The world around us right now is changing, and a lot of people are rejecting old racist ideologies that have made up quite a bit of America’s history. It’s daunting to want to get outside and protest, but luckily, there’s a lot of messed-up things within Second Life you can turn your attention to. You don’t even need to leave your chair!
Because I’m black, it’s easy for me to see all of the things I have seen and not be surprised by them anymore. I can’t say the same of my white counterparts. I think the breadth of how ugly race is depicted in this game might shock some of you.
It can also tell you some of why I decided to largely part from the game and am looking at its gradual changes with trepidation. Other virtual worlds have more updated stances and intolerance for these things, and yet this stuff persists by and far in Second Life because… I don’t know why. Free speech? Is that it? I don’t know anymore.
I will now go in and describe the tiers on which this problem persists in this virtual world.
Racism in Second Life: Layered Like A Cake, And The Frosting Is Rather Bitter
Racism persists on a large level in the game for multiple reasons.
Second Life’s TOS and stances on things, such as what happened with slurs persisting on Marketplace, allow targeted harassment to slip through and make the game appear to be very intolerant of anyone who isn’t Caucasian. As of this writing, Linden Lab staff are now addressing eliminating racial slurs from the Marketplace, but I must point out that this problem has existed and has been complained about for years.
Individual parcels are another problem that lets users put up racially-charged messages that aim to discriminate and harass users of color. For example, there used to be a parcel called “Wake Up, Black People!” that was around for a long time. It was linked to other parcels of a similar nature, featuring the message that black people took too much welfare and saw former president Obama as a dangerous messiah. The message on the parcel was that we were a lazy folk and needed to motivate ourselves to do better.
I remember AR’ing that parcel, and yet nothing ever happened to it. A recent search shows it finally disappeared. Did its user finally get sanctioned for their hateful display, or was it taken down out of boredom? I’ll never know, because I gave up on any kind of justice being served on that point a few years ago.
LEA Wasn’t The Most Culturally Sensitive, Either
When I had yet to apply for volunteering at the Linden Endowment for the Arts, I remember a project that was green-lit and centered around the “romance of the Arabian desert”. At the time, the hashtag #ownvoices on Twitter was well-circulating. I was excited to visit the exhibit and see what an Arabic artist (I guessed) had to say about that area.
What I saw instead was a blank sand desert parcel, a treasure chest full of gold, and a woman that looked like I Dream of Genie posting seductively there. She had blonde hair, blue eyes, a huge chest, and was dressed like some exotic fetish of the Middle East. It was a complete letdown. I had no idea how to bring that up with anyone on how this could come off to Second Life’s Arabic users, either (yes, they exist).
Did anyone care? That question lingered in my mind for a long time.
“Is This What You Think Of Me?”
I used to wander the Amazon sims for its survival minigames, and to see how far I could get hopping from island to island. One day I was walking along a rotting log when I bumped into another user.
She looked like an exaggerated version of an African woman. She was a caricature–let me state that plainly. There’s a point in dressing up an alt of color where it becomes self-effacing, and the amount of curvature the author had placed on her had well gone past that. In her nose her piercings, and in her lips too. The piercings were bone. There was a bone in her hair as well. It was racist. I stared at her.
She was dressed in tribal wear (of course) and looked back at me without saying anything. And all I could think was, “This this what you think of me?” The user never addressed me. I think at that point I teleported out of there.
A Well-Known Event Runner, Her Designer Friends, And Private Racist Jokes
A well-known event runner was liked by many. She had her own Discord where she and more well-known designer friends were occupying top roles. One day we watched a movie together as a group. Something came up in the film where a black character talked about “being free”.
One of her friends, someone who is a popular furniture designer, said, “This is what black people sound like.” All of them laughed. This came out of the blue and it blindsided me.
I left the chat because afterwards, I had no way of saying who it was that did this. Even if I say it now, people would attack me. All I can say is that these people are really talented, but also very unfortunately racist.
I never shopped at her events or his store again.
“Real Japanese Designers” Send A Message At Skin Fair
Everyone knows about designers who pretend to be Asian in order to sell more of their Asian-themed products at, especially at events. I saw the annoyance from Japanese users about this at a Skin Fair event, where one put up a sign.
I can’t remember the exact words, but anyone who stopped by her booth saw the same. It protested those who pretend to be Japanese, and it vaguely insulted those people. As far as I know, the message was largely ignored.
So What Can Be Done?
This is really a tip of the iceberg here, but it seems racism in Second Life is divided into two parts: things the Linden staff can enforce better, and things the community can soundly reject in order to make everyone feel more welcome and included.
The question is, how much energy does anyone have to seeing this through?
Thanks for reading, and I’m happy to read any comments on this. Just please keep them civil, as this is a hot subject. Thank you!