Unsurprisingly, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen has received quite a bit of heat this week for his remarks about interracial marriage and the gag reflex. Some of these responses were, well, great. Some were decidedly less great. But everyone—myself included—said some variant of the exact same thing. (Summarized take: “What the fuck are you talking about?“)
Actually, let me rephrase that. I have no way of knowing that every news site, magazine, and blog that talked about Cohen’s piece said the exact same thing. Just the ones I happen to visit daily. This includes places like Gawker, EBONY, Jezebel, The Atlantic, The Root, Salon, Slate, Clutch, The Grio, and The Daily Beast.
And this is a problem.
If you were to sit down and make a list of the staff bios at each of the places just named, you’d likely find a very diverse collective. Men, women, gay, straight, Black, White, Latino, whatever. A photo of all of us together would look like a reunion shoot for the last 20 years of Benetton ads. ¹
I’m very aware of this, and I like to pat myself on the back for reading opinion pieces and comments at so many different places from so many different types of people.
But this diversity isn’t necessarily meaningful. It’s more theoretical than actual. All of these voices and opinions and takes are coming from the same Northern/Urban/Progressive bubble. It’s an expansive bubble. But, a bubble nonetheless. If a giant flood struck tomorrow and swept Chicago, New York City, and Washington, D.C. off the map, 95% of the digital magazines I visit would no longer exist.
And, when you’re getting most of your voices and opinions and takes from the same bubble, you end up with a situation like yesterday, where, again, every single blog, magazine, and news site I visited had the same take on the Cohen story.
It probably seems odd that I’d complain about this since I had that same take, but that’s kinda my point. I don’t think it’s a good thing that the places I frequent the most are all agreeable to my feelings and sensibilities.²
And it’s a problem because my situation isn’t unique. There are dozens upon dozens of surveys and polls that’ll tell you we’re becoming more and more isolated with where we choose to get our information from. And while we like to think that we’re too smart to allow this to affect us the same way it affects others (and by “others” I mean both “conservatives” and “people we don’t deem to be as educated“), we are not that smart. No one is.
This lack of thought diversity—which comes as we do what we can to shield out any potentially offensive or upsetting thoughts and opinions—can leave your own thoughts and opinions unchallenged. And few things are more dangerous than barricading yourself in a sea of likemindedness and sycophant. Me having an internet bubble is no different—well, no better—than Joe The Plumber having his Fox News/Drudge Report/Tea Party Facebook meme bubble. We’re both stuck in separate mall food courts. The only difference is that mine has a sushi bar. (And a clean bathroom.)
¹Full disclosure: I’m sure many of you are aware of this, but for those who aren’t, I’m a contributing editor at EBONY.com, so I’m talking about myself here, and I would be in this hypothetical photo. And I would be wearing an I Love Bougie Black Girls t-shirt.
²Admittedly, the Cohen story may not be the best example of this problem. Not sure if a well thought out and thoughtful counter to the prevailing take is possible here. (Yes, I realize this is the most ironic footnote ever. Thanks for asking, though.)
—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)