Monday, May 7, 2007

Race, class and gender in the blogosphere

The virtual community known as blogistan or the blogosphere can feel inordinately like the offline mosaic of the real world. While the upper atmosphere of the political blogging world feels like a white, highly educated, middle-class, testosterone-filled world, one can find examples of gathering places and online watering holes where women and minorities gather in separate, and dare we say, unequal spheres.

It is almost as if we still exist in a segregated online world at times; not because it is inherently policed to be that way, but because there is so little cross-pollination between communities of color and gender in political blogging -- it's a self-imposed cultural divide, much like the phenomenon of a school lunchroom, where people of like races, genders, and class congregate amongst themselves because of familiarity and comfort.

A recent example of how the communities of gender and color differed in response to a race- and gender-charged event was the Don Imus debacle. The MSNBC-simulcast political radio show host lost his job in April of 2007 after calling the Rutgers University women's basketball team "nappy headed 'hos."

The initial reaction in the popular (i.e. dominant culture) element of the blogosphere as well as the mainstream media, was not all that dissimilar -- progressive white guys navel gazed and sincerely addressed the statement in general terms, the conservative blogosphere simply said that blacks were oversensitive -- and hypocritical, since Imus cited the use of "bitch" and "ho" by black hip-hop artists as cover for his statements.

The issue of misogyny of Imus took a the back, make that the dark trunk of the car, nearly hidden away. On either end of the political spectrum, there was little discussion in the virtual boys clubs about what was really behind Imus's "joke" -- he asserted his white supremacist position to remind women of color, in just a turn of a phrase, that they are inferior because of their hair texture.

Race, class, beauty, success. Women with kinky hair have always been told that in order to succeed or to be attractive, you had to do something with that hair. There are many YahooGroups devoted solely to kinky hair (LadyLocs, Natural hair and black women Natural Grooming), and they can get very political. It is the watercooler for these women. I found one post on a Black Hair Group on this, by a woman calling herself Ta Ankh, who shared background on the topic in a way you wouldn't find on most blogs:
In contrast to the white girls who had been so obviously blessed by God, was us. Now again, a few of us had "good hair", but the most of us didn't. With nothing but the straightening comb to your repertoire, you couldn't forget that your hair was nappy for too long. And you all just gonna have to trust me when I say that you were trying to forget. They don't have all those words and phrases with a negative connotations about our hair, (our naps, our peasy hair, our kitchen area, etc.), for nothing. Bad enough you were doing backflips not to let your hair "go back". You always lost, and when you did, here come the insults.

So, we all hated our hair. There was not bullshit back then because a spade was a spade. It was understood as a common sense type thing that if you were going to take a searing hot piece of metal to your head to alter it then it wasn't because you thought your natural hair was fly. And oh yes, white girl hair was the goal. No bullshit, no diggedy, no doubt.

That is how relaxer came to be all over the shelves of the ghetto. Accomodating our need to be a little whiter.
Black female bloggers, myself included, took on the issue in a way that addressed the "third rail" topics that were not discussed in the big boy blogosphere or the mainstream media either -- the politics of hair and holding not only Imus, but the mysogyny of hip-hop artists and their labels for promoting misogyny for the almighty dollar.

Activist and black blogger Jasmyne Cannick took the bull by the horns.
Just because we were brought over here as slaves doesn't mean that we have to keep the slave mentality. Imus losing his job isn't going to do anything to change the deep rooted culture of self-disrespect in the Black community that is assisted by the legions of rap artists who promote the use of the word ho and bitch as an acceptable reference to the female sex.

In order for that to change, Black folks would have to take a long hard look in the mirror at themselves and that's something that we've been unwilling to do.

I swear, sometimes we're our own worst enemy. The Imus controversy will roll over and when it's all said and done, he'll still have more money than most of us will ever see in our lifetimes and we'll still be "in the hood" talking about "G's up and hos down" and how we "can't stop won't stop" calling each other bitches, hos, and nigga's.

So who's the real winner, Imus or us?
If you are a reader of A-list blogs, you weren't going to see that perspective. It has been said that the civil rights movement saw black women march alongside black men for equality for all blacks, but the crushing truth exposed by the Imus affair, is that some black men -- the hip-hop artists defending their denigration of women for cold hard cash -- that they were actually fighting for the right participate as equals in enforcement and support of the patriarchy.

1 comment:

Morgaine said...

Really good post - especially the last line. No matter how radical the politics, guys always seem to want women to make the sandwiches and shut up. It's never a good time to push our issues. The one that really infuriates me is the attitutde that what affects women isn't important. I fail to see how something that affects 54% of the population can be secondary.

Using a straightening comb in the kitchen is something most white people don't know about. When I moved in to the dorm at WSU was the first time I had ever encountered the instrument or the process. The white girls on the floor were appalled at the idea of someone doing hair in the kitchen, and that the dressing used with the comb left residue on the burners that stained posts and pans in a way they had never encountered.

Logically, if you're going to heat a metal comb, you have to have access to fire - you have to do it in the kitchen. It was the first of a few flare-ups that happen when you throw rural and suburban white kids in with inner city African-American kids. It was a concept so foreign that the process was the issue, not the implications of straightening hair. I don't think the out-of-towners ever really understood the idea that our dorm mates had been raised with the idea that they had "bad" hair, or how that would make them feel, nor did they appreciate that the criticism was exacerbated because it came from the poeple that had "good" hair.

The strength of the blogosphere is that people get to hear points of view they would never otherwise encounter. As you pointed out, though, that won't happen if we limit ourselves to insular groups. We have to make an effort to call attention to the diversity that is on the web and try to see things from another perspective.

Too many white people think things would be fine if people of color would just be "whiter," but what needs to happen is that we need to redefine old constructs to include people of color. Women of every ethnicity need to come together to oppose the sickness of patriarchy whereever we find it, even when it's in ourselves.