If you aren't black, the luxury of throwing on a black skin and playing black should make you think about why you want to do that. Do you know black peoples IRL? Do you think they would be ok with what you do in SL? Do you actively call out the racist thoughts and behavior people have towards a black person, or do you just [say] "LOL I'm white"? Do you think it's cool to be black, but IRL you engage in black shaming, like saying things are "ghetto" or "hood"?
In virtual worlds and MMOs where most aspects of avatar appearance can be instantly changed by a few button clicks -- including gender and skin tone -- do we leave our real world attributes and preferences behind? After noting that avatars with lighter skin seem to get more likes than darker ones on Flickr, I enlisted the help of Mandy Smith, a popular SL fashion photographer on Flickr, to take two photos of the same avatar in the same pose in the same location, with the only difference being her skin tone...
Lee gathered 56 study participants — half identifying as white and half identifying as black. She then had them read a fabricated magazine story titled “Meet the Coolest ‘Second Life’ Residents.” The eight “Second Life” avatars profiled in the story were either all white, in the low-diversity scenario, or an equal mix of white, black, Hispanic and Asian, in the high-diversity scenario. She then had them perform two tasks: Create and customize their own virtual avatars, and rate their willingness to reveal their real racial identity through the appearance of their virtual avatar. She found that black participants reported less willingness in the low-diversity scenario, and that they also created whiter avatars, as judged by objective raters.
Three classics after the break:
"See, here's the anxiety: there's two schools of thought in Second Life. One is, leave all problems of real life outside; this is a game. The other is, let's look at the interesting way real life issues play out in a virtual environment. "So it's really an interesting question, and I don't know even after discussing it with you, where I stand on this... I mean, it's like being something you can hide, and never having to admit to. But it's still there for you -- so now I know how it feels to be something you can hide, but still having the compulsion or desire to be open about it. "The folks that want to leave real life issues out, may feel that simply by disclosing my race, I've brought the ugly issue of race in Second Life. And what I can't answer for sure, one way or other, is if they are correct. Is race here, if no one admits to any race? Do I create race issues by claiming race?"
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. I lost a couple of what I thought were good friends [who] stopped IMing and chatting. They were polite to a fault when I showed up, but [it] was weird. You know how you interact and something changes and no one tells you. Some were subtle, some weren't." She laughs without mirth, recalling how some friends would ask her questions such as, "'[L]ike, when you going back to being you?'"
In honor of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., a special sun is made to arc across the grid of Second Life today. If you look close enough, you'll see it's inset with the face of the man who was so untimely cut down, when far too much of his work remained. In his country, the world beyond, and, perhaps, in worlds he never could have imagined. And in this way, Dr. King literally shines down on an empty field, where once the forces of division made a bid to establish themselves. But I wonder what he'd make of the subsequent reaction, from high-minded words and protest, to decidedly violent uncivil disobedience. As for Front National, though they're gone from the land of Porcupine, they claim to be unphased. "They're a bunch of losers," FN Officer Wolfram Hayek tells me grinning, when I ask about the protesters. "We're gonna tighten security and come back."
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