Wednesday, July 23, 2008


America's racial divide is most pronounced in housing and education--but it manifests itself in many other areas of everyday life, including, yes, the blogosphere. Amy Alexander has a must-read article in this week's Nation on the marginalization of the black blogosphere, featuring my friend and fellow Philadelphia-based activist Chris Rabb of Afro-Netizen. Chris, the only black blogger credentialed at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, has done more than nearly anyone to create a vibrant community of bloggers of color. But the race barrier remains high. As Chris puts it, "The blogosphere is like the real world in many ways....Some of the same obstacles, challenges and inequalities that exist in the real world exist in the blogosphere, too." Although I have not conducted a thorough study, it's striking to me how few black bloggers show up in the blogrolls of white bloggers and vice versa. And the left blogosphere, which should be the most diverse, seems to be as white as the Republican Party. One of my favorite bloggers, Kathy G, just returned from Netroots Nation in Austin and was surprised by the homogeneity of the event. She calls it "about the whitest left-of-center gathering I've ever attended."

I have only been part of the blogosphere for a few months--though I have had a lot to say about race. But what I have noticed is that even my most provocative posts on racial issues have generated barely any discussion. Why? I can only guess. Maybe it's the demography of my readership, though that's hard to glean from Sitemeter. Is it that my white readers find my discussion of African American politics uninteresting or unimportant? Do they, like most white Americans, subscribe to the "we have overcome" theory of race in modern America? Do Afro-Netizens prefer to spend their time reading black-oriented blogs, rather than eclectic ones like mine? Does the racial segregation of the blogosphere contribute to this? Or does everyone simply agree with me? Maybe I should write something really controversial to test the case. Or not.

My last word for now: racial inequality and injustice is still endemic in the United States. These are issues that affect all of us. Paeans to unity mean nothing if that unity is but a superficial nod to the principle of diversity. It means finding common cause to struggle for equality. And that struggle starts right here with you and me.


Denny said...

I'm not sure how to respond to this post. I started using Google Reader six months ago and have subscribed to a couple of dozen blogs in that time. My usual method of finding a blog is through links from other bloggers or suggestions from Google. Up until now I haven't really thought about the racial makeup of these people, I didn't think it mattered. If they wrote well and had something interesting to say, I read the blog. I am surprised to learn that Afro-Americans are under-represented and really don't have an answer why.

Hesperis said...

One of the difficulties that I have with "discussions about race" as well as "sexism" to be frank, is that they often focus on individual, though often outrageous, instances of its manifestation rather than on systemic inequalities. While I wouldn't say that the former issues are by any means unimportant, nevertheless, they're not my primary interest and I leave the discussion of them to those better qualified.

I've found that you very often link racial inequality to systemic factors such as economic inequality. Since I understand that and agree with it, I just don't have anything to talk about!

And denny, don't search too long for the answer. It's because systemic racism will manifest itself no matter the medium. The blogs that will come to your attention on Google are those that have the most readers.

Tom S said...

Thanks for your comments. Denny: I'm glad you found your way to Rustbelt Intellectual. May thousands more follow your path. Glad I got you thinking about the racial politics of the blogosphere. Hesperis is right that systemic racism manifests itself in all sorts of places, especially where you don't expect it. Your point about the connections between class and race is crucial. Too much of the discussion about inequality in the US focuses on individual belief and attitudes, not nearly enough on the ways that race is inscribed in our politics, markets, and institutions--even in the very geography of the U.S. Given the tidal wave of feel-good anti-racism that is washing over the United States, it's even more imperative to emphasize and reemphasize the ways that racial inequalities are reproduced in taken-for-granted ways in our everyday life. That mission is one of the purposes of my blog--and of much of my scholarship.

Joanna said...

When Pam Spaulding posts on race issues at Pandagon she has trouble getting comments sometimes as well. I think she attributes it to people basically being intimidated, which seems to me to be at least part of the truth. I am white, and I grew up in Louisiana. My parents were anti-racists but one absorbs things from other sources, of course. For a very long time, if you brought up race even in as neutral a way as to mention that more black people live in X neighborhood than in Y neighborhood, I would just about flee the room. I remember how furious I got the first time some people tried to introduce me to the idea that racism is more than just individual behavior.

All I can say as: keep at it. Even if people don't comment on racism posts, it doesn't mean they didn't read them. And it's such important work. Work that I mean to engage in myself, in one way or another, as best I can for the rest of my life, although unfortunately right now that cannot include blogging. I just don't have enough time.

Tom S said...

Thanks, Joanna for your thoughtful response. Glad your involved in the hard work of battling racial inequality--and don't worry about not having the time to blog about it. There are many, many ways to fight the good fight. And blogging is just one (and perhaps) not the most effective of those ways.

kathy said...

I just discovered your blog, and am so relieved to have found it. I am originally from Buffalo (well, actually a working-class town right outside of it) and now live in Philadelphia, and have "rust" in my veins and always will. Your insights into race and class (particularly where we grew up) so closely reflect mine and my life experiences, so I have to go with hesperis who said that there is so much to agree with here, that it's hard to chime in with anything close to being as good as your posts.

PS. I am looking forward to a rustbelt report on Buffalo, if you already haven't done one! Oh, the stories I could tell...

PSS. I do comment occasionally on African American sites, and read them often. Everyone should. The analysis is often far superior and harder-hitting than on white-dominated progressive sites.

Tom S said...

Thanks for the fan mail, Kathy. Buffalo is on my list of future Rustbelt Places of the Week. My last trip there began with a tour of the Darwin Martin house and ended with a freak April snowstorm that trapped me there for an extra day. And you're right about Af-Am sites. Send along links to your favorites.

kathy said...

Dear Tom,

I really appreciate how engaged you are with your commentators. Anyhow, here are a few of my favorite African-American and anti-racist sites and writers, and urge everyone to check them out regularly, if you don't already (no links provided, but if you google, they will come up. Enjoy!):

Black Agenda Report - Very trenchant, radical political analysis, including foreign affairs. I also like their critical eye on Sen. Obama - it will be too way out there for a lot of people, but should give lots of pause to those who are expecting him to be a radical departure from politics-as-usual in Washington and the world.

Racialicious - Feminist, anti-racist site with contributors of all colors. Personal and political all mixed in - very eclectic.

Pam Spaulding (Pam's House Blend) - Great site not just on race issues, but GLBT topics and general wing-nuttery politics in our great country. Posts are very pithy, which is refreshing.

Tim Wise - Best white male on white privilege.

Afro-Netizen - Great all-around news site.

The Angry Black Woman - Love her!

The Root - More mainstream (founded by Henry Louis Gates, I think) and fluffy, but accessible site and some interesting and insightful contributors (although I posted a long rant there in reaction to one of their writer's defense of using the N-word - but the other commentators were very thoughtful on this issue, and less emotional and personal than me.)

Finally, look up some of the writings of the late, great Steve Gilliard (you can find some at Group News Blog). While he wrote on American race and class issues (see his great posts, if you can find them, on the NYC Transit strike), he wrote a brilliant series on colonial warfare, IT, and other issues. I did not always agree with his views on race and class (he believed that class almost always trumped race), but he was one-of-a-kind, and hopefully somebody, somewhere is collecting all his writings to be published in an edited book and widely distributed.

One final thing - I am waiting for your Rustbelt post on Philadelphia, in addition to Buffalo (sorry for the April snowstorm - it is one of things we do best up there!). I love Philly and wouldn't want to live anywhere else (reminds me a lot of Buffalo), but I can't wait to see it come under your empathetic, sensitive but critical gaze like Detroit and Atlantic City.

Tom S said...

Thanks, Kathy. These are great links--some are regulars in my blog travels, others are new. All are worth everyone's frequent visits. I have said a few things about Philly here, but I have so much to say about my adopted hometown that I've been holding back. I promise more! And I'm guessing that my occasional guest blogger Steve Conn, a native Philadelphian, will have more to add.

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