Week 6: Creating Metadata and Selecting Tagging Systems

With the goals of the Southern California Library in mind, the metadata process was largely based on accessibility. The question which underpinned the choices when it came to metadata like subject terms and description was: How can I make this “findable” for both researchers and community members?

Week 5: The Ethics of Metadata

The importance of ethics when undertaking the responsibility of classification cannot be overstated. In considering this responsibility I am reminded of research I did on Native American author, Mourning Dove and her novel Cogewea: The Half Blood. At one point Mourning Dove was considered the first Native American Woman author, however, much of the scholarship revolving around her and her novel is centered on a man named Lucullus McWhorter. McWhorter was an anthropologist interested in Native American culture and history. He met Mourning Dove at a local event and the two developed a correspondence about her writing and McWhorter later became the editor of her novel. However, the two had different ideas about the story her novel would tell. While Mourning Dove had the intentions of writing a “western romance,” McWhorter was intent on selling the novel as a text about the Native American experience. Against her will, McWhorter pushed an “authentic looking” Native American depiction of Mourning Dove on the cover, added epitaphs before each chapter, and more. In all my research on the text , I would say the most frequently cited quote is Mourning Dove’s statement in a letter to McWhorter:

Week 4: The Women of Watts

Reflecting on the absence of women in the Watts documentary made me think of the voices of Wanda Coleman and Betty Pleasant – the women who have spoken out about the Watts rebellion. 
Much of the discourse surrounding the Watts rebellion is wrought with gendered terminology which is undoubtedly, exclusively male. For instance, in Betty Pleasant’s article, “‘Baby’ I Dodged Bullets While L.A. Burned” she speaks of “hard core rioters who were willing to die for the cause of the black brotherhood” (emphasis mine). The focus certainly did seem to be on the “brotherhood” as Pleasant frequently referred to participants as “the guys”. She even goes so far as to call it “Viet Watts,” likening it to war; specifically a war fought predominantly, if not exclusively, by men. Perhaps this emphasis on hyper-masculinity is one of the reasons Pleasant’s article is written with such separatism and conviction. I imagine that as a woman, it would be difficult to feel included in a movement of an oppressed community raising up against systemic racial injustices so heavily saturated with and centered around fraternal camaraderie, or the “brotherhood”.
Maybe this is the same reason Wanda Coleman states that despite the voices of, “James Baldwin, Richard Wright, and W. E. B. Du Bois . . . The hero I longed for did not seem to exist.” Coleman is right to mention this disparity. While James Baldwin and Ta-Nehisi Coates have been powerful voices for the black identity, both of their works are fueled by a paternal, and distinctly fraternal, individualism. For instance, in all his talk about “black bodies,” Coates only gives, periodically, a brief nod to the black female body: “the women around you must be responsible for their bodies in a way that you never will know.” While he is right to say that his son, a male, will not even truly “know” the ways in which women must protect and guard their bodies, he leaves it at that and does not attempt to go any further. It is troubling that Coates’ book, which sets out to encompass the black experience and is often hailed for doing so, leaves such a glaring gap when it comes to the experience of the black female. 

Week 4: Social Media as Digital Platform for Academics

1. It is difficult for me to conceive of Twitter as a place for meaningful academic work mainly because of my issues with fragmentation, character limits, and difficulty in readability (it’s simply hard to follow). In this way, the forum inevitably causes conversation, brainstorming, workshopping, and feedback to be brief and most of all, as Dr. Ryan said, ephemeral. Where I do see potential in Twitter, is in the promotion of other forums, articles, or blogs. Twitter is a great place to share a link of an article or blog post to an audience of people in your field who may be interested. For instance, if I was to come across some interesting artifact relating to Wendy Coleman at the Southern California Library, and were to digitize it, this would be a fantastic digital piece to share via Twitter with a professor at UPENN I heard present on Wendy Coleman’s poetry last year. In fact, Twitter could be a great place to share links to what we do end up digitizing from the Southern California Library with other Scholars interested in Watts, as well as with community members in South Central LA. The accessibility of Twitter is open to everyone and it’s a platform that reaches beyond academia, which serves to reach larger audiences. Because the this digital archiving project already has the aim of accessibility and the goal of making information available – Twitter might be a great way of getting that information out there. 

Week 2: Teaching Bias in Technology

The illusion of neutrality and machine-like objectivity are definitely understandings which permeate the use of technology. However, our discussion of the prejudice enmeshed with the algorithms in search engines like Google was something that made perfect sense to me. I don’t know a lot about algorithms or the way search engines function, but Dr. Noble’s explanation of “the man behind the curtain” was certainly easy enough for me to understand and sequentially evaluate. Therefore, I am under the impression that the difficulty in teaching bias in Google to undergraduates may be overestimated.

Wanda Coleman’s “The Riot Inside Me”

In The Riot Inside Me, Wanda Coleman’s understanding of space and place in South-Central Los Angeles constitutes a distinct power dynamic which works to systematically oppress the Watts community. For instance, Coleman frequently describes her community, as well as her place in it, in spatial terms. While offering information about her father and mother, she states that they, “hung on the periphery” of a select social circle “of coloreds who had seemingly gained entree into the White world” (248). Here, Coleman observes socially constructed, and internalized, boundaries which work to define her family, the community, and the “White world”. Not only are her parents detached from the “White world”, but they are also only affiliated through peripheral contact with a few people, Coleman refers to as “coloreds,” who have “gained entree.” This understanding of the social ladder depicts a hierarchy among the community which favors the “White world,” as those who have access to it are a select few who possess a certain skill; she refers to these members as the “talented tenth” (Coleman 248). Of her life outside the home, Coleman states that she “lived in a White world” where she had little agency over her own place in space. She states, “The hands of teachers — females — were rough as they snatched my forearms to move me away from one spot or to another, one place to another, without any explanation except ‘You belong over here.'” (249). In this instance Coleman is literally being transferred from place to place, or from “one spot . . . to another” and specifically told where she “belongs” by “White authorities” (249). In this way, social and physical constructs of space determined by “White authorities,” in the case of Coleman in grade school, and internalized by the black community demonstrated by Coleman’s explanation of her parents in relation to the community, play a major role in maintaining power-positions between marginalized communities and dominant authority figures. In examining the conditions of Watts, and the uprising of 1965, the dense population of the community of South-Central with its lack of space, the displacement of Black communities by means of Mexican immigrants (as identified by Coleman), and the “restricted housing” which Coleman argues, “crippled their chances for economic stability” are all factors which contribute to the systematic oppression of the Black community in Los Angeles.
Moving forward, it is important to realize ways in which space is not neutral, and how the way it is designated, controlled, manipulated by those in power, and sequentially internalized. This is something that cannot be ignored when understanding the Watts Uprising and the community in Watts today. Questions to consider further would be: How does designating a certain space as a “Food Desert” tell a narrative which does an injustice to a community? What kind of narrative does the spatial of positioning of bodies in Jorja Leap’s video tell?