Cybertypes: Race, Ethnicity, and Identity on the Internet

Nakamura, Lisa. Cybertypes: Race, Ethnicity, and Identity on the Internet, Taylor & Francis Group, 2002. ProQuest Ebook Central,


The early Internet lent to some utopian ideal vision of a post-racial society, where race would no longer exist. The purpose of this book is to examine what happened when race moved online. Nakamura began research at the beginning of the Internet Epoch (1995) and ended at the end of the epoch (2001). Access to the Internet has remained raced and classed (although gender gaps have closed). Further, the implications from the "discursive gap" that was the absence of people of color in creating the Internet proliferate; discourse and representations of people of color persist online, even in their absence. She also posits that the lack of work on race in cyberstudies is the digital divide reflected in academia; where a gender divide in academia may be closing, showcasing the work on gender online, the racial divide is not. Race online offers both stereotype and community, as the Internet acts as a rhetorical cultural device.

Chapter 1 focuses on how race is encoded in the information labor economy, where certain foreign workers are glorified (e.g., immigrant Asian engineers) and American racial minorities are seen as outsiders to the digital economy.

Chapter 2 focuses on user-to-user interactions in online roleplaying spaces where identity is bought, swapped, and performed result in what Nakamura calls "identity tourism." Users take on stereotypical racial avatars to satisfy a sense of curiosity and posit a liberal and postmodernist engagement with race. At the same time, the Internet sees social differences as negative.

Chapter 3 examines the source of racial impersonations online. In this chapter, Nakamura explores where the racial stereotypes common in online roleplaying stem from. In particular, she examines portrayals of race in science fiction media. The cyberpunk genre's "emphasis on machine-enabled forms of consciousness seems to glorify, at times, the notion of the posthuman, which is also coded at times as postracial" (pg. 61). Yet race is reified in cyberpunk media by providing presumably white consumers with familiar archetypes to ground them.

Chapter 4 examines how advertising from Internet and networking companies construct a "race as a visual commodity for the user" (pg. xvii). Nakamura compares these to earlier colonial discourses "that privilege the Western gaze and the sense of freedom, expansiveness, and mastery" (pg. xvii).

Chapter 5 focuses on the user-to-interface interactions and how interfaces can produce cybertyped race, specifically around menus of categorized races.