficult to make a case for them not being ableist as such arguments tend to simply be retreads of other arguments related to language in discussions of sexism or racism i.e. words change, intent, generic/equal use, being technically accurate, dictionary definition etc. None of which are convincing arguments. Further, there are other words and constructions that can be used to give the same general meaning without being ableist. For example, instead of crazy, use absurd or ridiculous.

I won’t go into much here, but there is also a general trend in atheist communities to treat religious persons, or certain arguers, as lacking in intelligence (using words such as stupid, idiotic, dumb). While the individuals they are arguing or responding to may be holding untenable, badly constructed ideas or be (willfully or not) ignorant, this is a much different thing than being lacking in intelligence or being “dumb.” I object to this not on a tone basis, but on a basis of it’s reductive and all or nothing view of intelligence that treats lack of knowledge as a lack of capability to ever know and thus subtly is engaging in ableist ideas about the worth of those who may be mentally retarded or have an intellectual disability.

Anyway, I’ve rambled on way too much–I apologize. I know how hard it is to remove ableist language and constructions from my speech so I am not expecting an overnight change, but I would be glad and much more comfortable if the atheist communities made such efforts. I hope this was helpful 🙂

Response #54 from the Ableism in Atheism survey.


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