The Church Relevance blog recently compiled a list of the "Top 200 Church Blogs," which raised concerns over the overwhelmingly white, straight, and male nature of the list. The mechanics behind the creation of the rankings are a great illustration of systems and privilege.
Critical race theory does an excellent job of exposing racism in social systems and groups. This field's most basic tenet is that race is an integral part of social organizations, and racism is an institutionalized, ingrained feature of social systems. Critical race theory holds that everyone in a social system furthers that system through social practices, reproducing the power and prestige of the system. Those with the most power and prestige are the most privileged, which means they have the most advantage over others, even if this advantage was passed down through generations. (For more on privilege, check out Dianna Anderson's great series, starting here.)
Systems (including religious, legal, and academic systems--and even the blogosphere) tend to be affected by inertia. Most systems, by their very design, are resistant to changes to their usual state. This means it is exceedingly difficult to push against the norms inside the system. The system itself does the work for the privileged individual.
With discrimination, for example, an institution can be raced and gendered in ways in which the institution appears to be race- and gender-neutral, but in reality is dominated almost exclusively by white men or other groups who enjoy privilege. The system works in such a way that the institution discriminates on behalf of its individual members against women, LGBTQ people, and people of color, while favoring white, straight men. The individuals themselves do not have to be racist or sexist in order to perpetuate inequality. In fact, most participants in a system would vehemently deny that they intend to focus exclusively on white, straight men. They are nice people for crying out loud!
For instance, when Kent Shaffer at Church Relevance describes his efforts to compile a list of "top 200 church blogs," he points to seemingly objective measures, such as Alexa Rank and Google Page Rank. While Shaffer acknowledges that his criteria are flawed and subjective, the mechanics behind creating the list reveal that those who have power and prestige will continue to have power and prestige. The "system" reinforces, reproduces, and perpetuates itself, the "system" here being networking and influence of white, straight, Christian men. Claiming to look at the blog-world in a purportedly "neutral" way, using traffic and subscription numbers, masks the fact that one group of people holds the most power and prestige in Christian blogging. One does not have to be a blatant racist, sexist, or homophobe to create a list consisting almost exclusively of white, straight, Christian men - the system works it out for you.
To fight this inertia, I hope one realization that results from rankings like these is that people with the most power and prestige must make a conscious effort to ensure that the voices of women, LGBTQ people, and people of color are heard. If you are a white, straight, Christian man, please take a look at the blogs you read and the people you follow on Twitter. Do they look like you? Take a look at the books you read on theology and ministry. Do their authors look like you? If so, would you be willing to join with me and fight the inertia?