Series: Reflections on representation this Black History Month

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Each week in October, we will showcase a Wikimedia initiative working to improve the representation of Black people, Africans, and Africans in the diaspora in our movement.

October marks the start of Black History Month, in the UK and Ireland. At the Wikimedia Foundation, this month is an exciting opportunity to honor the lived experiences, stories, and contributions of Black people, Africans, and Africans in the diaspora around the world. 

We are also digging deeper into the meaning of representation — exploring the challenges, the opportunities, and the incredible work already underway to ensure our movement reflects the full, rich diversity of all humanity, not just this month, but all year long. 

The challenges in representation in our movement are real.

When it comes to contributors on Wikimedia projects, the majority (61%) are based in Europe and Northern America.

Only 1.6% of contributors are based in Africa, although people in Africa comprise 17% of the world’s population. In the US specifically, fewer than 1% of Wikipedia’s editors base identify as Black or African American.

When it comes to content, there are more Wikipedia articles written about Antarctica than most countries in Africa. Africa has almost twice the population of Europe, and yet only 15 percent the number of articles.

We also know that women, Black, Indigenous, and people of color, as well as LGBTQ+ people often face increased scrutiny, pressure, or outright harassment on our projects — a disheartening reality we aim to address with a new Universal Code of Conduct.

The Wikimedia Foundation recently launched the Open the Knowledge initiative to raise awareness of the biases, under-representation, and inequities in our movement that continue to close Wikimedia projects to much of the world’s people and knowledge. We are inviting all who support our mission and participate in our movement to help open the knowledge — making it more diverse, more equitable, accessible and inclusive.

It’s with these data and challenges in mind that we ask ourselves: 

What does it really mean to be represented on Wikimedia projects (such as Wikipedia), and within the movement of volunteers who create it?

Is it reaching a certain percentage point, creating more Wikipedia articles, increasing the number of contributors? Or is it more than numbers on a screen?

We believe it is more, so much more. 

Representation is a construct, one that has layers — one that exists not just in data points but in how people feel. That means real representation comes from a range of approaches on Wikimedia projects: From having articles in your language, seeing images of people who are part of your history, attending events where you feel welcomed, and more.

There are several There are several community-led initiatives already making important progress toward knowledge equity — a pillar of our movement strategy that calls us to make Wikimedia projects more welcoming and representative of communities that have been overlooked and oppressed by systems of power and privilege.

Groups such as Black Lunch Table, AfroCrowd, and WhoseKnowledge? focus on adding knowledge about Black history and people of African descent to our projects. The AfroCine project, Africa Wiki Challenge, and Wiki Loves Africa photography campaign aim to increase information on our projects from African countries. These groups are just some of many working to improve diversity and participation across the Wikimedia ecosystem.

Drawing inspiration from these initiatives, and in an effort to elevate them and different views on representation, each week this month, we will highlight a project that works to improve the representation of Black people, Africans, and Africans in the diaspora in our movement.

Check back every week for a new video and profile that celebrates Wikimedia movement initiatives strengthening representation and participation in Wikimedia projects — getting us closer and closer to making knowledge equity a reality. 

Week 1: Nigerian Language Oral History Documentation Project

Did you know that more than 6,000 languages are spoken in the world, and over 500 are spoken in Nigeria? This is approximately 8.3% of the total languages spoken worldwide. However, many of these smaller, Indigenous languages face extinction, as they have little documentation, and are not written down or taught in schools.

Enter the Nigerian Language Oral History Documentation Project: an initiative by the Wikimedia Nigeria Foundation Inc., supported by the Wikimedia Foundation, that is working to enrich Wikimedia projects with freely licensed audiovisual files documenting spoken languages and dialects in Nigeria.

Olaniyan Olushola, president of Wikimedia User Group Nigeria, says of the project’s importance:

“I perceive representation on Wikimedia projects as one of the ways of protecting the diversities of Africa and its people, the richness in our culture and traditions, and providing a level playing ground to accommodate our views on relevant discussions in and about the movement. … I am excited that this project will preserve at least over 50 languages that are bound to face extinction.”

So far, the project has produced and documented 52 audiovisuals, which have been used on over 150 related Wikipedia articles in over 20 languages. 

Week 2: Stay tuned! 

Week 3: Stay tuned!

Week 4: Stay tuned!

Read more Community, Equity

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Photo credits

Illustrated human figure

Illustrated by Jasmina El Bouamraoui and Karabo Poppy Moletsane

#OpenTheKnowledge - Nigerian Language Oral History Documentation Project

Wikimedia Foundation