Requiem for Sepia Mutiny

Back in 2004, when Carmen and Jen ran Mixed Media Watch on Xanga, and when I had just abandoned the boards on Bolt for Otakudom, Sepia Mutiny was forming like Voltron. A search for their first post leads me to this:

i’m brown irish, actually.
Posted on July 30, 2004 by A N N A
there once was a group of brown nerds who spent all their time toying with words they all loved to blog (some from a city with fog) b/c let’s face it, a social life’s for the birds.

(mc sharaabi, out)

This entry was posted in Humor by A N N A. Bookmark the permalink.

And so it went.

For the last eight years, Sepia has brought an unapologetically brown view on politics and pop culture, with amazing insight and fresh perspectives. Sepia Mutiny was regular reading over here at Racialicious – even though either Abhi or Amardeep totally played us when we asked them to cross post content. (The exact wording was something like “If you guys were CNN or something, sure, but you’re too small so we don’t see the point.” Yes, I’m still a little salty four years later.)

Bruised ego aside, we kept on reading anyway because you just can’t ignore that type of talent. And they assembled an amazing crew, especially with women like Anna, Taz, and Phillygrrl rocking the mic. But unfortunately, it’s the end of an era.

Abhi wrote the official announcement, noting:

This decision will likely not come as a shock to some of you and may even be somewhat expected by others. For our more recent readers I apologize that you discovered us only as this party was winding down. Although we all still love our work on SM, the blogosphere has evolved quite a bit since we first started and for a variety of reasons SM has not been able to keep up in recent years so as to remain a cutting edge product both from a content and technological standpoint. Most of the conversation that once took place daily on blogs now takes place on your Facebook and Twitter accounts. To try and fight that trend is a losing proposition. Almost all prominent blogs are now corporatized with actual budgets, so continuing to play in that shrinking sandbox doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. I don’t think any of us who have poured so much sweat and so many sleepless nights writing about issues we are passionate about or just fascinated by are happy with simply coasting by on past glory.

All of us have also gotten older since we started. Some got married, some had kids, and all of us have super demanding day jobs (watch 60 Minutes this Sunday if you want to know why I haven’t been blogging much for the last two years). I have loved reading emails from people who think all of us do this full time. We wish!

Abhi is right – readers don’t seem to make a distinction between independent blogs and supported blogs, but for those of us on the back-end it cannot be understated. Way too many of us doing social justice and identity work are doing this in the off hours, the times when we should be sleeping, the times when our patient loved ones put up with us pounding out posts and moderating comments instead of spending time with them. And as our relationships change, families expand, and work increases, we start wondering if we can balance it all. Most people don’t realize that running a blog is an expensive proposition, both from a time and financial perspective. There is this assumption that if we are putting out consistent content, then we are funded and are therefore asked to keep pace with blogs that pay people a decent wage to sit in front of their computer all day and wait for shit to happen.

To give you an idea of how dramatic the difference is, when I used to write for Jezebel, there were between five and seven staffers each getting paid a living wage. By my back of the napkin calculations, Jezebel was spending anywhere between $20,000 and $28,000 a month on salaries alone. That’s not counting whatever they spent on tech and hosting and legal fees, as well as their modest office space. The current balance in the Racialicious account is $352, we have ad revenue for this month totaling $250, and hosting is roughly $70 a month. And we just got a notice from DC government that we now owe them $200 for some random fee that I need to go investigate. Sepia didn’t have ads, they just did an annual drive to cover the hosting costs.

This is idiocy. But we keep at it because we believe in what we are doing.

And we believe this work isn’t quite finished. As Amardeep writes:

Even when it wasn’t always smooth-sailing within the circle of bloggers, and even when things were difficult for me in my real life outside of the blog, what always drew me to this site was its ‘sandbox’ quality — the idea that this mix of topics and themes ought to be linked. So when Abhi writes that it may be the blog has fulfilled its purpose in part I don’t agree: many of the difficult issues regarding identity, community, and culture South Asians were dealing with in 2004 remain unresolved. [...]

Yes, the South Asian American community is much more established than it once was. There’s Nikki Haley and Bobby Jindal, there’s Aziz Ansari and Mindy Kaling, and there’s quite a number of first-rate writers (go Sugi!), filmmakers, and people in business, academia, and journalism. South Asian America is a big enough, and mainstream enough, world that it does seem a little forced to presume it all goes together anymore. (Though again, I don’t think that’s the same thing as saying we’re done thinking about or working on issues of identity. We’re not; I see that every day with my five year old son, as he tries to sort out his place in his school, and in American society more broadly. It looks to me like he’s going to have to go through a lot of the same stuff I went through growing up, all over again.)

The problem is that it isn’t so easy to replace outlets like this. New websites pop up every day, but replacing something like Sepia Mutiny won’t happen, precisely because what we do is not profitable. Over the years, people have informed us (kindly and not so kindly) of a bunch of blogs that were supposed to take our place, be better than we are, get to the truth and heart about race in ways we were afraid to do, such like. Few of those blogs are still in operation, some never even launched. Change.org’s Race Channel basically went through the entire Racialicious roster a few years back, poaching our best writers and offering them financial compensation. Many of those writers have since returned to us, but the whole situation showed that we would always be at a disadvantage. These issues that we confront – racism, identity, and the like – have gone on far before we all hit this Earth, and disappointingly, will probably continue long past the time when we are dead and gone.

Anna is ending like she started, with a bit of humor, but we both know that she’s still struggling with how to really say goodbye. A lot can happen in eight years. How do you even put that into words?

The demise of Sepia hit me kind of hard. I wish I could say because I am tired of amazing sites going to the content graveyard, with Sepia landing next to Rachel’s Tavern and Girl in the Machine.

But if I’m honest with myself, it’s because there are fewer and fewer of us still around. We don’t plan to go gentle into that good night, but there are less of us to rage against the dying of the light.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_2WR4OELC2QGA42XOIRPUZ2SKHQ Nobody

    That site had 3 Muslim writers(though Razib was not religious) and at least two Christian writers. At least one Sikh writer. I would say the Hindus were not overrepresented there.  At least two or three writers hailed from Pakistani or Bangladeshi families. One writer was from a Sri Lankan family. Yes, it was india centric just as a hypothetical North American blog would be US Centric.   Sure, you could see some stupid anti-Pakistani comments in the section. But it did not dominate the conversation and they were admonished by the other readers. 

  • http://www.examiner.com/family-in-new-york/rahela-choudhury RCHOUDH

     I agree with what you say about SM not being a real safe space for Muslims; I used to go there just to check out their art/entertainment sections but when I saw Islamophobic comments even creep in there I stopped going. It’s too bad because I thought some of the bloggers they had on there were pretty good writers…with that said thanks for the breakdown in costs for maintaining an independent blog Latoya. I also had no idea how much work went into setting up/maintaining one.

  • Pingback: RIP Sepia Mutiny: The Shrinking Blog Sandbox | You Offend Me You Offend My Family

  • Anonymous

    Hmm…I read for years (mostly sorting for pop culture and identity items) but I don’t think I know enough about Indian-Pakistani relations to have picked up on that.  I saw the tensions playing out around who gets to be included in Desi, but I’m blanking on other types of posts.  (Can’t speak to the comments, I can barely keep up with these.)

    So, in the interest of moving forward then – do you know of any good blogs/writing/writers around the Pakistani diaspora?

    • http://twitter.com/Phillygrrl Kishwer Vikaas

      Chapati Mystery! 

  • Anonymous

    This is unfortunate as I was just about to recommend SM to a friend who has been seeking a space for South Asians.  Does anyone know of similar blogs that I could recommend?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1130483506 Cleo Hines

    I kinda have mixed feelings about SM shutting down, I was an avid reader, ok well addicted is more accurate and as I matter of fact, discovered racialicious through SM. But I have to say that in the last few years I’ve rarely visited more than once or twice every few months, because the calibre of the commentary had gone waaay down the drain, which caused a lot, if not most of the old commenters (even Razib!) to flee, and people like Sid, Vinod and finally Anna also left for their full time gigs. Gone were the days also of thoughtful conversations, the new commenters were just snarky and rude, not only to each other but to the bloggers, I finally ended my love affair with the Mutiny when for a week straight every post by Taz accused her of being a radical Islamist and worse, and some jackass called Anna a less than polite version of an airhead because she chose to do a post about something light hearted, (I think it was a fashion post). So, I kinda felt like it was gonna happen any day now. I’ll def miss the old mutiny of “Who You Calling Macaca” days, but not what it’s comment section became in recent years. But there was very good work done, SM educated me to a lot of things that I would forever have been pretty ignorant about and for that I thank all the bloggers especially Sid who helped me with a family project. Oh and btw, can I finally know the real name of SM Intern please?

  • http://twitter.com/Phillygrrl Kishwer Vikaas

    Thank you for your kind words. 

  • http://twitter.com/Phillygrrl Kishwer Vikaas

    Thank you. 

  • Anonymous

    Wow. Thanks for the insight on finances. I had absolutely NO idea. Feeling very clueless now. So everyone at Racialicious gets by on second jobs?

    • Anonymous

      Racialicious is the second job – we all have day jobs.

      • Soulfulindustry

        well thanks for working so hard on your day job to do this! 

      • Soulfulindustry

        well thanks for working so hard on your day job to do this! 

    • Anonymous

      Racialicious is the second job – we all have day jobs.