A few years ago, I interviewed for a position at an interesting digital non-profit called Whose Knowledge?. The idea behind their work is really simple: to reflect the knowledge of marginalised people on the internet.
I found the project immediately appealing for two reasons. I had never considered whose thoughts, ideas and knowledge dominated the internet, and once I had considered it, I realised how much of a disservice it is that there isn’t more diversity in the sources of information so readily available to us all in the "information age".
There’s a popular analogy about two young fish swimming merrily along, who get asked by an older fish, "How’s the water today?" They wonder to themselves in bemusement: "What’s water?"
There have been many moments throughout my life that remind me of this analogy.
As many of us must know, it is entirely possible to never notice the water. Few of us spend our days thinking about the number of women whose groundbreaking histories are reflected on Wikipedia accurately, or even at all.
I live on a continent that isn’t Europe where most people are expected to speak European languages, and my 2017 visit to Tanzania, where Swahili is the national language, was the first time I’d ever really thought about how strange that is. American culture is "global", but African music is "world".
It’s just the water, and we’re just swimming along.
Though, if you’re reading this, I have a hunch that’s because you’ve noticed the water, and you feel like there’s something not quite right in it. Or you’ve noticed the water and you don’t mind it too much, but you’re interested in what people have to say about the things they don’t like about it. Or, you’re not that interested, but you like the opportunity to debate the warmth or cleanliness of the water because it makes swimming a bit more fun for you. Whatever your reason, you’re here because you’ve noticed the water.
As the Othering correspondent, my job is to draw your attention to the water, over and over and in all kinds of ways. In fact, that’s our entire mandate at The Correspondent. Do you know what you’re swimming in? Do you know why you have to swim so hard? Would you like to better understand the currents and the undertow? Who the hell thought it was a good idea to dump so much plastic in the water, what are their motivations, who is in their networks, and what does this plastic mean for the two little fish?
What do we know about the water, and who are we getting this knowledge from?
In a meeting early this week, Team TC (which is what we call ourselves – cute) talked a bit about what it means to be "transnational". The gist of the conversation was that it means being intentional about whose knowledge we foreground, making sure that we don’t default to the sources that are most familiar. It’s really easy to confuse accessibility, visibility or legibility with expertise, and as we enter our second year of publication, we’re thinking even more strategically than usual about what we tell you about the water, and where we look to learn what we share with you.
Next Monday, we’re publishing my review of Ifi Amadiume’s Male Daughters, Female Husbands: Gender and Sex in an African Society. I chose the book with my eyes wide open, asking myself: in learning about gender, whose knowledge have I not benefited from?
I was surprised by many of the things reading Amadiume revealed to me, and gratified to receive empirical backing for a few of my hunches. I hope you will let me know how Ifi’s knowledge of gender complements, contradicts or coincides with the knowledge you already have. So I’ll be keeping an eye out for you in the contributions section – not just next week, but throughout next year, which, if you’re a founding member, I hope you’ll stick around for (and if you’re not a member yet, I hope you will join us in year two).
Till next time,