Tag Archives: absent voices

The Problem of Absent Voices

Chariots of Fire - Harold and Sybil at dinner

Sybil Gordon: [about running] Do you love running?
Harold M. Abrahams: I’m more of an addict. It’s a compulsion, a weapon.
Sybil Gordon: Against what?
Harold M. Abrahams: Being Jewish I suppose.
Sybil Gordon: [laughs incredulously] You’re not serious!
Harold M. Abrahams: You’re not Jewish, or you wouldn’t ask.
(from Chariots of Fire, taken directly from the video)


Andrew Sullivan’s blog is always provocative, rich, and wide-ranging.  He (and his team) do not allow comments, but they regularly feature e-mails from readers — never identified by name, but frequently, identified by profession and/or background.

Here is an excerpt from a reader’s e-mail.  This is from a woman:

I am a Wikipedia administrator, a volunteer position to which I was elected by community members. I am also a woman. I think that Wikipedia’s lack of female editors is a problem for two main reasons.

The blog had been focusing some recently on the lack of diversity on Wikipedia.  In her e-mail, this reader has a really terrific paragraph:

The problem of absent voices is not limited to the lack of participation by women. It also includes the lack of participation by those older than the Gen-Y and Gen-X crowd. It includes the lack of participation by the poor. It includes the lack of participation by those in the global south, or those who are not internet-connected. It includes the lack of participation by ethnic minorities. It includes the lack of participation by people who are not tech-savvy.

The problem of absent voices:  a great phrase, a serious, serious problem!

Bob Morris has done a really good job on this blog posting articles about, reviews of books by, and insight from, women.  It’s one of many things I appreciate about him.  But, take a look at this month’s New York Times list of business bestsellers.  This month:  15 books, a total of 21 authors.  21 authors:  20 men, one woman.

In the world of business books, and as in so many other arenas, there is a serious problem of absent voices.

I speak monthly at our First Friday Book Synopsis, and at the Urban Engagement Book Club for CitySquare (formerly Central Dallas Ministries).  Our First Friday Book Synopsis is a great mix of men and women, with a little diversity in other ways (not enough).  But the Urban Engagement Book Club! – well, I wish you could see the group and listen to their voices.  It is always introduced by a wonderfully talented young Hispanic woman, then I speak (I represent the white male category), and then the “follow-up” conversation is frequently led by an African-American man.  The different voices, and the quite diverse audience, make for a different  — and wonderful — experience.

So, yes, I am acknowledging the obvious – I cannot fully understand the perspectives of people who are different, nor can I present their perspectives adequately.  But I can listen to their voices, and I should.

Are you listening to many different voices?  Which voices are you not listening it?

And, by the way, you might have to go out of your normal way, out of your beaten path of gatherings and books, to hear their voices.  I think it is worth the effort.