I’ve been mostly offline for the last several days, so I’m late in commenting on Bill Clinton’s lunch with some lefty bloggers at his Harlem office. Notice something missing from this photo?
What does it mean though that there are 20 bloggers invited to this lunch and not one is black or latino? What does it mean for this group of bloggers to be patting themselves on the backs for being with Clinton when they are all in Harlem and not one of them is a person of color? What does it mean for these people to be there and have not one of them raise this issue in their blogs?
Peter Daou, who organized the Clinton blogger lunch, responded:
Hi Liza – several bloggers were invited who couldn’t attend, including Oliver Willis (who you didn’t mention in your post). Also, I was told that more events like that are planned, and there will be an opportunity to invite bloggers who didn’t attend the first one.
So respectfully, you may have reached a conclusion without all the facts.
So Oliver Willis was invited, and (from what I’ve read elsewhere) Markos from Daily Kos was invited. Neither of them could make it, and – as far as I can tell – that was the sum total of any attempt to have racial diversity at this meeting. It’s hard to believe that racial diversity was a high priority when Daou put this lunch together.
Kai at Zuky wrote a great post about the gulf in viewpoints between the POC1 bloggers who have, rightly, objected to the all-white Clintonpalooza, and the white liberals who are saying this is no big deal.
Here’s what I can make out, in the most generalized but hopefully clear terms (obviously, not all white liberals see things in similar terms and I certainly don’t speak for all people of color with this “POC perception” device, it’s just my way of explaining my view of constrasting perspectives):
Fact: The first Bill Clinton-blogger meeting was overwhelmingly attended by white bloggers.
White perception: An unfortunate coincidence.
POC perception: Hundreds of years of history and our own life experiences have taught us that racism often works its nefarious magic through seemingly benign cultural norms and all manner of fork-tongued mechanisms that lead to consistently one-sided representation and results.
Fact: This was only the first of many meetings.
White perception: Let’s not make too much of this one event. There will be plenty of occasions in the future to discuss your pet issue.
POC perception: Hundreds of years of history and our own life experiences have taught us that racism often works its nefarious magic through seemingly benign cultural norms and all manner of fork-tongued mechanisms that lead to consistently one-sided representation and results. [...]
Fact: Oliver Willis was invited but couldn’t make it.
White perception: Organizers did their best to invite black folks this time and will do better next time.
POC perception: Oliver Willis is a great blogger who deserved the invite; but come on, is a single invitation really the outer limit of effort on a matter so central to the narrative of American history?
One difference that shows up here – and that frequently shows up in these discussions – is that (generalization alert! generalization alert!) POC bloggers focus on what actually happened, while white bloggers focus on establishing the purity of people’s hearts.
What happened is that there was a high-profile event in which a lot of liberal bloggers were honored with the chance to have lunch with one of the most influential Democrats in the country, and it was an all-white event. In the most literal sense, people of color were not at the table. That is what matters. Arguing that none of the organizers did it this way because they hate people of color isn’t a legitimate response; it’s missing the point. Inclusion is the point; the purity of white people’s hearts shouldn’t be the central issue here.
There should have been a greater attempt made to include minority bloggers. But I think it was unintentional. I will bet that when there’s another such event, and there will be, whether it’s by President Clinton or another Democrat, there will be a greater effort to include a more diverse group of bloggers.
(Notice how the subject suddenly becomes not the all-white event, but whether or not it was intentional? Another example of talking about what’s in people’s hearts instead of who’s given a seat at the table.)
I’m sure there will be a greater effort next time – but only because Liza, Kai, Bint, Zuzu, Terrance, Steve, Pam, Chris, and others are objecting to the lack of inclusion this time around. It is the complainers, not the folks who organize these lunches and other such events, who will make inclusion happen.
Unfortunately, a couple of white bloggers at Firedoglake (one of whom was at the Clinton luncheon) are determined to demonstrate how clueless and annoying white liberals can be when discussing racism. Christy Smith’s post explains that we shouldn’t talk about inclusion of people of color because it “misses the larger picture” and threatens “to take our eye off the real work.” I’m sure that all bloggers of color are grateful to have white liberal bloggers like Christy letting them know what’s in “the larger picture” and what “the real work” is; without her to correct them, they might mistakenly believe that inclusion is part of the the big picture, and is real work.
But Christy’s post is a NAACP meeting compared to her co-blogger T-Rex’s drivel. You see, in Liza’s post on Culture Kitchen, she crticized Jane (another Firedoglake blogger) for posting a racist blackface image and for lack of support for bloggers of color.2 T-Rex responded by literally telling Liza not to insult her betters:
So, Liza, dear, before you go assailing your betters and making Jane stand in for every blond white woman who ever pissed you off, maybe you should head back to eighth grade English and, you know, learn to spell and to write in a linear fashion. Although judging from your other posts that I read, mediocrity may be a chronic condition for you.
T-Rex later demonstrated that he’s a liar or an idiot by claiming to not have known that slapping down a woman of color for criticizing the race politics of her “betters” might be construed as having “racial baggage.” (By the way, Liza’s post was well-written and organized; all that fuss about “eighth grade English” appears to be because Liza misspelled the word “privileged.” I’m sure no blogger on Firedoglake has ever misspelled a word.)
I’m obviously bothered by the racism of T-Rex’s response, and I’m not the only one: check out Nanette‘s comment at TalkLeft, Brownfemipower (whose post is a must-read), and Zuzu, for starters. There’s too much good commentary for me to quote it all, but here’s a few brief bits. From Brownfemipower:
the tone of this post (and other posts that it mimics) reflects a passionate racism within the blogosphere that is quite disturbing. the internet is the driving tool of communication these days, all of us know that. who gets listened to and who doesn’t is not only reflective of the racism in the real world, but is also instrumental in continuing the silencing of “problematic” communities (i.e. communities that don’t buy/challenge structural propaganda). does it really mean absolutly nothing that clinton had an all-white luncheon? no, let’s unpack that ambigous language. does it really mean absolutly nothing that a former head of a racist imperialist nation/state had a luncheon with a an all-white group of people who control the “new frontier” of media?
In Brownfemipower’s comments, La Lubu writes:
This isn’t just about who was or who wasn’t invited anymore. All the references you’ll find referring to this as a “tempest-in-a-teapot” on white so-called progressive blogs speaks to the larger issue—”sit down and pour yourself a hot, steaming cup of shut-the-fuck-up. You wanna ride this bus? Go sit in the back.”
This comment at My Private Casbah, about the “some of my best friends are…!” defense T-Rex employed, deserves to be widely quoted:
To any and all people who do not identify themselves as people of color:
I beg of you, please, if you have any sense of decency, do not shame those black people that you call friends by making these sort of statements. There are few things worse than being with one of your melanin-inhibited buddies and having them do this to some random person of color. The person will likely view you as just another clueless white person but they’ll look at us, your friends, as the idiots since we evidently thought you were savvy enough to know why these statements and behaviors are so problematic.
For those readers who don’t know, Firedoglake is one of the most popular blogs on the planet; one disturbing thing about this is their obvious belief that their high hit count makes them better than Liza.3 T-Rex writes “See, Liza’s pissed because nobody invited her to lunch with Big Dog. But, instead of coming right out and saying that, she’s seizing on this opportunity to try and generate herself some publicity by insinuating that there’s some kind of racist agenda at work.” And later, he writes “She wanted attention. Well, here’s some goddamn motherfucking attention.” Then Jane Hamsher (another Firedoglake blogger) said in comments: “[Liza's] exploitation of a very real problem for personal gain is quite shameless.”
Needless to say, nothing Liza wrote supports the malicious claims that she’s an insincere publicity-hound. It’s seemingly inconceivable to Jane and T-Rex that Liza might be criticizing them because Liza sincerely believes that they screwed up.
There’s also a not-very-hidden bullying aspect to this; a smarmy “we’re a big blog, you peasant shits can’t criticize us” attitude. For instance, in the comments of Liza’s post, T-Rex announced his intention to attack Liza from Firedoglake by announcing “I’m going to make you a star.” (I’m not saying that big bloggers can’t critique small bloggers; but they should do it without the smary self-importance and the bullying attitude).
And Terrance noticed that shortly after criticizing Firedoglake, he’s no longer on their blogroll. Similarly, Liza has been removed from the Kos blogroll.
One of the things Terrance points out in this excellent post is that the lefty blogosphere has “gatekeepers,” even though the gatekeepers themselves tend to deny this aspect to what they do. But the way that Kos and Firedoglake use de-linkings shows that at some level, they’re perfectly aware of their gatekeeping power, and they try to use it to punish their critics.
Frankly, the feminist in me is pleased that one of the mega-blogs is run by women4 and (to their credit) includes a diverse bunch of bloggers. Which makes it even more of a shame that they’ve turned into whiny, clueless, racism-denying idiots the moment they’re criticized by a person of color. That this kind of behavior is acceptable on one of the most prominent progressive blogs in the world does the progressives, and the blogosphere, no credit.
With or without a lone African-American, the face of the Democratic Party does not look like that picture. Every single last one of us on the blogs knows it. We can’t be the party to take on Senator George Allen for his racial slurs one day and then ignore our own hypcrisy the next. It may well be, as we learned at Yearlykos, that the liberal blogosphere is significantly more white than the Democratic Party at large. Our response to that challenge should not be to shrug it off. Our job, in fact, is to address it.
Edited to add: Belle at Crooked Timber has a good post on this subject, too. (And I’m sure dozens of others that I’ve missed.)
UPDATE: It turns out the bit about Terrance being removed from Firedoglake’s blogroll was not true. I apologize to FDL for my part in spreading that rumor.
[Crossposted at Creative Destruction. If your comments aren’t being approved here, try there.]
- “POC” stands for “people of color.” [↩]
- I don’t know if that last criticism is accurate or not; Jane says she has been making efforts to include bloggers of color. [↩]
- Culture Kitchen is actually one of the most popular progressive blogs in existence. Not as big as the mega-blogs like Kos and Firedoglake, but I’d guess it’s in the top 1 or 2 percent of blogs, measured by readership. [↩]
- At least, I think Jane and Christy run it, but I might be wrong about that, I don’t read FDL often. [↩]