Saturday, September 18

Not quite disillusioned...but not far from it either.

As i mentioned before, i'm chasing a PhD in Library and Information Studies. in my CMC course the other day, we were reviewing articles on online culture - some good, some bad. One of the articles was "The Rhetorical Dynamics of Gender Harassment Online"Information Society 15 (1999) by Susan Herring, who's a pretty big deal in CMC.

Briefly, Herring looks at two excerpts of conversations between men and women - one on IRC, and the other on Usenet. Both examples are pretty egregious - the men involved use pretty aggressive, pejorative language to attack the women involved. Herring analyzes the exchanges using Discourse Analysis literature by Labov, Lakoff, and Propp. She also analyzes the mediums referring to work Turkle, Nancy Baym, and some of her own articles. Overall, a fairly important article highlighting online behaviors that were less than democratically ideal.

We review the assigned articles by groups, and this week's group was pretty unanimous - they hated this article. They didn't disagree that gender harassment in online environments such as IRC or Usenet may be possible online - although one of the reviewers claims that he's never noticed it. Their problem was with the extreme nature of the case studies; with the conclusions drawn from the case studies; or with the fact that they didn't feel she had enough evidence to make her case.

So i got pissed.

see...most of my classmates are white. okay, maybe that's not much of an excuse, but it's the best one i can come up with.

I said to the class,

"The way you destroyed this article reminded me SO much of the way that white people deny the existence of racism in this country. if the example is too extreme (say, someone gets lynched) then the problem is the behavior of the individuals involved - it's not a societal problem. if the example is too nuanced (say, coded language devaluing the intellectual merit of minorities), then the problem is the perception of the victim - it's not a societal problem. No matter how many incidents are recounted, there are never enough examples given of racism/sexism/(you pick the)-ism to convince you that a transgression has occurred."

i added,

"i am disappointed because y'all are going to be my colleagues one day. your devaluation of the validity or even reliability of this article devalues the conclusions that the author is making and even the experiences of the women involved in each incident - and you guys don't have any problem with that."

when i re-read what i said (and yeah, i actually said it like that), i realize that i tiptoed. i should have told them that their behavior was straight up racist; that their dismissal of the article was a reinforcement of white male privilege. i was trying to be polite...and as a result, they wiggled right the f*ck away from what i said.

they said that they were just being objective, that the article was too biased because Herring was LOOKING for gender harassment rather than letting her data give her enough information to draw her conclusions.

it's frustrating enough that i'm the rare Black male in a field dominated by middle-aged white women. it's even more frustrating to be confronted over and over again how hidebound, conservative, and subliminally racist academia is - much less my field.

for those of you who care...any suggestions on how to deal with this?

Saturday, September 11

Let's get it started

....from the Afrofuturism listserve....

Date: Thu, 9 Sep 2004 13:33:27 -0700 (PDT)
From: Art McGee
Subject: Am I Black?

> i want you to convince me that you're black.

Hey, this wasn't directed at me, but it's still a good
question. How do I signify that I'm Black in a virtual
medium with no visual cues, when Blackness has become
so commodified that many non-Black people could pass?

Talk amongst yourselves...

we were talking about this in my CMC class the other day - how do online communities determine membership without the verification of face-to-face contact? i brought up the Afrofuturism listserve (even though i'm a lurker more than a poster) because people are often called out to verify their "ghetto pass".

  • one of the ways i thought of was to be culturally literate - although the AF list tends to privilege radical black media over other, more popular stuff.

  • one of the ways that doesn't always work is the online version of the dozens. the insults and rejoinders are often witty,
    but some posters who are always online tend to "loudtalk" or post many times in order to shut dissenters down.

  • my personal favorite method of Blackness authentication is anecdotal stories of resistance, since the personal affront of racism recounted tends to make people vulnerable and perhaps more credible.

i don't think many non-blacks can pass both cultural literacy tests and the dozens, though.

in any case, why does it make a difference whether or not you're black online? one of my (non-black) classmates asked me this, and so i'll put it to the blog before i post my own answer.