Blog justice and its discontents. George speaks about Danah's purse incident thread, the Austin Chronicle article, and the broader issues of blogs and race.

And now, deep thoughts.

I'm relieved George has given his perspective. I've been hoping he'd join this conversation for many different reasons. Some people of color who commented on Danah's thread were anonymous. I can understand why, but I've been putting myself out on a limb so it's hard to have a conversation that way. I met George at SXSW. He's someone I like and respect, and quite possibly someone I offended. When the Chronicle article was posted I thought, "My God - not only is George offended, but he hates me!" After a quick Orkut exchange and George posting his thoughts, I know that he doesn't hate me but I'm understanding where and why I set him off.

I've been frustrated by many aspects of this experience. It's all about context. Both my commments and George's were out of context in the Chronicle article. Quotes are inherently out of context to some degree, but the comments chosen were more inflammatory and designed to present conflict. Only by reading all of my comments, and George's complete account, can we really start to understand. Online we can get a better context – only if we link to and read the full account(s) from the horse's mouth, so to speak.

The online context is nevertheless problematic. Trying to communicate about an issue so loaded/complicated/sensitive as race is difficult enough in person, among people you feel safe with. Online, you can't tell how I'm saying something. I can't tell how you're reacting, I can't adjust to that reaction. It's a conversation that really should take place in real time, with constant (and often nuanced, often physical) feedback. It's a conversation that requires bodies! And, serious as it is, personality and humour can lubricate the real-world discussion.

Another context is missing online: Our personal histories and reputations. We all have information about ourselves online, but only what we're comfortable sharing publicly and what we think is relevant. Reading some of my comments, you might think "What a racist jerk." Or, frequently, "Most fascinating - when he opens his mouth, poop comes out." That one is true. But racist jerk? That's why Lorika jumps to my defense, because she knows that's not me and she knows people are judging me without the context of who I am.

I'm reluctant to fill in those blanks myself, because we tend to mock white guys that say anything along the lines of "I've got black friends." I will say one thing. My experience working with a youth of color media project was one of the most fulfilling things I've ever done. I met and learned from amazing kids from a wide variety of backgrounds: urban/suburban, rich/poor, different religions and races and cultures. A couple of those kids became lasting friends. It's those conversations - led by brilliant, caring adults I should add - that make me realize how much is lacking in online conversations.

Yet, there's a lot of hope here in the online. It's weaknesses are also strengths. The truth is, if I'm not in a "safe" environment designed to talk about race, I'm not always comfortable talking about it. People say racism in Minnesota is much more covert than in the South, because we maintain this "Minnesota Nice" facade and don't openly talk about touchy issues like race. That's a stereotype but it has some truth. Here on my blog and elsewhere, I can say more than I might ever say in person. That can get me into trouble, but it can also lead to understanding.

That is my hope.

See also:

  • Dru Blood: The Purse incident - Good insights, and a very thoughtful comment from Danah on the race issue. ("Yes, i was very aware of their race, age and dress in recognizing that they probably weren't bloggers...")
  • My previous posts on this topic: Blog Justice on the Web?, Do Blogs Represent?, Networked Crime Fighters

    April 19, 2004 at 03:08 AM in Media, Race in the Blogosphere, Weblogs | Permalink


    TrackBack URL for this entry:

    Listed below are links to weblogs that reference BLOG JUSTICE + RACE + CONTEXT:


    Very thoughtful post honey! I hope you still got some sleep. I'm glad this whole incident is having a positive effect after all.

    Posted by: Lorika at Apr 19, 2004 9:55:49 AM

    I have never met chuck but have been reading his and friends blogs for about 2 years. Calling this man racist is about the most absurd thing I have read yet. Some of the post I have read about this issue are very intellectual, they have all the buzz words from the racism dictionary. I also think some of you are full of It. What part of " I walked In the bathroom and saw one of the black men digging thru the purse". Didn' you understand? This person didn't see a yellow man, or a green man, they saw a black man!!!! It's to bad that the word racism doesn't carry the wieght It once did, Hmmmm, I wonder why?

    Posted by: Scott at Apr 19, 2004 3:27:27 PM

    For the record, I don't think anyone's actually calling me a racist... although I imagine some have thought it.

    Posted by: Chuck at Apr 19, 2004 7:44:27 PM