Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Learning to Connect



Much to my surprise several people have noticed I've not been blogging. I like blogging, certainly reading posts and comments. And it seems best if leaving comments, as I like to do, to be someone who is also putting out on a blog.

Bazungu Bucks was really an accident. The idea was to raise a bit of money to send to a friend in Uganda to use in his work with a community organization. I thought my friends, whom I was depending on for the money might be interested. My friends came through with the money, but few ever read the blog. With the blog I discovered Blog Africa and shortly afterward Global Voices and through them African blogs. Also my blog posts became a part of the conversation. How rewarding that's been!

Much has changed since 2005. Eric Hersman recently created an amazing photo collage at Flickr of African Web 2.0 sites. That version is so great because he uses the note feature to provide URLs for the more than three dozen sites he lists. The rise of such sites is coupled with a much greater adoption of ordinary people of social networks like Facebook.

The title of this post is ripped off from a post by Ethan Zuckerman, Scoble, Kenya and learning to connect. Zuckerman earlier had written about homophily--the tendency to hang with people just like you--and social software in a deliciously named post Social software, serendipity and salad bars. (Mmm. Sybillance…). He observes:
I’d go further and argue that too much homophily can make you a) dumb and b) boring, ignorant of news and ideas that aren’t already interesting to people around you, and incapable of bringing ideas to your friends that they haven’t already heard.)
Yeah, and now there are so many ways to connect and to engage with brilliant, fascinating, beautiful, kind people all over.

Learning is not automatic nor is without pain. One of my dad's favoring aphorisms when we were growing up was: "We learn from our non-fatal mistakes." At the time we all suspected what he was emphasizing keeping ourselves safe. Now that I'm older than he when chiding us, he was surely telling us mistakes are essential.

This blog doesn't really contribute to the African blogosphere. The mistakes of Bazungu Bucks have added up in a big pile. I've wondered whether I should retire the blog and begin again with something more attuned to my goofy and eclectic personality. That's probably the thing to do, but seems that I need to get back in the habit of blogging again, and that may give the ambition to start a new blog.

One of the challenges of learning to connect is figuring out what your mistakes are. It helps some to have others point them out, but the judgment of others isn't always accurate or applicable. It's a grave mistake for a middle-aged white American guy to take privilege for granted, and far too easy to make that mistake.

A friend summed up the approach to Bazungu Bucks as "save one life at a time." I recoiled a bit when he said that because it puts the presumption of privilege in rather stark relief. I do think that caring about events, what's happening to people elsewhere in the world, is greatly enhanced by knowing someone where those events are happening. So I have endeavored to make friendships with Africans online. It turns out reporting about the lives of friends is really gossip and gossip is not the stuff for blog posts. The stories of my friendships aren't simple, like any friendships. My friends close to me find the complications strange. No doubt I'm learning an awful lot from the complications. But finding ways of sharing what I'm learning comes hard.

Having African friends puts racism in a new light. Most Americans would rather have teeth pulled than to be thought racist. Men are also quite invested in being "nice guys" Of course it's good to be nice, and a pain to be thought a jerk. Yet the very structure of things helps to make white Americans racist jerks. That's bad enough, but then we actively don't see the obvious. That's not so simple a problem to solve.

One really smart fellow, Kai, contributing to an important discussion, An ally 101 thread points out that anti-racism is life long work. The thread hosted at Creek Running North and moderated by Theriomorph starts out with:
Recently, I’ve been hearing a lot of white activists expressing concern about ‘the divides within feminism’ and the difficulties in strengthening alliances, particularly with women of color.

It’s an important conversation.

The problem is, it keeps happening in overtly racist ways, and on the blogs of women of color, whose conversations, time, and energies are then derailed into - yes, you guessed it - taking care of and educating (or, very reasonably, challenging) the people who just busted into their house and puked on their rug while they were in the middle of doing something else.
The discussion is so pertinent to crossing boundaries in general. But the title reminds me how difficult all those 101 courses always were in college, harder, it seemed to me, than the more advanced courses.

Engaging: reading blog posts, commenting on threads made by African bloggers, making friends, having arguments. learning so much, fills me with joy. Sometimes too, the reflections I receive shows me stuff about myself and my culture I'd rather not consider. Ah, but life is a composition, a work in progress. Learning to connect means change. Not change for others, but most especially ourselves. So I want to get back to blogging the composition I'm trying to make.

1 comment:

Daisy said...

It's also a matter of the WRONG people blogging, and the right people are slacking! :P Especially during this election season I have really noticed this!

I'll be checking in! :)