80 Pages Posted: 15 Dec 2004 Last revised: 30 Jul 2014
To date, most inquiries into race and cyberspace have focused on the "digital divide" - whether racial minorities have access to advanced computing-communication technologies. This paper asks a more fundamental question: Can cyberspace change the way that race functions in American society? Professor Jerry Kang starts his analysis with a social-cognitive account of American racial mechanics that centers the role of racial schemas. These schemas consist of racial categories, rules of racial mapping that place individuals into these categories, and racial meanings associated with each category. He argues that cyberspace can disrupt racial schemas because it alters the architecture of both identity presentation (enabling racial anonymity and pseudonymity) and social interaction (enabling increased interracial interactions). Thus, cyberspace presents society with three design options: abolition, which challenges racial mapping by promoting racial anonymity; integration, which reforms racial meanings by promoting interracial social interaction; and transmutation, which disrupts the very notion of fixed racial categories by promoting racial pseudonymity (or "cyber-passing"). After analyzing each option's merits, Professor Kang concludes that society need not adopt a single, uniform design strategy for all of cyberspace. Instead, society can embrace a policy of digital diversification, which explicitly zones different cyber spaces according to different racial environments. For example, most market places could be zoned abolition, whereas most social spaces could be zoned integration. By encouraging a diversified policy portfolio, society can exploit synergies created by flexible zoning while avoiding policy lock-in. Although cyberspace is no panacea for the racial conflicts and inequality that persist, it offers new possibilities for furthering racial justice that should not be wasted.
Keywords: Cyberspace, race, cyber-race, social contact hypothesis, colorblindness, passing, racial schemas, social construction of race, virtual worlds
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