Issues of ethnicity, another important (and perhaps arguably fundamental) aspect of identity, do not solely manifest in online spaces and although their virtual presentation confers a set of challenges that remain unique to that environment, lessons from real life racial politics can still apply.
Before proceeding, it should be noted that I draw distinctions between the terms “ethnicity” and “race,” although they are often used interchangeably in literature and vernacular. A result of my background in Biology, I conceptualize race in terms of biologically derived aspects like skin color while I define ethnicity as comprising of cultural elements that include locale, religious practices, and/or traditions (i.e., the physical layer versus the social layer). Given this schema and their dependence on the presentation of physical traits, online issues of racial identity, then, might be different in MUDs/MOOs and MMORPGs, as the latter potentially possesses fewer graphical constraints. Defining oneself as “African American,” for example, has different consequences in the various constructs considering the available resources available to players to create such an identity—given a lack of appropriate visual cues, using “African American” in a MOO might be interpreted as racial or ethnic identity (or, more likely, as a confluence of both), presenting an ambiguity that a visualized avatar does not.
Yet, regardless of our individual definitions of “race” and “ethnicity,” we can examine some of the various real world strategies employed to mediate racial differences in order to obtain overarching lessons and warnings. Looking at metaphors for ethnic diversity in the real world, we often hear the term “colorblind,” indicating that a subject (e.g., a person, a group, or an institution) professes not to see the differences presented by various racial groups. Although a good-hearted gesture, “colorblind” and the related concept of “melting pot” ultimately serve to essentially erase the notion of race by subsuming all individuals into the dominant racial or ethnic group; we no longer see color because we are all the same color. A much more difficult model has been introduced and labeled as the “fruit salad,” which attempts to encapsulate the idea that each ethnicity brings something different to the mix and that the final product should celebrate these differences. Translating this to the online sphere, it seems only prudent to encourage individuals to understand their virtual ecology, respecting the various niches and roles that other users might fulfill or perform.
The big brouhaha this week seemed to be over a new paper published by Benjamin Edlemen called “Red Light States: Who Buys Online Adult Entertainment?” While I think that the paper is somewhat interesting, I think that a lot of media outlets have put it somewhat out of context in an effort to go after Conservatives.
Never in my life did I think I would be defending Red States, but there you go.
I do feel as though the paper is worth reading if you’re into that sort of stuff–it is a research paper first and foremost, however, so be prepared to wade through a bunch of dense data. I still have my doubts about how the information is being used and construed, but that’s another rant for another day.
As I sat in bed reading the paper over, however, I couldn’t help but marvel at how difficult it was to make sense of the words that were in front of me. In college, I was trained how to quickly digest papers and reports (and luckily still retain some of that knowledge), but it became readily apparent that this was just another example of how statistics can be used to suit one’s ends—the numbers are malleable and it seems all too easy to twist them into the right context with barely a flick of a wrist.
And herein lies the trouble. The text on the page represents facts but their implied meaning of the print does not.
I could spend hours talking about how and why statistics are used to fool people but the most important thing is that statistics can mislead people (normal, smart people!) awry. Lawyers use numbers and situations to fool juries, advertisements make slanted claims, and health education will often use the set of measures that suits their particular stance or goal—it’s all the same really, groups are trying to elicit a desired response out of a set of consumers.
Now, I’m not a total cynic or conspiracy theorist, but I do believe that the public should possess a healthy amount of skepticism about the things that they read. Don’t be afraid to challenge information and to get the facts in order to make up your own minds. One of my goals through these entries is to get young people to not only think critically about the choices that they make, but also ensure that they have the ability to make informed decisions. Reading things like the Edlemen publication can be tough at times, but stick with them, because the choices that you make regarding sexual health will have an impact on others but also undoubtedly on your own. While my editor might disagree with this, I would say that you shouldn’t hesitate to check out the website’s citations and sources—I’m confident that we’ll stand up to the scrutiny. I think that at the end of the day, we all want you to get the best information that you can so that you can feel confident about making choices that are right for you.