American Humanist Association criticises academic for comments about identity using ‘the guise of scientific discourse’, and withdraws its 1996 honour
By Alison Flood
The Guardian (20.04.2021) – https://bit.ly/33ak8q5 – The American Humanist Association has withdrawn its humanist of the year award from Richard Dawkins, 25 years after he received the honour, criticising the academic and author for “demean[ing] marginalised groups” using “the guise of scientific discourse”.
The AHA honoured Dawkins, whose books include The Selfish Gene and The God Delusion, in 1996 for his “significant contributions” in communicating scientific concepts to the public. On Monday, it announced that it was withdrawing the award, referring to a tweet sent by Dawkins earlier this month, in which he compared trans people to Rachel Dolezal, the civil rights activist who posed as a black woman for years.
“In 2015, Rachel Dolezal, a white chapter president of NAACP, was vilified for identifying as Black,” wrote Dawkins on Twitter. “Some men choose to identify as women, and some women choose to identify as men. You will be vilified if you deny that they literally are what they identify as. Discuss.”
Dawkins later responded to criticism, writing: “I do not intend to disparage trans people. I see that my academic ‘Discuss’ question has been misconstrued as such and I deplore this. It was also not my intent to ally in any way with Republican bigots in US now exploiting this issue.”
Among his critics was Alison Gill, vice president for legal and policy at American Atheists and a trans woman. She said Dawkins’ comments reinforce dangerous and harmful narratives. She said: “Given the repercussions for the millions of trans people in this country, in this one life we have to live, as an atheist and as a trans woman, I hope that Professor Dawkins treats this issue with greater understanding and respect in the future.”
In 2015, Dawkins also wrote: “Is trans woman a woman? Purely semantic. If you define by chromosomes, no. If by self-identification, yes. I call her “she” out of courtesy.”
In a statement from its board, the AHA said that Dawkins had “over the past several years accumulated a history of making statements that use the guise of scientific discourse to demean marginalised groups, an approach antithetical to humanist values”.
The evolutionary biologist’s latest comment, the board said, “implies that the identities of transgender individuals are fraudulent, while also simultaneously attacking Black identity as one that can be assumed when convenient”, while his “subsequent attempts at clarification are inadequate and convey neither sensitivity nor sincerity”.
“Consequently, the AHA Board has concluded that Richard Dawkins is no longer deserving of being honored by the AHA, and has voted to withdraw, effective immediately, the 1996 Humanist of the Year award,” said the organisation.
The Guardian has reached out to Dawkins for comment.
Last year, the author JK Rowling returned an award given to her by the Robert F Kennedy Human Rights organisation, after its president, Kennedy’s daughter Kerry Kennedy, criticised her views on transgender issues. “I am deeply saddened that RFKHR has felt compelled to adopt this stance, but no award or honour, no matter my admiration for the person for whom it was named, means so much to me that I would forfeit the right to follow the dictates of my own conscience,” said Rowling in a statement at the time.
Photo credits: Graeme Robertson/The Guardian