Experiment in Avatar Race Provokes Prejudice, Acceptance
Years ago I wrote about a woman who learned many things when she changed her Second Life avatar's race, and recently, a reader shared his own experiments with racial prejudice and acceptance, when he went in-world as an avatar who was black and then Asian, and found out how things changed, when others saw him that way. And since this is Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday, I wanted to share the experiences of Quark Static and his alt Zandor Wizardly, as recounted by their owner:
"I have been in SL for over four years now. My original avatar looks like a long-haired blonde biker, kind of an idealized version of a biker fantasy I had when younger. I noticed there were few black avatars on SL, and I had noticed some being treated badly. So as a social experiment, I created an alternate avatar that was black, with a different name. I sent him to the same place my white avatar lived and interacted with a lot of the same people. In some ways it was very revealing about some of the people I knew...
"Some of the friends of my white avatar flat out ignored me, not answering back when I chatted with them. I am happy to say that this was the exception to the rule, as most of my white avatar's friends talked to the new black guy (nobody knew my dual identity) and were friendly and natural. Some of my close SL friends resided in other countries, like England, Germany, Spain and Brazil, so this might have been a factor, but not a main one. The friends who wouldn't talk to my black avatar are no longer my friends, as I do not like or tolerate racist behavior of any kind. To those who treated my alt badly, I revealed who I was and then stopped talking to them, ignoring their chats.
"As my social experiment progressed, I found some surprising things. A lot of white female avatars were seemingly attracted to me. It made me wonder... was it my personality coming through, since I made no effort to act or talk differently to anyone, being my normal nice, polite self, respectful to all, not ‘hitting on’ women? Or was it perhaps that some women found it safe to ‘experiment’ with talking to and dancing with a black man in a virtual environment?
“After being anonymous for months, I revealed my dual identity to most of my friends, both ways. Some friends had only known one or the other, but most had met both. I told friends of the white avatar that I was also the black one, and friends of the black avatar that I was also the white one. I felt that I had chosen good friends, as nobody seemed to be upset about the situation. I was surprised that some of the female friends of the black avatar seemed a little disappointed that I was really white.
"There was a next part to my social experiment, I made an avatar with a Korean skin and a Chinese name. I had to file some abuse reports the first day he was created. Some people were extremely racist and rude to him. I got far more negative reactions than with the black avatar, to my surprise. Sending him around to the friends of both my other black and white avatars again firmed up my idea that I had chosen my friends well. My good friends treated the new guy no differently, without me revealing my real identity. I think this made me feel better about the world, in my experience of being accepted for how I acted and spoke, not what my appearance was.
"Even though I expected to be treated differently, for the major part I wasn't. Would my experiences be different if I didn't act the same as my normal self, and maybe chatted in some overblown stereotypical slang? In my opinion, it probably would, but to chat like that would be racist on my part, and fake, and I would expect it to skew the results. I will continue to use different avatars and send them to different places and meet new people, but I don't expect to see them treated badly like I did in the beginning."
Partially edited for length and clarity. Read the full comment by Garry here. (Avatar images courtesy him.)Tweet