Monday, August 06, 2007

What’s Race Got to Do With It: Some Thoughts on Parentblogging, Community and Identity

*cross-posted at Anti-Racist Parent and daddy in a strange land*

Last week, the parentblogosphere (or at least the neighborhood I frequent) was buzzing, post-BlogHer, with HKMIC (that’s Head Kimchi Mama In Charge) CityMama/Stefania Pomponi Butler’s smackdown on clueless PR flacks trying to get mombloggers to flog their stuff for free to their highly coveted demographic. Seems that that demographic of tech-savvy, hip, acquisitive parents doesn’t include parents of color. As for the perception that PR folks don’t pitch mombloggers of color, one dude straight-up told Stefania, “You’re right. We don’t pitch to bloggers of color. We just don’t know what to do with them.”

Ummm, say what? Now, before I go too much further, let me say this. This is not about wanting to be marketed to, or to be offered swag or recognition. I mean, sure, free stuff can be nice, and knowing that folks read you is ego-boosting, but you all know I write (unfortunately) so infrequently that I’m not about to put a reviews blog on my to-do list too, and I am so technologically backwards that I couldn’t tell you any site stats to save my life. And yes, some more diverse and non-stereotypical representations of p.o.c. in media, whether fictional, non-fictional or marketing, would be nice, but that’s a “duh” proposition, and a blog topic in and of itself (as are the concomitant topics of teaching critical media literacy to our kids and combating the ill effects of rampant commercialism and capitalism on our families and communities. (Say that five times fast.) [Have I told you how much I love the Home Depot ad where the AsAm mom bribes her daughter to trick the clueless AsAm dad into wanting new a new kitchen? Or the Baskin Robbins (I think) commercial with the AsAm grandpa (or older dad? could be!) who changes the kid’s F grade to an A because the offscreen mom had promised some ice cream treat for an A, and then he busts past the kid to get to the car first? Heh. But seeing as how I can’t even remember for sure who was selling what in that one, I guess it didn’t really work on me. Oh well.]

No, this goes beyond clueless folks who don’t know how (or why) to sell to parents of color. This is about how blogging, specifically by parents about the enterprise of parenting, builds communities that both replicate and challenge boundaries of inclusion and exclusion found in “the real world.” Though a lot of talk stemming from the BlogHer incident revolves around the marketing piece, let’s bring it back to the real, deeper question that Mocha Momma posed at the beginning of the State of the Momosphere panel: “I pointedly asked if we could please discuss the lack of racial diversity in the blogrolls and communities we find ourselves in as a general topic but if we could explore issues of moms of color.” When the conversation got stuck on marketing and monetization, she tried to get it back on track, asking the marketing folks, “When will the diversity come into play?” Except for Stefania’s comments, the assembled mombloggers let the question and the topic die, ignored. And here, then, is the crux of the matter, straight from Mocha Momma:

Certainly, I am grateful to the dozens of people I spoke to after the session was over. There was a full 20 minutes of chatting with people who agreed with my comment and told me to press on and to keep fighting for women of color. I needed something else instead. I needed any of them to take the microphone and say, “Excuse me. Isn’t anyone going to answer Kelly’s question?

Where were you, Mommybloggers? I needed you.

The concept of finding community through blogging, especially parentblogging, is an interesting and important one to me, because I started reading blogs and writing blogs because, like so many, I was looking for online community to combat offline isolation. I was a multiracial, Asian American, politically liberal, stay-at-home-dad living in a conservative, homogenous, segregated, traditional community where all those things made me “other.” Of course, I was used to being “other,” I’d practically made a career of it. But in looking for information about being a SAHD, or even looking for a recommendation for a non-ugly diaper bag, I stumbled onto the parentblogosphere. A handful of dadblogs served as my gateway to more blogs, as every new blog and blogroll and comment link introduced me to a world of SAHDs and SAHMs and WAHDs and WAHMs and work-outside-the-home parents of all types and stripes.

And then I started to notice something, something not surprising for the guy who used to start every class in college by tallying apparent race and gender demographics in his notebook margins to get a preemptive handle on potential participation/representation issues: I started gravitating to bloggers who turned out to be parents of color, or parents (through adoption or intermarriage) of kids of color, or multiracial parents, or Asian American parents, and not only that, I started looking for them. It wasn’t that race, culture or identity were necessarily major themes or even talked about at all on all of these blogs, but when it was there, I noticed.

With those that did explicitly talk about the intersection of race, culture, family and parenting, the connection was even deeper. Why? Well, I guess that’s part of what we’re talking about here, or talking around—the invisible line between those who understand that, and those who even have to ask the question, and the wish that, at least in these virtual communities we share with others due to the ties of parenthood, we could get rid of that line altogether, or at least assume that those on the other side of it realize it’s there and are doing their part to erase it.

When we launched Rice Daddies as a group blog by Asian American dads, started with the only other two self-identified AsAm dadbloggers I’d been able to find at the time, I wrote that what we had in common was that we were Asian Americans who happened to be dads, and dads who happened to be Asian American. While one or another part of who we were might come to the fore on the blog at any given time, they were all integral parts of who we were. So, while we expected it, it was still frustrating to deal with commenters who said things like, “I thought this was a blog about parenting, what’s with all this race stuff?” When Anti-Racist Parent launched, I wrote about how, contrary to popular belief, racism is a parenting issue. When it comes down to it, I notice when issues of race, racism, and diversity are raised in the parentblogosphere, or when parents of color are blogging (even when it has nothing to do with race) because it’s still an exception, because it’s noticeable.

Thinking about issues of blogger diversity after the Blogher session on inclusion and exclusion, Mocha Momma wrote:

That brings up another question as well: why aren’t the Top Bloggers people of color? Where is the Black/Hispanic/Asian/Indian Dooce? Is there a mommyblogger (I think I will just pick on stick with that one genre for the moment to make a point) of color who is considered an “expert”? The reason I ask this has to do with a question someone posed to me in a private email (which, as you’ll realize, needs to be out in the open here so I’m repeating it).

Are you a mommyblogger?

Well, that was rather pointed. I mean, it reads “Mocha
MOMMA” on my address bar and my banner. To be fair I have children. They aren’t the focus of everything I write about so does that make me less of a mom?

No. Not at all.

What’s my point? That it matters that we’re here. Whether we’re talking explicitly about how race and difference affect our lives as parents and the lives of our loved ones or not, it matters. Does anyone besides me care that the woman behind Motherhood Uncensored, Cool Mom Picks, the Parent Bloggers Network, and The Mominatrix is a hapa mom? Maybe not, but it matters to me. Does anyone else notice that the mastermind behind ParentHacks is a South Asian American woman? Or that the dad behind Thingamababy is a partner in an interracial marriage and the father of a biracial child? Or not only notice but appreciate that there’s an Asian American on the crew at Dadcentric or that there’s not one but two black dads with The Blogfathers (not to mention an out gay dad)? Or a Latino dad writing for Neal Pollack’s parenting humor blogzine? Or Asian American moms blogging for Parenting or the Seattle Post-Intelligencer?

That’s not even to get into the sustenance and energy I get from blogs like Rice Daddies, Kimchi Mamas, Filipina Moms, Our Kind of Parenting, Anti-Racist Parent, and the blogs of all the contributors and regular commenters on these sites who are unafraid to say yes, this shit matters, for us, and for our children, and let’s talk about it.

On BlogRhet, a site that is “a discussion space that reflects on the practice of blogging itself, especially as it pertains to questions of community, citizenship, and identity,” blogger Tere writes of feeling a strange sense of exclusion as a Latina momblogger reading the mainstream of the momosphere:

The second reason for my prevailing sense of exclusion is by far a more important one to me…. And that is the fact that I am a minority; and that, more than anything, perpetuates this feeling - even in places where I have been included.

If you doubt it (or, do you even think about it?), let me confirm it for you: the mommy blogging community is white. And I am not. At least, not as a general cross-section of Americans define "white". I am white in race but Hispanic in culture. And that makes me not white - at least to anyone who is not like me (I use the term "white" and "regular Americans" to mean white Anglos and basically, what has always been considered the majority in this country)….


And while blogging has opened my world in so many ways, it has also made me feel quite alienated at times. It has underscored just how different I am. And it's frustrating. I mean, I read some things that are completely foreign to me. Like, I can't wrap my head around it. And then I check the comments out, and everyone's agreeing, and I'm just floored….

Obviously, this is not intentional exclusion. But it is a kind of exclusion nonetheless. It is my feeling that the MB world-at-large is predominantly made up of white women. Few are the African-American women, the Hispanic ones, the Asian ones, etc. Of course, this ties to questions of privilege; and the assumption is that white, in many ways, equals privilege. But there are plenty of African-American, Hispanic and Asian families that are educated, wealthy and just as privileged as white ones (to name the top minority groups in the U.S., but certainly this is can be true of all minority groups). I have made an effort to find blogs (specifically, MBs) by minorities. And they're out there, but not as many as I wish there were, and certainly not in numbers that would drive the point home that we're here and living and loving and have just as much to offer as anyone else. This dearth of minority-voice blogs is another topic unto itself, but for the purposes of inclusion or exclusion, I have to ask, where are the minorities as far as commenting in MBs? I mean, yeah, you don't comment on a blog by first announcing your ethnicity, but there is a void of comments and conversation from women (and mothers) from the perspective of a minority voice.

Is this just me? Do any minorities who read MBs ever feel like, "WTF? I so can't relate"? Does anyone else feel sometimes that the mommy blog world is a microcosm of the United States, where white voices lead and prevail and there seems little room for minorities? And where these white voices seemingly have little to no experiences beyond their white world?


The exclusion of the mom blog world of minorities is simply one based on ignorance. You cannot address, or include, that which you do not know. It is true of me in the reverse. But as the minority here, I can't help but see it as a disadvantage….

That’s what we’re talking about here, at the root, not advertising dollars or even readership stats, but acknowledged presence in this community we’ve already called our own, acknowledgement of our diversity and our issues, of our part in all of this. So that there are no more “surprises” like the “White PTA” fiasco on Silicon Valley Moms, with some folks wondering why others were so upset. So that when someone, say, a newbie parentblogger of color, or even a PR flack, reads a piece on Babble’s Strollerderby decrying the treatment of bloggers of color, they don’t have a forced moment of cognitive dissonance when they glance over at the bios of the resident bloggers.

After watching the fallout from this year’s momblogger panel at the nation’s premier event for women bloggers, I can only hope that any parenting-focused events at next year’s planned Blogging While Brown conference feel more like home for folks like us.


Anonymous said...

thanks for posting this . . . it's very timely for me. i'm constructing my thesis proposal and this is EXACTLY what my subject matter is all about! (*i mentioned it during an open thursday on KM.)

i will for sure be referring back to this post in the near future . . .

Anonymous said...

bloggers of color are definitely making strides, but we still have a long way to go. now that we know about this discrepancy in regards to pr pitches, perhaps we can speak up more and demand to be noticed.

Candace April said...

You know...I wrote a long response and then I thought either it went into moderation or the computer ate it. Since it isn't up here, I'm leaning towards the comment-eating computer theory.

Anyway, I wanted to come back and say that I heard ya and it made me think and even if I can't remember everything I wanted to say in response, I think what you are saying is interesting and important and thought-provoking.

One of the things I am realizing is that many of us readers, even readers who identify as "of color," default to assuming on a subconscious level the writer is white...unless it is otherwise explicitly addressed.

Sometimes the writer may even subconsciously or consciously play into when I found a mommy product blog where the caricature was very white looking and yet the mommy behind the caricature very much appeared to be black.

So, where does that leave us?

Is it on the reader to challenge his or her assumptions at every turn? If so, how do we do that?

Is the writer to reveal more about race? And question what he or she chooses not to reveal and why? But doesn't that put us back at the beginning? Why should someone have to say, "I'm not white"...that writer wouldn't if it weren't for that default assumption.

I think I expressed this better last night but hopefully it did not come out totally stupid.

At any rate, I hope we can keep this conversation moving so that even beyond this week we can address this invisibility.