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Writer considers race in cyberspace

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Though writing about what participation in the Internet means is developing, it is still in its childhood. About ten years after non-academic, non-journalist Americans discovered the World Wide Web, perhaps 25 books that are worthy of being considered serious scholarship about life on the Net exist. To a list that includes classics such as Silicon Snake Oil, I am adding Race in Cyberspace. The book is the first to attempt to delineate how race, and sometimes gender, is rendered and received in virtuosity. It is a collection of essays about different aspects of race and the Web gathered from academics. The glue that holds the anthology together is that each paper was required to meet the one requirement of discussing race and life on the Net in some way. Because of the broad range of topics discussed, individual contributors deserve attention.

Among them is Tara McPherson, an Assistant Professor of Critical Studies in the Film School at the University of Southern California. McPherson wrote one of the most striking essays in the book, “I’ll Take My Stand in Dixie-Net: White Guys, the South, and Cyberspace.” As some of you know, I’ve long been a monitor of white supremacist hate groups, including the neo-Confederate movement. McPherson’s is one of the first academic papers to delve into the Internet world of the virtually reconstructed Old South. The neo-Confederate movement, though grounded in wish fulfillment, plays an important role in American politics, especially in the South. There its members have caused the defeat of governors and is currently preventing the National Park Service from adding sites that served the freed slaves to its itinerary. McPherson does not explore the connection between neo-Confederate activity on and off line in her short article. However, she does bring the movement into the spotlight, and, provides some useful observations about it and the treatment of race on the Internet.

Early theorists of the Internet posited that being online allows people to remove themselves from ‘place’ in a geographic sense, and, allows them to develop broader personas or even multiple personalities. Neo-Confederates online do quite the opposite. McPherson realizes that neorebels online are engaged in constructing a very specific place, a South where white men of their type reign, much as the pre-bellum Southern aristocracy did. Nor are they interested in multiplicity of identity. Instead, they seek to structure a very narrow identity that embraces a phantasmagoric perspective of history. That identity is pretty exclusively white and male. Cybertheory has also focused on being online as play. That viewpoint grew out of the use of the Net by gamers. It is said that the ‘playfulness’ has carried over into other online communities. McPherson notes, accurately, that there is nothing playful about the neorebel sites. The advocates for overturning Reconstruction behave as if their lives, or at least their idealized sense of self, is at stake.

I believe McPherson overstates the covertness of racism in cyber Dixie. Perhaps the rhetoric has become less subtle as the real life neo-Confederate movement has split into at least two factions, which was happening as Race in Cyberspace went to press in 2000. Though they attempt to be crafty, the secessionists at the League of the South and the Council of the Conservative Citizens no longer make much effort to disguise their white supremacist beliefs. And, tellingly, mutual membership among those two organizations and the Sons of Confederate Veterans, which tries to market itself as more moderate, has increased. The leaders of the SCV are also the leaders of the LOL and CCC. Meanwhile, ‘heritage’ advocates who prefer to stick to decorating Confederate graves or who, mistakenly, try to paint the Confederacy as multiracial, are heard from less and less.

McPherson has observed “the faith in colorlessness is one of the great racist conspiracies of the late twentieth century, and a vision of a raceless future is a racist future.” I believe that insight applies particularly well to the part of the Internet we call the blogosphere.

Race is largely a subject not to be discussed in the blogosphere unless two requirements are met.

It must be in terms with which Right Wing commentators are comfortable. An example would be Dean Esmay‘s White Citizens Council -like pronouncements about racial issues. For example, he claimed that segregationist politician Strom Thurmond‘s treatment of his biracial daughter, Essie Mae Washington was “good.” Thurmond disowned his daughter for decades, but sent her small amounts of hush money. Only someone to whom horrid treatment of African-Americans is just fine would Thurmond’s treatment of Washington be good.

It must be in terms that allow white ‘liberals,’ to cast themselves as the persons most capable of understanding race. Unfortunately, many of those same ‘liberals’ are a stone’s throw from being overt racists themselves.

You will notice that no ‘space’ is left here for bloggers of color to do much expressing of thoughts about race themselves. That is intentional. As McPherson observes, not allowing discussion of race is in itself a form of racism. Since racism has played such an important role in the development of American society, it is the default setting. When voices that would interrogate racist assumptions are silenced, those assumptions carry the day.

Race in Cyberspace appeared before weblogs had any appreciable presence. But, I believe the cybertheories discussed by its authors are relevant to the blogosphere. Future writing about race in cyberspace will be enriched when the insights of bloggers unafraid to discuss issues of race are added to the mixture.

Note: This entry also appeared at Mac-a-ro-nies.

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About The Diva

  • Fortunately, bullsh!t about race and class not being issues in regard to the Internet and cyberspace is not carrying the day with agenda setters and/or academics. The Digital Divide and the fact that the Net has become a major recruiting ground for white supremacists are being vetted and written about by people who are interested in reality. Neither the platitudes of the stupid nor the senile mumblings of elderly White Citizens Council types are likely to halt that development. I’m all for it. Better to understand what is going on than to dwell in ignorance.

    Chris (Kent) there are layers and layers to issues of race and class in the United States. Fortunately, more people are learning about them in high school and college or through their exposure to culture. As much as people in the blogosphere tout themselves, I suspect reading one of Alice Walker’s novels, taking in a play by August Wilson or watching a Spike Lee ‘joint,’ is more likely to get a person really thinking about the impact of race on people’s lives than anything on the Net. Art, done well, brings issues home to people so much better.

  • sheri

    Well put Shark.

  • Shark

    What’s ironic is that the internet is the one place on earth where race is irrelevant.

    Yet people like McD drag “race” around on their digital sleeves because they can’t live without their eternal crutch of imaginary victimhood.

    YOU HAVE NO RACE “IN HERE”, MACDIVA, but don’t let that fact force you to develop some HUMAN character other than your poor, poor pitiful mixed race indian black sufferin’ soul sister ACT.

  • Shark

    “the faith in colorlessness is one of the great racist conspiracies of the late twentieth century, and a vision of a raceless future is a racist future.”

    Down the rabbit hole
    Through the looking glass.

    Curiouser and curiouser.

    This shit is just so fucking wrong, you have to avert your eyes.

    BEST LINE: “I will be preparing more of my own writing for inclusion in the oeuvre.”

    You might want to learn how to write better opening lines than:

    “Though writing about what participation in the Internet means is developing, it is still in its childhood.”

    This convoluted mess has the rhythmic flow of a three-legged elephant falling down a flight of stairs.

  • sheri

    I am having a Little Red Riding Hood moment.

  • Chris Kent

    It’s an interesting point MD, and one I have never considered. Thanks for the info…..you’ve been helpful.

  • joni

    (Laughing) Now there’s an idea! Go watch a Spike Lee movie and learn about life.

    Give me a frickin break. Neither of you has any clue of what you’re talking about. Like I said “oxyMORONS.”

  • If I had had children when I was married, I would have reared them with a knowledge that white supremacy is wrong, no matter who is espousing it. My husband wanted any offspring to be reared as secular Jews, which was fine with me because I am not religious. My longterm significant other was Irish-American. Since that is a group that often has some very deep racist attitudes, I don’t know how well any children we had would have identiifed with it. My mixed race children would know that, regardless of how they look, they have Native American and West African ancestry and there is nothing wrong with that.

    What happens in too many multiracial households is that the children are told they are better than children of color who have two parents who are full nonwhite or mixed. Having a white parent is supposed to ‘elevate’ them. So, they learn to hate other people of color and themselves for not being white. Even within the family, there will be a pecking order based on color, hair texture and features. Light skinned blacks and Hispanics, more white looking hapas (part Asian) or mixed NAs will consider those less obviously mixed their inferiors. It is an incredible mess that should not be under rug swept any longer.

  • Chris Kent

    I’ve seen all of Spike Lee’s work except one or two films – School Daze being one of them…..I shall check it out. Thanks for the Thurman recommendation too……

    I have encountered certain issues lately first-hand, and have had to take certain factors into account…..my reactions alone have made me realize my background…..so your post was interesting…..

  • Chris (Kent) I thought of some sources you might want to check out on multiracialism/colorism. Spike Lee’s move “School Daze” is a fairly good treatment of the topic. For an introduction in literature, I recommend Wallace Thurman’s The Blacker the Berry. Here is an entry about racism within minority groups I wrote and several other bloggers picked up. (Yes, the situation has gotten so bad there are lawsuits about it.) I assume you are already familiar with the overly melodramatic “Imitation of Life,” which is about the topic, too.

    There is considerable denial about this very real issue among people of color. However, I believe the two comments above are more just examples of how rather dim people ‘think.’ They don’t.

  • Chris Kent

    The only reason one would ever react with such anger as the two of you have could only be because MD has struck a chord….Sheesh, she makes an interesting point. Just because you have to think is no reason to get pissed….

    I would like to think most multiracial couples are formed out of love, but it is a mistake to raise a child as one race rather than another. Certainly couples would need to take this into account, and I would hope most do. As a Caucasian, I only see things from my perspective…….but what would be the proper way to raise a biracial child?

    I would think to teach the child the beauty of both cultures, and to respect both cultures……Such a task would have complications….though would not a child naturally absorb from both cultures just through natural learning? Environment the child was raised (neighborhood, city, social status) would also appear to be a factor….

  • joni

    (Snicker), MD your piffle is an oxyMORON. It’s called LOVE dear. Love is colorblind, but obviously that is something beyond your grasp. You are delusional and so full of hate I pity you. I can’t believe that I wasted my time reading this bunk.

  • sheri

    After your espousing of a socialist manifesto, in your other post, one in which it is obvious that your agenda is hatred and bigotry towards whites damn if their poor, I don’t care what or who you are, nor am I interested in anything else you have to say.

  • Spare me, Sheri. I believe you’re mixed-race, part Indian like me. If so, you have seen what I mean. That whole ‘if you’re white you’re right” house of cards has to go. No ‘race’ is better than any other.

  • sheri

    ” they don’t want their non-European ancestory to be considered ”

    I did not know it could be stacked this high.

  • I am so-called multiracial. But, the ‘movement’ is a keg of very nasty fish. Its leading proponent is Ward Connerly, a mixed-race man who has hated the nonwhite parts of his ancestry all his life. He has been funded by the far Right to make attacks on various laws that seek to help close the gaps in education, income and employment for people of color. His sponsors are the Pioneer, Bradley and Olin foundations, which have long funded the racist eugenics movement. And, as is often the case with his sort, Connerly’s own ‘success’ was the result of affirmative action.

    The problems related to multiracism among people of color go back centuries. Often, the offspring of white men and women of color were treated better than those of fully nonwhite couples. So, Africans, Asians and Native Americans sometimes came to prefer white people as progenitors of their children. They believe white people are ‘better.’ Currently, some, but not most, multiracials identify with whites, seeking to deemphasize their nonwhiteness. A typical gambit of such people is to screech about ‘colorblindness.’ What they mean is that they don’t want their non-European ancestry to be considered, i.e., they want to be white.

    I got fed up wannabe white folks years ago. Their main claim — that mixed people should be considered white — reeks of white supremacy. Fortunately, most people of color thoroughly reject where they are coming from or we would spend most our time wishing away the tan in our skin or the fold around our eye the way they do.

  • Chris Kent


    What is the “multiracial movement,” and if two people fall in love from different races, are they simply to ignore that love because the movement is supposedly wrong?

    Why would anyone reject a “multiracial movement?”

  • Joni, believe it or not, there is a world bigger than your family, and it is not colorblind. Neither are most mixed families, or there would not be so much colorism within them. People with ignorant attitudes like yours are the reason I emphatically reject the so-called multiracial movement.

  • joni

    “the faith in colorlessness is one of the great racist conspiracies of the late twentieth century, and a vision of a raceless future is a racist future.”

    I belong to a multi-race family and we are colorblind. I would like to know if the writers of this poppycock belong to racially ‘pure’ or ‘mixed’ families. If it is the former rather than the latter then I suggest keeping to subjects they are more familiar.

  • Chris

    Unless I got an alter ego recently, I am just plain old Chris, not this Kent fellow.

    Just makin’ an observation, I ain’t mouthing the words of Dr. King, whom I hold in high respect, merely restating what I thought was his goal. I could be wrong though, and often am.

    It could be that colorblindness will never be achieved, on an individual level, but I happen to think we have made long strides as a society to achieve neutrality in terms of color.


  • Chris (Kent) too often ‘color-blind’ is equivalent to the Nixonian phrase ‘benign neglect.’ It is used as a way to demand continuing the status quo. If ‘race,’ ethnicity and class are ignored, then the people still suffering all the problems of discrimination can be ignored, too. That is why one hears the far Right mouthing Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words these days — to totally misinterpret what he meant and try to spread the misinterpretation. The man wasn’t remotely in favor of maintaining the status quo — except for who could eat at Woolworth’s. Not at all. There could not be a more gross misinterpretation. I believe most prominent thinkers about real social, economic and political equality would agree with McPherson emphatically. Randall Kennedy, Belle Hooks, Lani Guinier, etc., have been thinking the same thing for years.

    I find the way the neo-Confederate movement contravenes theory about life in cyberspace by:

    *Defining a static (albeit unreal) place,

    *Refusing multiplicity of identity,

    *Rejecting play as an important part of being online

    intriguing and will be exploring the ideas further.

    The fact that academia is paying more attention to cultural aspects of cyberspace is also heartening. I will be preparing more of my own writing for inclusion in the oeuvre.

  • Chris

    Someone finally admitted it though, Dr. King’s vision is dead, long live the King.

    McPherson has observed “the faith in colorlessness is one of the great racist conspiracies of the late twentieth century, and a vision of a raceless future is a racist future.” I believe that insight applies particularly well to the part of the Internet we call the blogosphere.

  • Ah yes, I speak Orwell’s Newspeak fluently, so I understand perfectly when black demagogues say something obviously directly fallacious by definition like:

    “the faith in colorlessness is one of the great racist conspiracies of the late twentieth century, and a vision of a raceless future is a racist future.”

    Also, remember to add something like ‘School choice is Jim Crow’

    And remember, as always

    War is peace.
    Freedom is slavery.

    Beyond that Orwellian NONSENSE, your supposed two rules about discussing race on the net are nonsense. You just made those up.

    Black folks have every right to say their piece. No one has any significant censorship ability to stop you, nor do they want to.

    In fact, the constrictions about discussing race in cyberspace in my personal experience (which I recognize may not be universal) run quite the opposite. I’m no kind of white supremicist, but any kind of of dissent from the furthest left wing racial orthodoxy will result in vicious denunciations.

    I’ve grown accustomed to fools calling me a Kluxer and a Nazi and everything else for the least infraction against racial orthodoxy, or just for not hating the right person. I’ve seen several people here at Blogcritics invest significant effort not in countering an argument I’ve made, but in trying to damage my very name, to blacken my reputation by direct libel.

    But that’s alright, you keep right on with your racial schtick. It’s at least a good 40 years out of any actual contact with reality, but if you believe REAL HARD in the Kluxers behind every bush they will be real- if only in your own mind.

  • Chris Kent

    A great post MD. Some interesting points made here.

    “the faith in colorlessness is one of the great racist conspiracies of the late twentieth century, and a vision of a raceless future is a racist future.”

    I have never heard this opinion before, but I can see why someone would come to this conclusion. I am still not convinced Neo-Confederates are lurking around every corner, though I’ve noticed there are quite a few idiots on every corner. To try and argue with them leads to blind fucking madness….

    I see your side a little more than I once did, and it can be scary….