Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A Little Help?

I need a little help but the current climate is such that one cannot even ask for help in some circles without being branded as "unhelpful." I find that attitude unhelpful so I want to talk this through with you.

You are an educated atheist and you find yourself fielding questions from creationists all the time. It's frustrating and time-consuming. First, you don't know how many of these people are ignorant and how many are just trolling. Second, you aren't an evolutionary biologist so why are they asking you? Third, why don't they look it up themselves instead of being lazy? You tell them to get on Google and just look up the answers instead of wasting your time. I get it - I really do. You don't owe these people one minute of your time. Any information you give them is a kindness on your part - especially since there is a good chance that most of them aren't really interested in learning about evolution or atheism.

But what about the ones who are? You've sent them to Google but they probably don't have enough information to do a good search. If they are particularly uneducated on the subject (as so many Americans are), then they don't know a good source from a bad source. They may google the subject and come up with all kinds of nonsense that is palatable to them but completely untrue. Furthermore, if they do find a reputable source of information, how are they going to digest it? A lot of evolutionary science is very technical and intimidating. Not every article is written with the layperson in mind. It's possible that our honest inquirer may find a good source and then despair at ever understanding it.

How can we fix this? First, we need professional people who are willing to field the same questions repeatedly. Usually, these are writers, speakers, and other activists who are dedicated to a subject (or set of subjects). Second, we need educated laypeople who are willing to do the same kind of outreach but with a more personal touch. Third, we need a list of good sites and sources that are easy for new inquirers to find and understand.

Now let's back this up and apply it to the subjects of sexism and racism. As a woman, I've lived with sexism my whole life but I didn't know squat about feminist theory until recently. I'm still pretty ignorant about the subject. And as a white person (albeit one who grew up with a best friend of color), I'm still terribly ignorant about racism and its effects. In fact, I'm so awash in white privilege that I often don't even know what to ask, much less how to ask it. How can I overcome this?

I need professional people who are willing to speak out. I need laypeople who are willing to help me learn. And I need a place to go to find reputable sources about these subjects so I can do my own heavy-lifting.

Should I expect every professional or layperson to answer my every question? No. They don't owe me any help.

Do they want me to be a good ally for their cause? If so, then I have to know where to go to find the good information and I need people I can talk with about this so I don't go making a fool of myself and hurting others. If I'm going to be your partner in this fight and help educate others, then someone will have to invest in me!

So what I'm saying is this: there are honest actors out here and we need a little help. Telling us to just "google it" isn't always going to cut it. There's too much misinformation and pseudoscience out there to just expect that we're going to find the good stuff on the first try. And we need people who are willing to deal with those of "good faith" I'm not saying everyone should have to do it. I'm not saying we have a right to demand anything of you. I'm simply saying that some of us want to do better and we really hope you will see something in us that is worth investing in.