Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Riding the Wild Wacky Waters of Wikipedia

A few weeks ago while waiting for my server upgrade to be complete, I had some time on my hands, so I decided that I would so something a bit altruistic: I decided to become a Wikipedian and work on some Wikipedia pages. For those of you unfamiliar with Wikipedia, it is a online encyclopedia using the Wiki software. It's rather large and depends of users for its content.

While working on article on Sheree Thomas, I realized that her book series, Dark Matter, an anthology of speculative fiction from the African diaspora, was not in Wikipedia. So I spent a bit of my time putting those books in. Then I looked for other speculative writers of color and discovered that they and their books were either not present of their pages were poorly done. I'm a member of the Carl Brandon Society, so I wrote in as told them what I intend to do and asked for anyone that had the time to help me put the content into Wikipedia.

What happened next shocked me. K. Tempest Bradford of Fantasy Magazine wrote about it in "Wiki While You Work" —

Not that there are any greater number of prejudiced people on Wikipedia than there are in general, but the most vocal of them affect what pages and categories stay on the site and other important items of Wikipedia policy. They rear their ugly heads a lot on pages concerning African-Americans and other folks of the African Diaspora, and it’s rarely a pretty sight...

The rather heated back-and-forth about this issue is preserved here.

My favorite quote as to why the category "Science fiction by writers of color" was to be deleted was ---

"Two basic concerns here - Everyone has a skin colour it is an irrelevancy. Second it may have some relevancy on the biography pages, but what on earth does it have to do with their fictional output. It maybe a subject of the work but that is different from the colour of the author."


Ashok K. said...


I'm a self-declared genre writer of colour, because in a sense, merely by being a writer of colour one is automatically segregated into a sub-genre! I've had a bitter experience with racism and bigotry at Wikipedia, as have other people who attempted to edit/correct the page on me and other Indian writers. I won't go into details here, but let's just say that Wikipedia is not an equal opportunity encyclopaedia, and when they say 'anyone' can edit, they mean only a certain colour of anyone. At least, that's the conclusion I'm left with, after reading some very nasty exchanges between people of good standing--professional journalists, no less, not sycophants or fans--who attempted to edit these Indian authors' pages in line with Wikipedia's guidelines and rules, and were treated with such contempt as being called "Idiots!" and having their factually accurate, authentically sourced and linked additions and corrections vandalized, and then were themselves blamed of 'vandalizing' the pages in question.

Kudos to you for writing about it. Maybe if you and others like yourself take affirmative action online, it will be harder for such people to run their digital fiefdoms at such online portals.

Ashok K. Banker

jenn said...

This is disturbing. Thank you for writing in. I'm been hearing more and more stories like this...

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