the politics of Peter Daou's invite list
For any progressive blogger worth their salt this was a kind of 'dream date:' lunch with Bill Clinton and a group of peers for a freewheeling debate on the issues of the day two months out from a major election.
According to the participants the event went really well. You can read the reports on their blogs:
Now, as word of the Clinton lunch...and photos of it...spread throughout the blogosphere, a question arose: "Where were the bloggers of color?"
First, blogger terrance of the Republic of T (who self-describes as "Black, Gay, Father, Vegetarian, Buddhist, and Liberal") wrote a piece on September 13th entitled Write Your own Caption which featured photos of the event's participants and asked, "Notice Anything?" His readers did. The first comment noted:
Well, It may not really be a caption, but the first thing I thought was...Dang Bill! Where are the black people. I know you noticed.
Next, linking to terrance's post, Liza Sabater of Daily Gotham and Culture Kitchen, followed up that question with a post entitled: To Peter Daou and the DailyKos Crowd... where she asked:
What does it mean though that there are 20 bloggers invited to this lunch and not one is black or latino? What does it mean for this group of bloggers to be patting themselves on the backs for being with Clinton when they are all in Harlem and not one of them is a person of color? What does it mean for these people to be there and have not one of them raise this issue in their blogs?
I think terrance and Liza's questions aren't just good questions. I think the point they make isn't just a good point that one can take or leave like we're discussing the finer points of trade tariffs or a Cable TV bill. Let me put it in no uncertain terms, if the progressive blogosphere can't come up with real answers to these questions and a plan to make sure this never happens again, then the blogosphere isn't worth a damn. This isn't a minor blip or an ego thing as some have portrayed it; this is a wake up call.
The irony of a soul food lunch at Clinton's Harlem offices served to a group of future leaders of the Democratic Party that did not include African Americans and Latinos is too rich and too bitter not to note. To be frank, it echoes in some ways the experience at Yearlykos in Las Vegas where the dailykos community learned just how racially diverse we in attendence...weren't. For myself, I can't write a post titled "time to get real" one day, and then play "let's pretend the invisibility of bloggers of color at the Clinton event was okay" the next.
Friends, we are better than this. This is 2006, not 1953.
When we blog, our readers cannot see the color of our skin tone. That is true. It defines this online world. But that is no excuse that bloggers of color should be invisible at a meeting of our leaders with Bill Clinton in Harlem...or anywhere for that matter.
Now, there were 14 great bloggers at that event. All of them leaders and writers I respect and count as colleagues. They didn't plan the event. They didn't draw up the guest list. But somebody did. And, yeah, that somebody does deserve some blame. There needs to be some accountabilty here.
Peter Daou, the event's organizer, has a letter in response to Liza that she published at her blog. It reads like this:
Hi Liza -
several bloggers were invited who couldn't attend, including Oliver Willis (who you didn't mention in your post). Also, I was told that more events like that are planned, and there will be an opportunity to invite bloggers who didn't attend the first one.
So respectfully, you may have reached a conclusion without all the facts.
P.S. Feel free to publish this email as an update to your post.
I have more than a little problem with that non-answer. You see, we're in the home stretch of a very important election season and when I look around me at my colleagues and fellow Democratic activists here in Oakland I don't think that "opportunities in the future" cuts it. I don't think that mentioning by name the one person of color who was invited but couldn't make it is a proper or remotely adequate way to address this mistake. (I'm pretty sure that Senator Clinton would agree.)
I have a sincere message to Peter Daou: Peter, straight up, you led the way into this situation, now is the time for you to start leading the way out. In turn, all of us need to answer some questions. How did this happen? How can we make sure it doesn't happen again?
With or without a lone African-American, the face of the Democratic Party does not look like that picture. Every single last one of us on the blogs knows it. We can't be the party to take on Senator George Allen for his racial slurs one day and then ignore our own hypcrisy the next. It may well be, as we learned at Yearlykos, that the liberal blogosphere is significantly more white than the Democratic Party at large. Our response to that challenge should not be to shrug it off. Our job, in fact, is to address it.
We are better than this and we need to take this moment as a wake up call. We need to start a discussion that does not stop till we've built structures that get beyond this BS. That won't be easy. That will involve clashes of egos and words and agendas; everything worth doing does. But, friends, as Democrats, that is our job.
We bloggers are only as good as our words. If we can't take steps to learn from this mistake, we aren't worth the words we type.
How we rise to this challenge will be a yardstick that we measure ourselves by. Terrance and Liza have posed the challenge and the question: how will the blogosphere respond?