1. Bloggers and blog commenters everywhere: Before you hit that submit button, consider that whatever you're saying can end up in print, out of context, without your permission.

2. Journalists, j-students and j-schools: ASK FOR PERMISSION WHEN YOU QUOTE A BLOG! Your profession is going to have to get along with bloggers, and vice-versa.

3. It doesn't matter what you think, because Michael Jackson's lawyer has the final word.

4. Wait - I have the final word. I'm making a documentary, muthafuckaz!

April 20, 2004 at 05:18 PM in Media, Race in the Blogosphere, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack


Guess what. Courtney from the Austin Chronicle did email me questions about the article! Her initial email was sent to my published email address, which I can't respond to at work. I replied from work and said "Yes, you can ask me questions." Apparently, her reply to that email (just my work address) was sucked into the junk mail filter along with hundreds of other actual junk emails. Oops - sorry!

However, I still wish she'd followed up or emailed my published email address before publishing my comments.

Just for fun, here are her questions and my quick responses.

Date: Fri, 9 Apr 2004 22:00:19 -0700 (PDT)
From: courtney ryan fitzgerald
To: Chuck Olsen
Subject: Re: danah

Hi, Chuck.

Here are some questions. Thanks so much for answering

1. You were the one who took the pictures at the party? Why did you take pictures of these guys, if it was so obvious that they didn't belong there? Were you getting along with them?

Yes. Because I was taking pictures of everyone and having fun, and I was fairly intoxicated. I didn't talk to them much, but I did help one guy open a bottle of wine. Party co-host John Barlow said they were rappers performing at SXSW.

2. How could you tell these guys didn't belong when they arrived at the party?

Any party crashers would be obvious this late in the party, especially among a small group of bloggers who mostly knew each other. It was they way they looked (yes, partly because they were black, partly the way there were dressed, the dazed/tentative looks on their faces.) and behaved (like they were out of place and didn't know anybody.)

3. Why was it obvious to you that these were the perps?

I never said that. I didn't even know a crime had been committed until Danah emailed and said "CHUCK! You posted pictures of the guys that took my purse!"

4. Why do you think bloggers are a tight-knit mostly white mostly affluent bunch?

Blogging started in the tech sector, so it probably has something to do with that. My statement applies particularly to SXSW, which I don't think is as diverse as the blogosphere in general. There aren't definitive demographics of the blogosphere, so it's hard to say.

5. You're from Minnesota? Why were you at SXSW?

I'm an active blogger, and I'm producing a documentary about blogs called 'Blogumentary.'

6. You say you felt ashamed for your initial racist reaction to those guys. So you would call it racist? Why do you feel you reacted that way?

Yes. My initial reaction - we're talking a few seconds time - was to the appearance of these guys. As I mentioned above, this was a combination of their skin color, their dress, their manner. I think that a momentary reaction to skin color is racist, just like the reaction to what they're wearing or mannersisms is classist. I felt more aware of my reaction because it quickly changed and I was pouring them a drink - so I felt guilty for that initial reaction.

7. Why do you think danah's story about her stolen purse is so newsworthy? Purses get stolen every day. What makes this story juicier than the average one about petty thievery?

I'm not sure it is newsworthy. It's different because bloggers document their lives and take lots of pictures, something that is happening more in general due to camera phones. It would be more newsworthy if they were caught becuase of her blog post - 'networked crimefighting.'

8. Do you know how I can get in touch with George?

You already have. :-)

April 19, 2004 at 10:01 PM in Media, Race in the Blogosphere, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack


Here is the Austin Chronicle's response to my complaint about their "blog justice" article:

Dear Chuck Olsen,

In terms of quoting from a blog thread, as long as it is comentary I think there are no great legal or ethical considerations. A blog is posted for public consumption, it is not a private or privileged communication, so quoting from it probably violates neither law or ethics. Essentially it is like offering a short quote from any published material.

Do you agree? I do not, entirely. This was not an essay I published, it was a heated conversation.

We will post the link to the blog as you requested for those who want to read more for themselves.

This is very good news. It's not linked yet, although I still have to reply to the email.

Having skimmed the thread, I think much of the discussion a little over the top, the accusation of racism coming before any questioning as to why and how certain conclusions were arrived at, the discussion over the meaning of robbery (yes, this was legally not a robbery but theft) etc. That said, I think your claim that the writer misrepresented your position is extremely over-stated. You made it clear that your hesitation over this group was not because they were strangers, unfamiliar or looked like they didn't fit in but because of their race. In the blog thread, when you further elaborated, you made it very clear that the issue to you is race, that there are, as far as you know, very few African-American bloggers and so what alerted you most was not familiarity, attitude, a "sixth sense," or experience but race. Again, I think the whole blog-thread discussion is overblown and exaggerated but I think the quotes fairly represent your position as you stated it.

I agree that the discussion was over the top. The charge of racism was brought up, and that became the main topic. However, my comments did not focus exclusively on race:

CHUCK: "So they set off an alarm in my head - I was wary of them. I'm *always* wary of party crashers, of any color. I don't generally let guys off the street into my house."

An anonymous poster took offense at my post:
"I don't see how race has to be a factor, Chuck Olsen. People of all races steal. People of all races blog. "

That's why, when I further elaborated, I had to respond to this false notion that we live in a perfect colorblind world. Although here again, I did not focus exclusively on race:

CHUCK: "How would *you* react? We all have race, sex, and class prejudices to some extent. Let's be honest about that.

(I think the short answer is - whatever they look like, unless they were friends of somebody there, my inclination would be to ask them to leave. [...])"

As someone who also regularly publishes my opinion I enjoy the opportunity to express myself without ever lossing awareness that my words may come back at me in ways I hadn't considered.

Louis Black
Editor, Austin Chronicle

OK, but you're the editor of a newspaper! When you publish your opinion as a writer or editor, you do it for publication. When I comment on a blog post, I'm particating in a conversation. I'm not writing an article or editorial for publication. True, blogs are public in that they exist to be read. But there are differences between writing something for publication, a blog post, a blog comment, overhearing a conversation on the street, and so on. Context.

April 19, 2004 at 07:27 PM in Media, Race in the Blogosphere, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (12) | TrackBack


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 | Comments (3) | TrackBack