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 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?

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