Bloggers should drive diversity? Why?

Heather feels that bloggers aren’t doing enough to draw a more diverse group of bloggers into the local blogosphere. She pointed to a post by David Sasaki where he talks about the lack of diversity in the South African social Web and voiced her opinion that we (being the apparently white boys’ club – sorry ladies and any other non-white demographic) are not doing enough to create/encourage/drive greater diversity.

Again the question: what have we done?

Have we actively sought to invite a diverse range of people to blogging events like the 27 dinner?

Have we done anything to bring new bloggers into the field with any training or mentorship?

Have we sought out the opinions of bloggers from people outside our own circle?

Have we commented on and supported the posts of new bloggers?

I say this because I accept some of the blame myself. This is a community. A community where we take collective responsibility for moving the industry forward because it’s important for all of us. Bloggers tend to be huge individualists, and I think that’s why we’ve focused on being better bloggers, getting better contacts, extending our own individual networks. But I think the time is ripe now to give some time and energy to the collective.

This isn’t the first time this argument has done the rounds and I’m not sure how I feel about it aside from a mildly queasy feeling. Part of me wants to leap onboard the guilt train and commit to bringing a non-white male blogger to work and teaching him/her to blog. That would be a quick reaction to an accusation of sorts that I am a member of some white elite blogger group and I haven’t quite taken my boots off the non-white male South African bloggers’ throats. The thing is, that just isn’t an accurate reflection of what has been going on from my perspective (however white male centric that view may be).

If you look at the tools that are available today for people to get online and blogging/otherwise expressing themselves, there is a very low barrier to entry once you get past having access to an Internet connected computer. Anyone can set up a blog on WordPress, Blogger or Vox (for example) at no cost and in a pretty short time period (it takes almost literally 5 minutes to set up a WordPress.com blog). From there it is up to that budding blogger to blog.

The big issue here is gaining access to an Internet connected computer and the fault lies at our government’s, ICASA’s and the telcos’ doors for various reasons. That is also another debate I am pretty passionate and frustrated about.

Getting back to me not doing enough as a blogger, I also have to ask why I should be required to specifically seek out blogs or content published by non-white male bloggers and undertake to bring those bloggers/creators on board. For one thing the South African blogosphere is hardly an invitation only club. If you have something interesting to say and people want to hear it, you’ll have an audience. In fact, if you have something to say and say it on your blog, you are part of the community already.

Maybe I am just being an apathetic white male blogger … well, that is also an over simplification of who I am. I am white (check), male (check) and a blogger (check). I am also Jewish, married, have a small child, a lawyer, passionate about open content licensing, excited for some strange reason about typography, love Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica, get a little too obsessed with new mobile devices and social networks and I have a thing about sunflowers. Actually there is more to me but if you want to establish an elite clique then you really should look a little further than white and male because real people are a little more complex than a colour and a gender. Sure if you want to put me in a box then why don’t you pigeon hole me as a sci-fi lover who is married? Or maybe as a heterosexual male who owns a mobile phone? Actually, it would probably be more helpful to say I am Jewish (we control the world anyway) and I drive a car. Hmmm, when you think about it the “white male blogger” is a little arbitrary and self-serving. That is the problem with surveys conducted along limited lines with a view to putting us all in nice, tidy boxes. The results tend to conform to tired racial and gender based categories which work well for people who only see things along those lines. There just isn’t all that much attention paid to all the rest of our characteristics that make us living, breathing three dimensional people.

Anyway, back to the issue of not following enough black (or some other category) bloggers. The one big challenge for any budding blogger is that there is so much content out there, people have to focus on the stuff they really want to know about or they will drown in a sea of feeds. I subscribe to more than 200 feeds and that is after a recent cleanup. I don’t have time to subscribe to and follow everyone I come across so I focus on the people who talk about things that interest me. If one of those bloggers happens to live in Soweto then that is great. It really makes little difference to me whether the bloggers I follow are black, white, Asian, Canadian or like to smoke shrubbery in the morning before eggs and toast. If she is blogging about a topic I find interesting, I’m there like a bear. This portrayal of the South African blogosphere as an intentionally exclusive club reveals an overly pessimistic view of this apparent elite. Sure there may be a disproportionate number of white and male bloggers but that doesn’t mean the blogosphere was designed to be that way. It just means those white and male bloggers had more opportunities to start blogging early (I started in December 2004) and to become prominent through a combination of staying power, interesting content and occasionally a fine sense of humour.

One thing that continues to bug me is this notion that if we haven’t mentored a certain number of people from some demographic then we ought to feel guilty as bloggers. Some of us bloggers are driven to bring about that sort of social change through their blogs and that is admirable. I tend to highlight issues that catch my attention and occasionally advocate change in other areas. Some people just blog because they want to talk about their love lives. Others blog because their ego needs the attention. We all blog for our own reasons and we read other people’s blogs for other reasons. I refuse to feel guilty because the blogs I read don’t comprise 40% black South African bloggers living in some shack somewhere. On what basis is it acceptable to dictate what I can and can’t read or what my blogging should be directed at? Why do some people cling stubbornly to convenient demographics and refuse to see that issues are rarely so black and white?

Paul

Enthusiast, writer, strategist, web developer, and photographer. Passionate about my wife, Gina and #proudDad.

9 Comments

  1. Very true my friend! The entry barriers to blog are the same for all of us…so very few could claim to be “disadvantaged” from having a blog. I would love to see how many of our younger generation from all races will take the opportunity to blog about social causes [road safety, aids, global warming, abuse etc]… and attempt to work towards addressing these issues…

    Doing so has nothing to do with being elitist, or having the financial means – it is all about commitment , dedication and putting in some effort to achieve some higer purpose in the understanding that we do not live for ourselves alone! How many of these fortunate individuals will spend time on writing/blogging instead of enjoying the club scene?

    perhaps it is time to stop “looking back” and rather “looking forward” [like some politician remarked earlier today!]

  2. Very true my friend! The entry barriers to blog are the same for all of us…so very few could claim to be “disadvantaged” from having a blog. I would love to see how many of our younger generation from all races will take the opportunity to blog about social causes [road safety, aids, global warming, abuse etc]… and attempt to work towards addressing these issues…

    Doing so has nothing to do with being elitist, or having the financial means – it is all about commitment , dedication and putting in some effort to achieve some higer purpose in the understanding that we do not live for ourselves alone! How many of these fortunate individuals will spend time on writing/blogging instead of enjoying the club scene?

    perhaps it is time to stop “looking back” and rather “looking forward” [like some politician remarked earlier today!]

  3. Hi Johan, thanks for pitching in. It is really disappointing that 14 years after the first democratic elections and the dawn of a non-racial society, race and gender are as much a part of how we draw lines between us as ever before.

  4. Thanks for the post, Paul. I think what both myself and David Sasaki are referring to is not so much that we need to bring new people on board (although I definitely think that the awesome work that Rising Voices is doing training young people in South Africa to use blogging as a method of self-expression is very important for the long-term development of the industry) but that we need to find better ways of connecting with people outside our social circle. If that's not something you feel you should/want to do, then that is really ok – but I think there are enough people who think that as a community we need to put some collective energy into encouraging more diversity and development. And I think that arguing against that is just wrong and unfair. For those who think that the South African blogging community needs no change and should be kept as it is, then that's fine, and there should be no guilt about that. But I don't think it is constructive to argue against such initiatives because you might feel guilty or threatened. That doesn't really make sense, does it?

  5. Hi Heather

    Thanks for commenting. My argument against this “need” to connect outside our circles of contacts and friends isn't motivated by my sense of guilt because I don't have friends/contacts or follow bloggers/content creators outside my circle. It also isn't because I am opposed to any form of diversity either, I'm in favour of it. What I do object to is this sense of necessity and imposed responsibility to connect outside our circles. I object to the implication that bloggers who don't make an effort to follow (previously disadvantaged?) bloggers they ordinarily wouldn't have followed are racist and elitist. The implication is there in Sasaki's post (although I know that this isn't your intention at all).

    I also feel that it is important to present another perspective here. People who feel they want to reach out are free to do so and should be respected for doing that. People who don't want to reach out and who prefer to stick to their circle or perhaps just be particularly selective about the information they take in (whatever the reason) should also be respected for doing so. It doesn't mean they are elitist or racist. It means they, like their more socially minded colleagues/friends, exercise their right to freedom of expression which includes the right to receive and impart ideas. It also means they exercise their right to make choices about who they associate with and who they prefer not to. This shouldn't be about imperatives and racially motivated choices. It should be about options for those who want to reach out and for those who don't and respect for both groups.

  6. I agree with you that mutual respect is important here. I think David's post was intentionally provocative, and although we don't have to agree on the tone, I think it was positive because it got a few people thinking more critically about the impact that we as a community are having in our country. If we all agree that a more diverse blogging community is a good thing, then it seems that there is only disagreement on the 'how' and the 'who'?

  7. I posted this comment on Heather Ford’s blog:

    “I think I’m finally getting it. Black people have the opportunity [finally!] to become content producers. We can finally rewrite the negative stereotypes that exist. We can write our own stories. And we’re not doing it.

    I do, however, think that the points you and David made do not take into account black people’s apathy. It exists. Not sure why but it does. Perhaps we should ask why black people are not blogging instead. And perhaps we should ask why black people are not attending these events. We should also ask why they use closed blogging platforms such as Bruin-ou.com instead of WP and Blogger.

    Heather, I don’t think people from different social circles *will* interact. Or want to interact. Your thoughts on this?”

  8. Thanks for raising this issue. Blogger diversity in SA is pretty complicated and will ultimately some down to people's willingness to participate,

What do you think?

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