Cyberface Minstrelsy

I am posting an emerging concept from my friend Sean Brayton, who we hope will someday have a blog of his own, since there is much more where this came from. I wanted to juxtapose a few of my ideas against this one, and he graciously gave his permission for this to appear here. (Note: slightly edited from our personal communication for clarity.)

"Cyberface minstrelsy" refers to the process by which a particular racialization takes place via the Internet. It is a nuanced form of "racial passing" (Nakamura, 2002) facilitated by the cyberspace avatars created and maintained by primarily white middle-class males. While Nakamura has noted this phenomenon with regards to online Asian stereotyping (i.e., geishas and samurai), there is little research concerning the cyber-co-optation of "blackness". Cyberface minstrelsy, then, is the co-optation of an essentialized black identity (i.e., the gangsta or thug) by a white middle-class male. The online persona, of course, is largely a white fantasy of "blackness" that works to reproduce racist discourse from within what is believed to be a post-body, and therefore post-race space: the Internet. Cyberface minstrelsy is essentially the white performance of black stereotypes. This cooptation of "race", however, is necessarily detached from any "real" social consequences of the "gangsta" avatar. As Nakamura reminds us, the racialized identity is never a liablity. That is, those individuals adopting these "cybertypes" (Nakamura, 2002) are able to log-off from not only hip-hop websites, but also their online identities. Thus, cyberface minstrelsy not only reproduces racist tropes of an essentialized Other, but also subsumes real historical struggles articulated around and through "race".


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