The blog is dead; long live the blog.
I’m starting a new practice here – a modified version of what my former colleague, Suzanna Walters, has recently called “leaning out.” Writing in the Washington Post, Walters asked that men vacate leadership, refuse to run for office, and sit on their hands in the conference room instead of dominating the conversation. That they – or we – make room for others by not claiming any more sunlight and not stealing any more oxygen. Walters’s essay has its critics (this piece seems a little mean) but I don’t count myself among them. I think she is right.
Operationalizing this is another matter. The problem here is that the ground is neither flat nor fair. And its very unevenness reflects a bedrock of racism, sexism, nativism, and all the bad “isms.” An uneven ground allows inequity to rebound faster than its utopian opposite. Doing nothing in this exact moment is the worst option of all. Doing nothing – in a moment of radical white supremacy ascendancy – might actually make it worse. But grabbing the microphone myself might not be much better. If I tweeted out a hundred witty things a day and wrote a dozen op-eds a year, I’d turn myself into the very thing I loathe: a quotable, citable, easy-to-celebrate white male giant soaking up all the sun and oxygen. The very same thing, Walters might say, that makes it hard for women to stand up without being beaten down.
Let me try to do something with consequence, then. To model a certain kind of “best” practice for a certain genre of academic, but also to celebrate the extraordinary writing and thinking that is going on in the midst of so much tragedy.
Starting next week, I will turn the blog into an amplifier. Exclusively.
Every Friday, I’ll offer up a list of four or five or so great pieces of writing by women (cis and trans) and especially women of color. A weekend reading list, if you will, for anyone who is interested. I’ll emphasize work that seems deftly written and argued, very well-researched and resourced, and potentially impactful in the civil rights and human rights register, broadly conceived. Work that is digital and free. Longer work, at odds with the media’s preference for 700 word op-eds. Work, as I see it, that should be more widely circulated, and that spotlights voices that should be robustly amplified. Work that is drawn from personal blogs and small town newspapers as well as mainstream media outlets. I will take suggestions from anyone (matthewprattguterl @ gmail.com), and I’ll also continue to challenge myself to read broadly, to not stop at the New York Times and Washington Post websites, to interrogate my own blindspots so that my deliberate amplifications and circulations don’t slip into some elitist groove.
This is an extension, of course, of work that is already ongoing, a realization of other people’s sharp critiques. I’m indebted, then, to #CiteBlackWomen, to womenalsoknowhistory, and to #FollowWomenWednesday, among many other efforts (perhaps most especially #MeToo). Moved by colleagues and friends, and recognizing what is right and just, I have been doing this sort of thing informally for some time now, but with this out-in-public retrofitting of the blog space, I aim to be much more obvious about it from now on.
I’d be lying if I didn’t confess that there is a deep politics to this move. The world is a dumpster fire. Fascism has returned globally with a vengeance. We have been told to get organized. Well, reading is organizational work, too. There is no doubt in my mind that organized reading, writing and thinking is a part of the solution. And I aim to be more disciplined reader, writer, and thinker, and to become a more disciplined champion of the work of those at the margins of the academy, the media, and civil society. Until the ground is even, which seems like it might be a very long ways from now.
Doing nothing is not an option. Grabbing the spotlight isn’t either.
Unless, maybe, I’m redirecting it to illuminate someone else.