Marketing to Women of Color…and Why I Cringe When I See Oriental Salad on Menus

Of all the BlogHer sessions I attended, the Women of Color and Marketing panel undoubtedly was the feistiest. No doubt this was due in part to spirited panelists Kelly, Heather, Karen, and Stefania, but there’s also the hot button nature of race and ethnicity discussions, plus the fact that niche marketing can be tricky. In a previous life I might not have had the courage and inner peace to even walk into a panel of that title, but I’m glad I do now and did walk through that door (thanks Victoria, for finding me a seat despite standing room only). Not only did the spirited conversation make clear some existing issues and concrete ways for blogger and brand relations to move forward, but I’ll be damned, all of a sudden I felt very connected to a new niche – that as a women of color blogger. And I swear, I’m not saying that just because mommy bloggers got a really bad rap at BlogHer. History is necessary. It’s long been challenging for me to comfortably identify as a woman of color. I was extremely self-conscious growing up Korean in an affluent white Boston suburb (in a family prone to drama and police intervention, no less). I was desperate to fit in, and cringed at the stereotypes I fit into (yet another Korean kid playing violin) and the roles I would never achieve, be they socioeconomic (attaining the 3 pairs of Guess jeans and 2 Benetton insignia sweaters that would allow me to sit with some of my friends at lunch was impossible) or racially driven (I would never get a real part in a school play because race/ethnicity lines for traditional roles weren’t crossed back then). These may seem like minor points, but during adolescence they were huge.

In college my frustration and confusion continued. I attended a very white New England college where I was bucketed as a multicultural student and thus was invited to an early orientation so I could learn to use the ATM. When the dining hall introduced a la carte cooking with woks, a food service employee told me I should know how to use those things (he actually got fired for that). I also felt like a campus token; yes, I was high achieving and relatively attractive, but I’m not sure that warranted being featured in several pieces of collateral, including front and center of the college catalog. Finally, there were cases where my racial status “backfired” on me – such as when I was denied transfer to another university (and heard whispers of the Asian quota already being filled…damn those overachieving Asians!) or when I wasn’t eligible to apply for certain scholarships because I was not an “underrepresented minority” (again, damn those overachieving Asians!).

I’ve evolved a lot since those years. I have embraced my Korean culture (even taking language lessons at the Korean embassy when I lived outside of Washington, DC), but clearly, I still have some issues. Did it tweak me when I would tote my brown haired, blue eyed baby daughter around and people would ask whether I was Laurel’s nanny? Yes. Do I still get a little annoyed when I get those wondering glances when I’m out with her alone (the blue eyes have turned brown but she still has brown hair and a Caucasian complexion)? Sometimes. Will I ever be able to order the Oriental salad on a restaurant menu? Probably not.

Now, let’s fast forward to BlogHer, where I twice heard from friends who witnessed a couple of other Asian bloggers get approached and asked whether they were Christine Koh from Boston Mamas. On one level, I’m flattered that people were looking for me; on the other, it’s insulting because of all the Asians I saw at the conference (and believe me, we notice one another) none of them looked remotely like me (or like one another). I even decided to wear my glasses for the entire conference to make it easier to liken me to my avatar.

I digress, but not far, really, from the women of color and marketing panel. And not just because some of the panelists complained similarly of being confused for one another despite looking nothing alike. (Following a joke by one of the panelists, Victoria later took a picture of me and Kristen Chase to document that we are in fact different people who look nothing alike...though I wouldn't object to looking like that hottie).

There was an impressive mix of bloggers and marketers in the crowd, and the session made clear that pitching to bloggers of color is not cut and dry. Here were some take aways from the meeting:

1. Some bloggers just want to be pitched like any other blogger, irrespective of the color of their skin. As Kelly and I chatted about at a separate time, if you’re pitching toothpaste, race and ethnicity are irrelevant and it just seems bizarre if you put a racial/ethnic spin on it. However, pitching hair or skin products is another matter entirely.

2. Some bloggers clearly feel more comfortable being pitched by someone who reflects their culture.

3. Many bloggers of color feel marginalized in outreach; some traced this to the fact that some agencies have or are developing niche departments to specifically target women of color. However, these branch arms are underfunded and thus go untended. (Mel, A Dramatic Mommy suggested that cash-strapped agencies hire bloggers for hourly social media consultation instead of trying to build a separate, salaried division.)

4. Marketers need to cast a wider net. Dig deeper and go beyond the best known bloggers of color.

5. On the flip side of above, bloggers of color also need to step up and be their own advocates if they hear of something going on and have not been approached. (But please, I urge you to do so with taste and grace and an understanding that campaigns may be full. Acknowledge that fact up front, and that if the campaign is full, you'd appreciate being considered for a future campaign.)

6. Related to point #5, bloggers of color also should go to bat for one another. Spread the good karma and recommend fellow bloggers of colors for niche campaigns, or just other awesome bloggers in general for non-niche campaigns.

7. To appeal to consumers of color, brands must have images on their site that reflect diversity (seems like a no brainer but a lot of companies do not do this).

8. And possibly the most important lesson of all, do not try to adjust the dial of a writer’s voice to make it fit your campaign. Carol of NYCity Mama didn’t appreciate being asked to blog more Latina. Oh yes, she really was asked to do that.

It's still a tad mysterious to me, but there was something remarkably energizing in that room, and very moving about meeting so many impassioned bloggers of color. It made me feel extremely proud, and sitting in that session also made me realize that I have never received a single Asian-related pitch, despite being very open and clear about my Korean heritage, here and at Boston Mamas. Maybe the demand isn’t there, the quota is full, or maybe I just don’t write Asian enough. But whatever the reason, it matters not if I never receive a woman of color pitch because it’s the relationships with these amazing women that I really care about.

And maybe, just maybe, one of these days that solidarity will help me evolve to order Oriental salad.

The Age of Mommy Blogger Discontent

*Note: I’ve never been wild about the term mommy blogger, but I use it here given common convention. I arrived home from BlogHer early this morning in a bleary eyed haze attributable to much more than my 4am wake up call and steady BlogHer “diet” of cocktails and finger foods.

This, my friends, apparently is the age of mommy blogger discontent.

Before I get started, let me say that for the most part, I had a fabulous time at BlogHer. I didn’t learn any new skills per se (that’s fodder for a separate post) but I walked in with a positive, adolescent-issue-free mindset, and experienced both the utter joy of connecting and catching up with bloggers I adore and respect, and the humbling honor of having bloggers approach me with kind words about my work. Even my regret over missing out on more face time with friends such as Jennifer and Elizabeth were positive misgivings, in the sense that I suspect any amount of time with them would never feel like enough. And then of course there was the freedom from household chores and the ability to party it up with my friends during the wee hours. It was so ridiculously fun.

In stark contrast, the negatives were grossly observable in embarrassing ways; for example, the swag-related mayhem that reduced people to elbowing babies and bloggers to get goods, or the instances of bloggers making absurd demands of expo brands (e.g., asking for free product on the spot - one for review and one for a giveaway of course - even apparently to the level of asking for an addition to one's home...I sh*t you not).

This behavior made me cringe on a basic ethical level, but what deeply and palpably saddened me to my core was that the perpetrators apparently were the mommy bloggers.

Now, as a former academic and data cruncher, it’s difficult for me to make a statement like this and not back it up with some hard numbers. This generalization was discerned from my own observations (mom bloggers I recognized or overheard) and conversations with many others (mom bloggers others recognized or overheard). And frankly, I wish I had more data points to suggest otherwise, because by the end of the weekend, I was embarrassed to be identified as part of this niche (via my primary blog Boston Mamas).

So what the hell is all of this about? Many of us mommy bloggers didn’t care about the swag (and really why would you care about free sponges if you have the delicious Ivy?) but we certainly appeared to be in the minority. The greed and entitlement were perplexing, yet the strong sense of discontent, longing, and righteous indignation seemed similar to the emotions felt around inclusion in blogger junkets and the quest for "A-list" blogger status.

It’s impossible to pinpoint a single source of the discontent from the mommy blogging community. Perhaps it’s a power in numbers thing, as more moms are hopping on the bandwagon every day. Perhaps it’s a basic biological survival instinct kicking in in the presence of product (think circling the carcass in the dead of winter). Perhaps bloggers who are making little or no money from their blogs feel that they deserve something in return for the expenses they incurred to get to the conference (other than, you know, the programming). Perhaps there is true financial hardship and the family really needs the extra detergent samples or whatever to survive (seems a shady excuse I'm afraid). Perhaps it feels unfair to have stories of diaper changes gone awry that seem similar to those translated by the “big bloggers” but that have not gotten on agency radars. Perhaps the elusive dreams of financial success of the level of mommy bloggers Heather and Danielle have made bloggers so crazy and dizzy over the possibilities that they forego courtesy and good graces.

The etiology of the discontent and subsequent deplorable behavior remains mysterious to me, but one thing is clear. The discontent doesn’t stop at the level of pining over swag or event invitations or climbing the mommy blogging ranks. It’s truly sad that we’ve come to a point where bloggers feel the need to qualify their blogging identity with, “Not all bloggers are like that” or “Don’t call me a mommy blogger.” Because at the end of the day blogging is supposed to be about creating and sharing and community. It’s deeply troubling that bloggers are losing sight of these basic principles in the presence of free stickers and sponge samples.

Bad Blogger Outreach: III (The Unfathomably Absurd)

Pursuant to Bad Blogger Outreach: I (The Bad) and Bad Blogger Outreach: II (The Ugly), here is Part III... III - The Unfathomably Absurd:

I have received various pitches to attempt to engage me in pay for play (for the record, I clearly state on my contact page that I do not engage in those practices), but none so aggressive as this gem:

[No salutation]

We own and operate several websites that sell personalized stationery and are looking for someone to post numerous, 50 to 100 word articles about each of our websites and the products we sell on our sites. Each post will have a couple of hyperlinks and three keyword synonyms. We would like to start with an agreement to post 50 articles and will commit to other postings if these are done satisfactorily. This project would commence immediately. I will provide the hyperlinks and keywords for each posting.

Here are two of our websites [direct links] which will give you an idea of the type products we sell. Please let me know if you are interested and the compensation you wish to receive. Thanks

Well, at least they're planning on compensation of some kind, but really, 50 articles about personalized stationery? And that incredulous emphasis is coming from someone who actually designs personalized stationery.

Bad Blogger Outreach: II (The Ugly)

Pursuant to Bad Blogger Outreach: I (The Bad), here is Part II... II - The Ugly:

I received an invite for a local event while I was in San Francisco; it wasn't a terribly enticing pitch and I hadn't yet replied before receiving the below follow up. I start here with the follow up thread since the amount of cutting and pasting rendered it very similar to the original pitch.

I wanted follow up and see if you might be available on [dates], to kick off [our awesome corporate event]. The [awesome corporate event] will be an interactive challenge to generate the most innovative ideas from women all over the world.

If you are interested in leading the Challenge for your readers we would like to invite you to a pre-launch kickoff luncheon at [corporate headquarters] to provide you with more information about the Challenge and how you can lead the way.

[Another paragraph of cut and past schpiel about client and why they’d love for me to be a part of the campaign.]

Now, typically because the pitch was so poorly constructed (strangely vague about seemingly important details, obviously cut and pasted with corporate schpiel), normally I would delete this. However, the company has local roots so I wanted to make an effort to get more information and responded with:

Can you tell me what you mean by "leading the Challenge for [my] readers"? I am open to attending events to learn more about products, etc. but I do not necessarily blog on events that I attend (depends on how much they move me/are relevant). Just let me know.

To which the PR person responded:

Great to hear from you! The [awesome corporate event] will be an intimate gathering of influential bloggers we’ve identified as women who bring creativity, problem-solving and innovation to life every day. [More cut and paste PR schpiel regurgitating the event concept…].

Additionally and as part of the [awesome corporate event], a special microsite is being developed for the program and we ask that our [awesome corporate event] bloggers be featured on the site with an image and short bio. Some make-up and hair-styling will be provided!

[Paragraph reiterating event timing details...]

Coincidentally, I hear that you are acquaintances with [well respected professional acquaintance I know in a very limited capacity]. She will be attending the event, and mentioned that she’d give you a call to discuss [awesome corporate event]. If you have questions or are interested in participating, please let me know. We’d love to have you join our team!

This response bothered me for three reasons: First, more dreadful cut and paste PR schpiel. Second, she didn’t really answer my question about what was involved in being a challenge leader. And third, it felt as if she threw a bait-like curve ball by tossing in the name of someone who I respect professionally but only know vaguely.

At this point I was frustrated and growing suspicious, but now I was invested in the communication, so I responded with:

Thanks, I'm interested in learning more -- I'm local to Boston (obviously) so just let me know of the itinerary components.

Also, I'll want to learn more about the challenge before agreeing to be a team member and have my image on the site -- I don't mean to sound paranoid, but I can't agree to something that seems like endorsement without knowing the full details.

To which she responded:

No worries, we understand your concerns. Basically, we are asking you (and eight other female bloggers) to rally readers via your blog, and challenge them to submit their “ingenious” ideas. Ultimately, our goal is to create an interactive showcase of everyday womens’ brilliant ideas [more cut and paste schpiel...].

[Another paragraph of cut and paste schpiel about how awesome and smart me and my readers are]

In participating, we’d ask that you host [our awesome corporate program] for about a month on your site to allow your readers a significant amount of time to think and submit ideas, post comments, etc. Feel free to call me or let me know if you have any more specific questions or concerns. It may sound a bit vague but we will be able to walk you through the program during the kickoff luncheon more in-depth.

[Repeated date logistics...]

OK, whoa, back up a second cowboy. So not only have my concerns about likeness and endorsement not been addressed, but now she reveals that "leading the challenge" means promoting their company on my site for a month? And they want me to commit to this without knowing the full scope of what is entailed? It basically sounded like an advertising/endorsement campaign, i.e., a compensated program.

So I responded:

This "offer" is puzzling to me. If I understand correctly, [company] wants to use me to promote and generate content for them -- plus essentially serve as an endorsing party (via likeness on the microsite) -- for an entire month, with nothing in return except the "opportunity" to do so. From the details you have presented, this seems like an alternative advertising campaign that should be compensated financially.

As I mentioned before, I only attend events when I'm not required to write about them; if the event is, in fact, useful, interesting, inspiring, etc. I do write about it, but being required to write/participate about something before knowing the full details makes no sense to me (and defeats the purpose of true editorial). I have turned down event invitations from major corporations for this very reason; if a company does not have enough confidence in the event they are hosting to leave it to the blogger's discretion as to whether to post, it's very possible something is wrong with it (and I've seen this play out and backfire dramatically in at least one case). On the flip side, events where I've been told that there are no requirements to blog -- that I'm only asked to attend, learn, and enjoy -- have been amazing and educational and I have written in depth about them.

So, if you are looking for me to sign on now as a challenge leader, with only vague details and no form of compensation the answer is no. If you would like to compensate me for this campaign, I would still want to know the full details of the arrangement before committing. Finally, if you would just like me to stop by the event to learn more about the program (with no commitment), I would be willing to do that.

Finally, from a communications perspective, it's troubling that it took this many emails of me pushing back for you to reveal that the campaign expectation is an entire month. Your clients (and your own time) would be better served if you clearly layout the expectations, details, and compensation (or lack thereof) at the outset. The fact that each of my inquiries basically was responded to with cut and paste [corporate name] PR schpiel and gradual releasing of more (critical) information casts a very suspicious air over the whole thing.

To which she responded:

I appreciate your response and explanation. I would like to clarify that there were no expectations for you to blog about the kick-off event. Our goal is to facilitate a gathering of minds and dive into the details of the [awesome corporate program], which we hope will inspire and capture the creativity of women nationwide. [More regurgitated cut and paste schpiel]

I feel badly if my replies frustrated you; please know that my intent was only to provide enough information without compromising the flexibility of our campaign. I will certainly let you know how the [awesome corporate event] goes, and hope that perhaps we can work together as details are solidified in the coming weeks.

Yet another response where I felt as if my issues were never really answered...I haven't responding to this yet. However, as I was writing this post yesterday, I received an email directly from the VP of Marketing for the company. She apologized for the PR firm's miscommunications and explained that this week's event serves to solicit advice in advance of the actual campaign. It still was not clear from her email whether they are asking for a formal commitment at this juncture. At any rate, I suppose it hardly matters, as I was not invited back to the event simply to learn more -- no commitment required -- an option I had suggested.

I still need to structure a response to the VP of Marketing. Meanwhile, this thread troubled me for two major reasons. First, the outreach was poorly written and executed; it pains me to think that a client is actually paying for that shoddy work to go out. The initial invitation was vague about what was involved, and every time I pressed back with a question, not only did my question go answered but crucial details (such as, um, hosting their promotion on my site for a month...) were revealed. Second, I don't really think I was being a hard ass for desiring more specifics and I'm curious whether other bloggers received the same pitch (I assume so) and if so, why they were willing to agree to the invite terms with so little information. Did others push back as I did then find themselves satisfied with the answers, or did they say yes immediately to the vaguely presented concept right at the outset, trusting the corporate name? The former I am OK with as everyone operates their blog differently, but the latter is troubling, not only because we know corporate doesn't necessarily mean good but because clearly they did not lay out all the terms and expectations in their initial pitch.

Since the PR firm and company would not detail the expectations to me it's hard to translate here what is involved. However, if my perception of the campaign is correct based on the information provided to date, it seems as if this corporation essentially wants to leverage us lowly (apparently "free-for-service") bloggers for what seems like a rather involved marketing campaign, with no compensation whatsoever.

While I'm upset about this potential devaluing of bloggers in general, it did occur to me that even if they offered to compensate me, if the campaign is reflective of the correspondence to date, I probably wouldn't have been excited about the details, and the non-sellout in me wouldn't have gone for it anyway.

This is why I'll likely never make the big bucks, but at least I'll still have my integrity.

And finally, up next: The Unfathomably Absurd

Bad Blogger Outreach: I (The Bad)

Through Boston Mamas I have interfaced with some truly awesome PR folks. Unfortunately, however, it is not the case that one good PR apple redeems the bunch. Instead, the flood of sloppy (“Dear X,”), ridiculous (“Dear Boston Mamas Ms. Christine Koh Family & Parenting Blogger”), irrelevant (“We know Boston Mamas would love to experience this event in Los Angeles this weekend!”), utterly unimaginative (“We look forward to you posting our press release!”), and embarrassingly ungenerous (“We’re offering a limited number of bloggers these high res images to promote!”) pitches is so voluminous that the shine of the small collection of well delivered pitches seems but a brief and distant flicker. (Note: PR folks who wish to learn more about good blogger outreach would do well by studying up on Laura Tomasetti and Susan Getgood.) Anyway, as history, I should say that in the old days I used to respond to every single pitch, crappy or not, because I thought that was the polite and respectful thing to do. Someone sends me a letter? I write them one back. But then while my friend Erin (a talented PR person herself) and I were having dinner at the airport on our way home from Disney, I told her about my PR correspondence habits and she looked at me incredulously. She said that though I was a PR agency’s dream, realistically no one responds to every single pitch, especially the really crappy ones. “Stop being crazy, Koh, and use that delete key!” she said.

And so I started exercising my delete key like a mother.

Now, although I have laughed my ass off reading about bad blogger outreach at Motherhood Uncensored and Mom101, my crap has never felt so compelling to share. Until this month where I have been privy to the three worst PR approaches in my "tenure" as a blogger, all - coincidentally - in close proximity to the 3rd anniversary of Boston Mamas.

I’ll share The Bad, The Ugly, and The Unfathomably Absurd in three separate posts.

I - The Bad:

Unfortunately, I no longer have electronic evidence of The Bad because: a) I never responded to the initial pitch (so there’s no trail in my sent folder); and b) I deleted the original and follow up emails and purged my trash because I was pissed and needed to get that bad mojo of my computer, plus I’m running out of disk space on my laptop and am at a point where I need to keep deleting files in order to make room for new ones (pathetic, I know).

But the pitch went something like this:

Dear Christine, [initially gets my attention due to correct salutation]

This weekend, [big brand]’s collection of colorful electronics will debut in stores; your readers will want to know [PR schpiel…]. Please share the below bullet points with your readers…[etc]

I think they also offered me the (embarrassingly ungenerous) privilege of posting their high res images. Pitch immediately bucketed as utterly unimaginative and DELETED. Then a couple of days later, I receive follow up along the lines of:

Dear Christine,

Hey, I just checked Boston Mamas and why have you not posted about the [big brand] colorful electronics information I sent you yet? The weekend is fast approaching and your readers will want to know [PR schpiel…].

Goodness, whatever happened to the polite "I know you're busy so I just wanted to take a moment to follow up..." sort of email? Instead, this PR rep decided to nag - actually, chastise - me for not posting their utterly unimaginative pitch. Effective? Only in decreasing the odds that I'll be remotely interested in anything they send on their client's behalf in the future.

Up next: The Ugly

Shedding the Adolescent Baggage at BlogHer

I’m so very excited to attend my first “big” BlogHer next week, but I must admit that I’ve felt increasingly disheartened to see the frequency with which the word “stress” has been paired with the meeting. And a lot of the stress seems to stem from adolescent roots. For most of us, adolescence involved a considerable amount of unpleasant memories that now are - at best - absurd or amusing to reminisce about but aren’t anything we’d like to relive. My unsavory memories mostly centered around socio-economic issues; for example, when a couple of girls wouldn’t let me sit with my friends at a designated cafeteria table because I didn’t meet the table “requirements” (owning at least 3 pairs of Guess jeans and 2 of those Benetton insignia sweaters with the giant “B” on it).

Those social displays left a bad taste in my mouth so it's no wonder that I’m eager for people to check their adolescent baggage at the door in Chicago. Here are five stress points I have heard rumblings about, recommendations for coping, and thoughts on why it’s particularly important for parents to disengage from the cycle of self and peer judgment.

Agenda. Any conference includes a small group of a speakers and a majority of non-speakers, some of whom wonder why they weren’t asked to speak. If you’re feeling grouchy that you weren’t asked to speak, remember that conferences are about hearing about and learning from other people’s experiences. If you have useful, enlightening stories to share, consider asking for the microphone during the Q & A (when relevant of course), or there will be plenty of chances to swap stories with people throughout the agenda.

Parties. The three chief complaints I have heard all center around exclusion.

Complaint #1 = There are too many parties; I can’t get to them all!

Solution = There are, in fact, a crazy number of parties and unless you have superhuman powers or enjoy running yourself into the ground, you will not get to them all. So why not pick a couple of favorites and focus on enjoying those events?

Complaint #2 = I didn’t RSVP in time for a particular party and now I feel totally left out.

Solution = If RSVPs are full for various parties, remember that there will be the BlogHer cocktail parties that are (assumedly) open to all. Or use the time to catch up with a group of friends. Or go soak your aching dogs in a bubble bath in your hotel room. Remember, beyond the parties there will be plenty of time to connect with people through the day.

Complaint #3 = What’s up with these private suite parties I wasn’t invited to? I feel excluded.

Solution = The reality is that private suite parties probably are limited to people with existing relationships with the host, otherwise the cost would be exorbitant and/or the result reminiscent of the opening scenes from The Hangover. Instead of feeling bad that you weren’t on a particular contact list, enjoy using that time to make new friends and spend time with old pals. If there is a particular host company to which you'd like to connect, outreach to them on your own or ask a friend if they would be willing to make an introduction sometime during the weekend.

Attire. This is possibly the top stressor of late, particularly given the recent news that Tim Gunn will be at BlogHer.

Now, I should caveat by saying that I love clothes and jewelry and shoes. I will not be wearing sweatpants at BlogHer because when I’m out and about, particularly amidst grownups (i.e., there’s a reasonable chance I’ll make it through an outing without chocolate milk, peanut butter, sand, or finger paints smeared on my clothing) I like looking pretty. But I do not care the least bit whether YOU will be wearing sweatpants. Or even Guess jeans or an 80’s Benetton sweater with a giant "B" on it. I just want to chat with you and find out what you love blogging about.

So, if you’re in a tailspin over your BlogHer wardrobe – reallocating the family grocery budget to new clothing, stealth shopping with the secret credit card your partner doesn’t know exists, or just generally feeling unhappy and full of dread – STOP and BREATHE. Remember that the point of the meeting is to connect with other bloggers and listen and learn. If another blogger is going to judge you for what you are wearing then you probably wouldn’t really jive with them anyway. Not to mention that if you are carrying the guilt and misery of blowing the family budget on clothes, shopping on the sneak, or just feeling generally uncomfortable in what you’re wearing, you will not be happy…inside or out.

Bottom line: if you like dressing up, go for it, but don’t look down on others who choose to dress differently. If you like dressing casual, wear what makes you feel happy and comfortable and be content with and confident in that.

And as for Tim, the reality is that the majority of us probably will get nowhere near him or remotely be on his radar.

Elbow rubbing. There are two issues here. The first relates to the blind eye people can turn when others are in distress. People are stressing about knowing people (or rather, not knowing people) and being alone. I encourage everyone to reach out to what ultimately is your community and make folks feel welcome. If you are an extrovert and someone at your table or near you in a crowd clearly is unfettered and looking petrified, introduce yourself and welcome her into your conversation. If you are an introvert and do know a few people who will be there, be open about the fact that you are nervous and that you don’t want to be a tag along but would appreciate some moral support and a few introductions, then try to take a couple of steps out on your own to meet people.

The second issue relates to the general discontent that surrounds this whole issue of “A-list bloggers.” The actual scientific calibration of this term still escapes me but it basically is another adolescent-rooted construct that ultimately can make people feel really crappy. Again, I hope we all can focus on the conversations and connections, rather than any vague and arbitrary “quantifications” of blogger status.

Collateral. Finally, I have heard stress over having business cards and other promotional materials to pass out. I definitely think calling cards are handy to have (easier and faster than scribbling on a cocktail napkin), and as a designer it’s easy for me to whip up a batch. But if you are not in this situation, I recommend one of two things: 1) If you don’t know how to design cards there are lots of inexpensive places with template designs (e.g., Overnight Prints, Vistaprint) where you can knock something together quickly. Or even just print up simple cards on your own with the relevant contact information (name, blog, URL, Twitter handle, etc.). 2) If you don’t have the money or time to get cards made up, ask people for their cards then follow up after the meeting to share your information by email.

Why a perspective shift matters, especially for parents. From a parenting perspective, the reason it feels so imperative that we – the alleged grownups – shed the self and peer judgment is because our kids notice every single thing we do and say. If they see us criticize our or other people’s clothes or bodies, they turn a critical eye on themselves and others. If we’re catty or cruel, they take that as a sign that we think that behavior is OK and they mimic that behavior on the playground at another child's expense. Obviously, it’s very challenging to be 100% unconditionally accepting of ourselves and others because yes, various people and experiences will challenge positive assumptions. But the universe could certainly benefit from mojo that starts from a baseline that is kind and accepting, not cruel and excluding. When I see these negative social issues already playing out in my 4-year-old daughter's classroom, I feel more than ever the need to take action and model accepting behavior, both to myself and others.

I'm really excited about attending BlogHer because I love being part of this community and I'm so looking forward to seeing my blog friends, making new ones, learning from others, and just having time to kick back and not worry about the piles of laundry and dishes and other household minutia of everyday. If you are suffering stress from any of the above (or other) points I hope you'll try to shift your perspective to one of self and peer acceptance. We all deserve to be free from suffering at the hands of the cafeteria table phenomena.

Sending Prayers

It was heartbreaking and somewhat surreal to read this morning about Laura Ling (Lisa Ling's sister) and Euna Lee being sentenced to 12 years in labor camps in North Korean. As a first generation Korean, I have, over the years, felt a considerable amount of confusion about identity. But this sort of news makes me understand better why my parents used to encourage me to clarify to those who asked that my family was from the South side.

I'm sending prayers to the Ling and Lee families this morning...

Sadly, Not Surprised

The domestic violence story of Rihanna and Chris Brown is well known by this point, and on Friday, People.com reported that they're back together, working it out. Sadly, I'm not surprised.

Unfortunately, I've been privy to a front row seat to several situations of domestic violence. But in those cases the women being abused felt trapped, be it by cultural or financial realities. They had children and didn't know how they could make it on their own without their partner and decided to weather the violence for the sake of security. It's a common scenario for domestic violence victims.

In contrast, Rihanna is young, financially secure, no doubt surrounded by plenty of emotional support, and there are no children in the equation. It's not enough that Chris Brown is "reflective and saddened." One strike, and he should be out.

Stop the Hate

This New York Times article about recent hate crimes in Long Island disturbed me on many levels. Yes, I experienced the common emotions of sympathy for the victim’s family and anger towards the aggressors. But as a parent who believes in the family systems approach (i.e., kids aren’t simply born with a set of traits; parents also contribute to how kids function in the world), I have attempted to move beyond simplistic anger and think about (and lament) what in the aggressors’ growing up fostered this behavior. This article also brought back troubling images from my own childhood. I grew up in Belmont, an affluent suburb of Boston (believe me, I have no idea what the hell we were doing there… we were a shopkeeper family amidst lawyers and doctors) and Belmont kids in the 70’s and 80’s did not check their cruelty at the picket white fence, as it were. I remember being out for a walk with my mother and sister and having a group of teens throw soda cans (and nasty comments) out their car window at us. My brother also recently shared memories of being a little kid surrounded by teens that threw racial slurs and lit matches at him.

My chest tightens at the mere thoughts of Laurel ever holding such vitriol in her heart, or being the target of an attack due to her bi-racial status.