The concept of identity has been increasingly topical in the technology space. But as individuals, do we have the self-awareness and maturity of behavioral psychology necessary to take advantage of this smarter infrastructure? Maria Niles of fizz moderated an extremely dynamic discussion of race, gender, sexuality, and identity at BlogHer 2006:
Race and Cultural Identity
Marisa Trevino of Latina Lista and Carmen Van Kerckhove of Addicted to Race speak quite explicitly on race in their blogs. Trevino speaks not only on issues of ethnicity, but also on gender and social justice. Kerckhove is specifically looking to stimulate dialogue by challenging other people's belief systems, and does so daily. The more she is able to stir dialogue, the more she is satisified that her mission is being accomplished.
Karen Walrond (a prolific blogger, with substantial content at Chookooloonks) shared a decidedly different experience. Even though she intentionally doesn't write about being black or in an interracial marriage, she finds herself representing both identities almost every day. This gets challenged by some visitors, who flame her for "pretending to not be black." Walrond's blog talks about growing up with the cultures of both her Chinese and Indian grandmothers, but isn't trying to deny her blackness. If this is what happens when articulating another aspect of who you are, does it really mean that Walrond must avoid embracing these cultures in creating her online identity? As she noted, whether or not she represents these multiple identities proactively, folks who have a problem with one or several of these colors will click away from her site.
This thread brought up a stream of provocative questions on being a white blogger from the roomful of attendees. If you're white but don't talk about it, are you representing your race? Is there an obligation to bring an awareness of being white to your writing, just as Walrond was pressured to speak to being black? Can you even talk about being white without being a racist? To get taken seriously on race as a white woman, Dawn Rouse of Balefulregards prominently mentions her marriage to a black man on her About page.
Single Identity and Self-Censorship
Bloggers make conscious choices about what to reveal, and what not to reveal, in their identity. How much can you include sex or politics in your blog, before you are labeled a sex blogger or a political blogger? One attendee mentioned that she leads with the aspect of her personality that she wants her audience to see as dominant, and finds that she must maintain that lopsided focus in order to sustain a relationship with her readers.
Can you reconcile your different identities? Audience member Tish G. keeps separate blogs. As she's developed a higher profile professionally, she's had to censor what she writes about on her personal blog, and she's still working to create balance. Most people in the room were also struggling to strike balance in developing their online personality. The author of I, Asshole was one of the few exceptions. She talks about sex while talking about raising a toddler, and quipped that she was empowering people as a "super-slutty mommy blogger."
Blogging has forced many individuals to address the challenges of identity. Honest writing reveals our less-polished sides, forcing us to be honest about ourselves and to become more comfortable with our multiple identities.
A powerful and relevant final thought on this issue comes from Amartya Sen, a Nobel-nominated economist and the co-author of Identity and Violence - we all have multiple identities, but when we marry ourself to just one, violence happens. When this nugget was shared, the bubbling room fell into a thoughtful, silent pause. Would the world be a better place if more and more of its peoples participated in sharing identity?