Racializing Cyberspaces

While "new media" are indeed new in many ways, they too often fall into quite old patterns when dealing with issues of race and ethnicity. Biologists, social scientists and social movements have led us to understand race as a socially constructed process, rather than a natural fact, but racial categories, racist structures and racist representations remain very much alive.

New media like the web and video games have the opportunity to challenge old forms of racialization, and in some areas they are doing so. But too often instead they rely upon and reinforce racial and ethnic stereotypes, and leave structural inequality of race unchallenged or reinforced. Digital culture theorist Lisa Nakamura has referred to some new versions of old representations of race/ethnicity as cybertypes; in addition to recycling stereotypes, many design features of new media lend themselves to the kind of physical exaggeration of features that have historically been an integral part of much stereotyping. Still, much work needs to be done to better understand the specific forms of racialization that take place in cyberspaces. More recent work has added further dimensions beyond digital access and stereotyping, considering issues like data mining, discriminatory e-marketing, digital segregation, distortions of the role of inventors of color in technological innovation, and broader forms of structural racism.

The links and bibliography below explore some of the more damaging forms of eRacialization -- representations of race and ethnicity in new media -- as well as some positive potential. The web has also proven to be a fertile medium for white supremacists who benefit from the low-cost and anonymity of cyberspaces to find like-minded individuals and to spread their hate messages. The final section links to some of the best anti-racist sites on the web that seek to counter-balance these waves of cyberhate and the deep structural inequalities that keep racisms alive in the US and around the globe.

Race is never an isolated social marker. It is always interwoven with gender, class, sexuality and a variety of other factors, and most of the materials in this section acknowledge such intersectionality.

Racism can only be fully understood in historical context. In the case of mass media, an excellent resource to understand some of the history of racist representation in the US media is the documentary film, "Ethnic Notions," and its sequel, "Color Adjustment," dealing with more recent forms of racism in media. The films are available in many libraries, and can be purchased from California Newsreel, Inc.

Select Bibliography of Books and Articles on Race/Ethnicity in Cyberspace

Akdeniz, Y. Racism on the Internet. Strasbourg: Council of Europe Publishing, 2009.

Arola, Kristin L. “Itʼs My Revolution: Learning to See the Mixedblood.” in Composing (Media) = Composing (Embodiment). Eds. Kristin L. Arola and Anne Frances Wysocki. Utah State University Press, 2012. 115-142. Great essay on the presence/absence of mixed blood "Indians" in digital spaces.

Arnold, Ellen L and Darcy Plymire. "The Cherokee Indians and the Internet" In David Gaunlet, ed. Web Studies. Arnold Press, 2002.

Bonilla-Silva, Eduardo. Racism without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in the United States. Lanhan, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2003.

Bray-Crawford, K. P. "The Ho'okele Netwarriors in the Liquid Continent," in women@internet: Creating New Cultures in Cyberspace. London: Zed Books, 1999: 162-72.

Brock, A. "Life on the Wire: Deconstructing Race on the Internet." Information, Communication and Society. 12.3 (2009): 344-363.

Brown, Deidre, and George Nicholas. "Protecting Indigenous Cultural Property in the Age of Digital Democracy: Institutional and Communal Responses to Canadian First Nations and Māori Hheritage Concerns." Journal of Material Culture 17.3 (2012): 307-324.

Burkhalter, Byron. "Reading Race Online: Discovering Racial Identities in Usenet Discussions," Communities in Cyberspace. Ed. Marc Smith, and Peter Kollock. New York: Routledge, 1999.
Analysis of how race works in Usenet environment.

Carr, Paul. “Computers, The Media and Multicultural Education: Seeking Engagement and Political Literacy.” Intercultural Education 20.2 (2009): 91-107.

Chan, Dean. “Playing with Race: The Ethics of Racialized Representation in E-Games.”

Chinn, Sarah E. Technology and the Logic of American Racism: A Cultural History of the Body As Evidence. NY: Continuum, 2000. Excellent study placing cyberculture in a longer historical context.

Christen, Kimberly, and the Warumungu Community. Mukurtu: An Indigenous Archive Tool Brilliantly innovative participatory design project based on the cultural protocols of the Warumungu aboriginal community of Tennant Creek, NT, Australia, and now expanded as a tool for any indigenous community wishing to archive and control their own cultural history.

Cuillier, David. “Gambling with Identity: Self-Representation of American Indians on Official Tribal Websites.” Howard Journal of Communications 18.3 (2007): 197-219.

Daniels, Jessie. Cyber Racism: White Supremacy Online and the New Attack on Civil Rights. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2009.

Daniels, Jessie. "Race and Racisim in Internet Studies: a review and critique." New Media and Society 15(5). Very useful overview of all the varied ways race and racism manifest in digital spaces, from design structures to social media.

Davis, T. and M. Terbian. "Shaping the Destiny of Native American People by Ending the Digital Divide." EDUCAUSE-Review, 36(1) 2001: 38-46.

De Koster, Willem. “'Stormfront Is Like a Second Home to Me'.” Information, Communication Society 11.8 (2008): 1155-1176. Solid study of a key online hate site.

DeVane, Ben and Kurt Squire. "The Meaning of Race and Violence in Grand Theft Auto San Andreas." Games and Culture 3.3-4 (2008):265-285.

Digital Third Worlds Special issue of Cybersociology.

Dorr, Jessica, and Richard Akeroyd. New Mexico Tribal Libaries: Bridging the Digital Divide. InfoToday (October 2001).

Ebo, Bosah. Cyberghetto or Cybertopia?: Race, Class, and Gender on the Internet. Praeger Publishers, 1998.

Everett, Anna. Digital Diaspora: A Race for Cyberspace. SUNY, 2009. Major study of the African American presence in cyberspaces.

---. "The Revolution Will be Digitized: Afrocentricity and the Digital Public Sphere." Social Text 20.2 (2002) 125-146. 
Rich analysis of "blackness" as made visible and invisible online.

Everett, Anna, ed. Learning Race and Ethnicity: Youth and Digital Media. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2008.

Fair, R.S. "Becoming the White Man's Indian: An Examination of Native American Tribal Web Sites." Plains Anthropologist 45(172) 2000: 203-13. Interesting analysis of how Native sites sometimes have to mimic stereotypes to get attention.

Flores, Judith. “Latina Testimonios: A Reflexive, Critical Analysis of a 'Latina Space' At a Predominantly White Campus.” Race Ethnicity and Education 12.2 (2009): 155-172.

Foster, Thomas. The Souls of Cyberfolk: Posthumanism as Vernacular Theory. Minnepolis: U Minnesota P, 2005.

Galloway, Alex. Gaming: Essays on Algorithmic Culture. Minnepolis: U Minnesota P, 2006. Argues that racial coding has been built into digital devices and culture in a way that has given the fantasy of race a new ground.

Garrelts, Nate, ed. The Meaning of Race and Culture in 'Grand Theft Auto': Critical Essays. Jefferson, NJ: MacFarland, 2006.

Gerrand, Peter. Cultural Diversity in Cyberspace: Catalan as a Case Study. First Monday (2007).

Gonzalez, Jennifer. "The Appended Subject: Race and Identity as Digital Assemblage” in Beth Kolko, Lisa Nakamura, Gil Rodman, eds., Race in Cyberspace (New York: Routledge, 2000).

---. "The Face and the Public: Race, Secrecy and Digital Art Practice." Camera Obscura70.2-4 (2009): 37-65.

Gordon, Andrew C. et al. "Native American Technology Access: The Gates Foundation in Four Corners," Electronic Library 21(3)

Guichard, Audrey. “Hate Crime in Cyberspace: The Challenges of Substantive Criminal Law.” Information & Communications Technology Law 18.2 (2009): 201-234.

Haas, Angela. “Making Online Spaces More Native for American Indians.” Makes an argument for Native "rhetorical sovereignty" in online worlds.

Hargiittai, Eszter. "The Digital Reproduction of Inequality," in D. Grusky, ed. Social Stratification, Boulder, CO: Westview, 2008.

Higgin, Tanner. "Blackless Fantasy: The Disappearance of Race in MMORPGs.

Ignacio, Emily Noelle. Building Diaspora: Filipino Community Formation on the Internet. Piscatway, NJ: Rutgers UP, 2005.

Klein, Adam. A Space for Hate: The White Power Movement's Adaptation into Cyberspace. Liktwin Books, 2010.

---. "Slipping Racism into the Mainstream: A Theory of Information Laundering." Communication Theory 22.4 (2012): 427-448.

Kolko, Beth E., Lisa Nakamura, and Gilbert B. Rodman, eds. Race in Cyberspace. Routledge, 2000. 
Excellent, still useful early collection.

Landzelius, Kyra, ed. Native on the Net: Indigenous and Diasporic Peoples in the Virtual Age.NY: Routledge, 2006.
 Critical survey of Internet engagement by indigenous people from every continent. Raises key issues about "cultural sovereignty" in an era promoting "universal access."

Lee, R.C and S-L. C. Wong. ed. AsianAmerica.Net: Ethnicity, Nationalism and Cyberspace. NY: Routledge, 2003.

Leonard, David. "High Tech Blackface: Race, Sports Video Games and Becoming the Other." Intelligent Agent 4 (2004):1-5.

---. "Virtual Gangstas, Coming to a Suburban House Near You: Demonization, Commodifcation, and Policing Blackness." In N. Garrelts, ed. The Meaning and Culture of 'Grand Theft Auto.' Jefferson, NC: MacFarland, 2006.

Lewis, Cynthia. “Encoding Youth: Popular Culture and Multicultural Literature in a Rural Context.” Reading Writing Quarterly 24.3 (2008): 283-310.

Lopez, Antonio. "Circling the Cross: Bridging Native America, Education and Digital Media," in Anna Everett, ed Learning Race and Ethnicity: Youth and Digital Media. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2008: 109-128.

McPherson, Tara. Reconstructing Dixie: Race, Gender and Nostalgia in the Imagined South.Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2003. Includes analysis of white power groups online.

Mehra, Bharat. "An AR Manifesto for Cyberculture Power to ‘Marginalized’ Cultures of Difference," in David Silver ed. Critical Cyberbculture Studies. NY: NYU Press, 2006: 205-215.

Mitra, Ananda. "Voices of the Marginalized on the Internet: Examples from a Website for Women of South Asia ." In Pramod K. Nayar, ed. The New Media and Cybercultures Anthology. West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010: 166-182.

Nakamura, Lisa. Cybertypes: Race, Ethnicity, and Identity on the Internet. Routledge, 2002.
Groundbreaking book on the transferral of stereotypes into cybertypes.

---. "Cyberrace." PMLA 123.5 (2008):1673-1682. Surveys a range of approaches to issues of race in digital culture.

---. "Cybertyping and the Work of Race in the Age of Digital Reproduction." In Pramod K. Nayar, ed. The New Media and Cybercultures Anthology. West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010: 132-150.

---. Digitizing Race: Visual Cultures of the Internet. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2007.
Extends the cybertypes analysis to the visual dimensions of the web, focusing especially on Asian/Asian Americans.

---. "Don't Hate the Player, Hate the Game: Racialization of Labor in World of Warcraft. Critical Studies in Media Communication 26.2 (2009):128-144.

Nakamura, Lisa, and Peter Chow-White, eds. Race After the Internet. NY: Routledge, 2011. Offers a range of approaching that get beyond the standard work on the digital divide and stereotyping, to look at issues like data mining, site segregation, and racial coding built into software and hardware.

Nelson, Alondra, and Thuy Lihn N. Tu, with Alicia Headlam Hines, eds. Technicolor: Race Technology, and Everyday Life. NY: New York UP, 2001.
 Traces underacknowledged long history of engagement with digital technologies by people of color.

Never Alone The first Native (Iñupiat) designed and created video game to breakthrough to mainstream success. Will hopefully play a role in lessening Native stereotyping in games. Stunningly beautiful, it also marks an artistic triumph.

Njubi, Francis. "New Media, Old Struggles: Pan Africanism, Anti-Racism and Information Technology." Critical Arts Projects, 2001.

Rajagopal, Indhu and Nis Bojin."Digital Representation: Racism on the World Wide Web." First Monday (October 2002).

Roy, Loriene. and Daivd Raitt. eds. "The Impact of IT on Indigenous Peoples." special issue of Electronic Library 21(5) 2003.

Sandoval, Chela and Guisela Latorre. "Chicana/o Activism: Judy Baca's Digital Worth with Youth of Color," in Anna Everett, ed. Learning Race and Ethnicity: Youth and Digital Media. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2008: 81-108.

Steinfeldt J,, et al. " Racism in the Electronic Age: Role of Online Forums in Expressing Racial Attitudes about American Indians. Cultural Diversity & Ethnic
Minority Psychology
16.3 (2010): 362–371.

Stokes, Carla. “Representin’ in Cyberspace: Sexual Scripts, Self-Definition, and Hip Hop Culture in Black American Adolescent Girls' Home Pages.” Culture, Health & Sexuality 9.2 (2007): 169-184.

Trahant, Mark. "The Power of Stories:: Native Words and Images on the Internet," Native Americas 13(1) 1996: 15-21.

Trepagnier, Barbara. Silent Racism: How Well-Meaning White People Perpetuate the Racial Divide. Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2006.

Turow, Joseph. Niche Envy: Marketing Discrimination in the Digital Age. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2006.

Van Dijk, Jan. The Deepening Divide: Inequality and the Information Age. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2006.

A Web Site with a View: The Third World Special issue of First Monday.

Winant, Howard. The New Politics Of Race: Globalism, Difference, Justice. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota Press, 2004.

Winant, Howard and Omi, Michael. Racial Formation In the United States. NY: Routledge, Third Edition, 2009.

Zickmund, Susan. "Approaching the Radical Other: The Discursive Culture of Cyberhate." in Beth Kolko, Lisa Nakamura, Gil Rodman, eds. Race in Cyberspace New York: Routledge, 2000: 237-253.

[See also the "Race/Ethncity in Games" section of our "Digital Games" page, and "Culture and the Digital Divide" page.]

A Few Online Anti-Racism Resources

  • Anti-Defamation League (anti-semitism)
  • AntiRacist Action
  • Arab American Anti-Defamation Committee
  • European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance
  • Hate Watch
  • Indian Country Today
  • Institute for Race Relations focusing especially on European racism.
  • Making Face/Making Soul: Chicana Feminism
  • Matters of Race based on PBS series.
  • Race: Are We So Different? Site from the American Anthropology Association.
  • Race: Power of an Illusion based on PBS series.
  • Race Forward: The Center Racial Justice Innovation (previously Applied Research Center)
  • Racialicious: Race, Gender and Pop Culture
  • Racism: No Way (Australia)
  • Racism Review
  • Tolerance.org
  • See also our pages on "Digital Gaming" and "Global Cybercultures."