Monday, July 16, 2007

Am I In, or Am I Out?

Talk has already begun at BlogRhet about the concept of inclusion and exclusion: how we do (or don't) belong to a particular blogging community, and - for me, anyway - what our responsibilities are once we are a part of a community to those who are not (or, do we even have any responsibility towards them?)

I chose to write about this topic because I am - in some ways - an outsider. Prior to joining BlogRhet, the only blogging community I belonged to was the local South Florida one. And to that I belong simply because I live here, I write about life here and - most importantly - I have been building relationships with other local bloggers.

Let me discuss the So Fla blogging community as I see myself belonging to it. When I was on the verge of leaving anonymous blogging behind, I began to discover a bunch of blogs by other people in So Fla. I was fascinated. I began to be part of the conversation simply by commenting frequently at the blogs that compelled me enough to do so. I think many enter into communities the same way: by commenting. In my experience (and from anecdotal evidence), this leads to either the commenter and blogger engaging in conversation (through a post's comments section or privately via email) and/or the blogger and his/her readers clicking on the hyperlink in the commenters name to access their blog. This is, anyway, what happened with me.

As far as the So Fla blogging community goes, it seems open to accepting any and everyone who wants to engage in conversation and/or take it a step further and meet in person. There have been blogger meet-ups, and some real-life friendships have developed, particularly among the women. A group of us are now in the process of addressing issues related to social responsibility and using our blogs and writer's voices for the greater good. A feeling I have about the local community (and y'all can tell me if I'm wrong) is that while it certainly is an imperfect community (and there is a degree of in-fighting and flame wars), there is nonetheless a unique sense of familiarity that comes from sharing the same living space (and the fact that So Fla is one crazy, effed-up place is a big factor here). A good example of both the good and the bad of the local blogging community, particularly as it both includes and excludes, was when Tancredo opened his yap and people came out swinging from all directions.

But I am more than a So Fla blogger. I am also a "mommy blogger", though I neither knew it nor identified myself as such when I began to write at A Mom, a Blog and the Life In-Between. And while I have felt like a part of the my local blogging community, it is in the mommy blogging community that I have felt more excluded and alone than I had hoped I'd be. In my opinion, there are two key reasons for this.

First, I discovered mommy blogs the same way many people do: through one of the "major" mom bloggers. It seems that for many, this is how the floodgates are opened. I doubt my story is very different from others'. In discovering one big mom blog (MB from here on out), I discovered other "popular" MBs, mainly through her blogroll. The first sign of exclusion, for me, was realizing that, by and large though certainly not absolutely, big MBs link pretty much to other big MBs. The more I think about this, the more I think this has a lot to do with what I call blogging generations. What we now consider "major" MBs are first-generation. When they began, they were it, and they all found out about each other and developed their own relationships and linking/blogrolls. But we are now in the second or third generation of blogging, and so, while we continue to discover and read well-known MBs, they (for the most part, again, there are no absolutes) are not in a position anymore to reciprocate. This, of course, is my non-scientific guess.

Either way, the case can be made that many of us who came into mommy blogging recently (say, in the last year-and-a-half to two), have built a community different from the one created by the popular MBs. The problem comes in when these earlier communities seem more like a clique - and an impenetrable one, at that. When you are a new blogger and think only those blogs exist, and those bloggers, presumably without intending to, shut you out (by not responding to your comments, or personal email, or reading your blog, etc.), it's easy to feel excluded.

I certainly did. Let me be clear: I did not think it intentional on anyone else's part. But initially, it was incredibly off-putting. Enough that I asked myself, why bother reading someone's blog when they don't even bother to respond to you or read your own work? And for a while, I didn't. I had enough going on with my local blogging community and the little world I was cultivating in my blog to "bother" with bloggers who ignored my ass.

The feeling passed as soon as I discovered a whole other MB community, one that seemed (to me, anyway) much more welcoming and inclusive. But the notion of exclusion, intentional or not, has stayed with me. My guess is that this is because while I now interact with a great group of MBs (specifically BlogRhet, but most definitely other wonderful individuals), I still don't feel like it's "my group". I will read anyone I come across whom I find interesting. I will add to my blogroll just about anyone who asks, the only real exception being anyone whose philosophy or parenting style or ethics I morally feel I cannot support or encourage (hasn't happened yet, but I suppose it could). My approach tends to be to welcome one and all to my domain, and then reciprocate by visiting theirs (often or not, it just depends on how busy I am) and either commenting where appropriate or making some sort of contact with the writer to let him/her know I enjoy their blog. Yes, I suffer from an extreme sense of fairness, but to me, this is an important part of being a blogger and part of a larger community. It seems extremely unfair to me to be someone who enjoys a large readership (and therefore, a lot of virtual support and/or the ability to make a living off your blog or blogs) and then not return the favor by reading smaller, newer blogs and/or communicating with those bloggers. I got into blogging, in large part, to make new friends (and amass hundreds of thousands of readers so that publishers have no choice but to offer me a sweet book deal for my novel-in-progress, natch). And if that's my aim, then I have to give what I get, no?

And yet, I can argue that I have my own circle - anyone can. So what marks the line between being inclusive and being exclusive? For me, it's all about how you react to and treat your readers. Some will argue with me, but I am a firm believer in reciprocity. I mean, if you visit my blog and it's just not for you, that's cool; I don't expect you to read it regularly, even if I do read yours regularly. But if I comment on your blog or email you, I DO believe in receiving a response of some kind. And not all bloggers do this. Granted, when you have hundreds or thousands of readers, it's difficult to do. And that's got to be hard. I've heard that popular bloggers heavily feel the burden of navigating this world, of building relationships and commenting here but not there and then dealing with hurt feelings and criticism. And my opinion on that is that a blogger - well-known or not - should comment where they please and damn those who criticize them. But I also believe that, hundreds of readers or not, a blogger, especially one who has gained "fame" or money or a solid reputation (or rather, precisely because of that fame, reputation and money), bears some responsibility in being inclusive, in responding to comments (on their own blog, whether in general or in particular) and playing a role in the community (stepping outside their circle, fostering the community, etc.). And specific to well-known (or "gateway") bloggers, because that is how so many enter into the MB world-at-large, there is a particular onus to be welcoming. Is that a fair thing for me to ask of them? Maybe not. But I stand by it. Heavy is the head that wears the crown and all. When you reach a certain stature in any particular niche, there are some expectations that come with it. In this case, I think that expectation is that gateway bloggers be welcoming and responsive, even if it's just in a minor way (such as, a short post recognizing a new crop of commenters - and many new commenters identify themselves as new to the site or to blogging - and welcoming them - or something to that effect; or directly addressing comments that either ask questions or express enough emotion that warrant a response. My suggesting this doesn't mean it doesn't already happen, though).

So, is the behavior of bloggers that comes across as unwelcoming or clique-ish "bad"? Not really, I guess. But it's alienating. And what I've shared here are the factors that, for me, determine how welcome one feels in a particular blog and in different blogging communities.

The second reason for my prevailing sense of exclusion is by far a more important one to me, and the one I really want to explore (yeah, all that rambling up there is basically a preamble). And that is the fact that I am a minority; and that, more than anything, perpetuates this feeling - even in places where I have been included.

If you doubt it (or, do you even think about it?), let me confirm it for you: the mommy blogging community is white. And I am not. At least, not as a general cross-section of Americans define "white". I am white in race but Hispanic in culture. And that makes me not white - at least to anyone who is not like me (I use the term "white" and "regular Americans" to mean white Anglos and basically, what has always been considered the majority in this country). I've already discussed some of the aspects of growing up Cuban in America. The thing is, a great big chunk of my childhood was NOTHING like what most regular Americans experienced. My parents were not American, and so they were unlike anything outside Miami. My world was insular and unique. It was Cuba inside the United States. And I was shaped by that. It has affected the way I see the world, the logic and reason I apply to everything, the way I parent, the way I express myself. And it is utterly alienating. Outside of South Florida, I am a foreigner. The country I was taught to love, respect and honor is a mystery to me in many, many ways.

And while blogging has opened my world in so many ways, it has also made me feel quite alienated at times. It has underscored just how different I am. And it's frustrating. I mean, I read some things that are completely foreign to me. Like, I can't wrap my head around it. And then I check the comments out, and everyone's agreeing, and I'm just floored. I resort to my tired and true line, eso es cosa de Americano, because I don't know what else to make of it.

Obviously, this is not intentional exclusion. But it is a kind of exclusion nonetheless. It is my feeling that the MB world-at-large is predominantly made up of white women. Few are the African-American women, the Hispanic ones, the Aisan ones, etc. Of course, this ties to questions of privilege; and the assumption is that white, in many ways, equals privilege. But there are plenty of African-American, Hispanic and Asian families that are educated, wealthy and just as privileged as white ones (to name the top minority groups in the U.S., but certainly this is can be true of all minority groups). I have made an effort to find blogs (specifically, MBs) by minorities. And they're out there, but not as many as I wish there were, and certainly not in numbers that would drive the point home that we're here and living and loving and have just as much to offer as anyone else. This dearth of minority-voice blogs is another topic unto itself, but for the purposes of inclusion or exclusion, I have to ask, where are the minorities as far as commenting in MBs? I mean, yeah, you don't comment on a blog by first announcing your ethnicity, but there is a void of comments and conversation from women (and mothers) from the perspective of a minority voice.

Is this just me? Do any minorities who read MBs ever feel like, "WTF? I so can't relate"? Does anyone else feel sometimes that the mommy blog world is a microcosm of the United States, where white voices lead and prevail and there seems little room for minorities? And where these white voices seemingly have little to no experiences beyond their white world? The fact that parenting blog advertising dollars are spent entirely (or close enough) on blogs written by white people speaks volumes to me. This is shades of gray, because advertisers will go where the readers are, but doesn't it say something that these advertisers and parenting blog review and media networks have yet to consider anything beyond white? That no one has thought outside the box and attempted to reach minority audiences that have billions and billions of dollars in buying power? Because I may be Hispanic (a term few can even correctly define), but I've got money to burn, too!

The exclusion of the mom blog world of minorities is simply one based on ignorance. You cannot address, or include, that which you do not know. It is true of me in the reverse. But as the minority here, I can't help but see it as a disadvantage. The funny thing to me is that I find myself relating a lot to "foreign" MB's, particularly ones written by Canadians. I don't know if it's because I perceive them as minorities, too (even though they really aren't, but at times this seems like an American playing field) or because I've always had an affinity, a certain soul recognition, with Canadians in general. But outside local blogs, I can relate most to those.

This is hard topic for me to write about (which is why I chose to write about it), and I feel like I have more questions than answers to offer. Still, I think it's an important part of this conversation. A difficult, perhaps sticky, part, but necessary nonetheless. How do you feel about it?

I'd love for you to join in on this conversation and share your thoughts. Because this post is part of the work we at BlogRhet are trying to do, I've closed comments here so that the discussion can happen there. Please visit BlogRhet to comment.

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Posted by Tere @ 7/16/2007   | |

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