Today's post is by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott, Assistant Professor of Religion and Pieper Chair of Servant Leadership at Ripon College.
I am a white, American, male. In this regard, I look a lot like most bloggers in the United Methodist blogosphere. I was reflecting on this fact after reading a post by Drew McIntye in which he questioned Jeremy Smith's critique of the proposal to close General Conference as only coming from white men and pointed out that Jeremy was himself a white man. I thought to myself, "Here are white American men arguing with each other about their whiteness. Isn't that how the blogosphere goes?" I decided, as a white American man, to do some research to see how extensive the white American male perspective is in the UMC blogosphere.
I chose as my source last week's blogs posts on the Methoblog platform. I included everything posted from Sept. 30 through Oct. 6, with the exception of posts by GBGM (which I'll talk about next week), stories from UMC (which are news, not opinion), posts from UM Insight (which are re-posts), and posts where I could not determine the gender or, if male, race of the author. That left me with 183 blog posts written by 92 authors in the last week.
Of these 183 blog posts, 79% were written by white American men. 14% were written by white American women (and 1% by a white American woman working abroad), 2% by American women of indeterminate race, 2% by white men from the British Isles, <1% by an Asian American male (a single post), and <1% by a Filipino male (a single post). There were 0 blogs written by African-Americans, 0 blogs written by Hispanics, and 0 blogs written by Native Americans. Of the authors, only 76% were white American males. This is because white American males made up a higher percentage, 84%, of the frequent bloggers (more than twice a week, the average for all bloggers).
Whichever set of numbers you use, the conclusion is clear: white, American men have a voice in the blogosphere that is about three times as great as their proportion of the UMC membership.
First, a couple of caveats, and then some interpretation.
1. Methoblog does not include all blogs written by United Methodists. African-Americans, Hispanics, Asian-Americans, and UMC members from outside the US may be writing lots of posts that aren't included in Methoblog's roles. Even if true, this still seems like an issue to me, as it means there are separate online conversations by race and nationality in the UMC.
2. I relied on pictures of people to determine their race, and racial identity is not always something that is easily identifiable by sight. That being said, it's unlikely that I'm wrong in enough cases to significantly alter the results.
3. Sometimes people write about things other than the UMC in their blogs, and sometimes people have guest bloggers write on their blogs. I didn't read every single blog posted. (I do have a job.) I did try to determine authorship of posts on multi-writer blogs. Again, these considerations probably apply only in a few cases, and that's not likely to significantly alter the results.
Even given those caveats, the conclusion seems to remain: white American men have a voice in the UMC blogosphere that is disproportionately large compared to their percentage of the UMC membership. Now, there are two interpretations one could take of this fact. First, one could assume that this reflects pre-existing white American male privilege. White American males have more access to positions of power and to technology than other groups, and this makes them more likely to write blogs. In this interpretation, the high proportion of white American male bloggers is a result, not a cause of other forms of privilege.
A second interpretation would see this inequality as causing or reinforcing white American male privilege. While differences in other forms of privilege may explain some of who blogs and some of who doesn't, if the blogosphere becomes a forum for decision-making in the UMC, it means that those decisions will primarily be made by white American men. If white American men receive a disproportionate voice in making decisions because those decisions are made in the blogosphere, then the blogosphere has not only reproduced by reinforced other forms of privilege.
I'll continue investigating this issue over the next several weeks, looking next week at blogs by the General Board of Global Ministries and other official church agencies and then finally critiquing this blog and examining the collection of authors it has hosted.