Tuesday, January 22, 2008

In need of blogging advice

I'm not exactly sure where to begin. I fear that what I am about to post is more of the "journaling" variety, but I also think that it's related to the issues of this blog, namely issues of race and especially how to talk about race and even more specifically, how to talk about race when the conversation starts to get uncomfortable, especially because you are no longer "preaching to the choir."

Let me begin by reiterating why I started this blog. I am working on a book project and wanted to make myself accountable in terms of writing a little something every week on the topic of race in America, especially under the phrase "mixed race" and my loose interpretation of that phrase. I was hoping to have interesting conversations with people about race and willing (or so I believed) to engage with people about race even if they didn't agree with me--that I didn't just want to "preach to the choir."

Now I'm going to start splitting some hairs. I want conversation but not fighting. I say I want dialogue, but I'm not sure I want debate. I want people to feel safe in this space, but I also admit that talking about race isn't always comfortable.

But what do I really want?

Recently, a series of exchanges on the post asking people to define race ("What exactly, IS "race" (or is it just race)? -- January 18, 2008) led to some exchanges that left people (including me) feeling uncomfortable and on the defensive. In fact, one person wrote a very thoughtful blog post about it (and has given me permission to link to it here), which further challenged me to think about how I'm moderating comments and the kinds of discussions I want to be having and the exhaustion factor in all of this.

And then, just now, I rejected my first comment. I don't want to go into the particularities for privacy reasons, but it feels weird to have invoked my "rules" (which you can see on the right sidebar) as a reason for not publishing the comment, but ultimately I felt like the "spirit" of the comment was not respectful nor did it suggest a desire for conversation but rather seemed, to me, dismissive and looking for a fight.

And I don't want to fight. I'm not trying to make an argument, unless you think it's making an argument to say that I want an end to racism, and I want to find a way to engage in anti-racist teaching and practices.

I've already written about the myriad ways that I am privileged, so I feel a bit sheepish saying that I'm exhausted, but today I am. Because I don't want to reveal personal information, I won't say what is currently adding to my exhaustion, but truly, even just trying to work through the intricacies of blogging etiquette, and the additional layer of blogging etiquette with race (or other controversial topics like politics/gender/sexuality/class) makes me feel really tired and unprepared to do the work I need to be doing (ie: writing a book so I get tenure and can keep working on anti-racist issues and teaching).

So here's my call, especially to anyone who blogs: what is the right etiquette about commenting and moderating comments--and is there a "right" etiquette or is there just trying to go with your gut? Where is the line between wanting to have a conversation and not wanting to engage in a fight where there's just back and forth arguing and potentially unhelpful and hurtful comments on both sides? Where do you draw the line in terms of wanting to have meaningful dialogues with people who may not share my own views of race and yet wanting to be on the same page with everyone I'm talking to.

Do I just want to preach to the choir?

This is what I'm really asking myself, and I don't have an answer. The teacher in me says no, that's ridiculous--if I were in the classroom this wouldn't be given a second thought. But this isn't my day job, this is a side project for the real project of writing a book. And I don't have tenure and thus feel a bit more vulnerable, whether that is real or imagined, it's in my head so it may as well be real.

I have so much respect for a blogger like Tenured Radical who can take on all sorts of comments and handle it with aplomb and intelligence and articulateness. But I'm not Tenured Radical, I'm ... well, untenured-liberal-trying-to-be-progressive-wanting-to-try-out-ideas.

Anyway, any advice would be appreciated from the wisdom of the blogosphere.


baby221 said...

Well, you're pretty much the only person who can answer that question. I kinda get the feeling that you're currently running this blog the way I facilitate interracial dialogues -- yes, you have to create a safe space for the people of colour, but if you want allies among their white peers, you also have to create an environment of trust in which people's comfort zones can be tipped over into learning edges, and that does take some hand-holding, reassurance, and positive reinforcement. And you know, I respect that, because I know (from experience in addition to watching others do it) that it's heartbreaking, mind-numbing work and it's easy to burn out.

That's mostly why I moderate my blog the way I do -- because hell, this is my party, for me, by me, about me, etc. Yes, I have discussion rules, but honestly I moderate more on gut feeling than anything else; I kick out the people who appear to be spoilin' for a fight and welcome the people who actually bring something to the discussion. The clueless off-topic ones -- frecklescassie comes to mind -- I tolerate, barely, because generally someone more patient than I will come along and do some educating. If they degenerate into plain ol' meanness or if they just keep not getting it, though, I boot 'em. I've got a handful of people blacklisted for the way they've behaved on other people's blogs too -- I know I don't want them in my digital home, and I don't think there's anything wrong with that either. Learning from others' mistakes, so to speak.

But again, ultimately, your blog, your rules. In my own completely unabashed opinion, I'd say do whatever makes you most comfortable, because there's absolutely no reason for something like blogging (of all things, fer cryin' out loud) to stress you out to the point where you're just beyond exhaustion. Take a break, get some fresh air, or delete comments willy-nilly, you know, whatever you need to do. Nobody's got a right, myself included, to expect you to behave according to what we think we "deserve" from a space like this. It's not our space; it's yours.

So, yanno. Whatever you decide I'm sure will be fine. :)

atlasien said...

I'd try not to spend so much time worrying about it.

On my personal blog I don't have any interest getting into debates. It's set to not allow anonymous or unregistered comments. If someone posts something I don't like, I tend to let it through, but if I didn't like it, I'd delete it.

Where I guest blog about race, there's a bigger audience and it's a lot wilder. People with extremely offensive views about race are allowed to post unless they start making nasty personal attacks. If it's determined they're really a hardcore white supremacist, they get banned.

Not all your commenters are going to be on the same level of discussion. Some of them want calm discussion over fine points, some want spirited debate over the basics and others just want to growl and shriek. Bloggers can't hold everyone up to the same standard without cutting some people out of the dialog.

Tami said...

This is hard, Jennifer, and timely. I've dealt with this same issue over the last couple weeks.

I am by nature an introvert and a peacemaker. I don't like drama and arguing. But I don't mind debate, as long as it is respectful. My patience is thin for trolls and people who cannot present opposing views in a way that is not inflammatory.

Among my immediate blog family, and I count you as a sister, most of us share similar views, but sometimes we disagree. I have always been able to have smart discussions with the blog fam, even on topics where we differ.

Now the other folks...

I've had at least one comment thread that went far off track and devolved into accusations and name calling. There was no learning, no sharing of ideas and I eventually asked the commenters to move along to another topic. I probably should have stepped in sooner, but I was worried about being a censor. (What do you expect? I'm a journalism school graduate.)

This week I deleted my first group of comments from a poster that I felt was routinely vulgar, combative and degrading to women.

At first, I was worried about running an autocratic site where differing opinions are stifled, but you know what, it's MY blog. And yes, the moderation reflects my standards and values. I try to strike a balance between allowing freedom of expression and creating a safe and comfortable space for me and my readers.

baby221 said...

Hah! See also Sudy's new troll. I know I shouldn't feed them but as long as the comment's standing I'm not capable of letting it go unchecked.

Jennifer said...

baby221, atlasien, and Tami,
Thanks so much for your comments and suggestions. I think last night I just felt overwhelmed by a series of personal/professional/blogging kind of confrontations.

At the end of the day, I think that the discussions that have emerged from the post I made asking people to define race to baby221's response on her blog have been really productive in terms of how I want to handle moderating comments and the kinds of conversations I want to have on this blog.

So really, thanks for your support and for being readers who are willing to offer comments from time to time--much appreciated.

And damn it--at the end of this day this IS MY BLOG!

Jason Clinkscales said...

I think anyone on the blogosphere who has a thought to share with a community a bit larger than a close circle of friends (many who may not even read blogs unless there's something salacious in them) has dealt with this issue.

Being that this is my second go-round with a blog, I know how difficult it was to foster conversations without having to step in and pull everyone back to their corners. When I started Scribe, I remembered the first foray into the community and everything I despised about it. I also knew that because I wanted to foster respect and new topics that it would take a bit longer for Scribe to garner huge traffic, but because of what I want Scribe to become - a sports blog that not only gives insight and under-the-radar topics, but invites the casual or non-fan - I rather do it right than to become a sports media version of Perez Hilton.

Because of your profession, it is even more critical to set the parameters. As a professor, your name is not only your identity, but your badge of credibility. To have a blog means that you are willing to not only put your credibility on the line, but to use it to enhance the forum (as I hope to do for Scribe). The questions are well founded and as we all try to navigate the waters, we are learning how to govern without becoming... well, for the lack of a better word, ridiculous.

The Constructivist said...

Cory Doctorow at boing boing awhile back praised the people who run Making Light for the way they handle on-line discussions--he called them the Troll Whisperers. But I like Bitch PhD's policy the best, personally.