Would you rather be the oppressor or the oppressed?

Ruby mashup As you can see at left, my avatar in Second Life is African American. Once in a while people ask what my race is in real life and why my avatar is black.

Today I had another one of those conversations and I thought I’d post it here as it was pretty interesting. I’m bolding the especially good bits since it’s so long. Pardon all the typos, this is as-it-happened:

[12:04] Rossie Joans: i’m also doing a project about race in sl
[12:04] Rossie Joans: could i ask you a few questions?
[12:05] You: OK.
[12:05] Rossie Joans: what race are you in real life, if you don’t mind me asking?
[12:05] You: I am white and Jewish.
[12:06] Rossie Joans: really?
[12:06] You: Yep. if you look at my profile you can see a picture of me in RL.
[12:06] Rossie Joans: ah, but your avatar looks black
[12:06] In Kenzo is Online
[12:07] You: My avatar *is* black.
[12:07] Rossie Joans: why did you choose to make it black?
[12:08] You: Well I noticed that you don’t see many peopel of color here, and I was curious about what would happen. I have been an activists for civil rights for a long time, and I studied African American history in college.
[12:08] You: I guess I thoght it was an appropriate alter ego.
[12:08] Rossie Joans: how interesting!
[12:09] You: A lot of peopel here dont’ have wings or fur in real life…
[12:09] Rossie Joans: do you think that people treat you differently?
[12:09] Rossie Joans: than they would if you were white as an avatar
[12:09] Rossie Joans: that’s true
[12:09] You: No, I don’t think they do, because ALL of our identities here are virtual.

[12:09] You: But I do think it says somethign about me, but it probably says difefernt things to diffeernt people.
[12:09] You: I get asked about it once in a while.
[12:10] Rossie Joans: have you noticed any gathering places that are particularly for avatars of a certain race?
[12:10] You: Not that I know of.
[12:10] You: There might be some by nationality, language, or religion though.
[12:11] Rossie Joans: mhm
[12:11] You: other than the skin, hair, and face, my avatar looks a lot like me.
[12:12] You: my husband looked at it was like “that’s so you!”

[12:12] Rossie Joans: haha!
[12:12] Rossie Joans: do you think that sl helps or hinders people who want to look a race other than white?
[12:13] Rossie Joans: like asian or indian, for instance
[12:13] You: Well it certainly helps me, if that’s what I’m trying to do…
[12:13] You: I knwo another avatar is who is asian in RL but is green in SL.
[12:13] You: but still has some features liek himself as well.
[12:14] You: I think it’s a larger exercise in controlling one’s identity.
[12:14] You: I’m not pretending to me black in RL by having a black avatar in SL.
[12:14] You: Avatars are liek an alter ego, not a reflection of reality,
[12:15] Rossie Joans: do you think they are a manifestation of what people would like to be? would you like to be black if you could be?
[12:16] You: I don’t think I would want to change my current idetity. I liek being Jewish. πŸ˜‰ Since it’s not possible I’ve never thoguht about it. I think I carry a little African American-ness inside because I identify so much with their struggles.
[12:16] You: I’d liek to not be 100% white, though.
[12:16] You: I’ve often be embarrased to be white, especially b/c I live in the South.
[12:17] Rossie Joans: hmm, i live in the south (sc, to be exact), and i find it would be harder to be black than to be white
[12:17] Rossie Joans: seems like a lot of racism still exists
[12:17] You: “Harder” in RL or SL?
[12:18] You: No kidding. of course it does.
[12:18] Rossie Joans: in RL
[12:18] You: Would you rather be the opressor or the oppressed?
[12:18] Rossie Joans: i don’t know. i’d rather not think that a whole race is the oppressor.
[12:19] Rossie Joans: i’m actually hispanic, though… and that’s fine by me
[12:19] You: We enjoy white priviledge every day, whether we like it or not.
[12:19] You: Good on you. πŸ˜‰
[12:20] You: You avatar doesn’t look hispanic. πŸ˜‰

[12:20] Rossie Joans: well, thanks so much for the time! great information! i’ll stick around until 4 for rootscamp
[12:20] You: Great. I’ll be working on some projects around the space here.
[12:20] You: Hi Trevor!
[12:20] Trevor Steptoe: Hey
[12:21] You: We were just talking about having a non-white avatar!
[12:21] You: You are like, on cue. πŸ˜‰
[12:21] Rossie Joans: haha, perfect timing
[12:21] Trevor Steptoe: I aim to please..
[12:21] You: So everyone asks me, I’ll ask you: what is your race or ethnicity in RL?
[12:22] Trevor Steptoe: Light brown.
[12:22] Rossie Joans: haha
[12:22] You: Cool.
[12:23] Trevor Steptoe: My family is from all over the place, but unless I’ve been somewhere sunny and my olive tan is in full force I look like your basic white guy.

[12:23] Krono Pro is Online
[12:23] You: I am 100% Jew. And white, on the outside anyway…
[12:24] Trevor Steptoe: Man, right now I barely see your avatars. I see Ruby’s shoes, and that’s about it.
[12:24] You: Do y’all mind if I post this conversation on my blog? It’s been really interesting.
[12:24] You: Ug, the lag….
[12:24] Rossie Joans: yeah, i wouldn’t mind at all
[12:24] Rossie Joans: could i get a link?
[12:24] Trevor Steptoe: Sure.
[12:25] You: It will be at lotusmedia.org in a few minutes. πŸ˜‰
[12:25] Rossie Joans: so trevor how do you think race affects how people are treated in sl?
[12:26] Trevor Steptoe: I haven’t really seen anything race related, but I think like most people I just assume everyone here is a 36 year old white guy until I get more information.
[12:26] Rossie Joans: ha, me too
[12:26] You: And you’re probably right about 90% of the time.

[12:27] Rossie Joans: ruby, i love wonkette, by the way
[12:27] Trevor Steptoe: I try not to make assumptions based on avatars, but it’s hard to treat a little girl avatar the same as a goth dude.
[12:28] Rossie Joans: that’s true
[12:28] Trevor Steptoe: A friend, SL name: Chance Takashi, has several avatars [s]he switches between and has noticed a large difference in people’s attitude towards hir.
[12:29] Rossie Joans: really?
[12:29] Rossie Joans: i would LOVE to talk to her
[12:29] You: yes, as I was saying earlier: it says *something* about you, but probably something different ot each person. Based on their opinion of punks, little girls, penguins, etc.
[12:29] Trevor Steptoe: Yeah, when she’s a young girl people try to explain things a lot more. When he’s a big guy they ask him questions.

[12:30] Rossie Joans: does she ever change the color of her skin?
[12:30] Trevor Steptoe: I believe that her skin is always pretty pink, but she has non-human avatars, as well.
[12:31] Trevor Steptoe: I must admit that I was surprised when I followed the a link on a blog announcing RootsCampSL (I forget which one) and saw that Ruby wasn’t black.
[12:31] You: I put it in my SL profile as well.
[12:31] Trevor Steptoe: Isn’t, rather.
[12:31] You: I’m not trying to deceive anyone.
[12:31] Trevor Steptoe: No, I know.
[12:32] Trevor Steptoe: It’s just funny how we assume, despite logic. If someone was blue I wouldn’t assume much.
[12:32] You: Right! πŸ™‚
[12:32] You: I think of it as an alter ego. I have always been interested in AfAm history (minored in it), etc.
[12:33] Rossie Joans: i was talking earlier with a few ppl who are white, but their avatars are asian
[12:33] Rossie Joans: i asked them if they’d like to be asian in real life
[12:33] You: Hm, that’s interesting.
[12:33] Rossie Joans: in separate interviews they both said yes because they’d like to have more history
[12:34] Rossie Joans: i thought that was interesting
[12:34] You: It is.
[12:34] You: Partially b/c I’m jewish, I don’t feel any desire to trade.
[12:34] You: But it’s a very strong identity of it’s own.
[12:34] Rossie Joans: right. it seems like white americans don’t feel as if they have a stong identity

[12:35] You: But also, as I said to Rossie earlier, “would you rather be the oppressor or the opporessed?” I’d rather not the be the oppressor…
[12:36] Trevor Steptoe: I don’t think I have a yes or no answer for that question.
[12:36] You: Its’ not liek we get to or have to choose, BUT
[12:37] You: I htink white peopel need to be more aware of their privilege.
[12:37] Trevor Steptoe: Well, in identity politics around sexuality, some people do get to choose.
[12:37] You: Somewhat, but most aren’t “choosing” to be gay, but rather expressing what simply feels like truly themselves.
[12:38] Trevor Steptoe: They don’t choose their emotions, but they choose their actions. See all the gay evangelical ministers, for example.
[12:38] You: My favorites.

[12:38] Rossie Joans: hahaha
[12:39] Trevor Steptoe: Race is trickier, but some people of varied heritages pass as white, either through omission or actively choosing to do so.
[12:40] You: True.
[12:40] Rossie Joans: true. i was telling ruby earlier that i’m hispanic
[12:40] Trevor Steptoe: I must admit that I’m weirded out talking about identity politics when I can only see Ruby’s shoes and I can’t see you Rossie at all.
[12:40] Rossie Joans: but a lot of people assume i’m white
[12:40] Trevor Steptoe: It must be hard being an invisible person. πŸ˜‰
[12:40] You: Sorry, that does suck.
[12:40] You: But it’s also very meta!
[12:40] Rossie Joans: haha, yes, invisible people are opressed πŸ˜‰

Here we are during this conversation:

day 6_001

3 thoughts on “Would you rather be the oppressor or the oppressed?

  1. Wow Ruby! That is an amazing conversation. Dan Gilmore just brought up SL in a talk. I was thinking at the time how Second Life would effect research. Seems like it’s a boon for sociology. I imagine the ability to exist virtually allows for all kinds of interesting situations that would be positive for research.

  2. A friend writes…

    I feel like I have a strong identity and history as a white person – mostly of English ancestry. It is just not a history that I can be all that proud of because it is a history of hegemony. But English people do have some (more or less) non-racist history to be proud of: the literature of Shakespeare (mostly not white supremacist, although not entirely), the concept of constitutional government (rather gradually implemented), and perhaps some other things.

    But the fact is that English History is filled with so, so many other unappealing parts. The history of English oppression in Victorian colonialism, for all of its brutality, was probably not any worse than the earlier English history of oppression in Scotland and Ireland (and possibly even in France).

    But for all that, would I trade in my ethnicity for something else? No way. Not because of the adavntages of white privilege, but because my ethnicity is part of who I am. Yes, my race and my country have done things I am embarassed of, but I take that as my challenge: How do I live my life so that I create a world that doesn’t work the way English history did?

    That’s my thought.

    ps I did not want to post this comment under my own name on your blog. You could post it for me without my name if you would like.

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