E-Racism: SXSW Panel Examines Prejudice in Online Gaming

Racism is everywhere -- including virtual communities on the Internet. A panel at the SXSW Interactive conference in Austin, Texas, examines the changing nature of online racial identity.

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"Another said 'Great, they are gonna invade SL now.' " [...]

She spent three months in the skin of a black woman. Some of her friends shied away, she believes. Then there were the "guys that thought I was an easy lay, for lack of a better term. It scared me honestly, some of the assumptions made. Especially here where everything [in avatar appearance] is changeable with a click [...]

She's since told some of her black friends about her experience in Midnight's skin. "And they were not surprised at how I was treated, at all." As it happened, some of them are also Residents of Second Life, and play as white avatars. "Some [of them] because there were no good black skins available," she explains. "Others because they felt more accepted that way."

Au also noted that many African-American Second Life players often practice virtual skin lightening. While many Second Life players have the ability to look completely like or unlike their real-world selves, many black players find the racism and discrimination too much to deal with in both the online and offline worlds. Therefore, these players try to strike a color compromise: Au explained that some African-American users will choose a skin that looks more "Latino" -- still identifiably brown, but lighter-skinned -- in an attempt to lessen the discrimination.

The 5 Faces of Online Racism

While discrimination in Second Life may not seem like a big deal, Nakamura outlined the five types of online racism -- noting that these things are not so different from "plain old racism" (which she abbreviates as POR), but have an online-specific component. She identified the following five styles of online racism: 

* Visual profiling of users

* Voice profiling of users

* Racism against avatars

* Identity tourism: racism using avatars