Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Racist Tendencies of Wikipedia

Most San Francisco natives are aware that the Bayview/Hunters Point neighborhood, located far out along the outskirts of the southeastern region of the city, is a ghetto. They also know that it is the only predominantly black neighborhood in the city, impoverished and rife with gang violence and toxic waste sites. And perhaps they are even somewhat familiar with the history of the place: how thousands of blacks migrated there for job opportunities with the city's naval shipyard during the Second World War. (For an award-winning investigative piece on daily life in Bayview/Hunters Point along with a brief history, read the article "What happened to black San Francisco" from San Francisco Magazine.)

When I recently took a look at the Wikipedia entry for Bayview, I found this map of San Francisco:

Notice the blood red shaded districts in the lower right-hand side. The red is meant to represent the concentration of African Americans. Now I can understand why, from an anthropological perspective, highlighting the presence of blacks in this particular area is key in defining the character and cultural landscape of the area--it's true that there is a stark concentration of this demographic in comparison to the surrounding areas. But my gut reaction was one of shock; I felt that it was included as a means of warning to those interested in the area that "Hey look out! Lots of colored folks in the neighborhood!" I mean, if this map is such a key component to the description of the area, then why wouldn't other San Francisco neighborhoods have similar maps? The presence of Italians in North Beach has, by all outward appearances, diffused over the years. To me that's pretty interesting--why is there no map in the North Beach wiki entry on their whereabouts? And what if I want to know just how Chinese Chinatown really is? There's no map for that either.

I just can't help but to look at this map and question the motives behind such a thing. I feel like its inclusion implies a sense of "otherness" that the creators of the entry must have thought the average reader would feel towards the black community. I'm boycotting Wikipedia...until I get lazy again and need to feign knowledge of an obscure topic in a half-ass fashion.


gjg said...

I don't know if that necessarily feels racist to me... I'm well aware that "objective" data and infographics can easily be skewed to suit an author's purpose and perspective, but in this case I'm not sure whether the image has any particular message. To me it simply shows how segregated African Americans are in the city, and it's up to the reader to decide what that implies. And I would guess that possibly there aren't graphics like this for other races precisely because no other race has been concentrated so dramatically into one area of the city...

amityb said...

Yeah, I can see your point. I think perhaps it was just the shock value of seeing such segregation when you think you live in such an idyllic, progressive haven. And perhaps I've been overly sensitive lately about racism towards African Americans since all this terrorism association/ witch hunting that's been going on with Obama.

Hip E. said...

I recently went to New York for the first time and a friend who has been living there for a few months pointed out that one great thing there is that since there are so many races and ethnicities there, all crammed together, surrounding you every day, you notice individual people's race less. San Francisco definitely does not have that going for it. I love to consider myself "colorblind," but the fact is unfortunately when there's only one black guy at every party, it's pretty difficult to not notice that fact. On the other hand, a great thing about San Francisco is that the gay population here is big enough that its internal demographics pretty much mirror those of the city as a whole. Meaning, you see annoying punk teenager gay people, and cool hip fashionable gay people, and regular old dumpy blue collar gay people, and old boring gay people walking the dog, and everything in between. So regardless of your conscious ideas about homosexuality, you are forced at the very least to confront the fact that they are TOTALLY NORMAL PEOPLE, who happen to be gay. I think in most of the country their idea of gays is the Village People and Tyra Banks' ridiculous sidekick on America's Next Top Model, and that's it. But yeah, The City's dirty little secret is how racially segregated it is.

gjg said...

Very true - I think there are "degrees" of racial segregation too though. I still think it's great that San Francisco does have neighborhoods where races/ethnicities that previously might have been strictly segregated - Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, Russian, Greek, Italian, Irish, etc - are all mixed together. Obviously the major components missing from that picture are blacks and Latinos, and the existing diversity in no way excuses that, but at least it's something.

amityb said...

Spaceman came down
to answer some things
The world gathered 'round
from paupers to Kings.
I'll answer your questions,
I'll answer them true
I show you the way,
you know what to do.

Who is wrong and who is right?
Yellow, brown, black or white?
Spaceman he answered:
"You no longer mind
I've opened your eyes
You're now color blind.