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.