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 Racialicious.com.
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.