Diversity at the Yearly Kos (Netroots) Convention
Guest blogger Shireen Mitchell looks long and hard at the demographics of the blogosphere.
WASHINGTON, D.C.--With the close of the 2007 Yearly Kos convention, a gathering of bloggers and Internet activists that took place last weekend in Chicago, a vigorous debate was sparked over the convention’s demographics, which, as reported in yesterday’s Washington Post, reveal a largely white, male population. Among the 1500 registered progressive participants in the conference, an estimated one percent was Latin American, about three percent was African American and Native Americans comprised about 0.2 percent.
In a more perfect world, the blogosphere would represent the diversity of the overall population in order to bring a variety of issues and voices to the attention of our country’s lawmakers. Unfortunately, due to various issues that include, but are not limited to, socio-economic class, education, culture, gender, sexual orientation and other issues that hang up communications in most societies, getting equal platforms to engage these other communities takes more work than many are willing to endure. As a result, you get a blogosphere that reflects the demographics -- predominantly white and male –- that characterize the political conversation in other media.
Although, when compared with traditional media, the Internet has allowed a more diverse range of voices to be heard, I am not at all surprised of the current demographics of the progressive blogger community. As early adopters of new technologies, it’s white men first and then everyone else. White women usually follow next, then African American men -- at which point more diverse groups emerge. Women of color are usually at the low end of the early adopters.
In the early years -- when home computers first made their mark -- the demographics of users matched exactly what is happening today in the blogosphere. If, as a woman, you logged on to BBS (bulletin) boards, you were automatically pounced on by all the men, since a woman posting on those boards was such a rare sight. When the Internet was first created, the wave of early adaptors was exactly the same. Today in the blogosphere, this dynamic continues through attacks on women who have something to say and dare to question the ideology of men taking part in the current political debate.
So I pose a question to those who think the dynamics that play out in our society today could turn to their opposite: If, in the beginning, bloggers were all women of color, would you question the demographics? Or, would you question whether blogging should be considered an important form of participation in democracy, and one in which you should be involved?
As a woman of color walking around the Yearly Kos convention, I was not surprised at the demographics; this is what I, as an African American woman and part of the past and current digital revolutions, experience in our society every day. Are we really addressing the diversity question? Is it fair to address diversity at one conference if we are not willing to hold up a mirror to our society at large?
Shireen Mitchell is the executive director of Digital Sisters, Inc.