Whether the Internet should be treated as a raceless domain is still a question that is intensely debated today. Many individuals speak of the Internet as a place without judgment, a territory without stereotypes, and a safe haven without discrimination; however, the online behaviors of the people who are proposing these claims are entirely hypocritical. On one hand, social networking participants of the same race “object to the notion that they can be reduced to shared… racial or ethnic characteristics,” calling attention to the “diversity of personalities, appearances, and interests” within their group instead (Byrne 18). On the other hand, other participants actually “play active roles in reinforcing some of” the ideas behind a racially divided internet, as they often demonstrate – and demand of their fellow group members – very definitive characteristics of being “Asian, black, or Latino,” including familiarity of the group’s history, ability to speak the language, or even acceptance of their distinct beliefs (Byrne 30). This conflict has only created a façade of openness to other ethnicities while merely increasing the exclusivity of certain internet populations. How then should we actually view the web? Should there be limits to prevent the perpetuation of racial stereotypes on the Internet? And if so, why is it that the vast majority of internet users find it so easy and so natural to continue doing just that? It is in these cases that one realizes that “the dissolution of racial identification in cyberspace is neither possible nor desirable” – rather, this may just be how humans beings are (Byrne 15). Or is it?
To be instantly stereotyped, and then subsequently discriminated against is never a pleasant experience; it is even less so when the mere color of one’s skin turns what could have been an insightful and otherwise enjoyable interaction into one full of hurt feelings. However, the harder one tries to avoid the racial labeling that still persists in the 21st century, the more it seems to show up. Even Google, what many would consider as one of the most reliable and objective search engines, has played its role in perpetuating racial stereotypes, as seen below (Jones, “Google: A Stereotype”).
Fortunately, with the advent of social networking and an increase in the number of active internet users speaking out against this issue, more and more people are questioning the “connection between country and culture or skin color, personality, and intelligence” (Byrne 18). Instead of poking fun at the idea that all Asians are nerds, the Internet now increasingly denounces such assumptions. Instead of laughing at the notion that all Latinos are illegal immigrants, the Internet now increasingly rejects such beliefs. And instead of accepting the stereotype that all Blacks are uneducated, the Internet now increasingly criticizes such ignorance. Indeed, it has become almost commonplace for outspoken individuals to point out both the “richness of… racial identification but also its potential inadequateness” (Byrne 18). A striking post by labellalatina1001 on the site, MiGente, perfectly reflects this sentiment:
“It seems every other day I get that annoying question: ‘What are you?’ Well, human of course. My nationality? Well, American, born and raised. ‘No, I mean, really, what are you?’ What question is really being asked here?” (Byrne 30).
The Internet is slowly combating the racial stereotypes that have been ingrained within society, gradually breaking down the restrictions that the Internet has previously used to wrongly identify and separate different ethnic groups. Indeed, by understanding how the small half-truths from various cultures have grown into the far-fetched identities that are used to label individuals on the basis of skin color, one can eventually learn to be more open-minded. Thus, with the hope of a more tolerant future, perhaps the Internet will finally be able to see past the superficial characteristics that come with the concept of race to instead acknowledge the value of the individual inside.
Although there has been a continuous move against racial stereotyping, it seems that a large majority of the same Internet participants are also promoting the opposite, choosing instead to congregate in groups of the same race and attempting to discourage “outside” influence. These communities have developed into large race-based sites online, the most prominent including AsianAvenue, BlackPlanet, and MiGente (Zhao, “Ethnic Social Networking Sites”). But why? Why do people so consistently require these types of groups to socialize in? How do members of these sites reconcile their resentment towards racial stereotyping with their racial exclusivity? More importantly, what makes them so quick to dismiss others with the very stereotypes they just preached against?
For better or for worse, this type of behavior is actually not altogether surprising. People tend to congregate with those they feel the most comfortable out of a shared sense of understanding, yet what makes this problematic is that while doing so, these individuals are also labeling others in order to either accept them or reject them. Indeed, “our minds are hard-wired to categorize information and create mental shortcuts” (Jacobs, “How Stereotypes Take Shape”). This biological process that we as humans depend on, is what eventually causes “nuances and complications…to be discarded,” leading to “shorthand thinking” that unknowingly “label[s] all, or most, members of a particular ethnic group” (Jacobs, “How Stereotypes Take Shape”). As David Brooks of the Atlantic so aptly put it, “we all pay lip service to the melting pot, but we really prefer the congealing pot” (Brooks, “People like Us”).
Knowing that segregation is such a natural occurrence, it is difficult to blame just anyone for being ignorant. With that said, the question of whether or not it is okay to use race as an identifier remains a prevalent issue to be addressed. How then should racial stereotyping be treated on the web? Should something be done to either promote or limit the use of race as an identifier? And whichever direction one may support, why is that that “direction” is more correct over the other? The truth of the matter is, there may never be an adequate answer to satisfy everyone on this issue. So long as people understand what is happening and how they should appropriately act and react, then there may just be some progress towards a more cohesive Internet community.
Brooks, David. “People like Us.” Atlantic Sept. 2003: 29-32. The Atlantic Monthly. Web. 3 Oct. 2014. <http://www.theatlantic.com/past/docs/issues/2003/09/brooks.htm>.
Byrne, Dara N. The Future of “Race”: Identity, Discourse, and the Rise of Computer-mediated Public Spheres. Ed. Anna Everett. Cambridge, MA: MIT P., 2008. Print.
Fontaine, Smokey. “What Is BlackPlanet, Really?” The Urban Daily. Interactive One, 24 Nov. 2008. Web. 4 Oct. 2014. <http://theurbandaily.com/2008/11/24/what-is-blackplanet-really>.
Jacobs, Tom. “How Stereotypes Take Shape.” Pacific Standard: The Science of Society: n. pag. Pacific Standard: The Science of Society. Web. 3 Oct. 2014. <http://www.psmag.com/navigation/health-and-behavior/knowledge-process-information-scotland-stereotypes-take-shape-86697/>.
Jones, Tiffany. “Google: A Stereotype.” WordPress.com. Automattic, 2 Dec. 2009. Web. 4 Oct. 2014. <http://mulattodiaries.com/tag/racial-stereotypes/>.
Zhao, Qilan. “Ethnic Social Networking Sites.” Masters of Media: New Media and Digital Culture. N.p., 4 Nov. 2007. Web. 4 Oct. 2014. <http://mastersofmedia.hum.uva.nl/2007/11/04/the-surplus-of-ethnic-social-networking-sites/>.