The last week or so has brought more of my attention to issues like systemic racism, ableism, and other issues that I don't tend to focus my attention on as much as some issues. And to an extent, that's OK -- as I've said many times before, we have limited time, energy, and resources, and we can't be the champion of every cause. However, I can still take steps to educate myself so that I don't say or do problematic things in my day-to-day life. And I want to be mindful of intersectionality, so when I'm speaking out on one issue I'm not doing so in a limited way that is hurtful or even damaging to others.
As I wrote about earlier this week, sometimes I come across contradictions about what is helpful vs. offensive. But in talking with some other people offline this week, I had to reiterate that these kinds of instances (where large swaths of a single group have directly contradictory opinions about what they need from their allies) are fairly rare. And in many cases, getting caught up in these kinds of details can be a way of distracting one from larger issues at play.
So for instance, I wrote about how I saw disagreement among people of color about whether white people should speak out and condemn the killing of Trayvon Martin and subsequent acquittal of his killer, or whether they should only "quietly boost voices of color," as one person said.
Focusing on this disagreement, however, can distract from the fact that both groups agree that white folks should be sharing what people of color have to say about the incident; they only disagree about whether white people should also add their voices to the fray.
And this points to a much larger, more important issue, which is that if white people aren't regularly reading "voices of color," they're not going to have anyone to boost. At most, you see people sharing that one same article by that one black person that their other white friends shared with them. And as we've already discussed, there is enough diversity within any one group that a single viewpoint cannot possibly speak for everyone who needs to be heard.
So here's where I turn the finger around and point it at myself.
I like to think I expose myself to a variety of viewpoints (this is one of the central reasons I blog and read other blogs) and that this helps me keep an open mind and help me continue to seek truth. But I'm a very statistically minded person, and wherever something has the ability to be supported or disproved with data, I want to see the numbers.
With this in mind, I undertook a diversity study of my own feed subscriptions.
Briefly, for anyone who cares about the details: I analyzed the sites (primarily blogs) I have in my feed reader and the people I follow on Twitter. (There's a lot of overlap.) I excluded the few sites and Twitter accounts that represented an organization rather than an individual. I also ignored any blog or Twitter account that hadn't updated in the last six months. (I have a "rarely updated" folder in my RSS reader for people I'd want to read if they ever started blogging again.) This worked out to 50 blogs and 38 Twitter users that I read on a regular basis.
For each person I attempted to discern their gender, race, ability (mental illness, physical disability, or none), country of residence, religion, sexual orientation, and if they were cisgender or trans*. I left out class, education, and other factors that are important but were impossible to discern for most people.
It was easier than I expected to gather the remaining information on most people -- bloggers are even more open about their lives than I realized. In cases where I couldn't discern something, I assigned the majority designation to the person. (Normally I do not advocate the majority being seen as the "default," but in this case I was specifically interested in the extent to which I was exposing myself to alternative voices from my own.) The exception was religion, where I made a note of "unknown" if it was something they'd never mentioned.
So here are the stats I came up with for the people I read regularly:
Gender: Bloggers I read are 80% female, 20% male. Twitter users I follow are 50% female, 50% male.And the kicker:
Ability: Among bloggers I read, 64% have neither a mental illness nor a physical disability of any kind, or else they've never written about it. Similarly, 66% of Twitter users I follow share my current able-bodiedness and lack of mental illness.
Country: 94% of the bloggers I read currently live in the United States, as do 92% of the Twitter users I follow.
Religion: Of the bloggers I read, 10% are Roman Catholics, 52% are other Christians, 10% are agnostic, 10% are atheists, and 18% I have no idea. Of the people I follow on Twitter, 29% are Roman Catholics, 55% are other Christians, 3% are agnostic, 3% are atheists, and 10% I don't know.
Sexual Orientation: 78% of bloggers I read identify as straight, while 82% of the Twitter users I follow do.
Cis/Trans: 96% of the bloggers I read are cisgender, as are 100% of the Twitter users I follow.
94% of the bloggers I read are white, and 97% of the Twitter users I follow are white. The rest are Asian/Middle Eastern.Does this affect my worldview, my awareness of my own privilege, and what I tend to share with others? You bet it does.
The point is not that I need to hit some sort of quota or specific distribution in each of these categories. The point is that my understanding of the world and the articles that I tend to promote to others are drawn from what I read on a regular basis.
I was already aware of the "agenda-setting bias" of newspapers telling me what I should pay attention to, but I wasn't thinking about the lack of diversity among the voices I do read on a daily basis causing the same kind of problem. Saying that I share the articles and retweet the tweets I do solely because "they express ideas the best" is to ignore the pool that I'm drawing from. It's like a hiring committee that insists they only hire the most qualified applicants and that the best applications just happen to be white men most of the time, while ignoring that they only advertise the position in a handful of places frequented primarily by white men.
And perhaps even important: The "whiteness" of my reading list tells me that I probably have an underlying bias about whom I subscribe to or follow. After all, I know that there are people I follow who recommend other bloggers/Twitter users of a variety of races and ethnicities. This means that there is probably an unconscious part of my brain saying, "Oh, this person is black/Hispanic/etc, so what they say won't be relevant to me."
Since running these numbers a few days ago, I've taken steps to correct the imbalances in my feeds, particularly by including more people of color and transgender people. This doesn't mean tokenism, which is something like, "I will add this person solely because they are black." It means recognizing and being aware of that underlying bias I just described, so when someone I follow or subscribe to recommends someone else, I follow/subscribe to them and read them for a while before deciding whether they're providing me with valuable information. (I also try to regularly trim my feeds of all the people I'm not gaining something from so I can devote my limited time and energy to those I learn most from.)
I invite you to try something similar with your own regular reading sources. Even if you don't agree with my assessment of underlying bias or the need to take steps to correct such a bias, it's still valuable to know which voices are most strongly represented in your reading and which are absent altogether.
What groups are most strongly represented in the blogs, Twitter feeds, or other sources you read regularly? What might this say about how you decide who is worth reading/following? How might this be shaping your worldview?