What I Learned About Race at BlogHer14

I'm Going to BlogHer '14!Alternative titles for this post include: What I Learned About Adoption at BlogHer14. And Addiction. Parenting Children with Special Needs. Being LGBTQ. Mental Illness. Postpartum Depression.

These aren’t topics I blog about here on Red Shutters, and there’s a reason why: they are not my truth. The point of blogging is to share my perspective, experience, and point of view.  Sometimes, in my Roundup posts, I’ve shared pieces that address these topics, but, in my own writing, I don’t take them on.

I struggle sometimes to balance my desire to preserve my family’s privacy with the goal of cultivating this blog. Many of the bloggers and writers I met at BlogHer14, the tenth annual blogging conference sponsored by the BlogHer network, held last week in Silicon Valley, CA, take a completely different approach: they use their blogs as a platform to explore the challenges of their lives, and, in their vulnerability, they engage others, educate readers, and, in many cases, save lives. Their efforts give power to blogging in a way that likely had never been imagined when the first blog was developed.

What I took away from BlogHer14 was the importance of paying attention to the stories of others, especially those who have experiences that are different from mine. And what was unexpected was how much my experience at BlogHer14 shifted my worldview.

I heard from many women whose stories were uncomfortable, different, and powerful. I listened to them, and I hope I’ll be better for it.  All of the issues I listed above were discussed openly and with a rawness and deep power that blew me away. I hadn’t expected to get all that from BlogHer14—and that’s probably one of the best reasons to attend a conference of this kind: you get the awesome opportunity to step out of your familiar and learn from others—an honor that changes and shapes you.

I’d like to share some of the stories I heard. I hope they resonate with you as well.

My talented and kind friend (and conference roommate!), Phyllis Myung of Napkin Hoarder, was selected to be a BlogHer Voice of the Year (VOTY), reading this blog post aloud to the approximately 2,500 people in attendance. I witnessed blogger after blogger coming up to her afterward to compliment her on her work and to let her know how much her words meant to them.  They mattered to me, too, and took on new meaning when they became the open door into conversations about self-confidence, race, and fitting in.

Also during VOTY was a talk by A’Driane Nieves of Butterfly Confessions, who, in a brutally honest piece, faced the realization that modern-day America does not offer the safety and support that her family, including her sons, need.  Her fury at the injustice and racism that thrive in our society was heartbreaking, and will change how I talk to my own children about race in America.

Please read this piece by Janelle Hanchett of Renegade Mothering. Another VOTY presenter, Janelle’s piece has stayed with me ever since I first read it on her blog, and when she shared it front of her peers, I was in tears.

Inspiration came in the small sessions, too.

Natasha Nicholes of Houseful of Nicholes reminded bloggers that we should read the writing of others so we “understand that everyone’s house does not look the same.” By reading the blog of someone who has a vastly different experience than our own, we all can realize the power that exists in the private sphere to shape the world.

Jim Lin of Busy Dad Blog reminded bloggers that, by talking about issues of importance to us, things we are passionate about, we “have the power to change the conversation,” thereby influencing society. He made an excellent point about how celebrities endorse products, but bloggers create dialogue and initiate action.

In another session, I loved the wise words of Jasmine Banks of Just Jasmine who, during a discussion about negative blog comments (and there can a serious amount of negativity online), advised attendees to let the negativity “inform the gravitas of our writing” and to let go of others’ expectations and criticism. “Be a conduit,” she explained. “Let the negativity flow through you. Don’t be a vessel, holding it all in.” This is excellent advice for all of life—not just blogging.

The closing panel of BlogHer14 addressed the intersection of race, feminism, and gender. The panelists emphasized that issues of race, feminism, and gender are everyone’s business. No matter what your experience, you are responsible for being aware and educating yourself on these issues—and really anything that is meaningful to your family, community, and society at large. Lest that sound overwhelming, the fabulous Kelly Wickham of Mocha Momma, who I first heard speak at BlogHer13, advised us how to do this: when you come upon stories that are not your own but are impactful, share them. Pass them along to friends and family and let them know you were moved by what you heard and hope they’ll be, too—kind of like what I hope to do with this post and what I hope to do more of going forward. Perhaps I knew this already, but like all of the wisdom I came across at BlogHer14, I heard and connected with these ideas more profoundly than ever before.

And, there was more at BlogHer14: I went home oohing and aahing over Arianna Huffington’s advice (get more sleep!), Kerry Washington’s humanity, Kara Swisher’s wit, and Jenny Lawson’s humor and vulnerability. All of these keynoters were, as I had expected, terrific. BlogHer also featured a number of bloggers delivering short presentations, titled 10×10 talks, some of whom, such as Deb Rox, Alexandra Rosas, Awesomely Luvvie, and Katherine Stone were other highlights for me.

I would be remiss not to mention my most favorite part of the conference: I found a group of funny, lovely, and caring women who it’s pleasure to know and call my friends. Please check out their blogs, too: Another Version of Mother, A Wide Line, Busy Since Birth, Napkin Hoarder, and Squared Mommy.

Already, many BlogHer14 recap posts are popping up online, with assessments about the food, swag, and special events. As you can see, I’m not going to weigh in on those items; they are better suited for the conference evaluation. What I will say though is that, like any professional development/networking event, what you get out of something like BlogHer14 is what you put into it. I went to BlogHer14 for three reasons: 1) inspiration, 2) connections, and 3) blog strategies. I went home having hit all of my to dos.

Read about my experience at BlogHer13 here and here

Comments

  1. You got everything exactly right. I like that you’re starting the message of amplification right now.

    • Kimberly says:

      I like that description – “amplification” – I hadn’t heard it before! Thanks for reading, roomie!

  2. Wonderful recap! Love that you hit all the big issues and brought it back to what made the event meaningful.

  3. Great post, especially recapping the VOTY there were a couple there who have stayed with me too!

    I am so glad to have met you and look forward to our computer friendship till we meet in person again!!!!!

  4. Ah, thank you for the mention. My first BlogHer was tough… the sheer number of thousands of bloggers was something I hadn’t envisioned. My impulse was to run and hide, but I stayed in the midst, and I have made life long friendships. I’m with you: you get what you put in and if one person has other things to do or not able to spend time with you, there are many many more who can. The thing I’ve learned in 5 years of attending BlogHer is that people come to see their friends — we can’t take personally the time that they want to do that. Make new friends, stand tall, and you will find your people!!

    • Kimberly says:

      Thanks for reading, Alexandra! I have long enjoyed your blog – it’s a pleasure to have you stopping by Red Shutters!

  5. This was so thoughtful. Going into the conference, I hadn’t expected to be presented with so much humanity. As I experienced it, I reflected on how inspiring these voices and stories are, and in many cases, so different from the life I’m fortunate enough to lead – but so, so important. And looking back, the whole experience of BlogHer has affirmed that these stories echo the great challenges of society, and they deserve to be told, heard and shared. Thank you for articulating this all so well.

    • Kimberly says:

      It was a pleasure to experience BlogHer14 with you, Sam, and I appreciate your support of my post – thanks!

  6. I loved a lot of the power and vulnerability of those speeches too. Great recap!

  7. Yes. Exactly what I hope most people get from the conference is that there are plenty of ways to live our lives.

    • Kimberly says:

      Ah, that’s it, Tracey! I love this: “There are plenty of ways to live our lives” – thanks for stopping by.

  8. This was fantastic, thank you. I’m glad all of your goals were met, glad that the voices you heard were different enough to be inspiring rather than frightening. You’ve even listed a few people I didn’t get to meet so now you’ve passed on more of what BlogHer is about.

    • Kimberly says:

      Thank you for visiting, Arnebya, and it was a pleasure to meet you briefly at #BlogHer14. I’ve enjoyed your blog and am happy to welcome you here!

  9. I have read so many BlogHer recaps, each one different and each one tackling a different aspect. Yours is the first to focus on the variety of people and experiences that connect us as bloggers. Thank you!

  10. I’m so glad I got to meet you at BlogHer14! For me, it was about the connections, and I definitely came home with bonds and inspiration.

  11. This was one of my favorite BlogHer recaps, and not just because I love you, but because it shows how great BlogHer can be. There was a lot of messages, big ones, hard ones, to soak up.