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Race, Privilege and Why I Won’t Be At ‘BlogHer’

Nobody probably noticed, but I’ve been boycotting all the major mom blogger/blogger conferences for about two years now. I just couldn’t stomach the lack of diversity in the attendees, speakers, or topics. Or paying my hard-earned money to feel out of place, outnumbered, unheard or isolated. No thanks.

For me, it was just a painful reminder of my two decades working as a professional journalist where I spent most of my career as the only or one of very few African Americans on staff at a number of major national magazines.

Except this was worse. Much worse. Because these were women and mostly moms. Not the white male-dominated industry that fed and nurtured my cynicism for years. And I guess I expected more.

After all these are “modern” moms, raising the next generation of leaders (and followers) and women I hoped would take on more than a birds eye view of the world.

 Moms who hopefully watched Little Bill and Ni Hao Kai-lan with their kids as well as ANT Farm or Victorious, and valued diversity for their children and themselves.

Instead, I found just the opposite. When I mentioned to certain blog organizers that the conferences could be more diverse I got blank looks, the sound of crickets, unreturned calls and emails, or anonymous slams about making everything about black and white. Oh! and excuses. Lots of excuses.

BlogHer is looking slightly better this year, thanks to celebrities like Malaak Compton Rock and YouTube sensation, Awkward Black Girl. But the session on “Honoring Your Culture, Celebrating Your Community,” has no African American panelists at all. And when it comes to African Americans who are actually bloggers, being included in the conference panels, the tally doesn’t require a full hand.

What is true at BlogHer is a correct reflection of reality. The blog world is dominated by white, affluent women. That is a fact. If you don’t believe me, ask H&R Block, see their info graphic on Modern Moms/the Mommy Blogger world here. That’s fine. But not acknowledging how race and stereotypical ideas about who sets trends, who are perceived as “good mothers” and therefore good brand ambassadors is overly simplistic, and quite frankly ignorant.  If you haven’t noticed who disproportionately gets picked for those top mom blog lists, or gets the large brand media campaigns, then you’re uninformed.

 To make matters (much) worse, when one or two smaller conferences were launched with a goal of highlighting and supporting diversity in the blogoshpere, some bloggers were up in arms–claiming there isn’t a whites only blog conference.

 Really?? Because I’ve been to several.

Half the conferences I’ve attended have had an invisible, unstated “whites only” sign hanging from the rafters, minus one or two “tokens” (myself included in previous years). But I felt the sign looming overhead, with no speakers that looked like me or no social issues that truly spoke to my community. When I saw the cliques, the close-knit circles of who is supporting whom, who is sharing brand contacts and offering social media support to whom–and those whoms are rarely black or brown (Major caveat: any LifetimeMom past or present I have ever worked with. Truth!)

 The problem is that we are taught that racism puts others at a disadvantage, but we are not taught that racism gives others an advantage. A centuries old advantage. And white privilege doesn’t allow people to see defacto advantage as it lives and breathes.  It doesn’t allow you to get that a lack of inclusion creates dominance. And dominance is what racism is all about.

 And so, sadly once again this year, as two solid businesswomen and accomplished bloggers, set to launch Niche Mommy (www.thenichemommy.com) as a new conference devoted to diverse bloggers who are moms, the drama ensued (Full disclosure: I am a speaker). Blogs that I won’t bother to link to suggested there shouldn’t be a conference to support diverse bloggers, while mentioning all of their friends of color, or their alternative lifestyle which makes them diverse.

 Yes, there are all types of diversity. But I am talking about the kind that is most obvious. Others asked if whites should attend? Umm, why not?

 And so, I am deeply troubled by people who view creating a space specifically for black and brown bloggers and those who care about their issues as excluding others, especially when we have been excluded by default for years and no one cared. And you became upset when I mentioned it.  Although you never mentioned it yourself.

 Sometimes privilege blinds you to reality. It blinds you from seeing the unearned power gained from years of an unjust system. It helps you deny the unlevel playing field that you have (perhaps unknowingly) benefited from, and then it gives you the gall to criticize others for creating a place where they feel included. I have sat quietly for years and listened while you discussed issues that are important to you, while you told your motherhood story from your perspective. And I am honored to attend any conference where I can discuss mine.

 I’m hoping all moms will join us.

 The ignorant exchanges regarding the launch of Niche Mommy are yet another reminder that we have much work to do in having truly honest and uncomfortable conversations about race in this country. And why my silent boycott continues.

 Maybe I need a sign.

 In motherhood,

 Kimberly

Comments
18 Responses to “Race, Privilege and Why I Won’t Be At ‘BlogHer’”
  1. Cara Mia says:

    Love this. LOUD applause. I haven’t weighed in personally on all the discussions I have seen on twitter, FB and on individual blogs because I frankly don’t believe anyone is willing to actually remove themselves from the rat race. Even though it looks like a no win situation, we praise small victories in the form of apology letters or after thoughts. I don’t buy it. I was interested in BlogHer, and then when I joined the community all I saw was white women, and the only black women who got shine or glory were the ones who always seem to be DOWNING black people, or marrying or dating white and writing about it. That doesn’t represent me. I told myself that next year my goal would be to attend a Black Bloggers conference, where I could be among like minded writers and bloggers and get advice from people who looked and lived like me and were finding success without riding on the coattails of groups who marginalized me. I am so glad you wrote this!

    • Cynthia Smith says:

      Such a powerful statement. As I consider entering the ‘blog nation,’ this is a clear reminder that real world issues transcend into cyberspace. Thanks for the heads up reality check.

  2. Michelle says:

    Bravo!! I totally agree with your sentiments.

  3. Clare says:

    I’m white, and never heard these types of arguments growing up. It wasn’t until grad school, where my focus was (is) on inter-racial alliance building, that I was made aware of the blinders of privilege. It shouldn’t take a graduate level concentration to be exposed to the concept of privilege and the harmful effects of exclusion. Furthermore, while I do believe that there is a lot of goodness that can come from networking within your own racial circles, there is also goodness when that network is poignantly and interracially shared. And I agree with you that we’re not there yet…whether it’s on the playground, in academia, conferences, or jobs.

    We need more discourse that works to remove these blinders of privilege, and your post is doing that.

    Well done :)

    • Cynthia Smith says:

      I appreciate your comments. Honest reflection is the greatest form of self-actualization. Be open to hear and you’ll be surprised at the chatterings that may have previously gone unnoticed. I would be interested in hearing about your work on inter-racial alliance building.

  4. Ella says:

    Hi, Kimberly. I don’t know what to say about your post yet. I’m still a newbie and when someone asked if I were going to BlogHer, I was taken aback because you know I’m a guest blogger, but don’t (didn’t) consider myself full blown.

    I will definitely keep my eyes and ears open though. And I will most certainly be keeping my eyes on Niche Mommy. Thanks for the heads up.

  5. I like this post, because it’s honest. I’m sure it won’t be well liked but there aren’t many times or many of us who just come out and say what we all are thinking (lol). On sistasense I JUST posted that I would have liked to attend Blogher this year for the 1st time really only because I saw the great panel with Issa Rae BUT I did note to my hubby I was a bit annoyed by the fact that most of the bloggers of color panels I saw on the Agenda were at the same time – its bad enough there are only a few, to have to pick between them is just wrong! Well my heart has always been with Blogalicious because its diverse and I always feel welcome so if I go to only a handful of blogging events every year – Blogalicious is always one of them. This year I hosted She Rocks the Web (small, own my own, no sponsors or anything) – It’s not easy for us but for those of us who love what we do, we keep doing and stay supportive. Much love -lh

  6. chasin joy says:

    Well I am happy you are no longer silent in your protests. Keep telling them and keep going to conferences that do celebrate diversity.

  7. Bree says:

    love this post! You don’t know how timely this post is, for me. For the past few months, I’ve been debating which blogger conference (my first) I’d like to attend next year. My biggest concern has always been the lack of diversity – in both attendees and speakers. Thank you so much, for posting this.

  8. sheree says:

    First of all I’m mad because I typed a whole lot and something happened and it was gone. I too feel the same way you do about the lack of diversity at these larger conferences. Thank you for your voice…. thank you for your honesty. As a re-birth newbie just getting back into the blogging game, I’ve noticed that the big sponsors go to a certain group of people. I know I will never get offered a Disney trip. I know I will probably never get a large company sponsorship. And I’m okay with that. I will continue to enjoy my craft, my fans and my life! I will support Blogging while Brown, Niche Mommy and Blogalicious and just give them a whirl before going to BlogHer… thanks again! I loved this!

  9. When we started BlogHer you can bet that people had the same issues around creating a space by and about women. We like to joke that we thank all those prominent folks who were so threatened because it shone a spotlight on what we were doing that we might not have otherwise gotten.

    I’m sorry you’re not at BlogHer, because I think you would see something different than you expect. We set specific metrics around diversity in our speaking roster…not least that 80% of our speakers each year are new to the BlogHer annual conference roster. That alone requires us to constantly refresh our rosters and look for new voices to feature. We actually target diversity around more than race, also including LGBT representation, age ranges, ideological diversity for our political sessions, etc.

    This year 50% of our speakers are women of color, and 45% of those specifically identify as African-American. You may not recognize all their names, but

    As an aside: BlogHer sponsors Blogging While Brown and Blogalicious, and attends, and each year. It’s a great way for us to continue to find great new voices to Invite to speak at BlogHer!

  10. Powermommy says:

    I am relieved by this post. I thought I was crazy (being a newbie). My first blogging conference was Blogalicious last year. I loved it. And I mean LOVED it! Then I watched. I watched how this blogging thing really works. I watched who got recognized and who didn’t. I decided that I would just blog and not care about all of that, but it was irking me!! So, I refocused and decided to increase my presence and let folks know “we” are here and we have a voice.

  11. A Reader says:

    Hello.
    I’m a new reader, having found your blog via your New York Times piece on the “Motherlode” blog.
    My own children are 15 and 16, so I think I’ve just about aged out of the whole parenting blog thing, but I wanted to say two things to you:

    First: I am appalled by the rude and dismissive tone of the comments you’ve received over at the NYT. Disgraceful. I am not in your situation, but you absolutely have my empathy. As a mother, it is not too hard for me to imagine how you must feel.

    Second: The nature of those comments makes me feel very strongly that people such as yourself NEED to be at BlogHer and everywhere else, for that matter! Diversity of voice and point of view is still so very important. The sameness of these blogs and conferences is stifling. I, for one, have been “Dooced” to death. I want to know what mothers from everywhere in the social spectrum are feeling and experiencing.

    You are in a position to help things change. I really want to urge you to reconsider.

  12. Lisa says:

    Thoroughly enjoyed this piece! As a college student at Wellesley, I feel like courses and blogs like these really expose me to the unfortunate societal standards that I’ll never fulfill. Even though Wellesley is really focused on integration and equality of all females, I still feel like there is such a double standard, especially if you look at our Societies (Wellesley’s versions of sororities). During recruitment week, certain societies will actually only email/facebook/message blonde, white females to join their society. This may just be a coincidence, but it seems suspicious as well. This type of bias also occurs in college debate, but it’s just combined with gender bias. My partner and I are one of the few minority female teams, and we often feel that we’re at an automatic disadvantage. It’s even worse when some white male debater makes a joke at the expense of a minority female just to get a chuckle or two from another debater.

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