Not too long ago, a young, talented filmmaker from Dallas set out to create a documentary about the blogging industry, and the creative minds behind it. He enlisted the assistance of his wife (who is herself a blogger), and together, they contacted 51 of her friends and set out on a road trip to interview and film their stories.
The trailer for his film, called "American Blogger," came out about a month ago -- and while the imagery is admittedly beautiful, it caused a furor. You see, as far as one can tell from a 2-1/2 minute summary, the film seems to fail spectacularly in representing the diversity of people who write blogs in this country: save for one, all of the bloggers represented are young women, who appear to write about similar subject matter, seem of the same race, and even physically resemble each other. When questioned about it, the filmmaker said that the lack of diversity was unintentional, that he was simply interviewing the women who had a relationship or friendship with his wife -- these were just the ones who said yes to his project. The title "American Blogger," he said, wasn't meant to be all-encompassing.
I admit that I was one of the people who was dismayed about the lack of diversity in the film, but it's been a month now, and for the most part I'm over that. He says that his overlooking the issue of diversity wasn't intentional, and I have no reason to disbelieve this. What has stayed with me, however, is that the film (as of the time of shooting, anyway) seems to highlight an apparent disinterest on his (or his wife's) part to follow blogs created by people who are different from them. And honestly, I continue to struggle with understanding why this would be. I mean, it's sort of like the difference between looking in a mirror and looking out a window, you know? In a mirror, what you see might be beautiful, but are no matter how long you stare at it, the view isn't likely going to change.
Of course, on some level, I get it: it's human nature to seek out community with those who share common interests and attributes. That's actually one of the things that's awesome about blogging: it allows you to find people who make you feel a bit less alone in your ideologies or interests, or even cultural background. If there's one big bonus to blogging, it's its ability to make people feel less alone.
But on the other hand, the beauty of blogging -- the magic of blogs, really -- is their ability to open your mind to people and places and worlds that are vastly different from your own. Blogs have the ability to do this more than any other form of social media, I think: sure, Instagram and Facebook and Twitter can all give you brief, pithy insights into people who are unlike you, but blogs can offer longer and more well-thought-out personal narrative -- bloggers amplify their thoughts and beliefs and rationales far more fully than most people do on other forms of social media. Blogs can connect and educate about what's different -- not simply amplify what's the same. And frankly, I think that if you're only following people on blogs who are very much like you, well, honestly, you're missing out.
Yesterday, on Twitter, I mentioned some of the diverse bloggers (both American and non-American) who I follow and who give me tons of inspiration. A few people asked me to share my list in a blog post, and so ... this is it. The title of this post, "These People Are Nothing Like Me," is sort of tongue-in-cheek: obviously, there is something that I find kindred in them, or I wouldn't be as avid a follower of their work as I am. But for the most part, the creators of these blogs either do work that is very different from mine, or they come from backgrounds or cultures or live in countries that are very different from mine. Also, these are people (some friends, some I've never met) whose work I find deeply inspiring -- in fact, if I'm not absolutely moved by their work, I wouldn't follow them at all (or, for that matter, share them with you now). It is possible, of course, that one or more of them may not be your cup of tea; however, if their work does resonate with you, and you find their story very different from yours, I strongly recommend you follow them as well. Because you never know how they may expand your world.
Lola Akinmade Åkerström, Geotraveler's Niche. Lola is a photographer for National Geographic. I know. She's also Nigerian-born, and lives with her Swedish husband and daughter in Stockholm. I live for her images, and her global outlook.
Hailey Bartholomew, You Can't Be Serious. Hailey is a filmmaker from Brisbane, Australia, and I had the distinct pleasure of meeting her and her family on my trip Down Under last year. Hailey's site is always full of joy, and she's as passionate about gratitude as I am. A really lovely soul.
Steve Bennett & Patrick Bennett, Uncommon Caribbean. Of everyone on this list, brothers Steve Bennett and Patrick Bennett are probably most like me, in that we're all from the Caribbean; however, I wanted to add them here because what they're doing to dispel myths and provide true cultural learnings about the Caribbean is really impressive. If you're interested in learning more about the Caribbean beyond dreadlocks and "yeah, mon!", these are your guys.
Xanthe Berkeley, XantheBerkeley.com. Xanthe is a British photographer, and her personal writings and images always provide a beautiful window into life in London.
Marianne Elliott, Zen Peacekeeper. Marianne is yogini from New Zealand, who was formerly a human rights attorney working for women's rights in Afghanistan. She is a talented writer (check out her book), and a beautiful soul.
Joshua Kissi & Travis Gumbs, Street Etiquette. These young men from Brooklyn, New York, are insanely talented photographers -- and their photography and stories on travel and men's fashion (particularly, as they say, from an "urban perspective") are amazing. I love following their work.
Jenny Lawson, The Bloggess. At this point, Jenny is so wildly popular that I'm probably not telling you anything you don't already know. She is undoubtedly one of the funniest (and most profane) people on the internet. But Jenny's stories about her childhood in rural Texas, not to mention her gentle and sensitive writings related to living with mental illness and chronic disease, earn her a spot on this list. She is a breathtaking, revolutionary writer, and I'm not just saying that because she's one of my closest friends.
Steve McCurry, SteveMcCurry.com. Steve is the photographer behind that famous portrait, The Afghan Girl, and he's quite possibly my very favourite portrait photographer living. His blog posts are all themed, where he shares images from around the world based on each particular theme; also, the fact that he's a white man with at least 17 years on me gets him placed on this list.
Irène Nam, Petit Paris. Irène is a Korean-French photographer living in Paris, and mom to three boys. Her images of Paris and her family are beautiful, and her stories of both French and Korean culture are so interesting. I've been following Irène for years -- in fact, I love her so much, I wrote one of the chapters of my book around her story.
Kristin Perers, This is 50. Kristin is an American expat photographer living with her family in England, and her beautiful, sensitive and somewhat ethereal images of what 50 really looks like are mesmerizing. Great work.
Jay Smooth, Ill Doctrine. Jay is a biracial American videoblogger who shares some of the most incisive commentary on pop culture that I've ever seen.
Ember Swift, Final Thoughts. Ember is a bisexual Canadian singer-songwriter from Toronto, who emigrated to China, fell in love with a Chinese musician, married him and together they now have 2 children. I wrote a bit about her in my last This Was A Good Week post, what I didn't mention was that she's also a brilliant writer, who shares really sensitive insights into her life as a western expat and mom in China. Such interesting reading.
Frida Villalobos, Frida's Café. Frida is a young, Latina, single mom of a baby boy here in Houston, Texas, and I love reading her thoughts of what it's like to be a new, single, working mom who has chosen to do it all on her own.
Ernest White, Fly Brother. Ernest is a black, gay, American blogger who has lived extensively overseas. He is beautiful travel writer, who generously shares his thoughts on everything from culture shock to culture awe. Brilliant guy.
Kelly Wickham, Mocha Momma. Kelly is a biracial American blogger and an assistant principal who writes about education, her experience being a birthmother who is reunion with her daughter, being the mom of grown children, pop culture and the intersection of all of the above. If you're looking for content to make you think, Kelly's your girl.
To be clear, I do follow many more, equally-diverse bloggers other than these (about 150 bloggers in total!), but I figure sharing at least this list with you is a good start. Please check them all out -- maybe they'll inspire you in some way, creatively or otherwise, as they inspire me. Of course, if you can think of a blogger who you feel is very different from you, and is committed to creating great content, please -- I'd love if you'd share their links in the comments below.
And I'll leave you with this: I follow those bloggers above because they blow my mind every day. My challenge to you is to find writers and other online creatives you love, but who are also nothing like you, and let them blow your mind. Because it's the best damned feeling ever.
Song: Imagine, as performed by Herbie Hancock, with Pink, India.Arie, Seal and more