The Whiteroots

Activists criticize ‘lack of diversity’ at Netroots Nation

Democratic National Converntion 2008 / AP
June 24, 2013

Black activists at the 2013 Netroots Nation conference blasted organizers and participants for what they described as a shocking "lack of diversity" at the progressive community’s flagship get-together.

"I want to touch on the lack of diversity at Netroots Nation," remarked one black audience member to wild applause and cheers during a rowdy Saturday afternoon discussion with a panel of prominent black female activists.

"What I’d say to that is efforts are made every year and it has grown more diverse over time," replied Cheryl Contee, a Netroots board member who founded Jack and Jill Politics, a political hub for black activists.

"It used to be worse," said Contee, who acted as moderator of "Ask a Sista: Black Women Muse on Politics, Policy, Pop Culture and Scholarship."

"That’s not a defense," Contee added. "But I’m just saying it used to be much, much worse."

"I agree," added Kimberly "Dr. Goddess" Ellis PhD, who is known as an expert in "new age liberation ideology."

"Netroots Nation came to me," Dr. Goddess said. "I had never heard of Netroots Nation as a conference or a thing" before being approached by organizers.

Lauren Brown Jarvis, a Huffington Post contributor and social media guru, said she has a similar experience at Netroots.

"People are offended by my assertion that I’m black and going to be here and be black," Jarvis said, noting that her public pride is not about "hating white" people, but empowering black ones.

"I know I felt very lost [at the confab] and I came with seven other co-workers," Jarvis said.

Despite the protestations of the panelists, bloggers and Twitter users roaming the conference highlighted Netroots’ lack of diversity.

"Although Netroots touts itself as being an incubator for ideas that challenge the status quo, judging from the racial make-up of the NN13 attendees, lack of diversity is one status quo that didn’t seem to be challenged enough," Sharon Kyle, a blogger for LA Progressive, wrote in a post titled, "Netroots Nation Lacks Diversity."

"For the past two days I’ve been one of a sprinkling of minorities floating in a sea of young white people," wrote Kyle, a member of the conference's panel selection committee.

Kyle interviewed "Ask a Sista" panelist Jenifer Daniels about the issue and received a "surprising" response.

"I was surprised to learn that [Daniels] has decided to make this her last Netroots convention," Kyle wrote. "Citing the lack of involvement by racial minorities, Daniels told me, ‘I won’t be back. I’ve had enough.'"

Twitter user Sirius U. Guise also noted the lack of minorities in a snarky tweet Saturday evening.

"#ThingsNotAsWhiteAsNetrootsNation Stormfront Edgar Winter," he tweeted.

The "Ask a Sista" panelists tried to keep the mood light as they injected a sense of humor and wittiness into thorny issues such as racism, the Trayvon Martin shooting, and the so-called "racist" Republican Party.

As the session opened and participants settled into their seats in a small room at the San Jose Convention Center, a massive picture of recently fired cooking star Paula Deen flashed on the screen, leading to whoops and hollers from those in the crowd.

"Why is this so important?" Contee asked her fellow sistas, referring to Deen’s racist statements. "We all know now that Paula Deen has been outed as a big ol ‘Dixie Time racist."

Left unmentioned was the fact that Paula Deen is a supporter of President Barack Obama who campaigned for the president in 2008.

Deen’s comments are "representative of the nostalgia that goes along with Southern culture and that can be a dangerous thing," Jarvis said, before the panelists segued into what they described as the GOPs problem with the black community.

The Deen incident reflects "the exact problem the GOP is having in rebranding themselves because deep down they’re filled with people like this, who don’t know what’s right and wrong" and who "want things to go back to the way things were," Contee said. "The [GOP’s] rebrand won’t work because it’s not sincere."

"The rebrand, as you can see, is like New Coke, which is disgusting," added Daniels, a social media guru a public relations expert. "They’re going to shine it up and make it new and say, ‘We’re inclusive,’ and then have these policies and legislation that do nothing for me."

Republicans have "a commitment to white supremacy," added Dr. Goddess. "We’re at war and they have to lose, they have to die. There’s not going to be a rebranding," she added. "GOP policies are extremely harmful to us and the environment and it’s all out war."

Jarvis mused that the "new black Republicans" are among one of the more concerning developments in the party.

"They’re coming out of the closet." Jarvis said. "That too is very, very dangerous" because "the bigger fear or concern is people who are going to get brainwashed and then work against us."

The issue of Trayvon Martin and his accused killer George Zimmerman’s upcoming trial also led to headed debate.

Comparing its significance to that of the O.J. Simpson trial, Contee said that the Zimmerman case will likely "rearrange how people feel about race in society."

"It’s deeply personal," said panelist Charlene Carruthers, director of online engagement at National People’s Action.

"I have a physical reaction whenever Trayvon’s name comes up," Carruthers said. "America’s going to have another unreal conversation about race. The pundits will get on the news and talk about everything except white supremacy."