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Campus Women Lead

Fall 2007

Volume 36
Number 2

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From Where I Sit

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Academic Blogging as Intercultural Exchange
By Kortney Ryan Ziegler, doctoral student of African American Studies at Northwestern University
Kortney Ryan Ziegler spacer
Kortney Ryan Ziegler

Sometimes, I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It's beyond me. --Zora Neale Hurston

The Internet has always fascinated me. The possibility of communicating in real time with people beyond my immediate environment, as well as the boundless knowledge, ideas, and experiences that permeate the “virtual” public domain of cyberspace, have driven me to employ the web to its full capacity. As a scholar studying black queer female performance art, I depend on the Internet, both as a research tool and as a new performative venue. As a filmmaker producing art in the age of digital cinema, I need the Internet to connect with other filmmakers as well as to exhibit my work to a world audience. As an activist, I rely on the Internet for space to express my identity, articulate my politics, and speak my truths. In using the Internet for these pursuits, I have found new ways to support and supplement my academic work; more importantly, I have found new spaces for challenging racism, sexism, and homophobia.

The Black in Academic

I started my blog, blac (k) ademic, in October 2005 during the first year of my doctoral studies. Feeling constrained by the fundamentally hermetic quality of the academy--where important intellectual conversations have a tendency to remain within ivory walls--I wanted to take advantage of the net’s accessibility to cultivate my research as well as expand intellectual discourse outside of academe. Thus I dedicated a majority of my blogging to forming relationships with other women of color in the academy whose research interests mirrored mine. Most importantly, however, I wanted to create a safe space for dialogue that included the voices of queer black women and other bodies of color.

As I initially probed the progressive blogosphere, I stumbled across a few popular feminist weblogs that combined academic scholarship with an activist slant. These sites were, and continue to be, important forums for challenging misogyny and informing the public about the current climate for women’s issues such as reproductive rights. I felt they failed, however, to place such perspectives in a context that included voices of color. I also discovered popular weblogs that privileged the African American experience, but included women, gays, and lesbians as only an afterthought. Upon visiting these progressive sites, I repeatedly asked myself, what about me? Where do I fit in?

In response to my initial findings on the progressive blogosphere, and in light of my own academic research, I took the initiative to create blac (k) ademic. My blog carved out its own niche on the net by addressing the concerns of African Americans in the academy, women of color feminism, race, and gender. Through my writing for the blog, I was able to redefine notions of black womanhood as well as affirm my subjectivity as a black lesbian. In doing so, I created a new public image--that of a resilient, intelligent, and independent black queer woman--which had been absent from the blogosphere.

I stopped blogging in December of 2006 because of the need to prioritize my time. My doctoral studies coupled with working on the completion of my most recent experimental short film, hokum, did not allow me the time or energy to blog. However, I still participate in the blogosphere by visiting and leaving comments on other blogs.

Changing the World with Words

Although I no longer dedicate my time or research to blogging, I still see it as a powerful venue for women of color to connect with other scholars, artists, and activists. Through blogging, I interacted with women throughout the world, collaborating over issues relevant to young women of color, and specifically those of us working in academe. Our conversations repeatedly addressed topics such as navigating the academy, queer sexualities, race and racism, and artistic expression within our own local communities.

Eventually, along with bloggers Brownfemipower, Fabulosamujer, and Mamitamala, I helped to create a digital hub for women of color: the Radical Women of Color Blog Carnival. This monthly “carnival”--a digest of themed entries by bloggers writing across the web--was the first virtual forum of its kind to highlight the lived experiences of women of color and their allies. Through our cyber-bond, we built a space that fostered positive dialogue within the constraints of the margins in which we exist. Our words created progressive images of women of color that contrasted with stereotypical notions of passivity and victimhood. We wrote our own stories because other mainstream blogs tended to ignore, devalue, misrepresent, and neglect the histories, activism, and scholarship of women of color. The carnival illustrated that women of color are not a monolithic group; our economic conditions, ethnic identities, "raced" identities, and sexual identities are diverse. Language, geographical location, age, and immigrant or "native" status play a strong role in how we interact and move within society. Unfortunately, the carnival is on an indefinite hiatus since work and academic life have become a priority in the lives of its founders.

Women of Color as Active Bloggers

Even in its retirement, my blog and the popular blogs of other women of color activists continue to thrive in the progressive blogosphere. Our words challenge the inherently racist idea that we are incapable of engaging in intellectual discourse. As we tread on the ideological terrain that tries to position us as inferior bloggers (and intellectuals), we strengthen our resistance by merely naming oppressions that other bloggers don’t. We provoke a conscious need to remedy the ills of racism in the hopes of transforming society. We resist the standards of what should and should not be said in the virtual world, standards which to some degree reflect the oppressive conditions of our larger society.

In the virtual world of blogging, as in the “real” world, race matters. Race determines who gets to speak and perform, who controls the discourse, and who acts as the voice of authority. Nevertheless, I wholeheartedly believe the popular African proverb that provides the mantra of blac (k) ademic: “Until lions have their historians, tales of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.”  I thus encourage women from all backgrounds to tell their own stories. Whether one decides to create a blog, write an essay, direct a film, or engage in academic research, the possibilities for retelling “the hunt” are endless. Every paper I write, film I produce, or academic work I create represents an act of self-definition--giving me power to define my politics, my beliefs, and my sexual identity, while demonstrating that black women and other women of color are intellectually capable of reflecting upon our own experiences. Indeed, expressing oneself is one of the most powerful forms of freedom and activism--and the Web is one of the most powerful public forums for that expression.

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