DO BLOGS REPRESENT?
danah boyd's prickly robber thread has me thinking about race and gender and all that jazz, especially in the blogosphere. A good place to start is this incredible conversation between Heather Champ and Derek Powazek that I filmed last year at SXSW:
My perception is that SXSW seems whiter, richer, and more male than the blogosphere as a whole. The Perseus Study demographics show 92.4% of blogs are created by people under the age of 30, and 56% are women. The MIT Study only finds 36% women and only 1% African-American.
Looking at SXSW attendees from California, about a third are women. I'd sure wager most are white. Maybe SXSW is representative of the blogosphere after all – if so, that's sad. Do we want to be "scorekeeping"? I think it's important, because blog conferences are where the "movers and shakers" gather, make connections, and shape the future of blog media. There may be a zillion young ladies on Xanga and LiveJournal, but I don't see too many of them at blog conferences. And the only black blogger I saw was George.
So what about race? About.com's Race and blogs is one of the few sources I could find. It points to an Africana.com article, Blogging While (Anti) Black which takes Gawker and Wonkette to task for perpetuating "white hipsters adopting a casual racism."
But AllAboutGeorge.com says: "Bullshit, bullshit and bullshit... The joke's on marginalization, not the marginalized. As for people who feel blogging's a white man's sport? Well, shit, I feel that way sometimes too. But that hasn't kept me away from it for the last three years, nor has it stopped a slew of folks in my circles of friends."
How many people who read my blog are white? I dunno, a lot I suspect. (Speak up!) As I mentioned on danah's thread, between me and my friends and my blogroll – that's a blinding hunka whiteness right there. Until 5 minutes ago I could only name 3 black bloggers: My man Tony Pierce, Oliver Willis, and George.
What exactly is the role of the black blogger? In my mind, the role is as difficult to classify as we are but I believe that the one motivating factor that ties most of us -- if not all of us -- together is a desire to put an end to the notion that cyberspace is colourblind. Regardless of our politics, sexual orientations, and personal motivations, our very presence adds -- if you'll forgive me -- a dash of colour to the normalized "whiteness" that exists online. [...] Yet we've somehow created this rather loosely organized network where we link to (mostly) the same people, and read (mostly) the same weblogs.
Exactly. I have my little outpost here, and it rarely intersects with the "black blogosphere" if there is such a thing. Maybe that's the danger of niches. I'm drawn to people, to personalities and writing. I rarely think about the fact that Tony Pierce is black unless he brings it up. I only think about Min Jung Kim being Korean when she busts out the martial arts. Or you know, how she's hot like that. Same with Rannie. Is "Canadian" a race? Or "sexy"?
Lorika has an awesome idea. After talking with a blog-savvy reporter from a Minnesota black community newspaper, she wants to pitch a story to them about blogs. "We need the internet and the blogosphere to truly be the great equalizer for ALL voices! " Amen to that.
ESSENTIAL READING: (Thanks James)
SXSWBlog 2002 Race/gender/politics discussion
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Last year at SXSW, Heather and I had a conversation we'd had a few times before, about race and gender and geeks and conferences and representation. Et cetera. Except this time, we did it with a camera present. Chuck Olsen... [Read More]
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Tracked on Apr 17, 2004 4:57:19 PM
All righty, for what it's worth...I am an Arab-American whose family is Lebanon (Al Jumhuriyah al Lubnaniyah). But I'm the pale mutant of the lot. I've always looked pretty danged white...and the little man even more so (sorry Grandma, I hooked up with a very white Mr. Wrong instead of a Lebanese Mr. Right).
And as much as I've wanted to attend SXSW, I've never had enough disposable income at the right time to do so.
Posted by: Sharsula at Mar 26, 2004 9:23:34 AM
Bravo Chuck! This is an awesome post. Getting the conversation started,
that's what we need. Now, if we can just get more non-white male bloggers
out there, we'll be all set.
Posted by: Lorika at Mar 26, 2004 10:29:19 AM
Oh, the blogosphere is most certainly not white.
FYI: Other folks of color off the top of my head at SXSW include
Leonard Lin: Randomfoo.com
Wendy aka Dave Thomas http://travelindave.blogspot.com/
Jane Pinckard: www.gamgegirladvance.com
Not to mention Mr. Hot or Not Jim Young.
The ricebowljournals is one of the oldest ethnic based communities
of bloggers online and has one of the richest
and deepest communities for the APA community.
Look at sites like Xanga and Livejournal and you see rich communities of
APA writers. Are these folks engaged in the creation/influence of
next stage scenes/applications of blogging culture? Perhaps not.
However they definitely are a healthy component
of the (yick,hate the term) blogosphere.
Posted by: MJ at Mar 26, 2004 11:21:26 AM
Oh duh. Other peeps:
Anyways, very few folks consider their ethnicity as a primary componento of their identity at SXSW vs what their blog represients as a political blogger, tech blogger, social blogger, personal blogger.
As a personal blogger, my site reflect more of the characteristics predicatedd by my ethnicity than perhaps others encounter.
I write about foblish conversations with my dad or the occasional creepy guy who hits on me because I'm Asain. Tricky questions you've brought up here Chuck.
Posted by: MJ at Mar 26, 2004 11:25:39 AM
Uh, that was supposed to be my family is "from" Lebanon, rather than "is" Lebanon. Sigh. Didn't have enough coffee.
Oh, and two of my fave non-white male bloggers are Ernie of little.yellow.different and James of 42short.
Posted by: Sharsula at Mar 26, 2004 11:40:26 AM
First, I want to point out (thanks danah) that the MIT study doesn't speak for the blogosphere:
This does not qualify as a random sample of the blogger population and, as such, the results from this survey cannot be generalized to the entire blogging community; instead, these results are representative of the state of affairs in certain portions of the blogging world.
I thought the numbers seemed skewed, especially since it also only cites 1% Asian-Americans. I bet Xanga alone would blow that figure.
Posted by: Chuck at Mar 26, 2004 1:56:06 PM
MJ: Yep, I know some of those folks. Certainly some of my favorite blogs and bloggers are not white (Ernie, Anil, Tony). I've stumbled across one or two Xanga journals before, but I haven't heard of ricebowljournals.
Dumb question - is "APA" Asian-Pacific-American?
See, I'm totally ignorant here. Jeff Jarvis talks about swimming in different blog "ponds" - he was referring to Iranian and German blog ponds, but there are also different American blog ponds.
I'm a bit torn between Heather and Derek's positions... I want to see more diversity, or at least more interaction among different diverse groups online. At the same time, I like the fact that when I visit a blog it's because of who they are and what they have to say – I might not even know their race. At the same time, I like it when Anil or Ernie talk about their familes and culture. And of course race is part of who you are.
Yeah, tricky questions. :-)
Posted by: Chuck at Mar 26, 2004 2:13:34 PM
Case in point, Sharyn I had no idea you were Arab-American. Yeah, you're as pale as me. :-) How strongly do you identify with being Arab-American?
My family = Norway and Ireland.
Posted by: Chuck at Mar 26, 2004 2:21:23 PM
Today on "Chuck Exploring the Diversity", ricebowljournals.com. Afghanistan, Cambodia, Hmong... wow.
Posted by: Chuck at Mar 26, 2004 2:41:59 PM
Yes APA = Asian Pacifica American
Posted by: MJ at Mar 26, 2004 2:58:24 PM
Woops Pacific American.
Though Pacifica being a highly filipino area in the bay ... that's also sort of ironically accurate.
Me too. not enough coffee today.
Posted by: MJ at Mar 26, 2004 2:59:15 PM
Chuck, I think I'm even paler than you are. And it is so unfair. I have some gorgeous olive-skinned cousins who are half-Lebanese, half-Mexican, just like Salma Hayek. Sigh.
But, yes, I have always identified very strongly with being Arab-American. Like many immigrant families mine hung on dearly to aspects of the culture, mostly the food (whenever I brought grape leaves to school the other kids would tell me my lunch looked like something their cats had barfed up) and music. I wish Arabic had been passed on, but my grandmother and her siblings used it as their secret language, to make fun of us in. I did pick up on a few choice cuss words though.
Posted by: Sharsula at Mar 26, 2004 3:52:11 PM
I can't say that I've ever thought about the race of a particular blogger or poster- it simply never occurred to me to think it would matter in any way. I prefer to leave it a non-issue...'content of their characters' and so forth....
...It only becomes an issue when the person posting brings it up- and this is true in any case, whether gay or christian or mentally ill. Or white, I guess.
Since you've specifically asked I will specifically answer: I'm a circa-30's white male with relatives of color [AA, Asian and NA- a triple threat!]. But none of that matters, I say.
Posted by: urthshu at Mar 26, 2004 6:12:40 PM
"Ignorant honky" - that is SO gonna me my next tagline!
I hear you, urthshu. I think I've had my fill. But I'm glad we went though this, because I learned a few things about my friends and because I think this needs to be in my documentary in some form.
Posted by: Chuck at Mar 26, 2004 6:48:24 PM
Chuck, good to meet you this year at SXSW.
BTW though by birth I am a native american (or is that american native?), I am Turkish by descent (note the Ç typed as shift-option-C on a Mac or Ç in HTML in my last name).
Posted by: Tantek Çelik at Mar 27, 2004 8:44:19 PM
Çelik. Hey I've never made that character before!
Twas nice meeting you too - how do you pronounce your last name?
Posted by: Chuck at Mar 28, 2004 12:03:16 AM
This was an interesting conversation when we had it on sxswblog.com a couple of years ago. Unfortunately, it looks like the thread has disappeared. Lemme email pb and see if we can resurrect it.
Posted by: James at Mar 30, 2004 3:19:11 PM
Thanks James -- someone else mentioned that thread, I'd sure love to check it out.
Posted by: Chuck at Mar 30, 2004 3:26:25 PM
Ah! Here: http://www.sxswblog.com/archive/comments.asp?id=10993986
Posted by: James at Mar 30, 2004 3:53:06 PM
WOW. What a great thread. I suppose it's good to bring it up again, though. I liked Anil's post:
dunno, I'm gonna step out on a limb here and suggest another reason why inclusivity and diversity weren't discussed: They're boring. *Everyone* there is on the same side.
I had conversations with a number of people about the fact that it is a remarkably white crowd, that it is overwhelmingly skewed towards traditional privilege. But I *do* know the people who make the platforms and tools of personal publishing, and every single one agrees with me: It ought not be this homogenous, and I dont' know how to change it.
The fact of the matter is, the personal publishing realm suffers from a lack of diversity for the same reasons that disadvanted people always lack opportunity and representation. And those issues of class and politics aren't the realm of SXSW.
I think it's heartening that I never perceive the traditional climate of gender-based or racial hostility, and I think the tech industry is more free from traditional biases than any other major industry in our culture.
posted by Anil at 9:51 AM 3/22/2002
Posted by: Chuck at Mar 30, 2004 4:30:27 PM
Wow, James. That thread brought back some memories. It (partially) motivated me to get more involved with the conference. After Hugh's comment about the panels and activities that no one seemed to notice, I went back and looked at my program book and tried to find them. Sure enough, all were mentioned, they were just hard to find. Hence my interest in redesigning the program book for ease of use.
Not everyone uses the book of course, but it stands as the "official" record of the programming and activities for the year. And clarity is always a good idea, right?
I will add one other comment that no one will read since I am so late to this thread. I'm sure there's a far more elegant way to state this, but here goes: it comes pretty naturally to white folks (men in particular) to brag about what they do and to promote themselves and their projects. This is by no means a criticism--I think it's just one of the many cultural differences that factor into the larger issue. There are other cultures throughout america (throughout the world, even) who find such behavior distasteful or boorish.
It is not the goal of sxsw to merely create a environment conducive to self-promotion, it's more about getting a bunch of creators and innovators together to get and keep them inspired. But some potential attendees may opt out of something that seems (from the outside) so ego-driven.
Another issue is diversity of thought. How many conservative bloggers are there now? Right. I'm in no mood to listen to the same old arguments between warbloggers, and I am an annoying lefty myself, but I kinda felt like the MoveOn guys, Joe Trippi and the political bloggers had it a little too easy.
Posted by: ari at Apr 1, 2004 12:59:03 PM
Not that I've counted, but a good majority of my links to other blogs are to non-whites. George and Negrophile have been on my link list almost since I started my blog. Most of my Orkut friends are black. I happen to be white/native am. It's unfortunate and short-sighted, but I do notice that whites who "accuse" blacks of congregating online with mostly other blacks, are guilty of doing the same thing. It's rare to see whites step outside of their comfort zone to explore and interact with non-whites.
Posted by: Deb at Apr 18, 2004 9:25:22 AM
I'm glad you put "accuse" in quotes, because I think it's just observing a tendency - one that probably reflects our real-world interactions.
Posted by: Chuck at Apr 18, 2004 6:46:01 PM