Wednesday, April 1, 2009

"Menu-Driven Identities"

Lisa Nakamura's chapter on Making Race Happen Online proved to be wordy and convoluted at times. I chose this topic because I was interested in how race effects users of the internet and if there is a correlation between frequent usage and race. The introduction to the chapter spent a great deal of time explaining how particular websites define arrange and offer inforamtion about specific races. I found this information to be unneccessary and unconvincing in trying to explain the role of race on the web. I did find the paragraph dealing with Excite's organization of race and gender intriguing. Nakamura says, "Excite's guided reading of race on the web performs another interesting textual move: it lumps gender, sexual orientation, religion, and age together with race. This organization of identity does not include"white" as a category: it is not on the menu at all. This omission is a disturbing example of the colonist or imperialit gaze that sets up a racial other: whitness is defined by its invisibility rather than its presence. The racial category of "whitness" is assumed to be a default option, thus creating a guided reading of the web that assumes that its reader is white." "Disturbing?" Why is Nakamura disturbed? The web reflects our society and its norms. "Whiteness" has always been "the standard" and everyone else is the exception. To contradict this notion, Nakamura sites Zickimund's statement that states, "the openess of the Internet may endanger the notion of a closed community and could become an ally in the struggle against bigotry and racism." Despite the anonymitiy of the web, races aren't merely defined by skin color but preferences, hobbies, and interests can be shaped by race as well. Therefore, identifying someone's race maybe apparant through their searches and browsing. "Web demographics are always in flux. It has been known for some time, however, that racial minorities use the web less than do whites. Whites are more likely than African-Americans to have access to a computer at home and work, while African-Americans are more likey to want access." Despite this, "government al funding to support computer instruction in public schools in the 1980s tended to favor upper-middle-class and white students who were, ironically, already those most likely to possess access to computers in the home." This is a very interesting fact that demonstrates the causes of the "digital divide" among races. Overall, this chapter dealt with controversial topics and sought to expound upon the premise that the web creates menu that fail to address ALL people, thus widening the digital divide.

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