Listening to Keith Olbermann in the car this morning made me deeply annoyed. He ran one of those signature "special comments," this time on racism in the Tea Party. That's fine with me. I mean, when you have images like this
Then yeah, I think it's not unreasonable to speculate that there is some latent racism going on in the Tea Party movement.
But he didn't stop there; he went on to say that the tea party protests are mostly composed exclusively of white guys. Then he said something to the effect that if they aren't racist, how come there aren't more black people?
And I say: MEH. It's not as easy as Keith imagines to get a diverse group to support an activist cause, and it's a terrible fallacy to conclude that the movement is racist because it doesn't attract more black people.
I've been through seven years of college with a computer science/engineering background, okay? There were not many women in the programs. Why? Beats me. I wish more women would be computer nerds. I have worked in many companies where there was a good mix of genders, but I've noticed that the women in the companies far more commonly fill non-techie roles: testers, administrators, office assistants, HR, some managers. Stuff like that.
This is not a sexist claim. It's basic statistical observation. It is not a statement of "ought," it is a statement of "is." It's also obviously not universal, as I knew several women who made up, I'm guessing, 5% of my Master's program; and I know plenty of female engineers, including Jen and Elze in the ACA. But still, as I look around my cubicle area at my job, almost everyone within view is male.
By Olbermann's logic, computer software development must be a fundamentally sexist undertaking. The entire practice must espouse some core values that hates and derides women.
It doesn't stop there. The Atheist Experience has a relatively good mix of men and women... by which I mean that among the hosts and cohosts are only twice as many men as women. There are also only twice as many heterosexuals as homosexuals, which is actually overrepresentative of gay people. We have no African-Americans (or "black people," if you're not keen on politically correct language, which I'm not). From my ten year memory of the ACA, I can think of two black women and no black men who were members. (Deepest apologies if you are somebody I left out.)
Edit: There are seven total hosts and cohosts, not six as I first thought, making the ratio of male to female 5:2, not 4:2. Same with sexual orientation.
From what I've heard, black atheists are really quite rare, and activist black atheists are rarer still. They're out there, of course, and Reginald Finley (who is the most famous one I know) has helpfully compiled a list of famous black atheists -- and I recognize almost none of them. (Sorry!) In the last few months I've heard the topic of come up at least twice on the show, prompting a string of black callers from around the country to offer their two cents on the nature of the problem. This puts us white hosts in the uncomfortable situation of having to speculate about what it is about either race or culture that makes it more difficult for black people to come out as nonbelievers.
Lest you think it's just our tiny minority group that shares this "racism," I'll point out that Yearly Kos, the convention for liberal activists sponsored by the liberal blog Daily Kos, has received similar pointless criticism that they are "diversity challenged." That because they can't attract more black members, there is some unspoken whites-only principle in the ideology of the group.
Which is stupid, and should be transparently stupid to someone like Keith Olbermann, who loves Daily Kos and has founder Markos Moulitsas as a regular guest on his show. And yet here he is committing this rotten fallacy on the tea party movement, which only serves to undermine the (IMHO) accurate message that many people in the movement are bigoted asshats.
If there's a lesson to draw here, it's that you can reach the right conclusion for very wrong reasons. Like a person who becomes an atheist because Zeitgeist convinced them of the truth of some very dubious claims about Christianity; once a person finds out that the underlying arguments are terrible, they're likely to dismiss the conclusion.