Diversity, also “[adjective] bloggers”

I’m not properly settled in to my new country by any means, but I found a relatively cheap internet cafe and Natalie has a post titled “Thoughts From A Diversity Hire” which I want to comment on, so briefly:

The first thing I want to say is that I think there’s a very simple way to point out the value of diversity that should make sense to people in the atheist movement: Dan Barker and Ayaan Hirsi Ali are both in-demand speakers within the atheist movement. And they’re in-demand in large part because they can talk compellingly a experiences that not everyone has had (ex-Christian fundamentalist and ex-Muslim respectively.)

If you can get that, you should be able to get why it’s so valuable to, say, have someone who can write compellingly about trans experiences (Natalie) or about experiencing Christian fundamentalism as a woman (Libby Anne). Not that this is all there is to the value of diversity–you can read Natalie’s post for more on that–but it’s one element that should be especially easy for people here to understand.

The other thing–Natalie writes:

One of the problems I see pop up a bit regularly in the skeptic community is how often terms like “objective” or “neutral” in terms of perspective or position will covertly overlap with privileged perspectives. For instance, I’m a transsexual blogger, Ophelia and Stephanie are female bloggers, Greta and Chris R. are queer bloggers,  Ian and Sikivu are black bloggers, Maryam is an ex-muslim blogger, and so on, while PZ, Ed or Greg are just… bloggers.

Now I’m not real familiar with the phenomenon of transsexual/female/queer/black/ex-Muslim/whatever writers not being considered “objective” or “neutral,” so this may end up being tangential to Natalie’s intended point. But there is something that, at first glance, looks weird about our choices about which adjectives we use to describe people and which adjectives we leave aside even though they’d be accurate. I’m not sure it’s as weird as it seems at first, though.

Dan Savage, for example, is an atheist who blogs, but even people who know that probably won’t think of him all that readily if you ask them to think of “atheist bloggers.” (Same goes for Amanda Marcotte, Cory Doctorow, and probably a bunch of other people I’m not aware of/not remembering right now). Odd, isn’t it?

But you could imagine a case that’s the inverse of the Dan Savage case, a gay atheist who blogs, but who doesn’t write so much about gay issues. I think such a person wouldn’t often be described as a “gay blogger.” And what I think shows is that when describing writers, we tend to apply the adjectives that come through most strongly in their writing, and leave out other things even when they’re publicly known and perfectly accurate. It’s not clear that there’s anything wrong with that.

Programming note: *I think* I’ll have free wifi access tonight (my night, ~12 hours from now) and will be able to blog a bit more then. On the other hand, job orientation schedule sounds a bit hectic. We’ll see what happens.

  • Pteryxx

    And what I think shows is that when describing writers, we tend to apply the adjectives that come through most strongly in their writing, and leave out other things even when they’re publicly known and perfectly accurate. It’s not clear that there’s anything wrong with that.

    While that’s true, there’s also a couple of conflating processes… first off, what “comes through most strongly” in a reader’s perception is affected by the reader’s biases and preconceptions, not just what the blogger chooses to emphasize. Where diversity’s concerned, that’s all it takes for subconscious bigotry to kick in. Second off, personal factors that ARE publicly known, aren’t publicly known evenly in all spheres of influence. There’s an example in Greenwald’s article of VanderSloot harassing a gay journalist by outing him to his local community, even though he’d been openly gay when he lived in another state some years before. So, leaving things out isn’t just a matter of accuracy.

    Anyway, good luck with the move and cheap internet access!

  • Ace of Sevens

    For instance, I had no idea Chris Rhodda was in the queer-blogging category until Natalie mentioned it, so I think this is part of it.

    On the other hand, you never see anyone telling Ed he isn’t qualified to write about skepticism because his degree is in journalism. This sort of things seems to happen exclusively to people who are women, some kind of queer or non-white.

  • piero

    But you could imagine a case that’s the inverse of the Dan Savage case, a gay atheist who blogs, but who doesn’t write so much about gay issues. I think such a person wouldn’t often be described as a “gay blogger.” And what I think shows is that when describing writers, we tend to apply the adjectives that come through most strongly in their writing, and leave out other things even when they’re publicly known and perfectly accurate. It’s not clear that there’s anything wrong with that.

    I think you are spot on. I’m white, male, heterosexual and middle-class. In other words, the kind of person nobody notices. If I had a blog, I would certainly not blog about white middle-class male specific issues, because they would be excruciatingly boring. Can you imagine PZ blogging on the different mortgage rates he was offered when he wanted to buy a house, or how the “trophy wife” (TM) and he chose the school to send their kids to?

    A member of a minority will have a natural tendency to blog about minority-specific issues (living in a Catholic country, if I started a blog, it would most probably be described as “the blog of that atheist guy”). Natalie will obviously post about transexuality, because that’s especially relevant to her, just as Maryam will post about Islamism, Al Stefanelli about Christianity, Ed Bryton about current politics, etc.

    In short, I couldn’t agree more: we are mostly identified by what we mostly are, and by this I mean what we devote most of our energy to. It’s neither right nor wrong; it’s simply haw things are.

    • http://www.freethoughtblogs.com/nataliereed Natalie Reed

      This is exactly the problem, the assumption that majority/privileged identity issues don’t exist, or are “non-issues”. Fun fact: people of colour also get mortgages, and queer families also negotiate which school to send their children to. It’s recognition of the fact that privileged parties are writing from a particular subject position to the EXACT SAME EXTENT as are women and minorities that’s important.

      • piero

        I’m sorry, I don’t quite follow you.

    • Pen

      I feel as if several of the straight white male bloggers on FTB have been writing in a way that acknowledges that identity or looks at how it relates to atheism, the atheist community and various subjects. PZ is a case in point, but he’s not the only one. There’s particularly been a lot of discussion and experimentation around here by straight males about how they can/should express their sexuality in diverse groups.

  • Stacy

    And what I think shows is that when describing writers, we tend to apply the adjectives that come through most strongly in their writing

    You’ve missed the point. Lots and lots of bloggers on the interwebs “come through strongly” as white, male, straight, etc. But they’re not commonly labeled as such. Because being white, male, and straight is the default, the norm.

    (Natalie, using Hallquist’s logic, I think I shall start calling you the “My Little Pony” blogger!)

    Can you imagine PZ blogging on the different mortgage rates he was offered when he wanted to buy a house, or how the “trophy wife” (TM) and he chose the school to send their kids to?

    Piero, middle class, yes, but–but those are not white, male-specific issues.

    • http://www.facebook.com/chris.hallquist Chris Hallquist

      Natalie doesn’t blog *quite* often enough about MLP for “My Littel Pony blogger” to sound right to my ear. But in principle, why not?

    • piero

      Piero, middle class, yes, but–but those are not white, male-specific issues.

      I know. I was trying to convey the idea that unless I have something I feel strongly about, such as my views on religion, politics, sexuality, race, feminism, etc., my social identity will not constitute a very interesting theme.

      “Today I woke up, had a shower, ate breakfast and went to work. Nobody looked at me in any funny sort of way. Nobody told me anything offensive. The sky was blue and the clouds were off-white.”

      Would you really like to read that stuff?

      • Stacy

        But piero, if you are not writing about your social identity because you are a white male and you consider it “boring”, don’t you see that that’s because your social identity as white male is “the default”?

        I actually think you could write about your social identity in interesting ways if you stop seeing it as “normal human” and start really thinking about what you’ve learned to perceive as normal (as opposed to what other people experience as normal).

        • piero

          I don’t see my social identity as that of a “normal” human being at all. For a start, “normality” is a statistical concept which varies from one culture to another. Were I to move to Rwanda, I’d instantly become abnormal.

          I am, if anything, abnormal even in my own country, in the sense that I belong to the privileged minority. But nobody wants to know about the privileged minorities. It’s boring. Dante’s Inferno is much more entertaining than his Paradise (and I won’t even mention the Purgatory, which is as boring as boring gets).

  • Ace of Sevens

    I think you could get known as “that white blogger,” but you’d have to really go out of your way to do it, like you were reflecting on white people in stand-up comedy instead of real life.

  • John W. Loftus
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