Dr. Karen Ventii of the Science to Life blog has decided to stop blogging for the 'Borg. This is not terribly surprising since she recently defended her dissertation and will be moving on to her new career. I wish her all of the best. She's a great writer, as readers of her blog can attest, and I expect she will have a fulfilling future in medical and/or science writing. Her blog will be missed around here, but such is the ephemeral nature of blogging I fear, and of course this gig is something less than a professional one.
Meanwhile, the ScienceBlogs has been signing up white guys just as fast as they can. Good thing this AryanBlogs? joker hasn't updated recently!
I had a post awhile back talking about why overt, obvious and visual diversity was a GoodThing in and of itself. Today I want to talk about why a lack of overt and obvious diversity is a BadThing. It starts with a "crossing the street" story from YHN.
The story has to do with racial discomfort in a way that is often described in shorthand as the tendency for a person walking along a lonely sidewalk to cross the street to the other sidewalk just because they see an individual or two of another apparent ethnic or racial category in their path. The idea being that fear of the 'other', fear of immediate personal attack or insult leads one to conclude that avoiding the 'other' is a good idea. In the US anyway, black men report experiencing people crossing the street and other related signals with some bemusement and, not infrequently, anger.
I avoid certain fast-food restaurants.
Now we all have similar experiences, I have little doubt. The kitchen and service staff of your typical fast food restaurant in the urban US is heavily populated by people of ethnic minority status. Most frequently African-American and Latino-American. And actually, the stats don't really matter for this little story because we are talking about my perceptions and my biases. Also about my direct experiences with specific fast food restaurants and their competition within particular cities (over time-limited intervals, admittedly).
I avoid Chick-fil-a and In-and-Out Burger because of what I have come to realize is a possibly unfair, racially motivated bias. In the few occasions I visited these two chains, I NoticedSomething.
The kitchen and service staff were far, far whiter than one would expect from a normal fast food restaurant in the relevant locations. My impression was "OMG! This place is totally white" so even if there were a couple of nonwhites working, there weren't very many.
So what? I don't tend to have the cross-the-street response or generalized discomfort in other situations in which the people around me are predominantly white, black, asian or what-have-you. So why here? I think because my expectation was for the fast food staff job category to be predominantly black or latino (as it happens for the geographic locations I'm referring to). So I thought to myself "Hmm, if the restaurant management hired all white folk for this place....maybe there's a reason". And I find myself not patronizing such places. Why should I? I'm not obligated to get fast food at all (and shouldn't anyway) and there is little harm to the companies in question should one person just not prefer their goods and services. So if there is some reason to think I might not want to give them my money, big deal.
I'm not proud. I know that it is a nasty bit of bias to assume that the complexion of the kitchen staff was a reflection of any sort of racism on the part of the businesses in question. But it tells me something about appearances and the effect they can have on people. (It does not escape me that the harmony for this refrain is voiced in affirmative action situations.) Violations of expectations can influence decisions. In the case of ScienceBlogs, the decision to visit, read or comment ScienceBlogs blogs instead of other offerings in the vast blogosphere.
Therein lies the question of the moment. What ARE the expectations of the Sb readership? That Sb bloggers should be predominantly white, male heteronormative USians? In which case, no problem: Expectations met. Ok, I exaggerate, the above figure and the full post/website that is linked make the case mostly for the "white" charge. Admittedly there are a number of pseuds around here but the numbers for which the approximate relative skin reflectance is unknown (to me and other Sb'ers) is vanishingly small. It is unlikely that the addition of the pictures of all the pseudonymous bloggers to the "AryanBlogs?" site would do much to counter the claim.
Or do we have a potential readership that has already been put off by the Unbearable Whiteness of ScienceBlogs?
Before you get to it in the comments, DearReader, I do recommend that you go read this quite excellent post from Stephanie Z at Almost Diamonds (h/t Greg Laden, who has many black friends and relatives).
Update: Isis the Scientist has a nice conversation going in the comments to the post she wrote taking me to task for being a patronizing blowhard. Go play.