A Black Atheist On Being Blocked By Greta Christina While Discussing Ferguson
Before you read, four items:
1. My primary focus here is Ferguson. Most of the post concerns that, although I did find it helpful to model my approach against that of Greta Christina at its midpoint.
2. Yes, Greta Christina has the right to instill the comment policy she has on her page. However, I also have the right to critique it -- and, considering her prominence, possibly even the responsibility to critique it -- if it is detrimental to actual progress in working with this issue.
3. I'm not asking individuals to feel sorry for me, nor am I feeling sorry for myself. There really is no reason for anyone to; I obviously have a voice and I'm using it. My primary concern, again, is the best way I can impact this situation.
4. My partial disagreement with Greta Christina is in no way, shape, or form a statement providing blanket support to the actions of Darren Wilson, the Ferguson court, the grand jury trial, and several other items. In fact, my disagreement with Christina is based on my passion for correcting what went wrong in the situation; I would hate for anything in this post to be used to say I think that impartial justice is regularly served in Ferguson, and I doubt that it was served in the Darren Wilson incident, in spite of the questions I have here.
I was hoping that Darren Wilson would be indicted, just like several of you, I’m sure, were, as well.
But when the prosecutor spoke last night, I underwent a change in a few places within my mind (though not really of heart). I mean, there were still things that bothered me. I thought, for example, that the prosecutor probably shouldn’t have made up his mind (as he appeared to have done) before the trial was over. I thought that the Ferguson police methods of crowd control was (and is) appalling. I thought that the prosecutor should have argued the case to the grand jury. I thought that he should have been more respectful of the situation and of the witnesses. I thought he should have spoken earlier. I thought that a lot of things about the situation were a bit off.
However, as a black man who thinks that there is, indeed, police injustice on a massive scale against black individuals in this country, who thinks that arguments need to be made so that the police can be surveilled, who knows that the demands of many black individuals aren’t heard...I think that some convincing needs to be done here to actually change things. And to do that, I have to have some fairly watertight, or at least plausible, positions to argue from.
And as the prosecutor spoke, I realized I didn’t really have plausible counterarguments to the gist of what he said. I realized that I kinda had to admit that no, Darren Wilson probably couldn’t be convicted beyond a reasonable doubt based on the evidence (although there may still have been enough evidence to indict him, and there certainly would be if the prosecutor had been more insistent). Especially if Michael Brown charged at the cop.
I also think Michael Brown may have distrusted cops because of the nature of Ferguson, and that may have played into the charge. I think that’s a rational argument -- but I have to gain credibility to say that, and I’m honestly not sure I can gain credibility if I insist, against the available evidence, that Darren Wilson was guilty.
I’ve always respected Greta Christina immensely as a social justice warrior. I’ve never met her, but I’ve asked her for advice on a couple occasions and have generally liked what she had to say, although I haven’t always been sure about her apparent “my way or the highway” approach to social justice issues. I would like to think I believe in protecting the marginalized, but I also would like to be convinced, because I think that convincing arguments go further than mere shame, oftentimes, in making change happen (shame can be a useful tool, true, but I think convincing arguments need to be made, as well).
- Greta Christina - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Greta Christina (born December 31, 1961) is an American atheist blogger, speaker, and author.
So when Greta Christina stated:
"There are some debates I am willing to have. The question of whether police should be able to shoot unarmed black men with their hands in the air, and not even get fucking indicted, is not one of them. If you want to have a calm, civil debate about this, save us all some time and stop following me right now. I don't want to have to say "Go fuck yourself, blocked" to every one of you."
I was a bit taken aback. Blind acceptance was not healthy, I thought -- it would hurt, rather than help, the rational argument that there were other very real, substantiated problems, and make it seem as if those that wanted these problems discussed were irrational ignorers of evidence. So I said something briefly -- and, in spite of the prior statement (and partly because no black individuals from the United States had yet seemed to comment on the situation), I thought there was a chance to make a difference with a relevant statement. I was sorely disappointed:
And in spite of the earlier warning, the suddenness of it was stunning. No discussion. No exchange. No examination. No honest inquiry. Just a cold block and an outright refusal, it seemed, to consider the issue further. What bothered me was not just the block on me, but also the message it was sending -- that evidence and facts were unimportant. Emotions could judge the situation, and if someone was struggling with facts in the face of emotions, emotions could get rid of facts. I thought this was unhealthy -- that's really why I'm writing about it.
I still have respect for Greta Christina, and I do think that the block was well intentioned in order to shield people (including herself) that may have been scarred from this incident. So, on a personal level, I think I get it.
But when I look at Christina’s attitude as a representative of the social justice arm of the atheist movement, I have to admit that I don’t think the attitude she exhibited is going to move us forward in convincing culture and being confident, over the long term, in the solidity of our own position. I think that, in building up a more formidable position that inspires a change with positive consequences, we need sourced, fact based, reasoned arguments that attempt to be fair, instead of just blocks to anyone who is willing to think outside the lines. Because if we aren’t allowed to question and think about these issues, we become like religion in ensuring that faith in truisms, as opposed to the facts, matter. And that’s a dangerous road, because when we don’t deal in facts, but in truisms, we ultimately can do things that run counter to our goals (including accidentally hurting people) because we’re acting in the world we think exists rather than the one that actually does. We can fail to bring about change that is based on the facts on the ground as opposed to what we prefer to believe.
To be clear: I think Ferguson has a problem, I think the grand jury had problems, I think the police had problems, I think FOXNEWS had problems, I think the prosecutor had problems, and that a lot of this whole case was bungled and is indicative of institutionalized injustice in our society. But I think that in solving the problems that are there, it is vital for us atheists, as we fight for the marginalized in our midst and in our culture, to fight individuals with reasoned arguments, to engage individuals in thoughtful rebuttals, and to not enforce creedences that we hold to automatically, regardless of the facts.
Because the thing is -- this case is bigger than Michael Brown. It’s about seeking justice for people of all colors, and looking into the things that have gone wrong in law enforcement so we can change them to benefit the disenfranchised. If we focus too much on whether Darren Wilson was guilty or not (especially if he wasn’t), we might miss the forest for the trees. We need to look at the facts we do know -- the clear statistics right in front of us that show inequality -- and deal with those.