Dara N. Byrne
The Future of (the) "Race": Identity, Discourse, and the Rise of Computer-mediated Public Spheres
Despite the range of challenges in discussing race in online forums, for young people, participating in dedicated social networking sites is especially important because they can be useful vehicles for strengthening their cultural identities, for teaching them how to navigate both public and private dimensions of their racial lives, and for providing them access to a more globalized yet unfixed conversation about their community histories. Scores of contemporary research studies show how important cultivating intragroup cultural networks is to minority youth. Much like the world offline, participating in online cultural communities will help them to develop a healthy sense of racial identity, what psychologists argue is necessary to resist the pernicious effects of racism. To understand more about what young people learn and teach each other about race and ethnicity online, I explore prevailing views about race on three of AsianAvenue, BlackPlanet, and MiGente. Drawn from data I accumulated over a seven-year period (August 1999 to August 2006), this chapter shows (1) how online communities are giving rise to new collective subjectivities unfolding across local, national, and international lines; (2) how real-world forces, such as the shift in racial tensions and anti-imperialism; and (3) how these discourses accept and reject racial typologies. One of the most important things my research shows is why minority youth must have access to dedicated online spaces, not just mainstream or “race neutral” ones. Seeking out and logging in to online communicative spaces is a central component of the lives of all young people today; however, participating in those that are more likely to value the raced experiences of minority youth not only teaches them that who they are offline bears as much relevance to who they are online, but it also teaches them that talking about this aspect of social life can help them redress the impact of racism.