Netroots Nation is in California! I'm at one of the largest gatherings of progressives in the country writing to you from a hotel in the wee hours of the morning of the third day of the Netroots convention after spending 2 days with upwards of 3,000 progressives. Yet, speaking as a black woman, it almost seems like I've entered a world where blacks just don't tread.
For social justice advocates – NN13 is the place to be. The halls are packed with the kinds of people who want to change the world, who want to make it a better place for everyone. Which brings me to the point of this piece – although Netroots touts itself as being an incubator for ideas that challenge the status quo – judging from the racial make-up of the NN13 attendees, lack of diversity is one status quo that didn't seem to be challenged enough.
Its important to acknowledge that Netroots Nation instituted a policy requiring all panels to be diverse. In full disclosure, I was a member of the panel selection committee. As we prepared to make our selections, we were instructed to dismiss any panel that was comprised entirely of white males. To their credit, the organizers were very clear that they intended to be inclusive. But you couldn't have guessed that by the looks of the crowd at the popular Netroots Nation Karaoke party on Thursday night or by perusing the halls of the San Jose Convention Center. For the past two days I've been one of a sprinkling of minorities floating in a sea of young white people.
Unlike NN12 which was hosted in Providence, Rhode Island, NN13 is hosted in a majority minority state. Blacks, Latinos and Asian Pacific Islanders make up more than 50% of California's population putting an even brighter spotlight on the overwhelming whiteness of this convention.
Wanting to get the opinion of a Netroots insider, I spoke to Jenifer Daniels, a long time Netroots supporter who has come to the convention for ten years. Daniels is a vocal advocate for racial inclusivity and is on the popular NN13 panel, “Ask a Sista”. After talking to her I was surprised to learn that she has decided to make this her last Netroots convention. Citing the lack of involvement by racial minorities Daniels told me, “I won't be back. I've had enough”. We chatted a while at the TWIB party discussing the reasons why minorities don't turn out. I mentioned that it seemed to me that the black people who were in attendance were not representative of the black people in my life. She didn't disagree.
So while I applaud NN13 for making a conscious effort to be inclusive, the outcome was disappointing and raises questions about the unintentional ways we exclude others. Although this is a topic that is uncomfortable, I think progressives must take a hard look at themselves when it comes to issues of race. We still seem to associate with people who look like us. Just take a glance at your Facebook friends.
I believe that until the progressive movement comes to terms with the racial divisions that exist within it, we will continue to experience defeat when confronting our powerful adversaries. In other words, the racial divide, affects every progressive.
NN14 will be held in Detroit. My hope is that there will be a more focused, more determined effort to make NN14 a conference that is attended by all progressives. At NN12 and at NN13, my husband could spot me seated in any of the sessions because I stood out. When I show up at NN14 in Detroit, I'd like to be able to get lost in the crowd and I'm willing to work to help make that happen. Who will join me?