Monday, August 06, 2007

Where the White Boys Are

That's pretty much the summary of this Washington Post article by Jose Antonio Vargas, about the lack of diversity at the Yearly Kos conference which has just ended in Chicago. I wasn't able to make the conference this year, but the absence of one snake goddess is not what Vargas bemoans:

It's Sunday, day 4 of Yearly Kos, the major conference for progressive bloggers, and Gina Cooper, the confab's organizer-in-chief, surveys the ballroom of the massive McCormick Place Convention Center. A few hundred remaining conventioneers are having brunch, dining on eggs, bagels and sausage.

Seven of the eight Democratic presidential candidates have paid their respects this weekend, and some 200 members of the credentialed press have filed their stories. A mere curiosity just two years ago, the progressive blogosphere has gone mainstream. But Cooper sees a problem.
"It's mostly white. More male than female," says the former high school math and science teacher turned activist. "It's not very diverse."

There goes the open secret of the netroots, or those who make up the community of the Internet grass-roots movement.

For all the talk about the increasing influence of this growing group -- "We are a community . . . a movement . . . an institution," Cooper said in a speech Saturday night -- what gets scant attention is its demography. While the Huffington Post and Fire Dog Lake, both founded by women, are two of the most widely read blogs, the rock stars are mostly men, and many women bloggers complain of sexism and harassment in the blogosphere.

Walking around McCormick Place during the weekend, it became clear that only a handful of the 1,500 conventioneers -- bloggers, policy experts, party activists -- are African American, Latino or Asian. Of about 100 scheduled panels and workshops, less than a half-dozen dealt directly with women or minority issues.

Sigh. Diversity. You know, I have never really liked that term. It was snuck in at some time in the eighties or nineties to make fairness more palatable to those who don't think there is anything unfair in the good-ole-boy networks. "Diversity" sounds like face paint to me, even though I know that it's not intended that way. And somehow it's a lot easier to ignore demands for diversity than it is to point out that white guys don't always bring up exactly the same issues as black guys or brown guys or gals of all colors or that a grass-root movement of nothing but white guys isn't exactly grass-root. That would be green guys, I guess.

That's not the only reason I'm sighing here. Some of you may have read me long enough to know that the "where are the women?" topic crops up all the time in the blogosphere and I'm tired of writing the same observations each time.

So instead of doing that, let me just summarize: Those who see no problems argue that nobody on the Internet knows if you are a dog (just don't call yourself Spotty), that the system is gender-blind and color-blind and the result therefore either optimal or at least not amenable to any easy change. Those who see problems argue that "birds of a feather fly together", that guy bloggers link to guy bloggers, that certain topics are viewed as important and others as "identity politics" and divisive, and that institutional support is most likely to accrue to those whose views are seen as not being all about "identity politics." Yet for most practical purposes the lives of women and minorities might evolve around the very topics which are labeled as divisive.

Sigh, one more time. What is the solution, then, for increasing diversity at conferences such as the Yearly Kos? Note that the diversity of bloggers themselves is much greater, it seems to me, and even if it is not a real rainbow of views and individuals it is slowly turning towards that direction. The real question the article poses for me is how to get the money and support for all the different types of bloggers to attend these conferences and how to get them on the panels, too. Once there, the bloggers can speak for themselves. This problem seems quite amenable to a financial solution and some logical outreach efforts, don't you think?