Heather L. Barmore
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    Change In Action at Babble Voices

    Thursday
    Aug072014

    The Diversification of BlogHer

    I attended my first BlogHer conference in 2006. I was 22 years old and had only discovered spewing my every thought via the Internet just one year prior. Basically, I thought I was going to become a blogger, write more, quit my job and boom! Book deal.

    The word you’re looking for here is ‘adorable’.

    I remember the separation  between those women writing about parenting and those who were in tech. This was back when mommyblogging was a ‘radical act’ and before the boom of ad networks and revenue. There was also a noticeable lack of diversity among conference attendees which can only be described as par for the course at the time. Blogging and tech were meant for those who had access to a computer and the Internet. There is and has always been a digital divide between African Americans and our Caucasian peers. To have fast, reliable access to the Internet These weren’t ubiquitous but at the time somewhat of a status symbol to be able to get online. These were Silicon Valley things that hadn’t yet made it to middle America and in DC to be a blogger meant that you spent your days spilling gossip about unsuspecting politicians. Tech was a CrackBerry and the ability to cut and paste in Word.

    Fast forward to my ninth BlogHer conference just two weeks ago. I once again made the trek to San Jose. On the first official night of BlogHer I saw Stacey, Lucrecer, Luvvie, Addye and Arnebya. I saw Karen the night before and Maria two nights before that. Kelly would be arriving the following afternoon. I made a mental note to reach out to Grace regarding my introduction to her during Voices of the Year. I asked Luvvie how excited she was to ‘open’ for Kerry Washington a woman I had long admired for her activism. I mean, Kerry is a woman who has spoken at the Democratic National Convention twice in a row. The clothes from Scandal are fantastic but her efforts for the Democratic Party are what made me adore her long before Olivia Pope became a household name. Demetria would be interviewing her. Every one of the women I just mentioned are black women and represent a mere fraction of the women of color I saw during this year's BlogHer conference. I would turn around and there would be a new face or a group of black women standing in the convention center talking with one another. A far cry from the BlogHers of yore when all of the brown faces were already very familiar.

    One evening a group of us got together and I expected a handful, perhaps a few more, but definitely the usual suspects. What I found instead when I walked out onto the patio of the Hilton was a sea of black women many of whom I had never seen before but all attending the same convention. There was awe and inspiration. There was a sense of being overwhelmed by being surrounded by a group of people who not only look like you but also understand the delicate dance that needs to be done when traversing the chasm between two cultures. There is often a loneliness that comes from being the "only" in a group or in a room full of people or in a five mile radius. I live in Upstate New York where this is my every day and I often have a feeling that people notice me when I am the only woman of color at my yoga studio or in Starbucks or anywhere. Nothing that is tangible (for the most part) but an acute awareness that I being in the minority forces those around me to look at me differently and I need to behave as such. I am not simply black or just a woman but I have the great privilege of being both. There are moments in my life that require far more work than I would care to deal with but contrary to what some might believe it is not a burden but who I am and all I know. I cannot change myself nor do I desire to.

    The final keynote was a panel on race and gender and the gray matter that encompasses both. Discussing race isn't for everyone nor is it the easiest conversation to have. BlogHer managed to put together a panel of women who were able to produce a flowing, approachable discussion on why it is important to even broach the topic of race.

    "Contrary to some opinions that talking about race is about “political correctness” or “taking away freedom of speech,” it is quite the opposite. Examining race brings up a lot of emotions, but the problem is not about feelings. It’s about changing policy to create a more equitable society. Feminista Jones explained that as a black woman, talking about race is not an option; it is a matter of survival."

    Tackling what is unknown and reading about the trials and tribulations of others isn't solely a matter of survival but an integral part of the human experience. To see BlogHer as a conference and a company open the doors for women of color and what we bring to the table has been a massive undertaking which I am honored to have witnessed over the past nine years. There is always a need for more but the way in which this conference has embraced diversity has been necessary and key to not only the success of BlogHer but the success for all women who blog.

    I don't know what is next but it is my hope that we continue to have conversations about race and not shy away when the discussion becomes difficult. There is a beauty in diversity. One that leads to inclusion and the beginning of understanding. I can only say that after the last decade, I look forward to much more.

    Tuesday
    Jul152014

    Between Israel and Gaza

     

    On Friday, I had this to say about the current situation in the Middle East:

    “The unfortunate reality is that everywhere you turn there is not only bias but half-truths and unhelpful and inaccurate reporting coming out of the Middle East. I do know that the United States remains an ally to Israel and its peace and prosperity remain crucial. The current round of violence comes after a failed attempt at Middle East peace talks and the subsequent kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teens.”

    ****

    One of my oldest and dearest friends happens to be Palestinian. A fact I remained completely ignorant to until we were in our early-20’s and in college. Actually, it truly came to glaring attention after the September 11th attacks when one thing led to another and soon our conversations moved away from gossip about classmates and to the very real and mistreatment towards Arab Americans. My relationship with Jumana - that’s my friend - has never changed or wavered over the past 25 years except that we continue to cross this path of my necessity to move from a place of blissful ignorance when it comes to matters of the Middle East and she, thankfully, has no problem with education. We are both approach our respective roles with respect. There is no force to choose a side but simply facts because my struggle to understand issues of international concern is very real.

    I have Jewish friends as well and once again their religion and place of birth have no bearing on our relationship. Just as with any relationship forged between two people from very different cultures, as long as there is a sense of understanding and, most importantly, respect even through the most difficult of conversations.

    Having friends who lie on both sides of a decades old conflict does not mean that I know anything it just means that when I have questions - and lately, I have had many - I know who to go to and who will point me in the right direction of what is what. Which brings me to a realization that when it comes to this particular violence I find myself wavering when it comes to ‘sides’. My usual line of thinking when it comes to current events is that there is a more progressive side and then a conservative side. When it comes to deep rooted issues of race, religion and culture, I find myself stepping back because I am empathetic to the hurt from both sides but I also must acknowledge that as an American there is nothing remotely comparable.

    For the last two weeks or so, I’ve been searching for information on what is going on. You know, news? That thing that is supposed to inform you of what is happening around the country and globe? Instead I have come across what I think people on both sides can agree is absolutely abysmal when it comes to anything on the Middle East coming from US media outlets. I mean absolute crap. On Sunday, only one show - CNN’s State of the Union - even mentioned the conflict via an appearance by Senator McCain who referred to Israel’s restraint as ‘admirable’. Then today when a ceasefire brokered by Egypt on Monday was rejected by Hamas to which Israel responded by saying that it would use more force against Gaza. I would feel worse about my inability to understand what is happening between Israel and Gaza if it weren’t for a lack of helpful coverage coming from mainstream media.

    I spent an hour yesterday discussing my conflict over this conflict and pestering Jumana with questions because I am a person who enjoys knowing what is occurring in the world around me. Today I spoke with a friend who lives in Israel and asked her similar questions and made the same request for links because what was being shown here is not indicative of what is happening there. The only conclusion I have been able to come up with for myself is more education which has always been the crux of my quest to learn more more about the Middle East. In both conversations it is painfully clear that at a cease fire is needed, both sides want for the other to stop bombing. On both sides there is anger, deep heartbreak and a need for lasting human rights.

    Much of curiosity and questioning is to where United States responsibility lies. Do we play a role in any cease fire? And why the lack of coverage on the fate of a country and area of the world where we have always said that peace is paramount?

    Below are links to articles I have found most helpful in understanding the current situation in the Middle East. My hope is to pass along what I have learned from others and hopefully you pass it along as well and so on:

    Ten Questions About the War in Israel


    The Gaza Rules


    What it Feels Like to Live in Gaza Under Israel Strikes


    Is this Hamas’ Last War?


    Netanyahu Finally Speaks His Mind


    Numbers Don’t Tell the Mideast Story


    Bomb Shelters and Conference Calls: A Workday for Israel’s Tech Firms

     

    Friday
    Jul112014

    In The News: Middle East Violence 

    A friend passed along a weekly newsletter she receives that skims and and reports on current events. The idea being that people are busy and cannot handle the amount of news generated content that comes at them each day. It’s far easier to have a digest of what happened during the week rather than a deep dive of every issue that comes across Twitter. My friend’s exact words were that I would do such a thing ‘so much better’. At first I was skeptical. I am always skeptical. Then I read what this so-called newsletter had to say about the current crisis between Israel and Hamas which was essentially reported as a squabble between two teenage girls as opposed to another round of serious conflict in an area that has been plagued by violence for hundreds of years. Conflict that has potential ramifications for the United States.

    So, yeah, I think would be better at summarizing a few news stories of the week. At least better than a site that reacts to news out of the Middle East with nothing more than a shrug. Here goes:


    1. The Middle East


    I made a concerted effort to find the most unbiased reporting on the most recent conflict between Israel and Hamas. In my search I did reach out to friends that might have a bias towards one side or the other in hopes of finding something in the middle. The unfortunate reality is that everywhere you turn there is not only bias but half-truths and unhelpful and inaccurate reporting coming out of the Middle East. I do know that the United States remains an ally to Israel and its peace and prosperity remain crucial. The current round of violence comes after a failed attempt at Middle East peace talks and the subsequent kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teens.

    Gaza, Again

    "Here we are again, for the we-lost-count time, dealing with a painfully familiar round of violence. As you read this article, Palestinians are bombing Israel with rockets and Israel is retaliating from air and sea. Israelis are running for cover in their shelters as sirens wail, and Palestinians in Gaza are dying in growing numbers. Israel is threatening to add a ground operation, and Hamas is vowing to open “the gates of hell” on Israel."

    President Obama’s Op-Ed in Haaretz

    "From Harry Truman through today, the United States has always been Israel’s greatest friend. As I’ve said time and again, neither I nor the United States will ever waver in our commitment to the security of Israel and the Israeli people, and our support for peace will always remain a bedrock foundation of that commitment."

    BBC’s Q&A on Israel-Gaza Violence


    2. POTUS goes to Texas



    Immigration has been a hot topic during this, the most unproductive session of Congress ever. It’s importance, however, seems to ebb and flow. Right now we are in a flow period as Congress prepares for recess and the upcoming midterm elections. We face a crisis on our own borders with hundreds of immigrant children - unaccompanied minors - from Central America overflowing already crowded holding facilities while awaiting legal status. The President has requested $3.7 billion in emergency funding for more border patrol officers and judges to hasten the processing of the increased influx of children. Earlier this week President Obama paid a visit to Texas to discuss immigration in hopes of strengthening his appeal to Congress. During his speech in Austin, POTUS chided House leadership for not doing their jobs in trying to pass comprehensive immigration reform but making time to discuss potential impeachment.

    Barack Obama on impeachment: Really?


    "“I don’t have to run for office anymore, so I can just let it rip,” he said.
    And rip he did, after days of Republicans beating him up for not doing anything on the border but refusing to pass the money to pay for what he wants to do on the border."

    POTUS' full remarks

    3. Educational Equity

    No Child Left Behind (NCLB) continues to be the gift that keeps on giving. It’s not news that it’s a failure but what continues to make headlines are the number of deadlines imposed on states and the federal government thanks to legislation passed in 2001. Given the lack of interest in reauthorization, the administration has turned to executive action over the years as a stop-gap measure to fix public education in this country. This week the US Department of Education launched a 50 State Education Strategy that would address on an oft forgotten section of NCLB that would require teacher equity.

    Arne Duncan Unveils 50-State Teacher-Equity Strategy

    "Under NCLB, which was signed into law in 2002, states were required to ensure that poor and minority students were not being taught by unqualified teachers at a higher rate than other students. But fewer than half of states have separate teacher-equity plans on file with the department. Most of those plans are at least several years old, and the Education Trust, a Washington-based organization that advocates for poor and minority kids, found them to be seriously lacking in this 2006 report."


    4. Housing and Urban Development

    San Antonio Mayor, Julian Castro became the newest Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Secretary Castro is one half of the famed Castro brothers. His twin brother Joaquin is a member of the House of Representatives. via The Washington Post


    5. The National Education Association makes history

    The National Education Association made history last week during it’s annual Representative Assembly when it elected three women of color to lead the largest labor organization in the country. via BlogHer