Recently I discovered this article about how the American libertarian movement is overwhelmingly white and male. I can’t say I’m surprised, but this prompted me to look at the demographics of other, similar movements. I found that the Tea Party movement is also predominantly white and male, as is the Men’s Rights Movement. All of these movements seem to be at least 85% white and male (with the exception of the libertarian movement, which is only 68% male), while the total American population is closer to 60% white and 50% male. Again, these numbers aren’t exactly surprising.
But they raise an interesting point. All three of these movements seem to appeal almost exclusively to white men. For whatever reason, the majority of people who are not white men seem not to be interested in these movements. Why is this the case? I imagine many libertarians, Tea Partiers, or MRAs will say that only white men “get it,” and that everyone else simply doesn’t understand the issues, but this is simply an arrogant dismissal of opposing viewpoints. (“Oh, you disagree with me? You must not understand, then.”) In reality, the reason these movements only appeal to white men is because they solve problems (or claim to solve problems) in a way that only benefits white men.
All three of these movements are reactionary movements, which means they stand opposed to progressive ideals and favor a return to the status quo. All three movements look to the past for their ideals, their policies, and their social or economic models. It stands to reason that these movements are populated almost entirely by white men because that’s the only group that would benefit from a return to the status quo. Nearly every other American demographic is better off now than they were at any point in recent history, so of course a return to regressive policies isn’t going to appeal to them.
It also appears people from these movements don’t seem to recognize that they only appeal to a narrow subset of the population. Many of these people seem to think their ideologies should have universal appeal. After all, if these ideas are as correct as their proponents seem to believe they are, people from all backgrounds should be flocking to join. The fact that they aren’t should suggest that these ideas are not correct, and that they might even be harmful to those who are not white and male.
For instance, one of the core principles of the libertarian movement is a complete absence of government regulation, leaving private citizens to fend for themselves. When people ask (rightfully so) how to prevent companies from completely screwing them over, libertarians often respond that the private citizen can always sue those companies for their rights. While I don’t plan on explaining all the ways this will never work, I will note that lawsuits cost large amounts of money, and that most of the people who have large amounts of money are white men. In a libertarian system, the only people who would be able to successfully leverage the system to benefit them are white men.
In a similar vein, the Tea Party movement supports Voter ID, harsher immigration policies, and a slew of racist and sexist legislation. Individual Tea Party members also tend to be far more racist and sexist than average Americans. The Men’s Rights movement is a hotbed of sexism and misogyny, and has ties to the white supremacist movement. Honestly, the only surprising thing about their demographics is that there are any women and people of color present at all.
I think it’s fair to say that any movement that has such a narrow demographic appeal is probably less than beneficial to a wide swath of the population. In fact, I would argue that a movement’s demographic diversity is a strong indicator of its lasting impact. A movement that only benefits a small segment of the population won’t have the support required to make any meaningful reform, and will quickly wither and die as more people realize the flaws in the ideology.
So with that in mind, I look at the secular movement. While there are no hard numbers I can point to as an indicator of its diversity, my anecdotal experience suggests that the secular movement has a greater proportion of white men than the general population. Certainly the leadership of the various secular organizations are overwhelmingly white and male. I think few people would argue that women and people of color are underrepresented in this movement.
So is the secular movement doomed? I don’t think so. The number of women and people of color in the movement has been growing for nearly a decade, although we still have a long way to go. With that growth, we see issues that affect women and people of color being addressed by leaders in the movement, and more people who aren’t white men are jumping on board. It needs to be the responsibility of the white men already in the movement to encourage this growth, by promoting the causes that people of color and women are championing, and supporting them when they seek leadership positions within the movement. It’s the only way our movement won’t wither and die along with the Tea Party and the MRM.