Kali Tal on Wed, 29 Nov 2006 07:32:09 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Racism and Sexism at Citizendium

A month or two ago I was invited to join in building a new repository  
of knowledge on the Internet, a spin-off from Wikipedia called  
Citizendium. The chief attraction of Citizendium (also called CZ) was  
that articles would be authored by laypersons and experts alike, but  
editorially approved by experts -- thus creating an environment of  
authority and reliability that Wikipedia, with its lack of quality  
control, could not match.  I strongly support public intellectual  
work and I am all for making reliable information and analysis widely  
available to all who seek it.  I joined CZ with high hopes, and with  
the goal of recruiting others to participate in a project I felt  
could be very useful and rewarding. My initial contributions  
impressed Larry Sanger enough that he invited me to join the  
Executive Board of Citizendium, and I accepted.

I wrote to colleagues and friends about CZ and invited them to  
participate -- and especially appealed to African Americanist and  
feminist scholars, since that is my own area of expertise.  I asked,  
in my announcements, what Wikipedia might have looked like if there  
were significant participation from black or women scholars from its  
inception.  I assumed -- wrongly -- that Ethnic studies and Women's  
studies scholars would be welcome at CZ.  I was gravely  
disappointed.  We are not welcome, and our disciplines are not  
welcome.  We may participate only if we are willing to subsume our  
work under the headings of other, "more traditional" disciplines.  CZ  
as conceived of and enforced by Sanger is a strongly conservative  
endeavor, and adamantly opposed to progressive scholarship.

I am withdrawing from Citizendium because of the racist and sexist  
policy put in place by Larry Sanger, who claims that the disciplines  
of Ethnic Studies and Gender Studies do not belong in the list of top  
level categories in Citizendium, or as individual categories at all.   
Sanger has unilaterally decided that all race and gender topics  
should be split up under traditional disciplinary headings, so that  
there will be, for example, a sub-group of "African American  
Literature," and "African American History," but no category -- at  
any level -- in African American studies, and he embraces the same  
tactic of fragmenting other Ethnic Studies and Gender Studies.  The  
fact that his broad strokes of exclusion primarily effect women and  
minority scholars does not seem to matter to him.

Here is what Sanger has to say about gender and race studies:

"I take the view that most of these university departments are  
cross-disciplinary and--here I know I am treading on thin ice and saying
what few dare to say--highly politicized themselves.  Well, I do not  
want to
make CZ "politically correct," i.e., appealing especially to one  
American/Western/Left) ideology.  I really do want to make it  
neutral, and
that means **not** creating special groups for ideologically-motivated
groups." [posted November 16, 2006 10:29:59 AM MST to the Citizendium  
Editors listserv]

The notion that traditional disciplines are race and gender "neutral"  
is at the heart of Sanger's rationalization for exclusion.  The  
credibility of this argument has been (for anyone knowledgeable in  
the those areas) thoroughly destroyed over the last thirty or forty  
years, as accumulated quantitative and qualitative evidence has shown  
that despite many white male scholars' protestations to the contrary,  
power and authority have remained firmly gripped in their hands. The  
claim that clearly biased disciplines are "neutral" is a plain and  
simple power play, and an excuse to perpetuate the patterns of  
exclusion that have been in place for hundreds of years. The tactic  
of fragmenting ethnic and gender studies into small, minority sub- 
categories under the control of larger white and male dominated  
groups is also well understood, both by the white men who employ the  
tactic to their advantage and by the minorities and women who are  
disadvantaged by it. The idea that Gender and Ethnic Studies are  
"political" and enforce "political correctness," while somehow  
traditional disciplines are above politics and do not enforce an  
inequitable Status Quo would be laughable if it were not so  
pernicious and injurious to the people who are oppressed by sexism  
and racism -- women and minorities.

Once again, this is a case of a white male scholar with no experience  
in either race or gender studies legislating, with broad strokes, how  
those disciplines will be represented in an academic endeavor he  
hopes will be of major importance. He does it with no regard for the  
current state of scholarship in those fields, or the expertise of  
their practitioners -- an irony in an academic endeavor that claims  
to rely on expertise for its authority.  Expertise apparently only  
counts if it agrees with the naive opinions of the untutored white  
man in charge.

Sanger claims that his version of neutrality is rooted in  
Enlightenment principles. But as anyone working race and gender  
studies knows very well, white men have traditionally only applied  
Enlightenment principles to each other.  It is the work of women and  
minorities that has extended those principles and challenged those  
who espouse them to apply them more and more broadly... and it is  
women and minorities who have risked their livelihoods and even their  
lives as they have engaged in over 250 years of activist work  
dedicated to building communities and nations that are free not only  
in principle, but in fact.  By refusing to acknowledge Ethnic Studies  
and Gender studies as essential top-level disciplinary categories,  
Sanger is attempting to roll back our progress towards freedom and  
equality, as conservatives everywhere have been trying to roll back  
all of our gains.

Frankly, I am embarrassed to have had anything to do with CZ and I  
will be publicly critiquing Sanger's policy in various venues. I hope  
that all supporters of race and gender studies will join with me in  
boycotting CZ, and with protesting Sanger's decision.

You can find more information on Citizendium at http:// 
www.citizendium.org.  Most of my discussions with Sanger took place  
on the Editors listserv, but there are a few on the Citizendium Forum  


Kali Tal

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