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Before delving into where to discuss race on-line, it is useful to explore
some of the significant tools people on the Internet use engage in discussions. While many
people see the Internet merely as a means to check email or to surf the Web, it has also
become a very powerful and useful way to have discussions/chats with other people, to
actively participate and interact with a fellow Netizen. Here are the primary ways people
have discussions on the Internet:
Usenet, or newsgroups, is like a giant bulletin board. Anyone can post on the bulletin
board, and other people in the newsgroup can read whatever is posted. From this structure,
of course, comes a lot of opinions and information. As a result, Usenet News tries to
narrow the range of discussion into a newsgroup. Some users call these groups, among other
things, conferences, forums, and discussion groups. These groups can be very specific -
for example you can have a news group on 12th Century Italian Art - and others can be very
general, for example a newsgroup on books (alt.books). Newsgroup articles (messages) look
like e-mail, but they can be read (potentially) by millions of people all over the world.
Most newsgroups are unmoderated, where it's all free-for-all, but there are also moderated
newsgroups where the moderator is in charge of controlling what is said on the newsgroup
and assuring that people don't go out of bounds. Further, you can subscribe to as many
newsgroups as you want, if you have the energy and patience to read all of the messages.
There are other features of Usenet that can be described here, but the most important
thing to remember is that newsgroups are similar to bulletin boards.
Chatting is different from newsgroups in that you interact with people in real time.
Most chatting occurs in a room with a specialized topic, say race relations, where several
people, ranging from two to hundreds, exchange comments about the topic. Although chat
sites generally make you register, most chatters assume fake personalities and names,
making most of the discussion anonymous. An added feature to many chat programs is the
ability to do voice chat, which has increased the popularity of these programs, though
many are still in beta form.
Due to the popularity of this program, it has to stand alone from other forms of online
communication. ICQ ("I Seek You") is by far the most downloaded program on the
Internet (it was downloaded 52 million times from download.com, with Winamp, an MP3
player, second at 9 million).. When you download ICQ, you get assigned a number and you
chat with other people. ICQ is a form of instant messaging, where you are alerted when a
friend gets online and vice-versa. Among other features, it has an ICQ Active Lists, a
feature that lets you create and join communities of ICQ users who share common interests
and ICQ Surf, which connects you to other ICQers who are browsing the same Web page you
While there are other forms of discussion on the Net, including Internet Relay Chat
(IRC), listservs, etc. the above utilities and applications are the most popular form of
We felt that it is important to give a background of how people have general discussions
online before we speak specifically about race. At this point it is instructive to ask
how, the architecture of the above programs - newsgroups, chatrooms, and ICQ - may impact
on conversations involving sensitive issues such as race, a topic we have enough
difficulty discussing off-line. Is it better to have a chatroom/newsgroup, where there is
a large audience and people are coming in and out contributing, or is preferable to have
something closer to ICQ where you can really get into a personal discussion with another
person. Further, how open is this architecture? In this part of our website we challenge
you to stop thinking theoretically about how interactions between individuals from
different racial backgrounds may possibly happen, but rather to think, in light of the
little you have learned about the structure described above, how they may happen and what
are the best ways to encourage them. Keep in mind that another effect of the architecture
of these programs is that most of the time you will not know the identity of the party you
are speaking to on the Internet, which may lead to cyber "passing" a phenomenon
where someone, usually a minority, assumes a race different from her own. Given this
situation is the Internet in some respects too open? Meaning that since it is so easy for
people to change identity can we really even rely on the Internet as a true commons with
regard to race?
Regardless of what we tell you, the best way to understand the relationship between race
and the Net is not to listen to us or read what we write here - you have to actually go to
the places where the action is. In keeping that in mind, we have put together a list of .
Some Spaces to Discuss Race
on The Internet
This a list of the best places to talk about race and culture on the Net. See for yourself
the extent of debate about race on the Internet and participate in it. If you choose to
look at these sites ask yourself if these chat forums are being used for intense, positive
debates on race or merely as forums for shouting racial obscenities at each other. It
maybe both. (The commentary and a list of further lists may be found on http://www.panix.com/~mbowen/cz/identity/rap_on_race.htm).
Café Utne (http://cafe.utne.com/cafe/)
The Cafe attracts a wide variety of individuals to debate the subject of race. Although
volume is down from its peak, there are many discussions which can be browsed. Physically,
the interface is superb and response time is very good. There is a solid core of reliable
individuals who have been discussing the issues for years.
Salon Table Talk (http://tabletalk.salon.com/webx?15@@)
For sheer massiveness, Salon cannot be beat. Its editors have created a conference called
The Race Project which has generated an enormous amount of debate. Currently there are 75
different threads covering everything from Geronimo Pratt to Black Atheletes to
Schindler's List to Whiteness Studies. For sheer diversity of topics alone it would
deserve a prize, but in addition, Salon has attracted all of the gadflies on the subjects
including some more famous folk like Sherman Alexie and David Horowitz
Due to the diligent efforts of moderators L.A. Jeter and Art Johnson, the great and august
usenet discussion forum s.c.a.a. has been rescued from total devolution. The quality of
discussion in the new group is outstanding, passionate and approachable.
NYTimes Forum (forums.nytimes.com)
The Affirmative Action discussion is wide-ranging and sometimes gets back on topic. Due to
the sheer volume of people on the site, a number of intelligent exchanges actually take
place. But the signal to noise ratio is uneven and it can get very ugly.
Every subject under the sun. Hundreds of people talking at once. Mind-boggling juvenile
flamewars. Openly racist hostility. Blatant propaganda. Just like America. It must be
CNN Forum (http://community.cnn.com/cgi-bin/WebX?13@@)
Interesting site with topics on interracial dating and race relations. The sheer
popularity of CNN and the number of people make it an engrossing experience.
Free Advice on Usenet News: