Race, Ethnicity, Diaspora, and the Other
This forum explores the reproduction and (re)configurations of race, ethnicity, and diaspora in digital spaces. The history of race and ethnicity as a scientific/sociological concept and social fact are complex and multifaceted. Both terms are now widely recognized as being social constructs, albeit in significantly different ways and to very different results. These two terms have become organizing concepts in relation to identity with race broadly referring to physical or genetic/morphological characteristics and ethnicity denoting tribal, linguistic, national, religious, or other cultural characteristics. These terms, introduced briefly here, have long histories steeped in issues of power, domination, and inequity, but they have also served as a means of uniting and mobilizing sometimes-disparate populations.
Presently, the term diaspora emerges in regards to groups experiencing various forms of migration (e.g., forced, voluntary, labor), and whose consciousness concerns homelands, group histories, and transnational connections. The development of diasporic communities rapidly grows following and accompanying periods of war, colonialism, and globalism. The rise of digital communications tools and improved travel technologies have facilitated vast diasporas, which have resulted in destabilizing the notions of home, nation, community, and self. Diasporic inquiry compels us to reorganize rubrics of nation and nationalism, while refiguring the relations of citizens and nation-states. Therefore, the concepts of race, ethnicity, and diaspora refer to both identity and social relations. As a nation, we have tried to move beyond race, to a post-racial age, and yet we continue to differentiate, distance, mistreat, or turn a blind eye to others.
The Promise of the Digital and the Realities for the Other
The negative, positive, and complex negotiations of these concepts follow us into digital spaces as people draw on new digital technologies to address and reproduce them. Dialogues that have occurred for centuries regarding race, ethnicity, and difference remain important as we move into the digital world and explore new ways of commemorating, representing, and engaging with individual and collective identities in digital and non-digital spaces. Though early discourses of the Internet declared it a purely democratic space where people could enter and participate regardless of race, class, creed, or location in the "real world" (see John Perry Barlow's Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace), this has not proven true. As such, the Internet and digital world environments are now vital locations for advocacy, critique, research, and recruitment. A number of anti-racism groups now make use of the Internet and new information technologies in their work against hate groups (Southern Poverty Law Center's Hate Group Map), to provide instructional material on race (American Anthropological Association's "Race: Are We So Different?"), and to critique policies and cultural artifacts that perpetuate inequity or detrimental stereotypes (e.g. Racialicious Blog, Media Action Network for Asian Americans).
Academics with interests in analyzing race, ethnicity, and diaspora in new media and virtual worlds are increasingly visible (e.g. Boellstorf's Coming of Age in Second Life, Lisa Nakamura's Digitizing Race, and a forthcoming book Nakamura edited with Peter Chow-White called Digital Race Anthology.). But where valuable advocacy and criticism has been subject of and facilitated by digital media, it has also been a powerful tool used by hate groups who seize these new forms of communication to recruit and spread their messages of intolerance in online chat rooms, websites, and even on Second Life in one-on-one interactions.
As academics, researchers, or simply interested individuals, it is imperative we recognize that when it comes to race, ethnicity, diaspora, and otherness, there is still much to be discussed and that we are far from being post-racial, if that is even a plausible or desirable goal. We mustnt be timid or afraid to engage with each other in discussions that might be uncomfortable. Some of the important work in this area includes:
- Race and Social Network Sites: Putting Facebook's Data in Context, by danah boyd
- Learning Race and Ethnicity: Youth and Digital Media, by Anna Everett
- "Race and Software," by Wendy Hui Kyong Chun (in Alien Encounters: Popular Culture in Asian America)
- Ethics of knowledge and information systems (often anthropological archival work) by Ramesh Srinivasan
- Lisa Nakamura's presentation, entitled Race, Rights, and Virtual Worlds: Digital Games as Spaces of Labor Migration. This presentation "focuses on digital migrants, workers who labor in virtual worlds for other virtual world users. A lot of the work is done across transnational networks, such as gold farming in World of Warcraft performed by laborers in China for users in the United States." You can listen to a podcast of her presentation at the link above.
- Mia Consalvo did a presentation, Western Otaku: Games Crossing Cultures, which examines how digital games - and particularly MMORPGs - act as spaces of "transnational cultural exchange and places of hybridity formed by cross-cultural contact." The podcast can be accessed here.
- Race and ethnicity in Games (both console and online): Minority Gamer experiences and Specifically in the Massive Multiplayer Online Game World of Warcraft
The examples here are admittedly brief and broad, and there are many more that have not even been touched upon. These diverse texts include video games (including Massive Multiplayer Online Games), online social networks, electronic literature, video, film, blogs, etc. These various objects can be examined from a variety of disciplines, theoretical perspectives, and utilizing very different tools. These include but are not limited to Critical Race Theory (CRT), Postcolonial Critiques, Cultural Studies, Globalization studies, Third World Feminisms, and others. Many of these perspectives motivate investigations of race, ethnicity, and diaspora in relation to other structures such as neoliberal governance, transnational economies, and flows of culture, people, and information.
Ultimately, race, ethnicity, and nationality endure as categories of othering which have important ramifications on the lives of those who participate in and are affected by digital culture.
We invite you to join us and discuss the following topics (please do not let the questions limit your responses and engagement):
- How do our disciplinary backgrounds affect the way we approach the subject of race and ethnicity in this contemporary moment and in these new digital spaces? This forum (as well as HASTAC) is the result of much back-and-forth and compromise between humanist and scientist/social scientist perspectives. How can we encourage more such collaborations and ensure that they produce fruitful results? Does HASTAC's motto of "collaboration by difference" help us think through this idea?
- Where do we see racialized, de-racialized, or multi-ethnic identities emerging via digital technologies (Internet, video games, etc.) for individuals or communities (e.g. gaming communities, CouchSurfing)?
- How has the present discourse concerning political correctness in the "post-racial" era, following the election of President Obama, affected discussions about race in the 21st century? (For example: Glenn Beck argues "'African-American' is a Bogus, Made-up, PC term")
- How do concepts of the 'post-racial' relate to discourses of race in the digital, networked-age? Do Donna Haraway's ideas of the cyborg (further expounded upon by Chela Sandoval) or Katherine Hayles's posthuman help us to further conceptualize race in this present age?
- What is the role of digital technologies in combating racism and intolerance in the modern world?
- How is racism and intolerance reproduced in digital environments? What are some strategies for addressing these new forms of hate or methods of confronting it?
- What theoretical perspective, if any, do you draw upon to investigate these concepts? How do you apply them to the digital?
- How might the very mechanics and conceptualizations of networks, interactivity, play, and the digital, reframe or reimagine even the notion of race, ethnicity or diaspora? What is it about the digital that invites such an imagination? Why might that formulation invite critique?
How have other media produced interesting conceptualizations of race or ethnicity? Share your experiences with the following:
- Do Second Life and other virtual spaces become simply environments for racial tourism, as Lisa Nakamura terms it, or do they also become places for identification, mis-identification, or intentional play?
- How have other visual media (like film, advertising, animation, graphic nonels, etc.) and surrounding discussions become platforms for addressing racial/ethnic unease? We see this occurring in films like Avatar (a few interesting articles on race and Avatar, including "When will white people stop making movies like 'Avatar'?"), elided in others like The Last Airbender (Avatar Casting Makes Fans See White), and in research we also see their effective results in viewers (like those of anime.)
- How has Avatar, specifically, affected dialogues of the digital, race/ethnicity, media, networks, colonialism, identity, etc.? Here is one forum host's blog on Avatar and the white hero.
- Radical Cartography - rethinking maps and the way they represent groups, also the role participatory collaboration plays (e.g., counter-mapping, participatory-GIS)
- Community organizing - either around a specific issue, or around a specific group of people having something in common.
(**the last image was created by one of the forum hosts. The animals and humans at the bottom are taken from a 1800s book about the 'Three Races of Man' and the specific animals each race would have evolved alongside of in their local environments (e.g., Europe, Africa, Asia). The image is meant to juxtapose the historical creation of scientific racism with modern conceptions of visual ethnicity.)
We look forward to engaging with you here -- welcome to the forum!
Hosted by HASTAC Scholars: