The Republic of T.

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Blogging While Brown, Cont’d

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Clinton Blogger Lunch

(Update: As Peter Daou, who organized the event, points out in the comments, invitations were issued to POC bloggers like Steve Gilliard and Oliver Willis, who were unable to attend. So the question of an oversight is settled. However, some earlier communication to that would have been helpful, as foresight might have suggested there might at least be some questions about appearances.)

Wow It looks like I started something. (Thanks to Pam and PageOneQ for the initial linkage, and to Liz for turning up the volume, BTW.) Well, good. I hope it at least facilitates discussion, and the posts I’ve seen thus far suggest that it has. And Micha is right, my “write your own caption” post was a gentle way of trying to goad folks to ask “What’s wrong with this picture?” and underscore that no one appeared to ask that question in the first place.

The approach was gentle because my experience is that when it comes to race, well, there are still some landmines one wants to avoid if possible. I don’t, for example, think any of the bloggers involved the meeting — many of whom I’ve met and spoken with previously — are racist or intended to exclude anyone on that basis. But the whole thing underscores something that I think progressives in general, and progressive bloggers in this case, need to keep in mind. It’s something I wrote last year on blogging while brown, and while I posted it as a comment in the previous post, I wanted to re-post it for consideration here in an extended form.

Of course, everyone’s talking about the “top level” of the lefty blogosphere (is there a better word we can use here?), and I’m far enough removed—a coupla solar systems over—from the center of that universe that much of that debate doesn’t really much apply to me. It may be one of the blessings of not being quite “top tier.” There are some conflicts that I don’t get drawn into, because the reverberations don’t quite filter down to my level. There are some things you can see and hear as an observer on the periphery that are much easier to miss when you’re near or in the eye of the storm.

How does race affect my blogging? Well, first of all, it’s not just race. It’s economics, gender, education, and a whole host of other factors that come into play to even make it possible for me to “be bloggin’.” Technology isn’t necessarily the great equalizer. To use it it, you have to know about it, and understand enough about how it works. You have to be able to afford it. While computer price are going down, they aren’t in everyone’s reach. You have to have the leisure time to spend just reading blogs/news and writing blog posts. Unlikely if your one of millions working more than one job to stay afloat, etc. And it helps if cultural assumptions support the idea that (a) you have something to say, (b) that it’s worth saying, and (c) that people will listen if you say it.

I’ll say it again, when it comes to blogging, identity and everything that goes with it—race, gender, orientation, economics, education, etc.—affects what you look at and filters what you see. To extend what Stirling was getting at, how you identify not only affects how you see other people, but whether you see them at all. Chances are the first people you’ll “see”—those first blips on your radar, the people you’ll automatically pay attention to—will be those with whom you share some element of identity. It’s inevitable. That is, unless you make a conscious effort to do otherwise.

My hope is that pointing out the obvious questions that arise from the meeting will prompt people to do otherwise next time around. And it appears to have worked. Micha mentions an email from Peter Daou, who organized the meeting and works for Hillary, which says there will be more meetings and an opportunity to invite bloggers who didn’t attend the first one. If that’s true, it’s a step in the right direction, though it doesn’t answer why no one appears to have thought about the first time, and raises the question of whether another meeting was planned all along or is a response to the questions the first one raised. In the latter case, even if that’s true, it’s still a step in the right direction.

And, for the record, I’ll add again that I do not in the least expect to find myself lunching with either of the Clintons anytime soon. The initial snark of my first post aside, that wasn’t the point of the post that followed. Micha makes a good point that the bloggers at the initial meeting represent a lot of traffic. No matter how much anyone like to go on about the “democratizing” effect of blogging, it is — like any other form of media — a numbers game. Those with bigger numbers, in traffic and/or inbound links in this case, have more influence, if only because they can reach more people more immediately than others.

It’s pretty clear that the guest list was probably culled from the top 100 progressive bloggers; that is, those with the most traffic and/or inbound links, as indicated in the ecosystem or the progressive blog report. Perhaps with some decisions also made based on poltics. Thus, I don’t think my traffic or number of inbound links rate inclusion on that guest list. In the case of this meeting, it was the meeting of between the top tier of political blogging and the top tier of Democratic politics. Micha actually puts it better than I can.

The blogs represented at the meeting included DailyKos, MyDD, AmericaBlog , FireDogLake, Eschaton, Liberal Oasis, Seeing the Forest, the Carpetbagger Report, Mahablog, Feministing, and TalkLeft. That’s a pretty high-traffic list. As you can see from reading their posts, most of them were pretty awed by the event. Power is seductive.

… At the same time, the white political bloggers Clinton did meet with are much closer to the grass-roots than they are to America’s elite (and who can deny them their moment of feeling anointed, especially if they continue to be as independent and ornery as before?). The very fact that they have large and loyal readerships who they interact with on a daily basis keeps them plugged into the ideas and sentiments of ordinary folks far more than, say, some group of Beltway consultants.

Granted. On any given day, any one of those bloggers can reach more people with than any one blogger positioned further down the long tail. I’d just add that there are lot more perspectives further down the long tail of the blogosphere than are heard in the more highly-trafficked sphere; in places where deeper conversations are possible because the threads of discussion don’t get lost in hundreds of comments.

I will add one more caveat, though. Influence is power and, yes, power is seductive. But, and particularly in progressive circles, it ought to come with some responsibility. Perhaps one of those responsibilities is or should be to bring people to the table who might not otherwise be included based on sheer numbers in terms of traffic, links, etc., in order to make sure that other voices are a part of the conversation. I don’t know what was talked about during the meeting, but perhaps there were perspectives or entire issues that, say, a Steve Gilliard or Liz Sabater might have been able to offer based on their experiences that just couldn’t come from someone else.

Or, there’s Chris Rabb’s take.

There are the white liberals who tacitly believe that they can represent the set of wide-ranging diverse progressive constituencies all by themselves, and then there is the much smaller, far less visible and tragically less influential group of white progressives who are as critical of the white domination as those of us progressives of color who see that “there’s nothing new under the sun”.

… If there’s an organizational will AND intentionality to foster/create/grow into meaningfully diverse groups/coalitions/campaigns, then it will happen. If there’s not conscious, consistent and candid dialogue around issues of race, class, gender, etc. in the conceptual and planning stages and the resources and strategies to act on what comes out of such sensitive, but indispensible exchanges, then we will continue to see the all-too-preventable trainwrecks that conservatives love to smugly point out

If nothing else, perhaps it speaks to the need for a better metric on which to base success and inclusion than sheer numbers. But it definitely points out the need to, as I said above, making a conscious effort to look beyond the “usual suspects,” to be aware of an absence of diversity before it’s as obvious as a picture posted on a blog, and to make an effort to do it differently.

Series NavigationBrown Bagging It: The Clinton Blogger Lunch Redux

27 Comments

  1. Terrance – this is indeed an important conversation and as you know, on the Daou Report I’ve consistently tried to champion a diverse group of bloggers (including virtually all of those involved in this discussion).

    With respect, you still omitted a key point that I explained to Liza, Pam, and Micah, namely that I invited several bloggers who weren’t able to attend, including Oliver Willis. So the assertion that there was an oversight for this meeting is incorrect.

    This was the first of several such gatherings and there were many bloggers whose work I admire who couldn’t attend because of space limitations. The idea was to have some of those bloggers attend future events.

    Peter

  2. I’m glad you started it.. someone needed to. People really need to learn to think about this stuff, although I can’t imagine why they are not, after all this time. I understand what Daou is saying about the unaccepted invitations, but as I posted on another blog… well, I’ll just repost here (slightly edited) to save typing:

    Definitely a mistake, this. I rolled my eyes at all the star gushing posts, but once I saw the photos the first thing I noticed was that there were no black bloggers there.

    It probably wouldn’t be that big a deal, if it was just a one off thing, but I think -. for bloggers of color especially, many of whom may have had greater expectations of cross cultural participation and inclusion online than is usually found offline among white liberal groups – that this is just the last (and maybe the topping, considering the Clinton factor) in a rather growing line of exclusion. I know, I know… they invited at least one black person, Willis, but he couldn’t make it. Next time.

    Of course, it’s never intentional or anything… that’s just how things shake out, you see. Yearlykos, billed as the biggest and most organized political blogger convention – that was unable to find even one black speaker or panelist (”we did invite a few, they couldn’t make it – we’ll have some next time.”). (I don’t know if they found one before actual convention time or not.) And intentional communities such as Huff Post and TPMcafe (as eteraz mentioned in a post not too long back, re huffpost), whose crews are, to all intents and purposes, quite pale.

    I don’t think these people are racist or anything… most will go to bat for issues related to minority communities and so on… I just think that it’s unfortunate that, in this day and age, people who are considered (and consider themselves) smart political activists can look around at yet another intentionally built liberal meeting/community, see no visible minorities at all, and still think… “yeah, this is good. this will do.”

    After Katrina, “Yeah, we know you’re there… we’ll get to you one day” is probably not a winning message to send to non-white political activists (and/or voters).

    I agree that while traffic and reach and long tails and all that should be of some consideration, this is just too late in the game for there not to be great effort made to be as inclusive as possible.

  3. I don’t, for example, think any of the bloggers involved the meeting — many of whom I’ve met and spoken with previously — are racist

    Yes, well… I wouldn’t bet the farm on that one. Fire Dog Lake has an absolutely vile post up attacking Liza for being so uppity as to criticize hampsher… or, as the author of the post (trex) put it, “assailing” her “betters”.

    This makes me mad. (I did leave a comment there, but it was deleted immediately.)

  4. Well, they *think* they’re not racist because, well, only people like George “Nooses R Us” Allen are racists, right? Even if they’re center-moderates who feel uncomfortable about Affirmative Action and kindasorta agree with the Bell Curve premise and really do clutch their purses cross to the other side of the street or really really really want to when they see someone darker than themselves on the sidewalk – oh no, they’re not *racist*, how dare you say it!?!

    Even if it never occurred to them to notice that, frex, on TV the ratio and roles for minorities are really wretched, or that “the brother always dies,” or that this might be a sign of a deeper and wider societal problem – how dare you suggest that they’ve got a problem? You’re just being too sensitive!!1! (same thing if you comment on institutionalized sexism.)

  5. Many things are “not intended.” That’s what happens when you institutionalize a vantage point, right? Individual instances no longer need to be “intentional.” They are now “default.”

    It reminds me of a post I made just the other day where I exclaimed to myself, suddenly, that in the end, most people don’t intend the harmful effects/system of racism that lives on and on and on….people are just doing the things they think best…and that is the scariest part about it. We all mean so well, don’t we?

  6. The FDL post, if you ask me, may be one of the most valuable things to come out of this. Experience has taught me to value and pay attention to those moments when the mask slips and (as Oprah says) people show you who they really are.

  7. Terrance, I agree with you about the FDL gang showing who they really are. I was incensed when I read that post, but as I wrote to T-Rex I wasn’t surprised by the attack. While engaging he and Jane, I had to exercise unbelievable restraint because I knew they would have deleted my posts if I had said what I really wanted to say about the unseemliness of a high profile white blog making a black woman a public target of derision. I’m done with FDL.

  8. Definitely, Terrance. I much prefer knowing who is who as well. Whether it’s the author of the original post or the comments on it.

    Sonya, I saw you in that thread… weren’t you the one that Hamsher accused of “sowing dissent”? That was the most amazing (and informative) exchange. You held your own tho, even under the constraints of “no dissent, cuz that’s trolling” and all that.

  9. Nanette, yeah that was me. Wasn’t it something to see how she actively encourages sycophancy?

  10. Sonya yes… although apparently they call it “everyone getting along” or something like that. Pacha(whatever) was trying to justify it in the Gilliard thread. As long as you don’t make waves.

    I was telling someone or other somewhere that that particular thread sort of reminded me of a Young Republicans convention or something, considering the subject matter and the suppression (and absolute derision for) any sort of disagreement, lol.

  11. Hello folks,

    First-time poster here. Yes, the race-war brought me here. And it’s a positive development, because I’ve just been reading through this blog and really like it — especially as a fellow practitioner of engaged dharma.

    Sonya, I saw your comments in the vile thread at FDL. Thanks for taking the time to write what you did — not that it was well-received. Jane and her TRex-led groupies get irrational when in scorched-earth attack-all-critics drama-bitch mode. As you note, it was something to see that “sowing dissent” was equated with “lobbing grenades”. Wow. Some discussion.

    Actually I’ve written a post (sorry about the “blogwhoring”, it’s just honestly the easiest way for me to share my thoughts) about this whole brouhaha entitled “The Color Line and the Perceptual Gulf”; not definitive or final or anything, just one take. Here’s the opening:

    The latest flare-up between Culture Kitchen and Firedoglake, despite being a sad display of destructive angst, nevertheless says something real about the state of “race relations” in America today. At the very least, it demonstrates to me that the perceptual gulf between white liberals and progressive people of color is vast, profound, and at times seemingly intractable, stuck in a self-perpetuating loop of cascading errors.

    Here’s what I can make out, in the most generalized but hopefully clear terms (obviously, not all white liberals see things in similar terms and I certainly don’t speak for all people of color with this “POC perception” device, it’s just my way of explaining my view of constrasting perspectives):

    Fact: The first Bill Clinton-blogger meeting was overwhelmingly attended by white bloggers.
    White perception: An unfortunate coincidence.
    POC perception: Hundreds of years of history and our own life experiences have taught us that racism often works its nefarious magic through seemingly benign cultural norms and all manner of fork-tongued mechanisms that lead to consistently one-sided representation and results.

    Peace.

  12. Terence

    Just as people of colour are often “overlooked”, it gets worse when the discussion turns towards disability.

    How often do people consider the needs of the Deaf and the Hearing Impaired?

    It’s too big a topic for me to raise/ discuss here, and I don’t mean to detract from the importance of the points you raise, but for me, all questions of colour, gender, sexuality, race etc pale into significance when the issue of my deafness raises its head….

    Not only do I feel alienated from the main culture, but also the various minority cultures…. I belong to.. Gay, Lebanese……………

    It’s a bit like standing on the outside looking in.

  13. Also, if Daou is reading here, I want a clarification on whether or not he really did invite Gilliard, or just didn’t bother because he *assumed* Gilliard wouldn’t come, which was the original statement.

    It doesn’t matter if someone would have chosen not to, if you don’t give them the chance to refuse you’ve excluded them. I’ve had that done to me by people who “just assumed I wouldn’t want to go out with the gang” and sometimes they were right – and sometimes they weren’t. But it was always hurtful and made it clear to me that they didn’t want me around.

  14. Tony, there were some interesting discussions of that at Echidne’s not too long back, and how the entitled, scattering-largess-to-the-little-people mentality of Jerry Lewis and his followers was just as much a clueless, privileged, using of people as anything the explicitly-anti-disabled-rights conservatives have been doing the past 30 years.

    On the one hand you have people who are just *outraged* that anyone with problems should get any kind of help, all these wingnut welfare cases with their faux-self-reliance, concocting what-if fantasies whereby it’s better to not put in ramps and so on because it will magically make people kinder and more caring like that Town Hall syndicated column a while back about how in the Good Old Days it didn’t matter if the wheelchair-bound couldn’t get into the town library, because the kindly librarian would just bring their books to the curb – so browsing a public collection is a privilege, not a right! – on the other hand you get the “benevolent” who say “you’re going to take what help WE choose to give you, the help that makes US feel good about ourselves, because that’s what it’s really all about, you’re just extras in OUR story, and if you don’t like it, fuck off.”

    …which brings me to…

    Sonya, shades of Americablog, eh?

  15. I posted this somewhere else, but I figured I would post it here to. I feel as if we need to do something. I stumbled across the controversy regarding the lack of bloggers of color in a picture with Bill Clinton. I actually discovered it on MyDD. I eventually ended up over at FDL. I was a tad bit shocked. I don’t have a regular blog, but I read blogs all day, all the time. I eventually ended up at a page about the Brown Blog Series in New York and a letter to Main Stream Media.

    Have you ever considered hosting a counter convention in Vegas during Yearly Kos. The media will already be there and the panels could reflect interests/issues affecting brown bloggers. I think is would definately get more traffic to sites and probably some MSM coverage and also make them think twice about the lack of diversity.

    I volunteer to help. I’m not a blogger, but I’ve planned family reunions. It can’t be that hard.

  16. bellatrys, it was like deja vu all over again. I haven’t missed Americablog since I deleted it from my bookmarks.

  17. nice post, terrance. it was a pleasure to read and a nice contrast to the defensive vitrol at FDL these past few days. i hope to find the time to return again in the future.

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  21. Well Sonya and all,

    You’re more than welcomed to come to culturekitchen. You can post articles, open a forums, organize events. Just knock yourself out.

  22. Terrance,

    Just to be on the record here, I wish I had the restraint and level headedness you have shown. Thanks so much.

    Now, about that comment you left at CK asking if it wasn’t time for us to do things separately, talk to me! I’m all ears.

  23. I gave much more than my two cents worth; it was more like 12 cents worth. I’m sorry for all the mess this has caused. I had a feeling that my words would be taken the wrong way. (‘Must remember to be clear-headed before posting anything about race/ethnic relations). I was talking (typing) off the top of my head… And I was going to ask Terrance to delete some of the comments.

    I do sound racist… I am to a point. I believe that most people are in the United States. We grow up with racial constructs in our minds and label each other according to these racial constructs (e.g. la raza, whites, blacks, yellow people, etc.). You hear it in our discourse all the time–our daily discourse. (Everyone’s pulling out the race card!) In reality, there is just one human race. Science has yet to prove that there are 4 races…

    What can I say without writing an entire paper?? I’ll just update my paper and publish it as soon as possible, grammatical errors and all. Maybe then, you’ll understand what I mean by “racial constructs”, “ideal types”, and the “institution of whiteness”. I’ll publish it on my blog–a blog–as soon as possible.

    I’m sorry that my words offended some progressive bloggers and of the sordid discussions that resulted… I played a role in it.

    C. Aguilar

  24. Sonya, you’d think that someone who belongs to a really small minority would think twice about alienating allies and telling them that their problems aren’t equal – or, explicitly, that a white gay bourgeois guy would hesitate before telling the non-white, non-male blogosphere to go to hell. The Venn diagram is not in his favor, and if he thinks that the help of people who *aren’t like him* is unnecessary for *his* equal right struggle, then he might as well have stayed a Log Cabiner for all the “reality-based”-ness that he’s achieved.

    –I think we’re also seeing something of what there was a post about on Alas, A Blog a whileback, something about how not to go insane when someone points out that you’re being racist – I mean, we’re seeing the going-insane part. (Personally, I wouldn’t *be* a white liberal feminist the way that I am if it weren’t for the consciousness-raising effect of having read a bunch black film/tv critics, in no small part, and the permission to question the assumptions and base-level portrayals of The Way The World Is from them…and why I had to be content with the crumbs and the second-class citizenship, anyway? Why I should be embarrassed and self-deprecatory and effacing and ignoring of slights to me as a woman, any more than blacks or Asians or Latinos *ought* to pretend it was All Okay. You can’t *grow* without being made uncomfortable, in body *or* mind.)

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