Location: Student WikiIn 2006, when I began reading about Second Life, a random Google search turned up "The Skin You're In," the tale of Erika Thereian's time as a black woman instead of a blond. She received lots of harsh treatment, including racial slurs, and was even snubbed by friends.To see if things have changed in nearly three years, my writing students recently spent a week as another race or gender (in some cases, both). Here are a few standout posts, with links to the students' project pages in the class wiki. One tentative claim stands out from several students' projects: newness to SL and the degree of customization, more than any racial or ethnic characteristic, get an avatar accepted or snubbed.For Rae Belgar, switching race to a tall, dark-skinned woman led to little attention of any sort, Once she clad the same avatar in a sari, however, compliments and attention came her way. Rae feels that her newness of and lack of customization, rather than any racial trait, led others to ignore or notice her. Other students' experience supported Rae's hypothesis.When Deklin Windlow became a black man, he did not receive negative attention, though in many cases he got no attention at all in places where his white male avatar had been noticed. At the Public Orientation Island a group of older avatars, including some hero in a Batman costume, simply walked away when Deklin asked for assistance.What VinceGold Rexen found as a black man resembled Deklin's experience, yet VinceGold finally was able to crack the wall of silence at both the Ahern Welcome Area and a store that sells avatar shapes and skins. A group of experienced residents provided this advice, after learning about the race-switch project:"They told me many stories of how at first they were ignored by other residents or had even outright insulting things said to them, but that I should not take these isolated incidents to be representative of everyone in SL. They actually encouraged me to meet as many other avatars as I could and to not be judgmental of anyone I meet."I caution writers from jumping to conclusions, preferring that they crawl to them after many observations. We need to continue this experiment, especially since Kiaarra Karillion, whose avatar is normally a black female, found that "with my African-American avatar, I rarely was offered packages (or much advice) from people on Second Life. During my completion of this project, I was offered packages [of freebies] from every direction!"So while no one had racial slurs hurled at their avatars, Kiaarra and more than a few of her classmates felt like Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man.Several students noted the dearth of ethnic skins, especially for men. I'm pleased that Linden Lab included a black man as their default "Professional Male" avatar. Perhaps Barack Obama's charisma may change real-world standards of what's considered attractive. My students will be back in SL in coming semesters, to see if Obama's victory changes hearts and minds online.
This is a completely bipartisan lament. When did the word “rhetoric” become synonymous with “empty speech”?
By the way, both President-Elect Obama and Senator McCain made very powerful speeches on election night. McCain was noble and magnanimous, and he used a rhetoric of inclusion that nicely matched Obama’s approach a little while later.