By Jeannine Hunter, News Producer, Washington Post
NABJ Digital profiles freelance writer/blogger Latoya Peterson, the owner and editor of Racialicious , a collaborative blog about the intersection of race and pop culture. This media junkie is a Poynter Institute Sensemaking Fellow and a Public Media Corps fellow. She has contributed to numerous publications and websites including: the Guardian ; Jezebel.com; Clutch, an online magazine; as well as TheRoot.com and Slate’s Double X. She has also contributed to books such as Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and A World Without Rape () and Feminism FOR REAL: Deconstructing the academic industrial complex of feminism. She will also participate in the NABJ convention workshop “GOT GAME? A NEW DESIGN FOR INNOVATIVE JOURNALISM” on Saturday, Aug. 6 from 10:30 am to noon.
Peterson discussed the vision behind Racialicious and the challenges of maintaining and promoting it.
NABJDigital: Are you a Washingtonian or someone who relocated to this area and fell in love with it?
LaToya Peterson: I grew up here. My mom lived in Maryland and my Dad lived in D.C. So I’m a local. I don’t call myself a Washingtonian though – Washington is a different kind of place from D.C., and I learned that as I got older.
ND: What inspired the blog? How often is it updated and what are peak days/times when you and your colleague(s) encounter more traffic and news?
LP: Carmen Van Kerckhove (now Carmen Sognonvi) started this blog as Mixed Media Watch as a way to monitor representations of mixed race people and interracial couples in the media. Her then-partner, Jen Chau, wanted to be more involved with her mixed race advocacy organization Swirl. Carmen had also wanted to bridge the gulf between larger conversations on race and mixed race issues, so she rolled them all into Racialicious. I came on around the transition as a special correspondent and went from there.
I was attracted to the blog because it was a pan-racial take on events – it wasn’t just about black issues or Asian issues, but was welcoming to all. As we’ve grown, it’s been a struggle to keep up as well and to learn about all the different communities we serve. We’ve also been on a heavy learning curve since we have an international audience, and race issues change depending on how that society has constructed different groups.
We update daily, the goal is to do three posts a day, though that doesn’t always happen. Heavy traffic days are mid-week, lightest on the weekend. But our posts tend to have a long tail – so something we post Monday will still receive comments and debate on Friday.
ND: What sets Racialicious apart from other sites that addresses the complexities of all things racial (sexual/political and any other -ism warranting closer attention)?
LP: Three things – 1. We’re a multiracial space, which makes things infinitely more complicated. Traditionally, race work has been silo-ed with most folks sticking to their own background group, and occasionally reaching out to white audiences. Our goal is to get people talking to each other across racial, ethnic, and national boundaries.
2. We base everything in pop culture. Most people (and most of us on staff) didn’t have the ability or luxury to spend a lot of time with critical race or oppression studies in school. So pop culture becomes an easy way in to open up broader conversations. I’m currently working on a piece about two shows – Single Ladies and Love Bites – to talk about the differences between how the shows present interracial relationships. Love Bites, which is a show revolving around a handful of white characters, takes the colorblind approach, where race is never mentioned and is never an issue. Single Ladies, which revolves around two black women and one white one (who dates black men) bring up race, but not in the heavy-handed way it’s often dealt with on other shows. Pop culture helps people grasp onto these larger issues of theory in a way that makes sense to them.
3. We deal with structures. We’re interested in the root cause of a lot of these problems and we want to discuss that with a wider audience that normally doesn’t get that kind of analysis from mainstream media sources.
ND: W hat are some challenges you face in gathering information and maintaining the blog?
LP: Time is the largest one. Racialicious is a volunteer effort, so we are always out of time. Information and such flows through to us at this point, far more than we can handle. So our biggest challenges are increasing capacity and figuring out how some of us can transition into doing this full time.
ND: How does maintaining this effort differ from your other writing/journalism experience(s)?
LP: I started digitally, so to me digital writing is a lot more free than other types. I’m not worrying about word counts or page limits, I don’t have an editor, I don’t have to worry about timeliness or arguing why something is relevant – we write what we like and what interests us. I love the collective that we built – our commenter base is whip smart and informed and just as snarky as we are.
I like the people who helped make this happen – Carmen, Wendi, Arturo, Thea, Fatemeh, Nadra, Jessica and Andrea all came into this project knowing it was this weird kind of collaborative experiment, and yet stayed around anyway. That’s what I love it about it. Other writing is fun too. It just never feels like home the way Racialicious does.