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Bewailing Wikipedia's white male bias

  • 13 April 2012

In my first ever politics lecture at uni, the bespectacled, craze-haired lecturer told us not to use Wikipedia for our research. This was unsurprising, as we'd been prohibited from Wikipedia all through high school (knowing it was full of lies, we all relied on it anyway). But this time it was not because of Wikipedia's perceived amateurism.

'It's a good resource for starting out. But the vast majority of contributors are North American white males. It's a fairly limited perspective,' she said to us. This elicited comic groans in the lecture hall, mainly from the white males who had yet to understand — or perhaps to fully experience — their own privilege.

Statistically, white men are less likely to be murdered in the US than black men, and in Australia, are far less likely to be arrested, die in custody, or commit suicide. Men are more likely to win jobs and to be paid better than women with the same qualifications. White male privilege is real, and the basic ways we report and consume information protects that bias: 87 per cent of Wikipedia's editors are men, the majority in their 20s .

Which is not Wikipedia's fault. Wikimedia projects are radical, and are changing the world for the better. Articles are becoming more scholarly, and university feminists around the world are putting their students to work to contribute more knowledge. But Wikipedia exists in a world already weighted towards the white male experience.

A few weeks ago I checked D'Angelo's wiki article to find out about his new album. Where Marvin Gaye was the king of soul, D'Angelo (pictured) is its prince (I know this because I read it on the internet). Yet a large portion of the wiki article was dedicated to D'Angelo's 'Legal Issues' (a subheading seemingly exclusive to black musicians, intellectual property pages and anzac biscuits), including a DUI charge and a marijuana possession charge.

My friend and I deleted them — their relevance to D'Angelo's career is negligible, and their level of interest as biographical facts is debatable.

We searched Wikipedia for entries on other musicians we knew to be guilty of similar indiscretions. The manner in which famous white drug-users are represented is notably different.

The entry on Keith Richards, the grandfather of recreational drug use and