Diversity & The League of Ordinary Gentlemen
This post reminded me a question I’ve been meaning to ask for a while. What is the composition of the bloggers here? All guys, we know that, not all-white, because of Mr Murali, but is there any non-white Americans in the bunch?
The subject of diversity is a particularly tricky one for for me. For one thing, I have noticed that people both define and experience “diversity” in different ways. For example, in the same comment where he calls for greater diversity at the League, Somni criticizes the League for having given Tom Van Dyke, a conservative, the ability to post his opinions here. Perhaps more ironically, the one person Somni recognizes above as being a symbol of diversity – Murali – is the same person he often rails that we should excommunicate, because Murali’s beliefs are different from his own. Because of this, it feels easy to dismiss this call for diversity; it’s as if by having lacked even the illusion of respecting diversity of thought, Somni gives us permission to ignore the question of other types of diversity as well.
And yet I must confess that I find some value in his criticism. That this site welcomes any and all viewpoints is hands down it’s biggest strength. But there is a difference between welcoming all viewpoints, and having all viewpoints show up to be heard. And to the extent that we discuss such a broad variety of topics, I find I do wish the choir to be bigger when I notice that certain voices are missing. As BSK noted, “[t]here are certain perspectives that are garnered from life experiences and life experiences informed by gender or race or sexual orientation or religion (and others) can’t always be replicated.” In this he is exactly right.
When I think back on the commentary we have had on issues of diversity, I must say that the ones I am most proud to be associated with are those that involved gay rights. This makes sense; if there is one “minority” group that is firmly enveloped in our family, it’s the gays. Not only do we have gay readers, commenters, and contributors, many of them are married and raising children. Having their voice’s fully engaged in those conversations about things such as gay marriage does a great service to all of us. It gives those of us who are straight a necessary perspective, and it underlines the truth that these are not just abstract issues to be dealt with in the vacuum of theory.
Conversations coming from posts on Muslim rights, on the other hand, are considerably weaker. For one thing, there seems to be an entire subspecies of internet troll that lives to Google people saying neutral or positive things about Muslims; any posts that even mention the word “Muslim” seem to be overrun by drive-by Muslim bashers. We either have no Muslims to throw in their own two cents in these conversations, or we have Muslim readers/commenters who (understandably, I think) choose not to get mixed up in the vitriol. And because of this, we miss a very important voice at the table. It’s one thing to argue with Liberal White Guy about what Muslims believe. It’s quite another to have a Muslim of faith tell you, “No, I don’t believe that. I believe this.”
In the past when we’ve discussed our lack of diversity, it has almost always been through the lens of gender. And this of course makes sense. I feel like I have a pretty good idea how many of us are or aren’t are women, because the very nature of gender specific names makes it obvious that Michelle, Kim, Katherine and Rose are probably not dudes. But I truly have no idea how many of our contributors or regular commenters are people of color. And the truth of it is I rarely even bother to wonder. It never even occurs to me as “important” to ask if Elias is black or white. But of course it wouldn’t occur to me; this is the luxury of belonging to the majority.
A quest for diversity of one kind can also be a trap against diversity of another kind if you’re not careful. In response to a post by JL on the same TNC article, Somni quotes a challenge by ex-Leaguer Freddie:
“I suspect that a substantial minority of Coates’s considerable following is made up of people who do not, actually, think highly of him, though they suppose they do. I suspect that he attracts admiring white people who experience discussion of race as a kind of panic. I suspect that he fulfills for them the role of a racial avatar, someone to hold opinions on race for them, so that they neither have to engage in the hard work of fixing our racial inequalities nor feel indicted by his own observations on race in America. I suspect that for them Coates is not fully human, that he is another in a parade of black symbols who assuage their guilt and massage their egos, that he is a stock character, a prop, but never a human being to be evaluated and thus capable of being truly valued…
I wonder about Coates. When he reads this endless commentary from white people trying to outdo each other in praising him, as the reach deeper and deeper for hyperbole, as they stretch their vocabularies to bless him with their benevolent white approval– does he get embarrassed, at all? Does it become unseemly to him? Does he question where this all comes from? I imagine he must. Something is off, here. No one needs to have any sympathy for my convictions to say so. I find no value in universal assent, and beyond the poor optics of a bunch of people agreeing, I fear that it’s exactly in those times– in the deadening warmth of proud unanimity– that something corrosive slips in the back door.”
This strikes me as a prime example of the way that the impulse for diversity can lead to the stifling of it. As I said in the comment section about Freddie’s point,
[I]t hints at a kind of, “if you weren’t a racist white person you’d agree with me” kind of vibe that I find grating. This notion that you can’t hold a combination of being white, liking Coates and disagreeing with Freddie without there being some nefarious, race-related ulterior back-story lacks the empathy I usually like about FdB.
Despite this, however, it is hard for me not to notice the irony of a group of young white men arguing whether TNC’s view of slavery and the Civil War does or doesn’t fall into the rubric of the proper black American experience.
Assuming that such diversity is good for the League, how does one go about achieving it? BSK and Somni both call for a census and cataloguing of the race, gender and creed of all who participate at the League. And while I have to confess I would be most curious to see such data, I am loathe to send any kind of message to those that come here that I need to know if they’re white or not. This idea makes me really uncomfortable. I love the idea of someone saying, in response to a post, “Well, I’m an African American (or whatever), and I think because of this I see this issue as X.” The idea of Erik, Mark, myself, or any front pager saying to someone who takes the time to contribute, “Hold on – what color are you?” Not so much.
So I throw the question out to to the hive mind: Assuming that different viewpoints are good for the League, how do we best go about fostering that? Do we simply have an open dialogue, and see who shows up? Do we “signal” by actively inviting guest posts from non-Leaguers that might broaden horizons? Or do we do exactly what Somni asks us not to do – attempt to engage with people like TNC on our own, as BlaiseP and JL did, and welcome those that such discussions brings with open arms, hearts and minds?
I myself lean toward the latter, but I am curious to hear what everyone else here thinks.