Article 7: Nicholas Kristof on Asian Americans (or, wtf)

You think you know a guy.  And then you read his well intentioned but mistaken article on Asian Americans in the New York Times.  And you decide to do something about it.

Nicholas Kristof’s recent column in the New York Times was about, at the highest level, explaining why the success of Asian Americans doesn’t mean that discrimination doesn’t exist in American society today.  It was a part of an ongoing dialogue he’s having with his readers on whiteness in the United States.

Kristof’s intent (seemingly) was to nuance the argument on race in America, but he ended up (presumably unintentionally), reinforcing stereotypes rather than breaking them down.  There were plenty of responses in the NYT, and elsewhere in the media, and it was time to bring them to Wikipedia.

Kristof article

Weirdly, though Kristof frequently writes about race in America, there wasn’t a specific section that outlined his opinions.  Until today, that is.  I added what I thought was a pretty good summary of his argument (as a side note, the substance of Kristof’s argument itself and the way he made it was more nuanced than its conclusion).  I then added in some critical feedback, both from the New York Times (letters to the editor) and NBC (thought piece).

The interesting thing about editing Wikipedia is that…well, now this is the first thing someone reads when they get to Kristof’s page.  It’s actually somewhat misleading to only have this one narrative under Race in America, when he’s commented frequently and in a human way, on race & its human elements.

Ironically, that may be exactly the right point to make this time.


Article 6: Sita Sings the Blues (or, see something, say something)


Me and a friend watched “Sita Sings the Blues” tonight.  Our eventual goal is to host a screening to raise money for charity, but we wanted to check out the film first.

It was lovely! A burst of creativity, personal, and historical at the same time.

So naturally, I went over to its Wikipedia page.  It was pretty built out, but I did notice all the acclaim was from US-based newspapers, and the criticism was coming from extremist Hindu groups in India (without great arguments).

Hmm.  Were there mainstream Hindus who liked the film?  Why didn’t Hindu nationalist groups like the movie?

What I ended up doing was adding in some acclaim from the South Asian community (from the blog Sepia Mutiny, which the author cited as having a positive review of her work), and adding in some detail from some protests of why people didn’t like the movie.

What I do wish was out there was a film review from a major Indian newspaper. It looks like the Times of India and the Hindu do film reviews, they just didn’t review this one. Unfortunate, as it would have been great to have a professional opinion from India weighing in on the film. Perhaps they avoided it due to the controversy.  Though it makes sense from the perspective of the newspaper’s business interests, from the perspective of having a variety of global voices on global topics, I’d encourage major newspapers to rethink their stance.

Article 5: Nerd Nation never rests!

Tonight Stanford is playing UCLA — two well ranked California football programs, going head to head.  This is being written at halftime, when Stanford is crushing it (35-17).

One of Stanford’s star basketball players, Chiney Ogwumike, created a series of videos while playing basketball for the university.  They’re pretty creative, fun, and make a great point: athletes can be students too, and have fun while doing both. It’s no surprise they went viral.

So, in honor of tonight’s game, I added some content about the videos to the Wikipedia page of the creator.  I can’t believe it wasn’t there already!  I kept it short, but I did link to a good page that has information on all the videos, as well as a good description of the creator & her intent in making them.
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Happy wikipedia-ing and GO STANFORD!

Article 4: Chantal Ackerman (or: LGBT identity on wikipedia)

A friend recently mentioned that a very well regarded filmmaker, Chantal Ackerman, had passed.  I hadn’t heard of her, so I was curious to read more about her movies.

Apparently, she was influential in avant garde and feminist filmmaking circles.  The article went through a standard description of her early work/influences/later career, and then had an interesting section on identity:

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Chantal Ackerman’s declaration of never wanting her film to be shown at an LGBT film festival.  

Wait, what?!  Was she homophobic?  After doing some research, I found out that she was a queer filmmaker, but didn’t want identity labels to be attached to her or her work.

And reports:  A feminist and queer filmmaker, Chantal eschewed these labels and refused to have her work featured in LGBT film festivals, saying she found them ghettoizing.  

Commenting on one of her films, she told the New York Times:  ”I wrote a story that I liked,” Ms. Akerman said. ”Everybody thought it was political. But it was a normal love story. It’s not a feminist movie. I’m not saying it’s a gay movie. If I did, then you go to it with preconceived notions.”

YET, on Wikipedia she is tagged with the following:

These are labels she wouldn’t have wanted, but are how we describe her on Wikipedia today.

Who gets to decide your identity on Wikipedia?

I thought I’d try out deleting these labels, since that’s not how she would have wanted to be known.  I also added a commentary on why I was making these deletions so it was clear to anyone who would want to add them back.

I also developed the explanation on identity aesthetics to include her desire to not be known as an LGBT or feminist filmmaker, so it was featured more prominently on her page.

Article 3: The Babysitters Club

The Babysitters Club was a beloved series of many American preteens in the 90s about four (later seven) 13 year olds in Connecticut who ran a local business babysitting local children.  It popped into my head recently, and I was curious what the Wikipedia page was about.

Once I got to the character descriptions, I noticed something interesting.  Of the 7 main characters, the 2 characters of color were described by their race.  The 5 white ones were not.


Calling out where Claudia’s Japanese American heritage is noted.  Kristy’s description, above, does not include her race.

So that’s where it gets interesting.  I do think it’s problematic to describe someone’s race only when they are not white, for two reasons:

a) It makes white seem like some kind of default, something we don’t discuss but just is what people are, until proven otherwise

b) If white is the default, then people of color are somehow an exception to that, potentially exotic, or at the very least just different

So, what does one do?  Stating the race of everyone is a little awkward, and makes it seem a bit more charged than it is. Stating the race of no one may miss some of the context of who a character is.

I decided to edit the Wikipedia entry to state the race of everyone.  Just to be see where things go.  And to acknowledge how strange it can be to talk about race at all.  I’ll post back if something changes.

(Note that I had something personal come up this past week — all resolved now, but I adapted the challenge to 30 articles in 30 days)

Day 2: Telugu Literature (or, engaging the community)

Being Telugu American, I was curious: what literature is out there in the Telugu language? So I checked out what Wikipedia had written up.

This was actually a few days before I started the challenge (and partially what inspired it).  The page was populated, but could use a bit more information.  Not being an expert on the topic, I started by making a few minor copyedits to the page.  I then hunted around for some source material on the internet (a few links, but nothing substantial.  It may be time to add some classical Telugu works to Project Gutenberg!)

The changes were made this weekend, and today (Tuesday) I got two notifications that edits had been made to the page:

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Whee!  New edits.

I checked the edit page, and though there has been a steady stream of edits in the past few months, those two posters hadn’t made any edits before:

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Many edits recently.

Woo hoo!  More editors to the page.  I wanted to do more than copyedits, so I did some more research on source material online. I found what seems like a pretty good site, including this blog that’s in Telugu and was updated earlier this year. I added it to the “external links” section at the bottom.

But, I didn’t want to just edit myself, I wanted to engage others as well.  My personal subject matter expertise isn’t strong enough to make an impact on this page.  But there are certainly others that do have that level of knowledge.  So I found an active group that is engaged around Telugu literature and sent them an email:


Engaging the Telugu Literature & Cultural Association to edit the Telugu Literature Wikipedia page.

Technically, members of this group could be some of the editors highlighted above — but with a world so big, populous, and busy, it didn’t feel like huge odds that was the case.  I heard back a few hours later from the Secretary of the organization they would “bring it up with the committee.”  Not bad!

So, day two of the challenge ended up being about community — both the existing Wikipedia community that added edits to the page, and the potentially new community that can contribute their knowledge.

30-day Edit Wikipedia Challenge, Day One: American Apparel (or, how to break news on Wikipedia)

Today American Apparel filed for bankruptcy. “Bummer.”  I could never find what I wanted in that store, even when I needed strange and offbeat colors/items (for example, for Halloween).

But when I went to check out the Wikipedia page this morning at around 10am, the bankruptcy filing was not yet on their page.   Weird, but a great opportunity to “break news” on the first day of the challenge.

I searched for the first article I could find, which was an ABC news article on the bankruptcy.  From there, the edit process was straightforward, but the wiki markup was a little thorny to wade through. It wasn’t enough to prevent me from doing the edit, but wasn’t delightful to use.

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Screenshot of what I added, in the wiki markup interface.  in the era of Google Docs, it felt a bit outdated and wonky.

While I was in the interface, I also made some copy edits — I suspect I’ll be doing that through the rest of the month.

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What it looked like in the end. Adding the footnote was surprisingly easy — I thought I may need to use wiki markup, but the editor had a nice easy button to click on.

At the time of writing this (about midnight between the 5th and the 6th), nobody had added more or changed anything.  There’s actually a lot more one could add, since it seems like the CEO had a fair amount of drama associated with his leadership.  I’ll leave that to another editor 🙂

Announcing: the 30 day edit wikipedia challenge!

Most people on the internet have probably used Wikipedia at some point or another.  It’s one of the top 10 visited websites on the internet (source) and its usage has been steadily increasing in most regions of the world (source).  But this global resource is created by a largely skewed population. 90% of Wikipedia’s editors are men, and over 50% of its top editors come from the western world (source). “The biggest issue is editor diversity” says the site’s founder Jimmy Wales.

Why does this matter? With technological advancements, social change, and increasing inequality, the world is becoming increasingly complex. At the same time, traditional information sources are increasingly perceived as biased: two-thirds of the British public trusts Wikipedia more than journalists (source).  In my mind, the role for a site like Wikipedia has never been greater.

To address this challenge, I’m going to contribute to Wikipedia for 30 days.  Every day I’ll edit at least one thing on the site, and record my experiences here.

My goals for this project are:

  • Understand the landscape for female editors of Wikipedia
  • Improve knowledge about under-documented issues
  • Participate in humanity’s only true democratic forum

Looking forward to what’s to come.  Stay tuned for updates!