NPR's "The Gatekeepers Are Gone" Does the Online World Match the Real One?
At the 2006 South by Southwest conference (Austin, holla!) I sat on a panel for Blogher on how blogger's online personas' negatively affected their real lives. I talked about my blog and how I thought that because one of my superiors somehow found it and shortly after I was laid off (NOTE: I never discussed my workplace or fellow employees on my blog) might have been a cause to my demise. Another blogger recounted how despite creating a blog anonymously, the administrators at the school where she taught found out about it and she was fired. Both of us were unrepentant in our views, felt that we had essentially done nothing wrong, but did warn others through our personal accounts, that the world is watching.
Identifying yourself online can be dangerous, especially during the last couple of years during the American Presidential campaign. Racial and gender issues are tense, and cowards like most bloggers are (c'mon, admit it) can hide behind our laptops and spout off a bunch of bullshit, knowing that it his highly unlikely that the person we just cussed out is going to travel to our homes and physically attack us. Isn't the World Wide Web such a grreat thing?
In these times of tension, NPR's featured an article by Micah Sifry on the assumptions that many bloggers make that the blogs that they frequent are conceived by people that look like them:
Whites may not realize this, but we often make an unspoken assumption about the people we are reading online, which is that they too are white, or, to put it another way, without color. If you don't think this is true, ask yourself, "How many of the bloggers I read regularly are black?" If you don't know the answer, it's probably because you've been making this unconscious assumption.
Yes, the relative anonymity of the Internet means that if we choose to we can change our identity, giving us a freedom that is not hindered by what we look like, our sexual organs or who we choose to love and sleep with. It is a place that can ultimately unify citizens, showing that despite our socially constructed differences, we all have things in common.
However, there are bloggers who clearly identify by their racial ethnicity, their gender and their sexual orientation. Those who choose so do it because what they write about, whether it be politics, entertainment or social justice issues, decided to write on topics from a perspective that is shaped by their personal experiences.
About the NPR article, besides the main argument that people (white folks, in this case) automatically assume that the blog owners are just like them. In some ways, this can be good, as it forces people to bond (albeit maybe for just a few minutes) on the content, not the person. It is a way that people can bond over ideas and experiences. But on the other hand, just like real life, loyalties can be questioned and people can get ugly.
One of the first examples that come to mind is Rachel's Tavern, run by Rachel Sullivan, a Sociology professor who writes about race, gender and politics. Because she, as a white woman writes about race and racism, she has - from what she has previously written - has received a large amount of hate mail from people who feel that she is a race traitor and a "N#$%er Lover." I have been reading her blog for years and in some ways, Rachel has done a more through job in talking about racism than a lot of blogs written by people of color. Her sociological background leads her to bring in a through analysis and a unique perspective. NOTE: Her blog is not updated - she just had twins a few months ago.
So because there is this assumed thought - which in my opinion is based not just only on sheer laziness and subjectivity but classism and racial stereotypes as there are some that are so wrapped up thinking that people of color do not have the money or intelligence to be online and run a blog - online social divisions that match the divisions in the 'real world' have been created (I moderated a panel at the 2007 SXSW conference on this subject).
Funny thing is, is that even though there are groups of bloggers from various background who write on the same topics, such as Mommybloggers, IT / Social Media and entertainment, there are still divisions based on race, gender and class. After the 2007 Blogher conference, there was talk about why more Mommybloggers of color were left out from getting the lucrative advertising opportunities that white Mommybloggers received. For IT/Social Media folks, there is still a division in the 'white' experts and the POC ones, who are thought not to have the same level of knowledge and expertise. As a rock / metal music journalist, I have rarely come across a blog by other female rock / metal music journos - I know a few - all American - but it would be nice to build a coalition and a refreshing take on the hypermasuline industry.
I asked the question at the 2007 SXSW conference about why 'real life' social and racial divisions have emerged online, a place that was created, in part as a utopian universe where anyone could enter and participate. One response I received was that, "well, humans created the computer, humans created the Internet and websites and blogs. Humans, are, by nature, subjective and bring their personal opinions, and human flaws will, by nature, permeate everything that their hands touch.
Hat tip to Blogher CE Maria Niles for the Heads Up!