Late Monday night, I posted a proposal for moving forward after the discussions that followed the blogger lunch with president Clinton. Then I spent yesterday reading and listening to ongoing discussions in a lot of other places, and began to think that maybe I got ahead of myself; that before many of us can begin turning all of this into something constructive (something I believe we can do), there are some things that need to be said. I don’t know if it will help for me to say them, but as one who bears some responsibility in starting this discussion I’ll take a step and say that despite the sometimes rowdy nature of the discussion, some good things happened that got overshadowed by the nature much needed-discussion that ensued.
I can think of at least two positives. Actually, three: (a) a former president of the United States sat down and talked with a group of bloggers that (b) was very inclusive of women, and (c) that it sparked a discussion about diversity in the progressive blogosphere that’s caused a lot of people to think about what they can do to increase diversity. I think all three of those items point to strengths of the progressive blogosphere that we all share in, and that will carry us forward.
Having said that, there are a few other things that I at least need to say. First, I want to reiterate what I said earlier in my initial follow-up post. I don’t think anyone involved in the meeting — many of whom I’ve met and talked to long before the meeting — is racist, nor do I think that anyone intentionally excluded people of color from the meeting. In the course of discussion I learned that invitations were extended to bloggers of color who were unable to attend. Of course, that was after my initial post. If I’d had that context upon reading the various post-lunch accounts, etc., I probably would have just taken them in and moved on to the next thing.
That brings me to another point, which is that the subject of the discussion probably made the nature of the discussion inevitable. I can’t account for anyone else, but at times my own conduct was less than constructive, and I’m probably not alone in some of that. For example, I had a visceral emotional reaction to what I saw, formed an opinion, and made assumptions without necessarily knowing all the facts or attmpting to find them out. At other times, my choice of words obscured the point I was trying to make, and set off a reaction to those words. Sometimes I misread others’ words, made assumptions about them based on what I felt they were saying, and unfairly labled others with that assumption. And I’m sorry for all of that, though not sorry that the subject itself got discussed.
It was a bit like playing “blind man’s bluff” in a minefield, and I think that’s why people — across the board — usually avoid discussing race and ethnicity. It usually ends up exploding in our faces, as Pam explained in her post this morning.
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.
I know that at times my responses were more emotional than rational, and I’m probably not alone in that either. What I hope, and perhaps I’m being optimistic, is that people don’t retreat to their corners and fail to communicate. The conversations I’ve had online and offline leave me hopeful that won’t be the result. Well, that and the our history on a similar issue. Several people have pointed out that the rather fractious debate that broke out over gender and sexism and while back has yielded progress since. (See the earlier reference to number of women at the blogger lunch.) It wasn’t a whole lot of fun at the time, but a lot of good came of it.
My guess is that people thought more about the issue after it was brought to the forefront, and the results ranged from the forming of BlogHer to the an organic process of inclusion that’s ended up with a marked increase in prominent women bloggers. My hope is that we’ll see similar results with this issue as well, and that it’ll happen in the same organic way; people step out of their comfort zones to seek perspectives on one hand, and people reach out to one another and forge new networks on the other. My experience in the last few days is that’s already happening. In some cases there’s dialogue between people who hadn’t talked before, and in other cases people are discussing issues with one another that they didn’t before.
It happened before, and I think it an happen again. I think that’s one of the real strengths of progressive bloggers. We don’t have to march in lockstep to make progress. We can have a discussion like this — even if it’s not always comfortable or pretty — and end up better off for it. We’ll end up better for having gone through this too, and so will the rest of the country.