On Race

July 11, 2008 — 36 Comments

There’s been a debate/ discussion raging this week around race online. It started with Loren Feldman’s 12 month old “Tech Nigga” video then went in various directions, including an appalling example of racism targeted at SheGeek’s Corvida during a YLive show.

I’ve not long finished this weeks things you can’t say on the Internet podcast, and the subject came up. I haven’t heard the recording yet, but before it comes out I’d like to clarify my stance on the subject, as bite size chunks in a podcast probably won’t do it justice.

Loren Feldman

The one thing that has me beat about the whole Tech Nigga story is that it’s an old one that has come up again. I understand and respect that Loren was trying to make a point about the lack of African American tech bloggers. It offended people, and I believe at the time he apologized for offending people. We all make mistakes, and I’m sure Loren will never make a similar video again.

As I noted in the podcast though, I don’t understand why this is different from say an Ali-G type send up. The lines are very much blurred. However I respect that people find the video offensive, and as such I believe they have the right to say so.

But lets be very clear on one thing: Loren Feldman is not a racist. I spent two days with him in New York with 2006, and this was the mix, myself (white, but Australian), Loren (New Yorker + Jewish) and Chatreuse (African-American). The only time I can even remotely recall anything regarding race coming from Loren’s mouth may have been a self-depreciating joke about his Jewishness. By all means, say he lacks taste at time (as do the best of us at times) and someone who makes mistakes, but don’t call him a racist, he’s not, and anyone who knows him knows that he’s not as well.

American race relations

I noted in the podcast, as I know I have elsewhere before, that America’s obsession with race has always struck me as being strange as an Australian. The concept of Asian-American, African-American, even Irish-American…I don’t get it, and I never will. In Australia people don’t generally call themselves Asian-Australians, Italian-Australians, English-Australians…I’m not saying that some people don’t, but it’s not a regular thing here. Ask most people of any ethnic background here who they are, and they’ll just tell you they are Australian. My grandparents on my fathers side migrated here from Scotland, I don’t regard myself Scottish-Australian, and I’ve never once referred to myself in that way.

I respect that people are, and can be proud of their cultural heritage, but I wonder whether this some-what obsession with what makes people different is in part contributing to the continuation of the racism that drives us apart. What’s wrong with American’s simply being American, irrespective of the color of their skin? A society that values its shared nationality today over its divided past will more quickly overcome the evils of racism. We are, after all, all people.

African-Americans and tech

One thing we discussed in the podcast was the lack of African-Americans in tech. This was one of the original points Loren was trying to make. It’s real, and that some would suggest that saying so is racist itself is beyond me. It’s true. The only African-American I’ve seen on most of my trips in the last 12 months to the US was MC Hammer. The mix is always white, Asian and Indian.

I can’t even pretend I have an answer here, or even whether this should be addressed. That debate is for others, but don’t let calls of racism cloud facts.

Colorblindness and the blogosphere

Getting back to matters race, I’ll repeat what I said in the podcast: I really don’t care what color, sexuality, gender or nationality you are. I remember someone on FriendFeed the other day asking people to forgive him because English wasn’t his first language. I didn’t even know until he said so. I didn’t know Corvida was an African-American Lesbian until she said so, and I really don’t care that she is. I’ve always judged people as I meet them, online and off, and I’ll judge the value of people through their writings or contribution to the conversation. Despite this current obsession with race, in my experience the majority, but not all people, think along the same lines.

Glass Ceilings

If you want to talk about disadvantage, I got to where I was today after spending 10 years in country Western Australia. I might as well have been in timbuktu or the North Pole. The blogosphere has always been in a strong part a meritocracy. Not perfectly, particularly these days at the top and with the power a few people hold, but it still in a large part is. Blogging rewards hard work and a well spoken word, irrespective of race or any other criteria.

That’s pretty much my two cents worth. It distresses me to see people like Wayne Sutton, Corvida and others upset in this current debate, and the YLive thing is appalling. However, lets take a deep breath and look for ways everyone can get a fair go in the blogosphere, irrespective of race, religion, sexuality or nationality. We have far more in common than we have which is different. Lets obsess about the positives and moving forward.