Lisa Nakamura, Cybertypes (2002)
…the Internet is a place where race happens; even in the absence of users of color, images of race and racialism prolifer- ate in cyberspace. The ideological uses to which race is put in this medium must be examined before we can even begin to consider cy- berspace's promise as a democratic and progressive medium…
Rather than adopting a utopian or pessimistic view in which the Internet is viewed as either a vector for progressive change in the classical lib- eral tradition or as the purveyor of crude and simplistic " stereotyp- ical cultural narratives," it seems crucial to first narrow the focus a bit and examine the specific means by which identities are deployed in cyberspace.
Images of race on the Net are both " stereotyped" at times, as in some chat rooms, cyberpunk fictions, and advertisements, and at other times, race is deployed in creative coalition building that creates a sense of community and racial identity online.
…for the Internet is above all a discursive and rhetorical space, a place where " race" is created as an effect of the net's distinctive uses of language. Hence, it is crucial to examine not only the wide variety of rhetorical conditions of utterance, reception, audience, and user/speaker that create particular communicative situations in cyberspace, but also to trace the ways in which this array of situa- tions creates " cybertypes," or images of racial identity engendered by this new medium. Only then will it be possible to assess the Net's potential for "social transformation."
When users' charac-
ters, or " avatars," are differently raced from the user, the opportu- nity for online recreational passing or " identity tourism" arises; that is to say, users perform stereotyped versions of the "…
These kinds of racial identity plays stand as a critique of the notion of the digital citizen as an ideal cogito whose subjectivity is liberated by cyberspace. On the contrary, only too often does one person's " liberation" constitute another's recontainment within the realm of racialized discourse.
The Internet is certainly a place where so- cial differences such as race are frequently construed as negative.
The cel- ebration of the " fluid self" that simultaneously lauds postmodernity as a potentially liberatory sort of worldview tends to overlook the more disturbing aspects of the fluid, marginalized selves that al- ready exist offline in the form of actual marginalized peoples, which is not nearly so romantic a formulation.
Images of exotic travel in the " third world," and " primitive" places and people, are part of a persistent pattern of Signification that reinforces the notion of the Western computer and network user as a tourist in cyberspace. Ear- lier colonial discourses that privilege the Western gaze and the sense of freedom, expansiveness, and mastery…
But more to the point, they figure globalization as the result of that pen- etration, a penetration that cannot be resisted, despite "…