Race In/For Cyberspace: Identity Tourism and Racial Passing on the Internet

In Lisa Nakamura’s essay Race In/For Cyberspace: Identity Tourism and Racial Passing on the Internet she examines how in roleplaying communities and beyond people pick internet personas that differ from their real life in race, gender, and appearance.

Her article is a bit dated, though aged only around 10 years the landscape of the internet has completely changed. Nakamura focuses her argument on text-based communities like LamdaMOO, now extinct. She also makes the claim, which I’m sure was true at the time, that the internet was almost completely composed of middle-class white men.

She argues that a section of these white men enjoy having an online persona in which they are not only female, but Asian. She draws on usenet newsgroups, another component of the internet which is near extinction to make her point. Nakamura claims that an alt.sex group dedicated soley to asians is the only alt.sex group that even takes note of race, I find this hard to believe.

Fast forward a few years and you can kind porn on anything, gay midgets fisting sheep, grandmothers and barely legal teens, any kind of perverse and terrible thing you can conjure in your head is already on the internet, and someone somewhere is masturbating to it.

Nakamura’s focus on people optioning to change their race, gender or appearance might have seemed striking at the time, but now communities of roleplayers on the internet that do this are up in the millions, most notably the furries who use animals to represent themselves online. Not only that, but games like Dungeons & Dragons had people doing this long before, and you might even argue board games like Monopoly force you two pick a different identity to participate, Nakamura’s essay never discusses this evolution of the identity.

In my opinion people do this on the internet because they can, it’s escapist. I felt like reading Nakamura’s essay she wanted the reader to be scandalized that these white men were pretending to be a woman, or to be Asian, but it just left me rolling my eyes. Modern sites like DeviantArt.com enforce my views that white people assuming an Asian identity is more prevalent than ever. Weeaboos are non-Asians on the internet who are obsessed with Asian culture, usually Japanese, to the point where is nauseating.

Weeaboos spend all of their time drawing anime fanart, learning basic Japanese, and longing to live and or work in Japan. They’re one of the lowest common denominators of the internet. I imagine if Nakamura wrote her article now she would not give weeaboos a passing glance, she would probably focus on the outright racial hatred that exists on every YouTube video in its comments, even if the video is about puppies playing in a basket.

I feel like Nakamura’s essay is incredibly antiquated, but her idea that people like to roleplay on the internet is still alive as ever, if not more so than when she wrote her essay.


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