Not Quite as White as the Republican Debates, but Still Troubling

Interesting article in the Washington Post today about the lack of diversity in the left-wing blogosphere. Yearly Kos organizer Gina Cooper noted that the crowd at Sunday’s brunch was “mostly white. More male than female… It's not very diverse."

Obviously, this isn’t good—as liberals, we’re committed to diversity and multiculturalism, but it seems that the loudest voices in this community still belong to white guys. And the sad fact of the matter is, often those so-called “progressive” white guys employ a hateful, oppressive rhetoric that they don’t even realize has become second-nature to them. Don’t believe me? Go to a liberal blog and type something about Ann Coulter, and see how long it takes for a so-called progressive to suggest that she’s actually a man in drag or that all she needs is a hard cock up her ass.

Of course, that type of attitude is usually criticized pretty quickly by the larger netroots community—most people who write for left-wing blogs are genuinely reflective and well-intentioned. Still, the question remains—what are we reflective, well-intentioned people to do about the lack of diversity in this community of ours? We like to talk about these online communities as being truly representative of America, but the lack of diversity in our own ranks tends to belie that claim.

Different people are taking different steps to address this problem. Cooper points out that convention organizers are working on outreach. And Paul Delehanty, a white blogger, raised money online to help offset conference expenses for a diversified group of bloggers he called the Chicago 17.

These are, of course, steps in the right direction. But it seems to me that part of the problem has to do with the issues of elitism and privilege that Brian and Mark were talking about yesterday. Perhaps part of the reason why most really active bloggers are white men is because, in our culture, white men still have the most privilege, which means we have the most leisure time, which means we can devote more hours of the day to posting arguments in favor of raising the minimum wage or building public transportation systems.

In general, I think the four people who write for this blog regularly work really hard, but let’s face it—part of the reason this blog has been so busy lately is that three out of four of us aren’t teaching right now, and the one who is teaching has temporarily abandoned the essays he was working on. And none of us are actually putting in 40 hours a week at a coal mine or a saw mill. We blog, in part, because we aren’t so exhausted that we can’t. And we’re not exhausted because we reap the benefits of living lives that afford us a certain amount of privilege—privilege others often don’t have.

Granted, none of us are about to go out and buy a new car—or even a house—right now. We’re not that privileged. But still—compared to lots of other people, we’re all quite fortunate.

A similar phenomenon has traditionally existed in the realm of creative nonfiction. In the past, of course, some marginalized voices captured their own experiences through writing (for example, Frances Burney in the 18th century, or Harriet Jacobs in the 19th century), but those voices were severely outnumbered by the voices of white men who—frankly—had more time on their hands to ponder their lives and deep thoughts. “The personal essay,” Phillip Lopate notes, “for all its protestations of littleness and marginality, in fact leans on the tone of easy, gentlemanly, ‘natural’ authority…” In a world where it’s understood that those with authority possess it “naturally,” those who are marginalized are often left without a voice.

So all this is to say that, it seems to me, the netroots is in the awkward position of trying to encourage broad participation in an effort to change the culture, but we can’t actually achieve that broad participation until after the culture’s been changed. So what do we do in the meantime? Well, obviously, the stuff that Cooper and Delehanty are doing is a step in the right direction. And blogging communities like Pandagon, Feministing, and the Daily Kos are still doing important work; don't misunderstand me-- these people are making things happen are leading the charge to effect positive change in our country, and they deserve our support and respect. But a good thing can still be made better, and it's up to all of us to keep that in mind.

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