[Foundation-l] Cultural awareness and sensitivity

Lodewijk lodewijk at effeietsanders.org
Tue Jun 8 07:30:52 UTC 2010

Dear Michael,

on one side, thank you for bringing this up - I had for example no idea of
this interpretation, and couldn't even have imagined it probably.

On a more general note, how do you think this problem could be approached? I
assume that you can understand that someone uses a word in a different
meaning than the one you brought up, and this is something that is happening
all the time of course - I have experienced it several times. Translating or
writing in a non-native language can be a tricky thing (For example, calling
someone "black" would be considered highly offensive in the Netherlands,
where negroid is apparently offensive in the US), but even within one
language there can be different interpretations. Do you see a way that
people can consider this? Do you see here a task for the writer, or rather a
message for the reader of messages that there might be another meaning in it
than the offensive one you might read at first?

About the underrepresentation - yes, almost every single group is
underrepresented besides the 1) white, middle aged single men, 2)
pubers&adolescent boys, 3) people with all kinds of disorders. Women, black
people, lower educated people, inuit, seniors, children<10y and many other
groups are underrepresented for even more different reasons. My
understanding has never been that this is because there are
misinterpretations of what people say - rather the harshness with which we
discuss sometimes, especially when newbees do something "wrong", seems to
scare people away. Rather the complicated community structure, the huge
amounts of regulations etc - although I'm confident that the strategy team
has done more research into this and can come up with more solid data and

So although I do agree that we should be careful with cultural differences,
I do not think that we can avoid possible "lynching"-issues (as in, how the
word is used) because we can't expect everybody to be have a major in
English. I think it is rather likely that these offenses are actually more
often the other way around, where non-natives consider something as
offensive, but will not speak up about it. Not so much because Americans or
Brits are so harsh (well, some are) but because of the numbers - there are
numerous more cultures compared to the few that have English as a native


2010/6/8 Michael Snow <wikipedia at verizon.net>

> 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.
> 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.
> 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.
> 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.
> --Michael Snow
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