Unity and Hypocrisy: The Two Faces of the Internet

The topic of class this week’s class discussions, “Performing Identities: Race, Ethnicity, and Class”, and how it relates to online communities, fascinates me. The internet is, arguably, one of the greatest human creations of all time. It holds the entirety of our existence- all the knowledge that ever was, is currently, and ever can, and will, be. It is able to bring together people from all across the globe, theoretically expanding our knowledge and understanding of new cultures and ways of life. It was, at one point in time, the great hope of world peace.

Enter the trolls.

You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have the facts of life, the facts of life. Are those silly lyrics from a 1980’s TV sitcom? Yes. But, I feel that it reflects well on the internet as it is today. For every beautiful aspect about the internet, there is an negative one. For every TED talk, a video of a teenager getting hit with a bat on purpose; for every reflective and insightful blog entry, a Perez Hilton post. It’s the nature of human existence- for every action, an equal and opposite reaction. The fascinating thing, to me, is that this exists even in the incredibly narrow niche communities on the web as well.

I happened across an interesting article on xojane titled I’m A Black Female Cosplayer and Some People Hate It. In the article, author Chaka Cumberbatch speaks about the racist and pseudo-openminded responses to this picture of her dressed as Sailor Venus from the anime series “Sailor Moon”:

Image

An African-American dressed as a character from a Japanese cartoon! The audacity, right?!

Well, yes, according to some people. She writes about some of the pretty despicable comments people have made about her/the picture on tumblr, blogs, etc. It’s here that I find myself interested. Speaking in very broad terms, cosplayers and anime fandom are still seen as “nerdy” and a part of fringe sub-cultures. All it takes is a trip to Google or Reddit and you’ll find both positive and negative reactions to these communities. It’s interesting, then, that even in a community that is looked “down” upon by the larger population there exists trivial divides regarding identity.

Our readings this week spoke about racial and educational divides in social media. The real world reflecting in on the digital world. Cumberbatch references a few specific quotes that are quite despicable; “For a black cosplayer (not to be racist) she did an amazing job!”, “Sailor Venus Williams”, her wig being ghetto (Personally, I despise that phrase). It’s interesting, though, that the same phrase was used to describe MySpace in the Watkins article. Keep in mind that the person using that phrase is describing a SNS that is populated with more Latinos, African-American, and Asian users than White.

Perhaps I am reading into these statements too deeply (I am a grad student, after all). However, I feel it must be brought to attention that, even in this very narrow, niche world online, people still have expectations about race and ethnicity. The assertion (and I use that term loosely) that White people are the best at everything, and every other race or ethnicity can only attempt to be as good as them. The idea that there has to be a separation in what different races can, and more importantly can not, do. The idea that there is a right, and a wrong, in terms of racial identity in both the real and digital worlds.

The realm of infinite wisdom has become a safe haven for bigotry and obtuse opinions. Or maybe it’s just an envelope-pushing joke.  What do you think, classmates? Is the internet really a reflection of the greater society at large, even within it’s niche communities? Or is it an anomaly of society?

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