From last summer, let's recall the pro-Lamont post by Jane Hamsher (of Firedoglake fame) at Huffington Post that in and of itself was fairly innocuous except for one glaring problem: a photoshopped image of Joe Lieberman in blackface. Needless to say the fallout was fast and furious, and the image was taken down at Huffington Post, though it remains available still over at Jane's place. That was followed by a somewhat bratty non-apology "apology." The artist who did the very crappy photoshop job on old Holy Joe was also characteristically dismissive. Slate's John Dickerson referred to Jane as "the blogger who isn't helping Ned Lamont." BAGnewsNotes had some commentary of its own:
Also, excuse me for being technical, but the phrase "choice of image" is not that forthcoming, either. As I understand it, Hamsher didn't just choose this illustration -- she conceived it.A pretty good graphic meta blog post can be found at ebogjonson, who creates a graphic titled should I use blackface on my blog? Liza at Culture Kitchen had a scathing meta rant titled "Jane Hamsher is an idiot" which not only takes Hamsher to task, but also Barb of Mahablog fame who chooses to play the role of enabler. Kai Chang has another thoughtful rant (yes, rants can be thoughtful!), Blackface Joe: Five Grievances. Just the tip of the old iceberg on that one, but you get the picture.
On the visual alone, the use of "black face" is so culturally loaded, it's hard to believe Ms. Hamsher wouldn't see this coming back at her. But then, maybe she truly is missing the visual dynamics of the sphere. (As a further reflection of the mindset, FDL -- in spite of its prominence and heavy use of graphics -- has yet to adopt photo or illustration credits as standard practice.)Finally, doctoring Lieberman side-by-side with Bill Clinton only heightens the blasphemy. But it's based on the controversial campaign flier, you say? Sure. But, because Hamsher's post made no mention of the flier, and had nothing to do with race, how were Huffington Post readers supposed to "appreciate" the context?
Let's move on to September of this year. Several A-list bloggers got to bask in the glory of Bill Clinton at a lunch in Harlem. That in and of itself is essentially par for the course. And yet, there seemed to be something missing from the lovely photo-ops. Notice it? Well, Liza (among numerous others) sure did. The A-listers in attendance were, as one might expect, quite oblivious and not too terribly keen on fielding those uncomfortable questions about the lack of, say, Black and Hispanic bloggers at the luncheon. Chris Rabb simply notes that blogtopia is largely reflective of society at large - the racial inequities we find in the world outside blogging show up here as well. Kai makes note of a chasm illuminated, and of a wide perceptual gulf that we ignore at our own peril. of course leave it to TRex (who strikes me from what I've read of him as the gay "liberal" equivalent of David Duke - Donna's quick capsule summary of his general anti-Asian vibe is a must) of FDL to say:
So, Liza, dear, before you go assailing your betters and making Jane stand in for every blond white woman who ever pissed you off, maybe you should head back to eighth grade English and, you know, learn to spell and to write in a linear fashion.No matter how much the dude tries to nuance that later, it still smacks of white privilege as Feministe's Zuzu correctly notes in here excellent post know your place (by the way - the comments to TRex's post are quite educational in and of themselves as an exercise in groupthink). Is Jane the "left's" answer to Ann Coulter? One must wonder. Certainly there is tone over at FDL that is nothing short of bullying - not only Jane but the other front-pagers over there are indeed culpable. Barb of Mahablog falls into a secondary role of enabler of the other A-listers' defensiveness.
Now let's fast forward to the last week or so. It ain't only race, as numerous others point out. Often intolerance (whether of the overt variety or the more covert variety that is more typical of polite society) of one group co-occurs with intolerance for other groups. If you see a pattern of racism, you'll not have to do much digging to find at least one other "ism". Indeed, there is a pervasive pattern of sexist language over at FDL as well. Barb of Mahablog becomes conflicted, and seems to temporarily drop the enabler role. Blackface Joementum? Kewl. White elite bloggers schmoozing with Big Dog? Okay, though not as kewl as Blackface Joe. Use of the C-word or W-word? Muy malo. Huh. Other meta-blogging makes the connection over at FDL between the racism and sexism that seems to run rampant.
There seem to be some interesting discussions regarding the efforts by mainstream white liberal bloggers to obfuscate matters of racist or sexist behavior by playing the "good intentions" card (i.e., "Person X didn't intend to be racist, it just unfortunately looked that way") whereas people of color tend to look at the tangible behaviors themselves (an approach I generally advocate taking). This reminds me of what we see in North American society at large, as I've been reminded while reading Sherene Razack's book Dark Threats & White Knights. Other A-listers have preferred to play the "intellectual superiority" card by contending (usually in an obscenity laden manner) that their critics simply do not understand the abstract level in which they are supposedly operating. Still others have played the "hipness" card, such as when one of the FDL front-pagers claims that FDL posts are "punk rock" whereas their critics are more into "Guy Lombardo". Word to the wise: Jello Biafra wrote the post-mortem for punk in 1986 at the tail-end of the first wave of American hardcore. That little pop culture history lesson aside, let's note that punk itself was about shocking its audience into awareness (via profanities and obscenities) as a means of challenging social conventions - not about using such language and imagery as a means to maintain the status quo and silence dissent. A-listers would be wise to avoid referencing punk or the hip-hop notion of "keeping it real" as a mere debate tactic, while divorcing themselves from the social-historical context of those concepts & movements.
In the meantime, the necessary conversation about the extent that the liberal and progressive end of blogtopia (and indeed society at large) is harboring latent (and periodically overt) racism and sexism, how American liberalism and progressivism are themselves products of a historical and social context that itself is largely racist and sexist. That discussion itself is long overdue.