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Diversity in the blogosphere 2.0

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Firedoglake's Jane Hamsher appeared on Keith Olbermann's show last night -- Crooks and Liars has the video. They discuss the Bill Clinton "outreach session" with well-known members of blogosphere and the effect of blogs on the midterms and beyond. It's interesting.

BTW, if you're looking for any commentary in the segment on the lack of color at the Clinton Harlem office lunch, you won't find it.

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I'll sign off for now on the lunch brouhaha with some observations (sorry for the long post), a few of which I've made over at other various blogs during the past week but haven't posted here at the coffeehouse (no time, isn't that pathetic?). Bear with me, and feel free to weigh in.

When you step back and put this Clinton/blogger lunch into perspective, the fallout from the discussion over why or how there weren't bloggers of color there turned into a terrible pissing contest overshadowing what could be a productive conversation on race and inclusion on the left.

The valid points made by others about 1) the problem of inclusion and how information about how that lunch invite list was handled, and 2) the fact that the invitees didn't choose to comment in their posts on the lunch about the "white-out" got torched in the flames of very hot follow-up posts (see links to various reactions at the bottom of this entry).

What I have blogged about here many times before is that race is a third rail topic for white folks and POC, particularly in the progressive sphere. Whites are paranoid about discussing it for fear of getting their heads bitten off, POC are defensive because it can get tiring having to point out the obvious -- and then they shut down. The end result is the groups go into their corners and fail to communicate effectively. When an issue does explode publicly, as it did in this case, then it becomes emotional, not rational. This cycle is so predictable (in the real and virtual worlds), and it disappoints me each time.

I understand where Liza's emotion came from when that picture of a "blizzard" was posted -- it seemed like, as it did with the big boys ignoring blogger women, you see the same "oversights" occur over and over. Her approach and the reaction to it will likely result in silence in many corners again -- hands will be wrung, nothing much will happen, and eventually another flame war will ensue. I do hope, however, that I am wrong.

One big problem that spurred the flurry of agony was that the invited bloggers could have asked why there was so little diversity, or help to put the photo into context (by blogging about who was invited but couldn't attend/refused, etc.), but that unfortunately didn't happen. After the fact, I was emailed by one of the attendees that the lack of color at the lunch was discussed among them. The fact that it wasn't mentioned on any of those blogs said a lot, what exactly, I'm not sure. What it did leave was a vacuum that filled with tension and speculation. My two cents at the time was that it reflected either the "race as third rail" problem, or perhaps even more depressing, a collective opinion that discussing it publicly really didn't matter.

As a result of this dust up, subsequent inclusion of minorities at any sessions like this will appear to be tokenism. You can't roll back the clock to stop it from looking reactive rather than proactive. Minority bloggers don't want to be seen as the "chosen one." Been there, done that, for a good part of my life, thank you very much. I've been the "first" or "only" minority in so many professional and personal settings, and carrying the race anvil on one's back to "represent" is tiring.

What will be difficult for people coordinating these events who earnestly seek a diverse invitee list is whether they are inviting for color only, or for a particular informed perspective -- that requires work on their part. For instance -- I'm a citizen blogger who happens to be a middle-class black lesbian living in the South with a decent sized readership. Am I important to the dialogue as a blogger, a POC, a gay woman or all of the above? I'm not connected to any minority or gay advocacy group who may have people much more highly qualified to receive input on particular issues the organizer has interest in (poverty, HIV/AIDS prevention, etc.) than I could ever give input on in an official capacity.

Despite being a POC, I'd bet that a good number of religious black Dems, for instance, would feel that I in no way can speak for them because I'm gay (another issue Dems don't want to address in public). The same might be true of those who work with the urban poor.

What dialogues am I then seen as "qualified" to participate in on a panel or "event", by both the minority groups I inhabit and the dominant culture? Good question. Just having diversity without context may make for a good PR picture, but it may not be as productive as the planner would like.

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Given my nature, I'm not a flamethrower when it comes to race, having been on the receiving end of irrational animus from both white folks and minorities (colorism lives!). I'll never black enough for some (the Acting White syndrome), and I'll certainly never be mistaken for white (though way back when I straightened my hair and I lived in NYC I was often mistaken as Puerto Rican, ha, ha).

In any case, I understand how complicated and frustrating talking about race can be when those shields come up on both sides. That's why I try to make the Blend a place where white folks can ask the questions that usually send minorities into defensive overdrive. If I can wade through Freeperland, I can weather a question about whether I can tan.

What this all reminds me of is the school lunchroom phenomenon. I remember at my HS (Stuyvesant, in NYC), kids of all colors mixed in the classroom, but at lunchtime many would self-segregate by race. Then you had people like me, with a rainbow of geek friends, who served as a multiculti  table.  Why we were different, I don't know.

I guess not much changes when we "grow up" (and I use that term loosely, considering the level of discourse this topic has generated elsewhere).
Chris:
I have seen studies that strongly suggest that even online, people tend to read voices that they feel they can identify with. In other words, women will more frequently read blogs written by other women than will men, Latinos will more frequently read blogs written by other Latinos than will non-Latinos, etc. While it is certainly not the same level of segregation you would see in housing patterns, there is a tendency for people to group together online.
Thus the notion of colorblind blog surfer is a myth; the notion that the progressive blogosphere doesn't have a hierarchy and composition that needs some tinkering to become more representative of the Democratic party is a myth. What it requires is for a person to consciously step out of a comfort zone to seek out different perspectives.

As Terrance said:
Identity and experience inform perspective. Thus, regardless of the issue, having diversity at the table changes the discussion, by expanding the context through the wide and varied experiences of the people at the table. It can't help but do so. The less diverse the participants, the narrower the context of the discussion will be, as well as the possibile solutions discussed.
It's all, however, very complicated to try to remedy.

Terrance has another good one up today on moving forward.

In the end a blog is a personal soapbox, and the Blend reflects my observations based on my experience inhabiting all of those "groups." That, ultimately, is the what I am an "expert" in. What impact my words have on all of you is what makes the words have added value -- or not -- out there in the blogosphere. Your feedback and participation are what I rely on to know where my thoughts fit in along the spectrum of many opinions. I learn, you learn, we all benefit.

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Terrance has followed up with ideas on where things might go from here -- Blogs, Diversity & Moving Forward, A Proposal. He also has another good one up today on moving forward.

Before this is buried for good, here are a variety of posts about this that run the perspective gamut -- that's a real understatement:

La Shawn Barber
Bill Clinton and the White Liberal Bloggers

Chris Bowers (MyDD)
Diversity In The Blogosphere

Kid Oakland
The politics of Peter Daou's invite list

Terrance
Blogging While Brown, Cont'd

Brown Bagging It: The Clinton Blogger Lunch Redux

Steve Gilliard
About meeting Clinton

Elayne Riggs
Wonkdom, Internicene Fallout, Two More (Plus Two More), The Klinton Kerfuffle Kount

Firedoglake
Liza, Liza, Liza

Liza Sabater
CultureKitchen (and here)