Thursday, April 11, 2013

Seeing racism and sexism where it doesn't exist


When I was a young boy, one of my grandfathers taught me how to play chess, but because he lived far away, I couldn't play with him very often.

Later, as an older boy, I discovered that there was a group of people who played chess at my local public library.  They met once every week.  This was a very informal chess club, and it didn't own any chess boards or sets of the pieces that move around on the boards, but many people who came to the weekly meetings had their own chess sets (boards and pieces), and so, many people had an opportunity to play chess with a human opponent when they came to the weekly meetings.

These were friendly games.  Many of the players shook hands with their opponents after a game was finished.  Some players tried to teach strategy to their opponents.  Sometimes, this happened while a game was in progress.  The players who performed this act of kindness still felt the need to be competitive and to play at their best during organized chess tournaments, but when they attended the chess club, they cared so much about the game of chess and about the other players that they wanted to improve the skills of the other players.  These acts of kindness usually resulted in better and more interesting games later between those same two players.

Most of the people who came to the "club meetings" were male.  Did the club have a policy that prohibited women from attending our meetings?  No.  In fact, I doubt that the library would have allowed us to hold our meetings if we had such a policy.  In the absence of any sociological studies about this subject, I believe that most women simply don't like to play chess, and that this is why the club rarely had any women visitors.

The people who came to our club meetings were usually people who lived close to the public library, located a few miles away from a major U.S. city.  Some people might say that the club wasn't very "diversified", but again, the club didn't have any formal membership policies, so anyone who had an interest in the game of chess was welcome to come, even if all they wanted to do was to watch two other people play chess.

Was the club diversified?  Honestly, I don't really care.  There's less diversity in Saudi Arabia, but how many people are complaining loudly enough to make a difference?

From the website of the U.S. Department of State (and their 2005 report on religious freedom in Saudi Arabia):
The country is a monarchy with a legal system based on Islamic law (Shari'a).  Islam is the official religion, and the law requires that all citizens be Muslims.  The Government does not provide legal protection for freedom of religion, and such protection does not exist in practice.

The public practice of non-Muslim religions is prohibited.  The Government recognizes the right of non-Muslims to worship in private; however, it does not always respect this right in practice and does not define this right in law.


Leave chess clubs and other similar organizations alone.  They don't want diversity, and they don't need diversity.  Saudi Arabia does need diversity.  So does Iran, Egypt, Nigeria, and many other countries, too.

Racism and sexism exists now in these countries, but it did not exist in the chess club I attended as a boy, and it does not exist now in many other American organizations.

Look closely at some of the organizations that are accused of being racist and sexist.  You won't find it.



June 2015 update. While researching the reasons for the high male-female ratio among people who play chess, I have seen some people say, in writing, that it is because women "aren't smart enough" to play an intellectual game like chess.  I do not accept this idea.

I believe that men and women have a different psychology.  Male psychology is focused on competition, while female psychology is focused on cooperation.  Chess is a competitive game, so it naturally attracts more men than women.  On the other hand, it requires cooperation to be in a choir, a book-reading group, or to make a quilt.  Those activities attract women.

These links, listed in chronological order, mention research about the male-female ratio in chess.

Scientific American, December 29, 2008 Includes a downloadable 1-minute podcast and the transcript of it.

Phys.Org, January 12, 2009 Mentions a research study done by Oxford University (without mentioning the university by name).

Daily Telegraph (UK) January 27, 2009 Also mentions the research done by Oxford University.

Chess.com A discussion board that began June 3, 2010, but other similar discussions began two years earlier.

National Public Radio, August 15, 2010.  Their headline uses the unfortunate term "gender divide".

PhpBB discussion board topic began March 20, 2011.  This topic was started to compare the few female chess players with the large number of female bridge players.

The Guardian (UK) November 12, 2012 The first five paragraphs are about one expert female player.  Note, good players are called a "master", and the best players are called a "grandmaster".  These titles have to be earned by winning games against other players with certain numbered chess ratings.  The ratings and the titles are assigned by an international chess organization.



April 4, 2016 update.  As I wrote earlier in this essay, there is a lack of diversity in Nigeria, specifically religious diversity.  These are the first three paragraphs of a February 14, 2015 NBC News article.
Boko Haram forces appear poised to attack Maiduguri, a city of 2 million in northeast Nigeria -- meaning that 200,000 Christians could be at risk of slaughter by the Islamist terror group, say U.S. intelligence officials and experts on Nigeria.

"An attack on Madiguri is very likely," said J. Peter Pham, director of the Africa Project at the Atlantic Council, echoing U.S. intelligence officials. Pham believes, as do other experts, that Boko Haram has already placed "sleeper cells" among the tide of refugees who have fled the group's murderous rampage through Africa's most populous nation. "They've done it everywhere else they've gone," said Pham. "So why not Maiduguri?"

One big concern is the large number of Christians in the city -- about 200,000, most of them Roman Catholic. In previous attacks, Boko Haram has offered Nigerian Christians the opportunity to convert or be killed. Already, 200 Christian churches have been lost to the group's onslaught.