Thursday, March 17, 2005

Ghettoes and gatekeepers

OK, this is a little weird. I've been thinking about this since yesterday evening. Last night I discover that Joe Carter was posting about it at the same time. Then I discover that La Shawn Barber was too. We're all Christians. Coincidence? (Maybe a non-Christian would refer to Jung at this point.)

It is a phenomenon within the blogosphere. What to call it? Polarization? That's how Joe sees it. A glass ceiling? That's how La Shawn sees it, although she has used her writing skills to smash a hole in it and crawl up. She links to Michael Bowen who also has thoughts on stratification, although he sees it in racial terms. What we all agree is that the blogging elite --the A-list-- are a fairly homogeneous group. Racially so? No idea; I don't know the race of most of them. Gender-wise? Looks like the top 10 are all men except for Michelle Malkin. Politically? Are you kidding? There are partisans of the left and right.

What I see is a paucity of overtly Christian blogs. In fact, in TTLB's top 100 I count two: The Evangelical Outpost and ajhankin. There are a few other Christians in the top 100 (including La Shawn and Michelle), but these are Christians blogging about mostly news and politics. Nothing wrong with that. But there are only two that center on Christianity. This seems a bit odd in the US, where 76% of people identify themselves as Christians.

I'm still thinking about the Washinton Post story I discussed 10 days ago. I can't get the phrase "Christian ghetto" out of my mind. The WaPo story made it sound like this ghetto is the self-imposed cultural exile of ignoramuses. But are ghettoes usually self-imposed? Was Harlem? Warsaw? Were Native American reservations? No, they were imposed upon those without power by the dominant culture; those people had no choice but to live in the ghetto unless they were able to leave their old identity behind. The WaPo story (coincidentally?) suggests the same thing: the couple in the story left the Christian ghetto, got educations and upscale jobs, and changed their identity.

So what I'm wondering is: Are Christians online and in the blogopshere being forced into a virtual ghetto? We're definitely not there commensurate with our numbers, especially in the A-list. Coincidence? La Shawn discusses how moving up in the blogosphere is very hard to do without help from that A-list; someone in that elite has to hold the gate open for you, by linking to your posts, usually a number of times. This is reflected in my own experience; the limited exposure I've had as a blogger is directly or indirectly through the Evangelical Outpost. How willing are those elite bloggers to hold the gate open for Christians? I'm not familiar enough with all ten to generalize, but I will say that there are some whom I've contacted a number of times each with a link relevent to what they're discussing, always without reply. Very recently, I sent a link to one of them, and the link was quickly posted, but without either an email reply or the customary hat tip. Another coincidence? Perhaps. But these coincidences are all tending in the same direction. Are Christians expected to sit in the back of the blogospheric bus and not get uppity? I don't know people's motives, but I'm hard-put to explain this another way. That's not to say that the A-list is anti-Christian as a whole; they likely are not. But it does seem apparent that in the list of things that matter to the elite bloggers, Christianity is not even a blip on the radar screen (Michelle Malkin being the exception). For whatever reason, they are simply unmotivated to hold the gate open to us.

On the other hand, we shouldn't expect those who don't claim to be Christians to carry our water for us. But their gatekeeper role makes it harder for Christians to be seen and heard outside our own community. To paraphrase the famous philosophical dilemma, if a Christian blogs and nobody hears it, does he or she make a sound? We are called to reach out to the people around us, the culture around us. However, in print media, broadcasting, music, movies etc. Christians have been essentially frozen out of the mainstream markets and have been shunted into the Christian cultural ghetto: Christian radio, TV (ostensibly anyway), publishing houses, book stores, and now even to a large extent in this new, empowering medium, the blogosphere.

What do we do about it? I don't know. I do think that Christian bloggers should put our heads together and devise some strategies to be seen and heard in the wider blogosphere and Internet. The glass ceiling can be broken; La Shawn did it. Perhaps it's fitting in a way that a black woman should be our example. This problem is still fermenting in my mind and I will post more later.

Update: 3/18

It seems that there was a lot of misunderstanding about what I was trying to say yesterday. Perhaps the take-home lesson there is that I shouldn't attempt a serious post upon returning from 10 1/2 hours at work. So I will try to keep this brief so as not to repeat my mistake, then post some more later when my brain is firing on all cylinders.

To clarify: It has been my observation that the A-list bloggers do not, generally speaking, link to Christian bloggers much. I'm not trying to figure out how to get them to do it, but how Christians can make an impact in the non-Christian blogosphere in spite of this. To me, the usefulness of the TTLB ranking is not to show that we've acquired a prestigious position but to have a (admittedly rough) gauge of Christian bloggers getting our message across. And again, I'm concerned more about those who blog about Christianity than those who blog about other things but happen to be Christian.

Also, as if I didn't adequately mess things up yesterday, it turns out that Corrie is a guy. My apologies!

I still plan to respond to the thoughts everyone has kindly shared, but when I'm more awake...

Another update: 3/19

More thoughts including a response to Jeremy here and here.