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

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