I was just chatting with a graduate student whose thesis revolves around Second Life, and she brought up an interesting point: There seems to be few academic studies on race and avatars in Second Life. "I think it is fair to say that in general there is a huge gap in the literature," as Karley Aiken, an MA candidate at San Francisco State University, put it to me. "[M]y initial search found very few results, leading me to assess that there is a huge gap in the literature. One would expect that, given the amount of literature dedicated to sex and gender within Second Life, there would be a comparative amount of research on race and the dynamics of race and ethnicity. But it's missing."
While searching, she often instead found New World Notes posts on race, like this classic about a white woman who experienced Second Life as a black avatar. And to be honest, after writing anecdotal posts like that, I expected (and hoped) academics would run with the topic in a more rigorous way. And maybe we're just not looking in the right places, but evidently, studies like that are scarce.
So help us out, virtual world/gaming academics: Have you come across papers like this?