NIKI MASSEY DIED on October 1, 2016, at the age of thirty-five.
Chances are good you don't know who Niki Massey was, that you never heard her name until just now. I want to talk about why that is. I want to talk about why some humanist and atheist voices get widely heard, and others don't.
Some of it, of course, is luck. When "New Atheism" exploded and our movement changed forever, some people already had a significant audience, and had good relationships with publishers and publicity machines. Some people happened to hit a nerve, at a time when those nerves were raw and ready to be hit for thousands or millions of people. And some of it, of course, is talent. If you think well, write well, speak or sing well, of course that increases the chances that your voice will be heard.
But there are other, less benign reasons that some of us don't get heard. So I want to take a moment to talk about Niki Massey, and about why her voice was so deeply loved by the people who knew it--and yet so unknown in the larger humanist world.
Niki was an exceptional writer. She was relentless, razor-sharp, laser-bright, hilarious. She gave rant like nobody I know: her rants were loaded with beautifully creative invective blended with perceptive, concise analysis that cut straight to the heart of what the hell was wrong with people. And her writing always showed kindness and compassion. It wasn't the quiet, soft-spoken compassion that holds your hand and brings you tea and reassures you that everything's going to be okay. It was the compassion that sees people in pain and flies into a rage at the people causing it; the kind of compassion that reassures you that no, you're not imagining it, things are bloody well not okay.
Niki was also black, female, disabled, and poor. Let's talk about that.
There are thousands of ways that being black, female, disabled, and poor makes it harder for your voice to be heard. A huge part of it is simply time--and money, which is also time. Marginalized people tend to earn less money, which means working longer hours just to get by, which means less time to write, speak, record. The disability system in the United States forces sick people, disabled people, and people in pain, to spend their already limited energy struggling and clawing their way through a Kafkaesque bureaucracy to get the benefits they're entitled to. (And far too often the system forces people to do all this and still ends up shooting them down.) Poor people can't...