Blogging While Brown (and Female)
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"People consider me the 411 on what goes wrong with black women in America," says Gina McCauley, founder of www.whataboutourdaughters.blogspot.com.
The attention started about a year ago, when McCauley, an Austin, Texas, personal injury attorney, was compelled to respond to the demeaning characterizations of black women that she saw making headlines.
"I was actually looking for something I could do when the whole Don Imus thing happened. It was at a time when I was ready to be more engaged with the world. I was sitting on the computer, writing on blogs, and my initial idea was that black women could use our power as consumers. I hit a perfect storm. People were ticked off."
As she delved into popular culture and began to scrutinize negative images of black women, McCauley was particularly incensed about a new show scheduled to air on BET, "Hot Ghetto Mess." The show featured clips of badly behaved prostitutes and their pimps, as well as drunken women fighting one another. The original website that inspired the series has included images of 1) a toddler drinking beer from a bottle, 2) matching father and infant "mob" stomach tattoos and 3) a young boy simulating sex with a woman who may or may not be his mother.
McCauley's righteous indignation helped to generate a wave of protest, online and off, as a community of bloggers worked to build awareness about the degrading images. In response, BET quickly attempted to reposition the show: it was given an air of enlightened consciousness and quickly renamed "We Gotta Do Better." The show was soon cancelled anyway.
"Advertisers pulled their ads before any reporter had ever written about it," says McCauley. "I don't think anybody had ever won a battle like that with BET before."
Then, in the midst of their success, everything changed for supporters of whataboutourdaughters as its readers and writers were blindsided by a tragedy that would dramatically alter the tone and content of the site.
On June 18, 2007, a 35-year-old single black woman was brutally raped and tortured by as many as ten black youths in her apartment at Dunbar Village, a West Palm Beach, Florida, public housing complex. The assault lasted for more than three hours. As she was being repeatedly raped, the woman's 12-year-old son was beaten in the next room. The intruders later forced the mother to perform oral sex on her son, and finished their torture by blinding him with a cleaning agent. No one in their community came to their aid during the attacks, and mother and son were forced to walk, alone, the mile distance to the Good Samaritan Medical Center.
"I had read about Dunbar Village earlier," says McCauley, "but just couldn't write about it. Couldn't type anything. You'll find a lot of women bloggers had the same response."
Eventually they found their voices.
"Someone printed all the Dunbar Village posts on the site recently and it came out to 500 pages," says McCauley. "By far it's been what we've talked about the most. It probably changed the course of the blog forever."
"I was naive," she adds, reflecting on her perceptions of violence pre- and post-Dunbar.
"Where I grew up in the South, sexism was just an annoyance. I didn't see misogyny or violence because that wasn't who my father was, or the men in my life. I think it was Dr. Renita Weems who said that black women are experts when it comes to race analysis, but when it comes to gender, we're babies."
McCauley says that she's on a personal journey with her blog -- one in which she happens to be taking a lot of other women along for the ride as well. In fact, her collective is growing. On July 25 to 27, hundreds of bloggers of color will gather in Atlanta, Georgia, for the first ever "Blogging While Brown" conference, an event that McCauley was instrumental in helping to organize.
"The Internet is a Wild Wild West," she says, "where women don't have to go through a male power structure to be heard. We don't have to go through the NAACP," she adds, emphasizing that it has often been traditional civil rights groups that have protected male interests in cases like that of Dunbar Village. Al Sharpton, for example, initially came to the defense of the accused men in the attacks -- that is until McCauley and other bloggers brought pressure to bear and he backed down.
"With the Internet we can have a woman-centered movement and be unapologetic about it," says McCauley. "We don't have to step aside in the name of unity."
Recently, she started a spinoff blog, www.michelleobamawatch.blogspot.com, which she says received attention from mainstream media outlets within 24 hours of its launch. Still, as inspirational and important as she is, McCauley does not believe that Michelle Obama should be the sole focus when it comes to the everyday realities of black women's lives.
"There are things happening to black women and girls in this country that we think only happen in war zones in Africa," she says. "And nobody's covering them."