How I Use This Blog as a Scholar

Digital media is changing how I do my work as a scholar. How I work today bares little resemblance to the way I was trained as a scholar, but has everything to do with being fluid with both scholarship and digital technologies.  To illustrate what I mean by this, I describe the process behind a recent article of mine that started with a Tweet at an academic conference, then became a blog post, then a series of blog posts, and was eventually an article in a peer-reviewed journal.

My article, Race and racism in Internet Studies: A review and critique (New Media & Society 15 (5): 695-719), was just published in the August, special issue of New Media & Society on The Rise of Internet Studies, edited by Charles Ess and William Dutton.  The germ of an idea for the paper began at the American Sociology Association Annual Meeting in 2010.  I attended sessions about online discourse and, given my interest in racism in online discourse, I kept expecting some one to bring up this issue.

jessie daniels tweet1

I was disappointed by the lack of attention to racism, or race more generally, in the sessions I attended, and Tweeted that observation, using the hashtag of the conference (#asa2010).  When I consulted the program for the conference I was truly perplexed to find that the only session on race and digital media was the one I’d help organize.  In a lot of ways, a Tweet is just a “soundbite” in 140-characters of text.  And, as the astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson suggests, there’s nothing wrong with a soundbite, especially if you want to reach a wider audience than just other specialists in your field.


That one Tweet – and the lack of scholarship it spoke to – got me thinking about the kinds of sessions I would like to see at the ASA and the sorts of things I thought sociologists should be studying in this area, so I wrote a blog post about it, “Race, Racism & the Internet: 10 Things Sociologists Should be Studying.”  As I usually do now, I shared that blog post via Twitter.

jessie daniels tweet 2

I got many responses from people who shared their work, and the work of their students, friends and colleagues, with me in the form of comments to the blog or @replies on Twitter. The suggestions for further citations came from people I know almost exclusively through our interactions via the blog or Twitter. That feedback from geographically-remote, institutionally-varied yet digitally-close colleagues got me thinking about expanding that single blog post into a series of posts.  I wanted to review the wide-range of interdisciplinary work happening in what Ess and Dutton call “Internet studies.”   Why bother with this, one might reasonably ask?

Central to this new workflow of scholarship is the blog, Racism Review (RR), which I started in 2007 with Joe Feagin, a past president of the ASA, with the goal of creating an online resource for reliable, scholarly information for journalists, students and members of the general public who are seeking solid evidence-based research and analysis of “race” and racism.  The blog has very much become part of “how to be a scholar” in the current, digital moment.  I use it to post first drafts of ideas, to keep up-to-date on the research literature, and since I firmly believe that writing is thinking, I often use it to work out just what I think about something.

The blog has also become a way to support other scholars both in their research and in teaching.  A number of academics have told us that they use the blog in teaching; one, Kimberley Ducey (Asst. Prof., University of Winnipeg) uses RR blog posts in an instructor’s manual for a traditional intro sociology textbook as lecture suggestions, in-class activities, and essays/assignments.  Through the many guest bloggers we host, I learn about other people’s scholarly work that I might not otherwise know about.  And, the blog has become a mentoring platform, where early career scholars often get started with blogging and then go on to create their own.  The blog is also content-hungry, so I’m always thinking about scholarship that might make an interesting blog post.  So, back to the series of posts.

From late February to early March, 2011, I did a series of blog posts that expanded on the initial “10 Things,” post from August, 2010.  Those posts were all about the current scholarship on race, racism and the Internet with each one focusing on a different sub-field in sociology, including: 1) Internet infrastructure and labor force issues; 2) digital divides and mobile technology; 3) racist social movement groups; 4) social networking sites; 5) dating; 6) housing; and 7) the comments sections of news and sports sites.  This last area, racism in comments sections, prompted a research collaboration with one of the presenters from that 2010 ASA session I organized. The paper from that project eventually appeared in the journal Media, Culture & Society.

At about the same, there was a fortuitous Call for Papers for the Ess & Dutton special issue on Internet studies at 15 years into the field.  So I combined all of the blog posts into one paper, and thought more about what my critique of the field as a whole might be.  For that critique, I ended up revisiting some of Stuart Hall’s earlier writing about the “spectacle” of race in media scholarship and incorporated that with elements of Joe Feagin and Sean Elias’ critique of “racial formation” as a weak theoretical frame for Internet studies.  The paper went into an extended peer review process, I revised it once, and it finally appeared (online ahead of print) in December 2012, and in print in August, 2013.

Except for the very end of this process – submitting the paper to the journal for peer-review – none of this way of working bares the least bit of resemblance to how I was trained to be a scholar.  My primary job as an academic is to create new knowledge, traditionally measured by the number of articles and books I produce. Traditional graduate school training has taught us to think of a “pipeline” of notes, posters, conference papers, journal submissions (and/or, book proposals), revisions, resubmissions and finally, print publication. For me, how to be a scholar now is completely different than when I went to graduate school because of the way that digital media infuses pretty much every step.

This process I’ve described here – from Tweet at an academic conference, to a blog post, to a series of blog posts to a paper that became an article – is just one of many possible iterations of how to be a scholar now using digital media.  Other permutations of how to be a scholar now might include live Tweeting an article you’re reading. Sometimes, when I get pre-set “alerts” in my email about newly published scholarship I’m interested in, I will share a title and a link via Twitter. If, upon reading further, I find the piece especially perspicacious, I may share select sentences via Twitter. If it happens that there’s a current event in the news that the article can help illuminate, then I’ll draft a blog post that incorporates it.

My experience with the germ of an idea shared as a Tweet at an academic conference that became a blog post, then a series of blog posts, and (eventually) a peer-reviewed is just one example of the changing nature of scholarship.  From where I sit, being a scholar now involves creating knowledge in ways that are more open, more fluid, and more easily read by wider audiences.


 ~ This blog post originally appeared at the LSE Impact Blog.


It’s with more than a little sadness that I report on what appears to be the demise of  Started in 2005 by Spencer Overton, a George Washington University law professor, along with eight or nine other black law professors, consistently provided a sharp analysis on race, law and culture.  For me, was a model for what was possible when Joe and I started this blog in 2007.

I visited the site a few days ago and noticed that it was fallow, something others had noticed as well, and thought nothing of it.  People stop updating blogs for a lot of reasons and then eventually come back to them.  And, that’s what I had hoped for at

Until today, when I went back there to check something in their archive and I got one of those nasty, this-site-may-harm-your-computer messages.  It seems that the pharma-hackers have attacked the site so that now you can’t even see the content of the site.

It’s seems an ignoble end to a long-running and quite noble effort, and a collective of voices that will be missed.  RIP

Racism Link Roundup

Every once in awhile, I spend the morning surfing around the web, like you do, and read a bunch of juicy blogs about racism and think to myself, “Gee, I wish I’d written that.”  Rather than succumb to blog-related despair, I collect the best links about racism from around the web and post them here, for you dear reader.   This is the latest juicy-blog-link roundup:

Enjoy the roundup!   Feel free to add links in the comments of anything I missed.

Can Social Media End Racism?

One of the preoccupations of this blog is thinking and writing about anti-racism and effective strategies for dismantling systems of racial inequality (image from here).    So, I was especially interested to learn about a panel just the other day at SXSWi in Austin, called ‘Can Social Media End Racism?’

The panelists were: Kety Esquivel, New Media Mgr, National Council of La Raza and CrossLeft; Jay Smooth, Ill Doctrine; Phil Yu,  Angry Asian Man; Latoya Peterson

I couldn’t attend but thanks to the interwebs, and some fast typing, there’s a partial transcript of the session up at Liz Henry’s blog, Composite.    The lively panel discussion to transcript translation can sometimes leave you wondering what happened, but this one is very good and gives a sense of what went on.   Parts of the transcript made me reflect a bit on our corner of the blogosphere.  Here are a few of the relevant bits:

Latoya: This discussion is intermediate level, not Racism101 We don’t want to talk about whether racism exists. not interested in that. It’s about our experiences with social media.

So, Latoya starts out saying that this is not a “Racism101” discussion, that is, debating whether racism exists or not.    More emphasis on experiences with social media.  Fair enough.

Then, the Kety offers that the project bloggers working against racism are engaged in involves these elements: 1) spreading knowledge 2) creating refuge 3) mobilizing to action.  And, one of the interesting examples of mobilizing using the web is NCLR’s Stop the Hate campaign.

Several times, the discussion returns to the theme of racist (even violently racist) comments at these various online spaces.     And then, danah boyd asks what I think is one of the key questions, which is (paraphrased): given the history of racism online, [and given that] racism has different roots in different countries… how you get people talking, [when] they don’t know the history?

Indeed, how do you get people talking?     I see that as a struggle that gets played out here, at this blog, all the time.  I know that (possibly) conservative commentors who come by here, such as Robby – who asked recently about my reaction to Heather McDonald’s writing – see me (and others here) as engaging in “the same ol’ agit prop BS couched in impenetrable race jargon,” when what I thought I was doing was making a earnest effort to respond to what I thought was a sincere query.    And, the level of name-calling here, even by people who are supposedly supporters of anti-racism, sometimes makes me sigh.    And, that’s just among the people that bother to drop a comment.  Blogs notoriously suffer from “participation inequality” in which 90% of readers remain “lurkers” and never post a comment.   This blog is no different in that regard. So, how do you get people talking seems to me to be the central question.

I wonder about the space between #1 and #2 and #3 in Kety’s list (above) and about what we’re doing, those of us who blog against racism.   Is it possible to “spread knowledge” and “create refuge” at the same time?  And, can you do both those things while you’re “mobilizing for action”?   I don’t know, but it seems to me that a lot of what we do — here at least —  is not so much “spread” knowledge as engage in a politically-contested struggle over knowledge about race and racism.    And, if we’re “creating refuge” are we just talking to ourselves and people who agree with us?

To my mind,  talking about the basics of racism (e.g., “Racism 101”) and the empirical research that demonstrably shows that racism persists, both individually and institutionally, is necessary, if not sufficient, first step.

Proud to be White?

Last week was International Blog Against Racism Week (IBARW) and, a bit belatedly, I wanted to draw attention to a couple of excellent posts from that event, both of which deal in some way with whiteness and what it means to be white (image: “Shiny Happy White People” from DCVision, Flickr CreativeCommons) and struggle against racism.

Alexis Lothian blogging at QueerGeekTheory praises the focus on intersectionality in this year’s cautions about what she sees as the downside:

“That doesn’t, of course, come without a risk – of interminable ‘white guilt’ posts, of the idea that this is the one week in the year when bloggers should think about race, et cetera – but I still think it’s a rather wonderful example of the way online community creates mobile sites of theorizing and activism that don’t necessarily rely on established networks or on the academy.”

White guilt seems an inevitable, if regrettable, cul-de-sac of conversation about racism with white people, because it leads to white resentment. A number of multicultural trainers have adopted a group-work exercise meant to address this, and Priscilla Brice-Weller blogging at Solidariti writes about her experience with this:

“…we were asked to … talk for three minutes with a partner about what we hate about [being white … or whatever other group we belong to … it could be related to sexuality, race, age, class, or anything else]. Then we were asked to talk for three minutes about what we love about [being white]. The one rule was that we couldn’t talk about our group in relation to other groups (so in my example, I couldn’t talk about being white in relation to being black/brown/anyone else).

It turned out that for the first minute or two I focussed on stereotypes. When the stereotypes were out the way, the truth started to emerge. I found that during the second “what I love about being white” session, it was difficult to speak because I had nothing positive to say. When you find yourself in that situation, and particularly as an anti-racism campaigner, it’s pretty confronting.

When I reflect on this, all I can think of is how white people invaded Australia, how the English invaded India, how the Americans invaded Iraq, how the global north (which includes Australia) lives in comparable wealth to the global south and still fails to address the balance of power in that relationship. There’s plenty of wonderful things white people have done, but I think about the negative things first. Obviously I’ve still more reflection to do, because to work effectively across difference I need to be able to embrace my own people too.”

While I admire Priscilla and others involved in IBAWR for tackling these issues, I think that the approach advocated by many multicultural trainers like the one she encountered in Sydney is wrong-headed because it suggests a symmetrical, “we are all the same,” approach to dealing with racism. As I noted in a post awhile back, uncovering the history of racial oppression and privilege is an asymmetrical process that has an asymmetrical effect in the present depending upon one’s standpoint.These sorts of exercises, if followed to the logical conclusion, would have us believe that if we are “proud to be white” just as people of color are “proud to be black” or “proud to be Latina,” then we will all have moved away from racism and toward racial harmony. I don’t agree. Cultivating the notion that one is “proud to be white” leads – it seems quite obviously – to white pride. That certainly seems to be the wrong direction.

Of course, individual whites can, and should, take action to find examples of white, anti-racist activism and to adopt those as models for their own lives. Yet, if what we end up doing is sitting around in racially-segregated groups discovering why we’re “proud to be white,” I don’t think we’re engaging in anti-racism. A more productive approach is one that foregrounds accountability and responsiveness, as our occasional fellow-blogger Tim Wise explains (via Macon D at Stuff White People Do and originally from Carmen at Racialicious):

“And I think that’s because a lot of white folks come to this work with the mentality that we’re doing it for other people. And, one of the things I learned doing community organizing, working in public housing in New Orleans for about fifteen months with a great organization down there called Agenda for Children, that was connected to the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond, which does anti-racism training, was that they really taught me—and I haven’t figured it all out—but they taught me the importance of accountability, and trying to be responsive, and responsible to, people of color, understanding that ultimately we want to follow the lead of people of color, but that we’re not doing it for them. . .”

What Tim suggests here – being accountable to and responsive to people of color – is a very different project than the multicultural-training where we all put our chairs in a circle and decide what we like about being white. The challenge, of course, for white people is understanding the history and present-day record of racial discrimination and oppression, then choosing to take action to end it rather than getting mired in the dead-end of guilt and resentment.