The state of black women in the blogosphere

theGRIO REPORT - Blogs by black women cover a full spectrum of backgrounds and lifestyles, but many face challenges in networking and capitalizing their work...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

At the intersection of women bloggers and bloggers of color lies the growing sector of the black women’s blogosphere.

Representing a full spectrum of backgrounds, perspectives, and lifestyles, blogs written or hosted by black women cover most aspects of adult life — careers, family, romance, self-discovery and development — with a particular eye to the varied concerns and interests of black women and their allies. The best of these blogs weave their readers into an informed and activated community, capable of educating their online and offline neighbors on social, political, and personal issues encompassing race, gender, and sexuality.

Keidra Chaney, co-founder of the business and blog The Web Farm, and Emerging Media Specialist at DePaul University, has been blogging for 10 years, and is thrilled at the bountiful resources available now for finding other black women bloggers. “When I started, it was very, very lonely,” she says. “Now people can meet in real-life to share ideas, network, and create businesses. [Bloggers] can share personal capital, intellectual capital, with each other in person.”

The state of the black women’s blogosphere is “excellent, and getting better all the time,” according to Gena Haskett, of Out on the Stoop, an eclectic personal blog about anything and everything — except sports. “There are so many phenomenal bloggers out there creating really dynamic content and they need to be known about and celebrated.” But she encourages anyone with something to share to “dive right in and start blogging”.

But while some black women bloggers have created highly successful online forums that even outlast their founder’s departure, others enjoy peer respect and loyal readership but fail to attract necessary advertising revenue or investment dollars.

Laina Dawes, a contributing editor to the Race and Ethnicity section on BlogHer, sees more black women bloggers every year trying to take the next step towards entrepreneurship. But converting a blog into a viable business presents challenges well beyond the personal level.

A recent study published by private research firm CB Insights on entrepreneurs securing venture capital in California, Massachusetts, and New York found that African-Americans make up only a paltry 1 percent of these individuals. Similarly, women make up only 8 percent of internet start-up founders.

In terms of dollars, among ventures with an all-black founding team, the median amount of funding raised was $1.3 million, as compared to $2.3 million among all-white teams, and $4 million among Asian founders. Most women entrepreneurs were part of mixed-gender teams, which averaged $4 million in funding, over $2.2 million for both all-male and all-female teams.

Dawes calls such statistics “pathetic”, but is quick to point out, “I think there are real reasons in terms of what kinds of bloggers are approached by various companies and businesses for sponsorship advertising, and who is seen as economically viable and who isn’t.”

Chaney is similarly unsurprised at the bleak situation. “The culture of the internet start-up has been so white-male-dominated. You see where Facebook and other companies like that have come from, and [it’s] usually a place where somebody is relatively affluent and has the resources at a university to be able to do a start-up like that. They have years of tech background coming from high school or grade school. Many women of color just get into [blogging] in college.”

Haskett, however, will have none of it. “I run into entrepreneurs — serial entrepreneurs — all the time, who are African-American women, who are creating new businesses as we speak.”

Such surveys are particularly vulnerable to underreporting black women entrepreneurs, because they are more likely to use alternate sources of funding outside of the venture capital stream, making it more challenging to track their business developments as a demographic.

Online blog networks like Black Business Women Online and collectives like Racialicious can help individual bloggers hone their craft and pool advice and experience, while the networking benefits of in-person conferences such as Blogging While Brown, Blogalicious, and BlogHer cannot be underestimated.

Blogalicious in particular aims to connect “women of all ethnicities in social media” with one another and with entrepreneurial opportunities, which can be difficult to come by when working independently.

“It’s fantastic to see women of color — to see black women — coming together to support themselves and each other through these kinds of conferences.” Chaney helps bloggers realize their entrepreneurial dreams by offering her technical and business expertise in monetizing web analytics (like TV ratings for websites) at conference panels and community organizations, and on her blog The Learned Fangirl.

Named by Chicago’s Community Renewal Society as one of their 35 Leaders Under 35 in 2009, Chaney believes that “now the secret is out”, conferences offer places where black women can “get resources together, find other people, locate and get together with venture capitalists, and try to fund a project in a way that you couldn’t before.”

Dawes is also hopeful, but points out that there are still spaces for newcomers to fill. “In terms of a critical narrative on socio-political issues, we’re seeing a lot of good writers, [but] I’d like to see more alternative voices. Black women bloggers are getting out of the ghettoization of black gossip sites, and are finding other things in the world that are really of importance and that we need voices for.”

Based in Toronto, Dawes writes extensively on the hardcore, punk and metal music scene in her blog Writing is Fighting and in her upcoming book.

“Each one, meet one,” is the networking advice offered by Haskett. “Get to know each other. Visit different blogs, even if you don’t think you have an interest in the topic. Dive in and find out what that community is doing, because you never know who has a connection, who knows something you don’t know.”

Haskett believes that black women especially can benefit emotionally and materially from the interconnectedness, community, and authority offered by blogging. She teaches video and photography techniques at conference workshops and on her blog Create Video Notebook in the hopes that more black women will make their authorial gaze known.

Chaney notes, “The old-boys’ network is crumbling, and now there’s a way for us to get in the backdoor. You’re seeing more and more opportunities for women of color to get together and try to change the statistics. There are a lot of great women, who have really great ideas and are going to strike out in the next few years.”