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Blogging While Brown, Part III

It’s probably not great form to follow one blogging meta post with another but, like Kos (probably one of the few things we have in common), I love meta. I can get lost in it sometimes, and forget that not everyone else finds it as interesting as I do. But in this case, I think some people might be interested. Plus it makes a good follow up to the previous post, in terms of contact.

But it does mean dipping a toe back into the waters of the debate around blogs and diversity. And even though I’ve written about blogging while brown before, I was a little reluctant to do so again. The last time I “went there,” the water turned out to be hotter than I expected. It only got hotter, and several people ended up getting a little scalded. In the end I wanted nothing more than to get out of the debate. But some debates you can’t escape, particularly when the have their roots in a larger one. Turns out, I didn’t so much dip a toe into that water as I was born into it, and just wandered into the middle of a “hot spot.”

A few posts I’ve noticed recently, though, enticed me to wander back into those waters. Either I don’t know any better or I just can’t help it.

A while ago, African American Political Pundit mused about how many advertising dollars African American bloggers will see from political campaigns this election season.

AAPundit wonders if Black Political blog sites may be the new ?ripe fruit? for political advertising. Black Political bloggers now reach hundreds of thousands of black folks who are clearly interested in politics, and whose political leanings can also be readily surmised. ?This is a new campfire to gather around.?

Now in 2007, there are dozens of such black political bloggers, each offering its own African American observation, and equally partisan, take on the nation?s politics. A number of black political bloggers have attracted a somewhat sizable followings. As the 2008 campaign ramps up, more black voters will be reading these black bloggers views and opinions. There are Progressive and somewhat left leaning black political bloggers such Jack and Jill Politics, Afro-Netizen,Black Commentator, Black Agenda Report Blog, Black Races, BlackProf, BrownFemiPower, black electorate, Field Negro,, Mirror on America, Negro Please, NegroPhile, Oliver Willis, Prometheus 6, Republic of T, Skeptical Brotha,Steve Gilliard?s News Blog,Terrence Says,Where Is The Outrage?,Francis Holland, African-American Political Pundit, and don?t forget the Angry Indian – Voice of a Native Son, (check out his blog) who is a brotha too. Provide something that the white group Netroots don?t seem to connect with; black bloggers, black readers and black voters.

? Let?s see if leading presidential candidates, including Edwards, Hillary and Obama buy advertising on black progressive and moderate political web blogs. Or will they miss out on new ?ripe fruit? of political blog advertising and just advertise with the other side of the blogsphere?

Now, I can’t speak for any other other bloggers mentioned above, but the Clinton and Edwards campaigns have purchased ads on this site. But that probably has more to do with my being on the Liberal Blog Adversiting Network and thus getting pick-up anytime someone purchases an ad on the entire network, than it does either campaign being particularly interested in this blog or the stuff I blog about.

If I weren’t on that network, I doubt they’d be interested because they’re targeting the audiences of political bloggers, and want the biggest bang for their bucks. As an article posted at Mirror on America points out, there are few of us in the top tier of political blogging.

“As bloggers of color, we are such a smaller number of people than our white counterparts. That makes reaching the volume of traffic much harder, and the lack of social and financial capital also makes this harder,” [Chris] Rabb said.

People of color make up 40 percent of bloggers, but only 26 percent of Internet users. According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project’s “Blogger” report, which was based on findings from their February through April 2006 tracking surveys, 11 percent of bloggers are Black, 19 percent are English-speaking Hispanic and 10 percent are some other race or ethnicity.

There are no bloggers of color with the kind of exposure and influence of superstars Matt Stoller of or Duncan Black of atrios.blogspot. The result, according to Rabb, has been a typical white liberal/left dialogue in the political blogosphere.

They won’t talk about the racial element of anything that’s been deracialized by mainstream media. They’re not going to talk about affirmative action, about the racial element of the immigration issue,” Rabb said. “Whenever issues of race come up, it’s seen as a distraction.”

(Ed Note: There is, of course, Markos, who is a blogger of color.)

If past experience is any indication, Rabb (of AfroNetizen) is right on target, especially in the realm of political blogs. Part of the problem is small numbers. The same report referenced in the article above indicates that only about 11% of bloggers focus on politics. Of the 71.1 million blogs tracked by Technorati alone that would be about 7,821,000. And that’s probably too large. Narrowing it down to just the number of blogs in Technorati’s directory of political blogs yields a more reasonable 42,895 political blogs.

If those 42, 895 poltiical blogs, follow general updating patterns, then only about 10.2% of them are updated at least once a week. That’s 4,375 political blogs that are updated often enough to sustain regular readerships. If only those blogs follow the same pattern of diversity of blogs in general then only 11% of them, or about 481, are written by African American bloggers. That number is probably too big also. Only about 303 blogs come up in a directory search of black politics, and only 130 under African American politics. If you want to break it down to just those of us who are specifically electorally-focused, well you might be able to count us on your fingers. Maybe take one shoe off just for insurance.

That’s only part of the double whammy. African American political bloggers, as Rabb points out, automatically end up addressing topics and issues that even a lot of progressives would rather not talk about. The response ranges from ignoring uncomfortable issues, to nervously sidestepping them, all the way to outright hostility when they’re brought up.

For bloggers of color who reveal their racial identity and whose blogs tackle race and cultural politics, this has meant contending with hate mail.

Kortney Ryan Ziegler, 25, shut down her blog, Blac(k)ademic, because of the onslaught of negative comments she received last summer. Ziegler, who lives in Chicago and is pursuing her PhD at Northwestern University, blogged under her alter ego, Nubian, about the racism, sexism and homophobia she experiences and observes in her life and in the media.

“I just think people really don’t want to hear the truth They instead attack you on your character, your writing style, and not your argument. They distract from what you just said by saying you can’t spell, or that you should have put a comma there,” said Ziegler.

There have also been hateful comments when she posted about her frustrations with being asked by a white grad student whether her Black skin tone attracted heat. Then, Ziegler reached her breaking point. She did an interview with discussing her experiences of “Blogging While Black.” As a result of the interview, she was accused of believing that race trumps gender, and mistaking “plain assholishness for racism.”

We write about what we’re passionate about, and that often means writing about issues that (whether or not they should) not only don’t interest or attract huge numbers of readers, but that make many people so uncomfortable that they’d rather not have to address them at all.

And there’s even a “triple whammy” for African American political bloggers. Because you also open yourself up to attack by other African Americans for being “not black enough” in your politics, your choice of topics, or even your personal life. Blogging about politics from a particularly black perspective isn’t “safe” unless you steer clear of certain issues, but it isn’t “safe” to steer clear of those issues either. Add to the mix that we’re not monolithic, and thus have diverse concerns among ourselves, and the difficulty of addressing them all to our own satisfaction (let alone satisfying anyone else’s ideas of what we should or shouldn’t blog about), and the whole idea of blogging politically as an African American is a daunting one to consider.

It would be much easier to blog about something else. Maybe that’s why, in contrast to the numbers above, there are 258 blogs about black culture, over 3,000 blogs about hip hop and almost 4,000 about rap. (Though there’s certainly some overlap there because a number of the blogs on in those categories probably also cover politics to some degree.) There’s also a hip hop Blogads network and a black culture Blogads network, but no black political Blogads network that I could find.

That can’t be because there’s not enough of us to support it, though. Even just the blogs mentioned in AA Pundit’s post would be enough to start a network. (There are “hives” with as little as just 1 blogger listed in them.) A broader “Progressive POC” Blogads network could include even more. It goes back to something I wrote about when I offered a proposal on blogging and diversity. There’s little to no organizing taking place among progressive bloggers of color in general, and no structure in existence to support that and connect to one another so that we might support one another, and perhaps spend less time worrying about support from elsewhere. Maybe it’s because, as I mentioned before, our concerns and issues are so diverse and different just among ourselves, that maybe it poses the biggest challenge to organizing and coordinating our efforts.

But there’s too much to be gained from doing the above to ignore it. When even a few of us have coordinated our efforts, we’ve drawn attention to stories that wouldn’t have been noticed otherwise, and made big differences in many of them. Mirror on America points out the most recent such case.

And every once in a blue moon, you write something that literally explodes across the Internet in ways no one could predict.

That has now happened with a story I wrote two weeks ago, about a 14-year-old black girl from the small Texas town of Paris, who was sent to a youth prison for up to 7 years for shoving a hall monitor at her high school. A 14-year-old white girl, convicted of arson for burning down her family’s house, was sentenced by the same Paris judge to probation.

If you had Googled the black girl’s name, Shaquanda Cotton, the day before the story was published on the front page of the March 12 edition of the Tribune, you would have gotten zero results. On Monday afternoon, there were more than 35,000 hits.

The story has been picked up on more than 300 blogs around the country, many of them concerned with African-American affairs. It has generated thousands of postings to Internet message boards.

I didn’t cover that story, but I’ve been a part of others and seen the same pattern happen again and again. It was the same kind of action that drew attention to the missing persons case of Tamika Houston when the networks were focused mostly on “white women in trouble,” and the same with LaToia FIgueroa. (Both women were found dead, sadly. But a suspect was charged in Houston’s case and a suspect was arrested in Figueroa’s case.) There was the LIFEbeat campaign. There was Jasmyne Cannick’s campaign against Shirley Q. Liquor. (I’ve gotten one or two nasty emails for failing to take part in that one, though I’ve blogged about Liquor before.) There was the group of black gay bloggers who brought attention to Rashawn Brazell’s story, as well as Michael Sandy’s story, and the disgraceful posthumous treatment of Tyrone Garner. And though not specifically focused on people of color, the involvement of bloggers in spreading Zach’s story and Laurel Hester’s story also serve as examples.

Like I said in the previous post and have said before, it’s as simple as just not continuing to look where everyone else is looking because everyone else is looking there. If we’re underrepresented in the political blogosphere, and it’s unlikely that much is going to happen to change that, then it’s time to build our own sphere, our own network, and decide for our selves what success means in that context.

I know I’ve said this before, and made a proposal that didn’t get far off the ground. That’s mainly due to recognizing my own limitations. I’m a writer, not an organizer. I’m still trying to learn how to organize myself, and dare not inflict my deficiencies in that arena on more people than I have to , if I can avoid it. The most I can do it keep talking about it, and when someone who can build it does build it, lend my support and my voice to their efforts.

Crossposted from The Republic of T.

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