Saturday, June 02, 2007

R.I.P. Steve Gilliard



Many folks were public fans of one of the early African-American lights of Blogtopia (thank you, Skippy): Steve Gilliard.

I was largely a private one.

Yet there is still a hole in my heart, upon reading the news today that Steve Gilliard has passed at the young age of 41.


I never had the opportunity to meet Steve. Or even engage in an e-mail dialogue with him that was longer than a single pass. I was not a YearlyKOS denizen, nor did I participate in his personal blogging "circle".

Yet I watched, and read, The News Blog, for years. With real, abiding respect.

I suspect there will be a lot of folks who will write commentary about how strong a blogger Steve was from his earliest days at DailyKOS, which I largely missed. And much more commentary about how "nobody" knew reading his work that he was Black.

But I always knew. As did most other Black bloggers.

That, in addition to an extraordinary economy in writing, was the beauty of Steve Gilliard. He was able to write about any and all subjects political and still kick ass when it came to sports writing. His pieces were overbrimmed with wit and cutting insightfulness. He was neither held slave to brevity nor a whore for slavish detail -- the words he wrote always seemed Just Enough to Make it Plain. And when a subject got him riled, and the Right Wing regularly did that, Steve was fearless. It's hard not to enjoy and look up to and revel in someone who wrote like that. I know that I certainly did.

But I also envied how he walked that fine line for so long yet never managed to let anyone think that he was a sell-out just because he was "in". That's probably not a big deal to most of his fans, but that's a big deal to me. In my three years on the 'Net, I have seen over and over through a variety of dust-ups that a major condition which the Left blogosphere imposes on Black bloggers as a prerequisite for acceptance is that we can't really be "Black"; i.e. cannot state our perspective and attribute it to actually having lived lives as Black people in this world, a state that no matter how utopian your outlook is presently different than it is for "the default", i.e. white people. And certainly not loudly. Indeed, the ready use of the trope that "nobody knows your color on the Internet" by white liberals routinely, even if unwittingly, sends a very real message to many Black bloggers new and aspiring (as it did to me, at first) that our true perspectives are simply not welcome. That the uniqueness of a third eye perspective, or voice may indeed be a strike against us, particularly if our perspectives don't line up with the orthodoxy that passes for progressive thought on the 'Net these days. It's the ultimate message, which bluntly most of us already get in the real world anyway: if you want survive, and succeed, you must be prepared to be absorbed into a Black-less Borg and become "the default". You aren't really Black, anymore. Or at least, you'd better pretend you're not.

Steve himself knew that, and made plain what he felt about it:

But there's something more pernicious than that. The assumption many people make is that I'm a white man. Now, people have done this in other cases, but in this case it's well, pretty fucking stupid.

What white progressive or liberal would feel free enough to make fun of a black man by putting him in blackface? No one. I can't imagine one doing so. Just the art alone would indicate I wasn't worried about being seen as racist, and hint, hint, I might be black.

But why do people assume I'm white? Because many people simply cannot imagine a black man blogging, much less expressing his opinions on a range of topics. It isn't what they are trained to think. Sports, ok, but politics, nope. It amuses me some days, but it does get other people in trouble


(From Tim Kaine is a Coward, 10/27/05)

At some point, it became crystal clear more than just folks like me that Steve Gilliard was, in fact, a proud Black blogger. Because Steve himself made it plain. It did not, contrary to all fears, narrow his focus, compartmentalize his discussion of issues, cramp his style or stifle his writing. Nothing changed. Including those times when he talked about sports. I don't think he wrote more about issues affecting Black people uniquely or disproportionately, given that The News Blog was intended to be just that: blogging about the news, which affects everyone. Rather, I got the feeling that it was more that Steve began to suffer fools less and less as a Black person the more and more he blogged, in sort of a "don't let all this power and status and rep on the 'Net fool you" kind of way.

There are exceptions, of course and, as more and more Black bloggers follow this path, the old trope about colorlessness on the Internet weighs less and less. Certainly, that has been the case for some from the very beginning, with folks such as Oliver Willis, and Pam in Durham and Liza Sabater, all Old School Bloggers who were into second wave blogging long before I ever started. But there are more and more new school bloggers on the Left, too, who are Black. And there are now few who t mind saying so, from the get go. From me looking back at it, at least part of this is because Steve himself figuratively threw down from an overtly Black perspective more and more, both in terms of subject matter and rhetoric, his well-deserved stellar reputation, built up over years of excellence, making it easier and easier for him to do so.

But of course I did not know him. I therefore don't know his motivations, thoughts or feelings. Except as he left them behind for the world to share.

I know that I, as a nascent Black blogger who this year has been too busy for her own blog, but who has been working on developing a collective platform for Black bloggers to meet and dialogue in fits and starts, deeply appreciated Steve's speaking with his Black man's voice. There are too many Black men already silenced as Black men as it is just trying to make it. Whether he wrote about "Black issues" was not important to me - we can't write about those all the time, if for no other reason than it is impossible to define those in any way that all Black folks will agree about. What was important is that the longer he blogged, he seemed to let his more and more of who he was come through in his writing. That necessarily included the Black perspective, that Black soul part of who he was.

He definitely became more and more of a hero, a voice that IMO Black bloggers should look up to, the longer he wrote. I feel that way because the more and more Steve Gilliard wrote, the more and more he pissed the hell out of Black Republicans. And pissed off clueless white liberals. Both, by telling them the truth -- as a Black man.

(IMO, that's how you know you're doing God's work as a Black progressive.)

The last two years were banner years in terms of Steve getting attacked by the clueless right *and* clueless left, from Steve Sailer on down. Until his sudden collapse earlier this year, which has now claimed him despite all hopes for months, he was truly giving meaning to the term "He Got Game."

Here are a couple of my favorite pieces by Steve, pulled out totally at random, just because:

How to Survive Silicon Alley

Steve Gilliard: Web Writer and Damned Proud of It! (Interview on Net Slaves)

Why Blacks Don't Vote Republican

Gollums Among Us

My Reply to Robert George

39.95 + (subtitled Should I Just Give Up and Let Bloomberg Win?. . .)

Tim Kaine is a Coward

About Meeting Clinton

You Have Shamed Us

Why Do Families Call on Sharpton?

A 41-year old soul is not an old soul, yet Steve had only 41 years in this life before he went on to the next one. I'm sure there's a News Blog waiting with his name and face on it. And I wish I'd gotten to know him, in this life. I'm sure he would have had real wisdom to pass on

To Steve's mother, Jen, and his family, and his friends: I am sorry for your loss, and pray for you all in your life transition.

To Steve: Rest in peace. Thank You, Brother, for doing your part to pave the way.

10 Comments:

At 8:18 PM, Blogger Meteor Blades said...

A beautiful tribute. I hope you don't mind, I have linked your commentary here to a comment below your comment at Daily Kos.

 
At 9:04 PM, Blogger kid oakland said...

thanks for this shanikka, the whole piece is powerful, but I found this passage quite powerful and spot on:

I suspect there will be a lot of folks who will write commentary about how strong a blogger Steve was from his earliest days at DailyKOS, which I largely missed. And much more commentary about how "nobody" knew reading his work that he was Black.

But I always knew. As did most other Black bloggers.

That, in addition to an extraordinary economy in writing, was the beauty of Steve Gilliard. He was able to write about any and all subjects political and still kick ass when it came to sports writing. His pieces were overbrimmed with wit and cutting insightfulness. He was neither held slave to brevity nor a whore for slavish detail -- the words he wrote always seemed Just Enough to Make it Plain. And when a subject got him riled, and the Right Wing regularly did that, Steve was fearless. It's hard not to enjoy and look up to and revel in someone who wrote like that. I know that I certainly did.

 
At 5:36 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Middle-aged white woman here. I began reading Steve in 2004. One of the reasons I liked him and his writing was that he did inform the world of the continuing black experience. And I took from his writings that witness of his life and added it to what I observed around me and knew that we as a society still have a long to go on the road to social justice. I will miss his voice greatly.

 
At 1:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hope you do get your black blogging community going. What will be missed most about Steve is his perspective as a black man. He was, as you say, vocal and unafraid to give that perspective, and its sorely needed.

 
At 2:48 PM, Anonymous APT said...

I second Anon2. Thanks, Shanikka, for providing a take on Steve's appeal that might otherwise go unremarked. May he rest in piece.

 
At 11:07 PM, Blogger 無名 - wu ming said...

ynqvwjbeautiful, as always, shanikka.

i never read gilliard, truth be told, although it is telling to see how many people his writing touched.

i am intrigued by your hint at a new collective platform for black bloggers. please keep us posted, when the project comes to fruition. the potential for a real diversity of perspectives, accesible to everyone in our atomised society, is the real strength of the internet, not its ostensible colorblindness, IMO.

the more places that speak their truths, even if their voices shake, can only be welcomed. it is a sad sort of irony that i am only really reading gilliard now that he has passed on. my heart goes out ot his friends and family.

 
At 11:44 AM, Anonymous ElyseNYC said...

I think the piece you quoted was how I found Steve. After I found him I stuck around, partly because he was a black voice I could learn from and partly because he was a brilliant voice I could learn from. When I saw some story about blacks in the press (politicians, police brutality, whatever) I knew that Steve would have a valuable take on the subject, but that was true for any other subject he chose to take on. NYC politics, the transit strike, war, history, food (the sports stuff didn't interest me much)...what will we do without him?

 
At 9:13 AM, Anonymous cynthia said...

A very touching tribute.

 
At 10:56 AM, Blogger gab said...

Where can I begin???

I was away on a trip to Florida in February when I first read news of Steve's being taken ill; I was abruptly robbed of Internet, cable and phone service last Friday from a miscreant garbage man or work man until only a few moments ago. That's when I hit The News Blog only to find it draped in black. There must have been a reason.

I've been missing Steve for quite a long while now. I lived probably not too far away from him in Harlem, near the pancake restaurant he once wrote about, from 2002-2005.

Unfortunately, we never met and yet he gave me more of a view about New York and its politics of color than I had gotten in my first couple of months there.

Of course, I differed with some of what he said. I'm still a bit of a black feminist. And I am a surviving progressive. But he wasn't a putdown artist, and I'm not a hatchet slinger. He was more eclectic in his interests and solid in his politics. His historical critiques were stunning. For me to find another kindred spirit that loved history--and was more equipped than most to 'splain it all for us--was an absolute revelation. Despite what some thought, I knew he was black immediately. And WHAT a black man.

I felt that not only was he one of us, but he was the most excellent of us. I held out hope--truly--that he would make it. I can only say that we as bloggers or responders have got to pick up his burden--or at least some part of it--and aim for that staggering brilliance that he achieved in his short stay on this benighted planet.

...and fuck the fucking Yankees.

Thanks for your tribute, Shanikka.

blksista

 
At 3:16 AM, Blogger terrintokyo said...

darnit, Shannika, I didn't see this on the day, and now I've read it in all its truth and beauty, and you've started me off again...

I've been reading him since early Kos, knew he was black because it was inherent in the way he spoke, and in the words he didn't say.

I didn't comment much, but we exchanged a few emails when I was trying to understand what he was saying about Howard Dean...and he schooled me quite gently.

I will miss his voice and presence, and learning from him, and disagreeing...and being so proud to be one of the NewsBlog family...he had the whole package, didn't he?

 

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