by Swazi Rodgers Follow @SwaziRodgers
After attending last year’s Mumsnet BlogFest, I wrote a post about how bloggers who go to conferences appear to be uniformly white. It received a lot of responses including a positive promise from two blogging networks to meet up and discuss how to improve diversity and inclusion at their events. Mumsnet – the bigger of the two networks – made good on that promise, and a few weeks ago I went with my lovely friend and fellow blogger Soraya went to Mumsnet Towers and had a great chat with some of the behind-the-scenes folks who make the Mumsnet BlogFest and the Bloggers’ Network happen. The main thing we discussed was how to make non-white bloggers feel included and welcome.
Before I go into detail, let me explain why this issue matters. If you’re thinking – ‘I’ve never wondered what the ethnicity of the writer of a blog is. If I like it, I read it’ – then thank you and I do hope you come back again. But, it’s not about that. It’s about writers who are non-white seeing themselves up there – being ‘in the room’ is so important.
You see, I always wanted to be Marilyn Monroe, Debbie Harry or Madonna. I thought Paula Yates was amazing and loved her style, her chutzpah and how effortlessly cool she was. All of them had their own battles behind the glamour – but the point is, growing up, it meant everything to be white and blonde. Not dark haired and brown skinned. Blue eyes were better than brown.
My role models just weren’t Asian or black women. From my own culture, Bollywood movies showed either unrealistic, pneumatic women or the archetypal Mother as martyr, and rape was just part of the story rather than something to be condemned. When I was growing up, there was no Aishwarya Rai with her twin successful careers in Indian and American movies, showing that Asian beauty is acceptable to everyone. If I was to be successful, I had to be as white as possible.
Until I read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and The Colour Purple, I had no idea that writing could be about tough, real lives. I discovered that Maya Angelou was outspoken, beautiful, imperfect and honest, and I still love listening to her mellifluous tones reading poetry and singing.
I grew up in a family that had old fashioned values from ‘back home’, and yet most kids from my sort of background lived a dual life. Some girls would arrive at school in modest clothes, then change into miniskirts and makeup. I wasn’t one of those, but I did have another life outside my family. At university I went out drinking (far too much, really) and discovered a love of music and the arts. I didn’t have boyfriends, but I knew a lot of Asian girls who did. However, at home, I was a sister, a daughter, mostly obedient and didn’t talk about my ambitions or interests. They weren’t relevant.
As an adult, if I go to a conference where there are few – if any – people like me, I feel transported back to that dual life. I’m living outside of what I’m ‘supposed’ to be doing. People like me don’t blog. We don’t talk about our lives. Only we do. When I wrote about the ‘whiteness’ of blogging events a lot of bloggers responded, saying, ‘Yes, I noticed that too’. Some also pointed out that they felt younger than the others, or that they were in a different social class. I guess we all have our Achilles heel, our point of difference.
‘It’s open to everyone, so if people don’t want to come we can’t make them,’ people might say. It’s a fair point, but if I go to an event and I’m one of few non-white bloggers attending, it makes me wonder why the others aren’t there. In our culture, shame over being different comes from being left out – underrepresented and invisible. Underrepresentation at these events may be due to cost, location or any other number of reasons that are not specific to ethnicity. However, the end result is the same: if I’m a blogger who only meets white bloggers, does that make me unique, or just weird?
So we said most of this in our meeting at Mumsnet, and they are keen to engage with all bloggers. To this end, the Bloggers Network is introducing a new category where you can specify that you are a BME (Black and Minority Ethnic) blogger. Of course you don’t have to, and if you prefer to blog anonymously you can just keep doing what you’re doing. But it will be a quick and easy way to find other bloggers who have chosen to be in the category. It is a small step, but it means that we can find each other and maybe share and support one another in whatever ways are necessary. It is just nice to know you’re not the only one.
I wrote this guest post for Mumsnet in May 2014 and the lovely folks at Media Diversified asked me for an update on what has happened since. Well, I’ve stayed in touch with Mumsnet and also engaged with Britmums on the issue of inclusion and diversity. I spoke at the Britmums Live conference in June 2014 where I read out a blog post I’d written about equality and in November 2014 I chaired a roundtable discussion about inclusion in blogging at the Mumsnet blogfest. It’s still a very white arena and the few high profile BME bloggers I know are – of course – keen to be known for their writing rather than their ethnicity. Attending these events, it is still a game of small numbers and the reasons for the ‘invisibility’ of BME bloggers are far from clear.
What has really been interesting is the reaction from non-BME bloggers. It’s not racism so much as a genuine inability to see why it’s even an issue — the wide-eyed ingénue response of ‘Well, it’s open to everyone, so why don’t they just come along?’ I’ll give you two examples of why I think it’s important.
I attended a PR event that bloggers were invited to and when I walked into the swanky hotel with another BME woman, one of the press flunkies hurried over to talk to us in hushed tones and tell us that this was a private, invitation only event and we were probably in the wrong room. We corrected her and made sure we stayed far longer than the ten minutes we’d intended, just to make sure their ethnic mix was a bit less white than they had hoped for.
Often bloggers are invited to participate in online events with a fun hashtag associated with them. I was captivated by one that had a hashtag along the lines of ‘little white bloggers’. When I looked at the photos of the event it became very clear that all the bloggers – and their children – were indeed white. I guess it’s honest if a little crass and not exactly inclusive. A bit shameful really in this day and age, isn’t it?
So, there is still some way to go. Hopefully we’ll see some of this change in 2015.
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9 thoughts on “Blogging: “I always wanted to be Marilyn Monroe, Debbie Harry or Madonna””
I really hate how you people demonize the white skin.Many white women will never look like Monroe either,is not a matter of skin color is not even a matter of beauty standards.Beauty standards should not even matter.The world we are living in appreciates individuality there are people who like white skin,ones who like black skin and other who like brown or the Asian look.There is nothing wrong with neither of them.Let’s not act like a martyr when is not needed.
My best friend is a Tamil who lives in a very conservative society where she will probably have an arranged marriage and her whole life will be controlled,who knows.They are far many others and more important things that we should focus on instead of thinking of Monroe,who by the way had to die her hair and have a nose job.
‘You people’? Feel free not to come back. Thanks
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I guess that being reminded that white is not necessary power nor superiority puts you in the situation of discrimination another skin color,which happens to be white.
I guess I am white and not afraid to use it?
Nah, many white people are just fine. You on the other hand are a fool.
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I was quoting something you posted.Thanks for insulting for something you said about white people.
You focused entirely on the physical appearance. The writer is trying to talk about the alienation that people from ethnic minorities often feel when they are the black/brown person at an event. And it is a bit of a matter of beauty standards when the depiction of beauty in the media is mostly white women.
And yeah, we should be focusing on way more important things as women even in Western societies face similar fates to your friend in Tamil. Yet again, like the writer is trying to point out, speaking out about their lives and talking to people is not what is in their culture to do. So they suffer it in silence. So it does all link back.
Hope that made sense – it’s late and I’m tired for wording.
What really striked me was “I am white and I am not afraid to use it” cartoon.
I’m a 26 year Black British Nigerian woman from a working class South London context. I am a social psychologist who has always felt out of place because of my age. I’m an early starter who began working as a psychology assistant in an NHS run london psychiatric institution when I was 15 years old, and i started writing my PhD when I was 24. It wasn’t until I was 25 and my professor sent me to Beat’s International Eating Disorders Conference 2014 in London when I began to really understand that my ethnicity is intersecting with my age to create this ‘fish out of water’ feeling that I had quite frankly gotten used to. The history of psychology in The West is embroiled in unethical conduct and racism, and for this many people from BME communities are especially mistrustul of the therapies and medicines offered. It is also a very middle to upper class enterprise. There weren’t any BME speakers at this conference, and all persons I spoke with about my thesis on black women’s experiences of anorexia nervosa looked at me like i am crazy. I realised then that I am totally correct in my writings on the stigma associated with women from BME communities who have eating disorders. Strong, well conducted research that asks the right questions has an inportant role to play in dispelling certain myths in the future. Things aren’t all bad though. More and more BME psychologists and psychiatrists are filtering into the British healthcare system. And there is an interesting set of conferences organised by the Ethnic Health Initiative designed in reference to, and delivered by, the BME communitiy. Things are moving at a much slower pace across Europe as I am soon to find out since I just migrated to Berlin, Germany. Wish me luck, I indeed to change the world for the better!!
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