[Foundation-l] Cultural awareness and sensitivity

Ray Saintonge saintonge at telus.net
Tue Jun 8 05:36:41 UTC 2010

Michael Snow wrote:
> To avoid further disrupting discussion of interlanguage links and 
> usability, I'll address the cultural problems separately now. I must 
> admit, though, that in a discussion where we seemed to have agreed 
> (rightfully so) that a 1% click rate was significant enough to warrant 
> serious consideration, I was disappointed that someone could then be so 
> callous about the need for cultural sensitivity because it most directly 
> impacts "only 0.55% of the world population" in this case. There is no 
> meaningful difference in order of magnitude there.

I at least agree that it warrants a new thread.
> We have significant distortions in the makeup of our community that 
> affect our culture. There are quite a few groups that are seriously 
> underrepresented, in part because our culture comes across as unfriendly 
> to them at best. I talked about African-Americans because it's what was 
> applicable in that particular situation and I happen to have some 
> familiarity with the issues. It could just as well have been Australian 
> Aborigines or another cultural group that has issues with our community. 
> I'm not as prepared to explain those concerns, but I would welcome 
> people who can educate us about such problems. It's legitimate to be 
> wary of things that promote American cultural hegemony, which is another 
> distortion, but that's not really warranted when the concern relates to 
> a minority culture in the US.

I would agree that the use of the word "lynch" was unfortunate because 
of the suggestion that anyone should be hanged.  Cultural sensitivity 
allowed for me to grasp that the use was metaphorical, and not literal. 
Using that choice of words by a person who is not from the United States 
as an excuse to play the American race card can only exacerbate the 
problem.  I would expect that the language is strong enough to withstand 
attacks by the connotational flavour of the month.  Have you forgotten 
that in its origin Lynch's Law was applied more to those Virginia 
residents whose loyalty to the Revolution left something to be desired. 
Slavery and race relations had nothing to do with it.

Caution in avoiding offence with one's words must be coupled with a 
willingness to avoid seeing offence in the words of others. One needs to 
begin from the assumption that a word is being used in its most ordinary 
sense.  Just like "gay" is not restricted by modern homosexual 
connotations, so too "lynch" must not be narrowly interpreted in the 
context of the African-American experience.  There is no need to impose 
modern American connotations on one's words.

> Some people seem to have gotten hung up on the issue of intent. I didn't 
> say there was any intent, by the community or individuals, to exclude 
> certain groups or to create a hostile environment for them. I actually 
> tried to be as careful as possible not to say that. The point is that 
> even in the absence of intent, it's possible for our culture to appear 
> hostile to such groups. We didn't have any intent to be hostile toward 
> living people, either, yet we've had a long struggle to cope with the 
> consequences of that impression created by our culture.

I am willing to accept the premise that African-Americans are 
underrepresented among Wikipedia, but I am not willing to jump to the 
speculative conclusion that this is almost entirely attributed to our 
choice of words. The pusillanimity of political correctness will not 
resolve disproportionate representation.
> Consider the principle of not "biting" newcomers, which relates to a 
> similar problem. It's not about the intent of the person doing the 
> "biting", it's about the impact on those who encounter it. We need to be 
> more welcoming to people, and striving for more cultural awareness is 
> part of that.
It will take more than platitudes to solve that problem.  Sometimes we 
need to apply a little dinkum oil to a problem, at other times we need 
to value a person's single contribution.

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