[-empyre-] Welcome to Week 3 on -empyre-: Internet/Online Representation

Andre Brock brocka at umich.edu
Thu Apr 16 14:41:11 AEST 2015

Hello, all!

Thank you for inviting me to this discussion, and "hey!" to my co-panelists
this week!

My intellectual investment in this area has changed over the last decade.
When I first started researching online Black identities, my intention was
to follow the path blazed by folk like Dr. Everett, Alondra Nelson, and
Lisa Nakamura - to highlight that minorities (in my case, African
Americans) were always already part of the burgeoning online spaces hailed
as Web 2.0.  I felt then, as i do now, that it's important to interrogate
digital interfaces for the meanings their designers impose, while also
mining discourses created by users of those interfaces to see how they
adapt themselves to the new medium.  Over the last few years, i've examined
browsers, video games, and Twitter to see how digital representations of
Black identity have been composed, contested, and destroyed.

Given the proliferation of attention towards Black digital activity over
the last few years, from the Commander-in-Chief on down to Black Twitter
and even back to HotGhettoMess.com, I've become interested in a different
take on Black online representation.

As more and more Blacks access online spaces, segments of Black online
users have begun to articulate a growing technocultural politics of
respectability.  The "New" New Blacks (h/t Ms. Anna) are much more
interested in political and polite representations of Blackness online, and
in the process deprecate the gossip blogs, ugly BlackPlanet pages, and
ratchet-ass tweets and images that signaled the spread of Black culture to
online venues.  My current work has me investigating the way that
perceptions and arguments about Black Twitter use have shifted over the
last few years - from celebrations of folk culture and 'individual'
blackness to an insistence on 'proper' political uses of the service.

I'm especially pleased to be part of this discussion, as I have of late
been pondering my role/stake as an internet researcher pursuing questions
of African American identity in various digital spaces.  I have three
questions about identity, representation, and the digital/Internet that are
pulling in me in multiple directions, and it is my hope that my
articulation of them can push this conversation in interesting directions.

1) Whither identity in post-PC, post-racial (heh) cyberculture and the
continual fragmentation of online representation?  Are we our devices?  Our
wearables?  Our profiles?

2) Isn't it past time that research into performances of identity and
online representation start addressing Whiteness?  Particularly in the
light of GamerGate, MRAs, and #alllivesmatter, where is the corresponding
research into how racial ideologies shape White online identity, especially
since the aforementioned online movements draw heavily upon
digitally-mediated beliefs about race and gender?

Brenda Laurel's excellent commentary last week referenced race and
GamerGate, but I am always troubled when deviant activities are assumed to
be perpetrated by deviant society members.  Brenda's (if i may be so bold)
argument that GamerGaters are men with "poor educations and a degree of
poverty" seems to let 'brogrammers', Kleiner Perkins VCs, and other highly
educated wealthy white (and non-whites afflicted by false consciousness
(yeah, I said it) men and women off the hook.  Just like Klansmen were
usually highly respected businessmen in their communities, much of the
racist and sexist online activities we see daily are done by elites, not
just by the dispossessed.

*Kishonna, i know that your work addresses race and gender specifically WRT
gaming, but (correct me if i'm wrong) not many folk are making connections
between XBL gamer behavior and GamerGater behavior.*

3) With the maturation of minority political activism in social networks
(#blacklivesmatter) and near parity in material access/broadband access
through mobile devices, is it time for new media/internet research to move
past online identity politics and online representation?  /sarcasm
If so, where do we go from here?

That's all i have for now...i look forward to seeing what's on the minds of
my co-panelists and the empyre audience.  Thanks for having me!

PS - Ms. Anna, congrats on the new publication!

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