Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Blogging and Conversations

There is a guest post up at Professor What If that has set off a little bit of a firestorm in the blogging community.  I wrote a small response on the post but felt that I really needed to flesh out my thoughts more.  In the interest of transparency, I have decided to respond in full here and link to their post.

Womanist Musings is still less than a  year old and is remarkably successful considering the length of time that it has been in operation.  I have tried to infuse the conversations with both feminist and anti-racist theory in an accessible manner.  Much of what I have to say has  been heavily critiqued and many are highly resistant to the ways in which I have chosen to discuss certain topics.  There have been days when the stress has been so overwhelming, I find myself wondering why with all of the responsibilities in my life do I continue to allow myself to be subjected to abuse.

Being a WOC blogger who is determined to insist that feminist conversations include race means that all of those who do not want to own their privilege often feel very off put by what I have to say.  In my own space it is far easier to respond forcefully, than it is when I guest blog or post a comment on another site.  Whether the naysayers will admit it or not, when they arrive at this blog, it is immediately evident exactly where I stand on certain issues. and my very certainty often leads to discomfort. The fact that this is my space allows me to demand a degree of respect that I certainly  do not receive in the wider blogosphere. 

The comment section of the large feminist blogs more often than not are hostile spaces for WOC bloggers, yet we dare not disengage otherwise the ways in which people ignore their privilege will never be effectively challenged.  As I have noted before, the larger blogs are understood to be white run and this necessarily means that WOC feminist identified bloggers who wish to increase their readership must at some point go with hat and hand to develop a relationship.  We may never openly admit it, but these relationships are never equal because of the imbalance in power. 

This imbalance in power does put one in a situation wherein it can be difficult to call out someone for behaviour that is indeed offensive because one risks being isolated.  On some level this leads to conversations that are superficial at best.  One ends up having to choose between personal principles of calling out  behaviour that reifies difference and a desire to succeed.  I will admit openly that 70% of the traffic that  comes to this blog is from links to other blogs.  Were this sources of traffic to suddenly stop, Womanist Musings would turn into an echo chamber faster than the blink of an eye.

Some have said that I have been fearless in the topics that I have taken on, but in truth I have self censored at times for the sake of my own ambition.  I love to write and a successful blog not only helps me to hone my skills, it opens up opportunities to freelance that otherwise would not have been available to me. Blogging is a constant battle between self interest and exchanging ideas and thoughts with others.  If we are honest, whether it is on the internet or in real life, we  seldom speak without reservation or some form of self censure.  Self interest will often take precedence over communal needs and this in part is a function of our capitalist/individualist  society.

Each person must negotiate these relationships in a way that makes them comfortable.  I have chosen to take stands on issues that are the greatest of importance to me, while allowing others to rest; this certainly does involve some sort of personal compromise, however I do not feel as though I have sold my soul.  Since no one is privy to the inner workings of a relationship, it is certainly not fair to stand in judgement and declare who is and isn’t a token.  The reasons someone may choose to compromise a certain belief may not be immediately obvious and coming from various frames of reference, we all have different priorities.  It is further necessary to understand that it takes a form of privilege to be able to declare the work of another as tokenistic.  It necessarily marks the work of the stigmatized body as somehow incongruent or less important  than the voices that have come to dominate the blogosphere.  No decision is made outside of our individual value systems and therefore declaring tokenism without being privy to all aspects of a relationship is to use power coercively.

I believe there is a continual effort to understand WOC through a lens of victimology rather than examining the various ways in which we deploy our agency.  The simple act of choosing to engage necessarily serves as proof of our active commitment to change.  Power as viewed solely through the lens of victimology is coercive.  When one simply thinks of power as oppressive, it limits our ability to recognize the ways in which power can be a creative force and therefore blinds us to the fact that we are again employing the isms to re victimize. Power as negative is the way in which we have been taught to think and we police others into playing the role of subject rather than object;  it can be as cruel as using the wrong pronoun in reference to gender identity, or refusing to legitimize someone's lived experience.  To belittle another is far easier than acknowledging our shared humanity. 

Though none of us are born outside of discourse, the degree to which we comply with the forces of socialization certainly varies.  An issue ensues when others attempt to behave as though their experience is the norm.  We can see the occurrence of this time and time again in the comment section of the larger blogs however, this is not necessarily the fault of the owners themselves.  They cannot reach through their various computer monitors and force anyone to understand something that is beyond their experience.  Each person only has a responsibility for their own actions.  The very fact that the blogs in question have a larger audience will necessarily mean that they will be far more representative of dominant discourse.  What is important to remember is that there are various truths, and each is as unique as the person that espouses them.

Truth is not static and what today seems concrete, may evolve into a more fluid ideal and or identity.  We have a tendency to believe that systems that mark a person as “other”, are standard across culture, ethnicity, and time, because of our narcissistic desire to place ourselves in the centre of the conversation.  This is why as blogging continues to grow as a platform for change. It is increasingly important that all spaces attempt to becomes as open as possible.  Guest blogging not only serves the purpose of attracting new readers; it broadens conversation and forces us to acknowledge privileges that we may not be aware that we possessed.  It cannot simply be viewed as a numbers game wherein a large blog exploits a small blog because ultimately if these conversations do not occur the chance of progress is slim. 

It is am impossibility to separate online conversations from the real world.  To demand that the blogosphere conform to some way of thinking and or perform discourse outside of the lived experience of the bloggers is ridiculous.  We are attached to our identities and this invariably becomes our politics.  The only demand that we can make is that each of us in our own way make larger efforts to broadening conversations about issues that normally get ignored to maintain the dissonance in worth and value. By releasing control of our various spaces and committing to valuing our shared humanity we can become impetus for change.  To step outside of ones experience is to cast aside power relations and affirm the humanity of all.

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