I Write White

UPDATE: I originally misattributed a quote from a post at tea berry-blue to a commenter here. I have corrected the error. Apologies.

Benjamin H. Grumbles is not the only one around here who is both mischievous and empirical. After reading our thread here about the I Write Like test and a related link at Tiger Beatdown, shaker biblio_vore performed an experiment:
[W]hen you shared your result from "I Write Like" I got curious and tried out my own writing -- different types of writing yielded a different white male author each time. And when I saw a link on Tiger Beatdown that said that according to "I Write Like," everyone writes like a white male author, I decided to try it out with the famous authors themselves, because the experiment that Jonathan Bogart did used less than a dozen authors. My results were pretty depressing: few women, no authors of color. Here's the writeup I did of my experiment [...]:

I tried out 40 authors on this thing. I did twenty that were women and/or authors of color, and twenty that were white men. Here are my results.

Group One: Female authors and authors of color

1. James Baldwin (black man) ... James Fenimore Cooper (white man)
2. Mary Shelley (white woman) ... herself
3. Isabel Allende (Latina woman) ... Kurt Vonnegut (white man)
4. Maeve Binchy (white woman) ... William Gibson (white man)
5. Stephenie Meyer (white woman) ... herself
6. Madeleine L'Engle (white woman) ... J.D. Salinger (white man)
7. Flannery O'Connor (white woman) ... Chuck Palahniuk (white man)
8. Sylvia Plath (white woman) ... Chuck Palahniuk (white man)
9. Margaret Atwood (white woman) ... herself
10. Sandra Cisneros (Latina woman) ... Chuck Palahniuk (white man)
11. Laurence Yep (Asian man) ... James Joyce (white man)
12. Amy Tan (Asian woman) ... Dan Brown (white man)
13. J.K. Rowling (white woman) ... herself
14. Toni Morrison (black woman) ... David Foster Wallace (white man)
15. Maya Angelou (black woman) ... Ursula K. Le Guin (white woman)
16. Alice Walker (black woman) ... H.P. Lovecraft (white man)
17. Langston Hughes (black man) ... Margaret Mitchell (white woman -- the GONE WITH THE WIND author)
18. Zora Neale Hurston (black woman) ... Margaret Mitchell (white woman -- what the EFF?!)
19. Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Latino man) ... Mark Twain (white man)
20. Jhumpa Lahiri (South Asian woman) ... Dan Brown (white man)

Group Two: White male authors

1. Charles Dickens ... himself
2. Aldous Huxley ... Robert Louis Stevenson (white man)
3. George Orwell ... himself
4. Mark Twain ... himself
5. Edgar Allen Poe ... Charles Dickens (white man)
6. Orson Scott Card ... David Foster Wallace (white man)
7. Neil Gaiman ... himself
8. Douglas Adams ... himself
9. Dan Brown ... himself
10. Ray Bradbury ... himself
11. Philip Pullman ... H.P. Lovecraft (white man)
12. Terry Pratchett ... David Foster Wallace (white man)
13. Michael Chabon ... Kurt Vonnegut (white man)
14. Paul Auster ... Arthur C. Clarke (white man)
15. Gregory Maguire ... Dan Brown (white man)
16. Kenneth Grahame ... Lewis Carroll (white man)
17. Leo Tolstoy ... himself
18. Mervyn Peake ... Charles Dickens (white man)
19. William Makepeace Thackeray: Jonathan Swift (white man)
20. Thomas Hardy ... Mark Twain (white man)

In the first group, only four authors were recognized by the "I Write Like" statistical analysis tool, while in the second group twice as many authors were recognized. Furthermore, the authors recognized in the first group were all white women, despite my inclusion of authors of color who are both prolific and award winning. It creeps me the heck out that MARGARET MITCHELL was the result for Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston.

Forty authors put into the program. Twenty six results given back. All white. Mostly men. And yeah, the takeaway from this could be that it's fun and amusing and very obviously not accurate, but I hope that what I'm conveying here is that this does matter. How many authors that aren't white had their body of work analyzed to help produce this fun little tool? How many women? "White and male" isn't the default setting for humanity, and it isn't the default setting for literature, either.

In the "We Are All Great Men" thread, shaker bexone links to a post by tea berry-blue:
The creator of this meme doesn't see a problem with the fact that his list of authors consists of 37 white men and 3 white women. In fact, when called on it, he said "I *absolutely* will not add people into the database due to their race or gender. I will not search for lists of white, black, Asian, Hispanic, or any other types of people that you _took care to differentiate_."

Hm. Well, I don't need to search any lists to know that Toni Morrison, Salman Rushdie, Zora Neale Hurston, James Baldwin, Isabel Allende, Jhumpa Lahiri, Zadie Smith, Alice Walker, Audre Lorde, Gwendolyn Brooks, Louise Erdrich, and many others have distinctive voices worth sampling. I Write Like thinks that David Foster Wallace writes like Stephen King. I think the test would have been more accurate and more useful as well as more entertaining if it included a wider variety of strong voices.

If you had designed this test, who would you have sampled besides the Great Whites?

H/T, of course, to biblio_vore

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