Monday, November 5, 2007

SL Racism

"I don't care if you're black, white, purple or green!" I'm sure everyone has heard this in some shape or form in their lives (or SLives) -- but how true is it?

IRL you can't be purple or green, but in SL you can ... but so few are. As a colored avatar with a taste for wacky fashion - I've found that racism in SL is very cut and dry. I won't even bring a RL spin on it because that's a whole post in itself (ie the lack of realistic black skins beyond just being what I would consider a dark 'California' tan) and instead I'll only address what I'm familiar with.

So many folks have said that they dress their avatars in ways they wouldn't dress themselves IRL. I totally understand. Lots of folks say they choose not to be their 'RL' self because that would be boring to them, and I can kinda see that too. But seriously, does dressing your avatar like Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast At Tiffany's really give you that aire of individuality and excitement you're seeking? Is that really how you wish you could look?

I understand that if you run a business there are certain social stigmas (for lack of a better word) that go along with that responsibility. Somehow it isn't viewed as 'acceptable' to dress yourself as a seven foot tall Moogle who farts colorful stars (if someone makes that av I gotta have one!) if you plan to have any respect when it comes to customer interaction. The fact of the matter is: in SL you are judged on how you look - down to what color your skin is.

People say "I love my friends for who they are!" but nine times out of ten their friends just look like clones of the person who said that. Its completely understandable that you get in where you fit in (haha!) and people will choose who they want to talk to based up on appearance because hey - if they look like you they probably like the same stuff you do, right?

When will things move beyond appearances? When will it not matter if you have the hottest new skin/hair and matter more on the content of potential conversation? In a social MMO platform such as Second Life - I would think that people would be more socially minded and not so .. well .. small minded.

My avatar is purple. Purple hair, dorky t shirts, knee high socks, tennis shoes, and purple skin. I like how she looks. She's interesting, and in my opinion engaging. But there's a problem: no one else does. Okay so it isn't really a problem because I'm really not into the social scene much these days - but I was once upon a time! Even now I find myself roaming about just to see if there's any good conversation to be had. There really is more to SL than shopping and looped dances.

Over the past year I've done a bit of what I'd call an experiment. I found a couple 'normal' skins that I like to accompany the purple skins that I feel are really 'me'. When I wanted to make a 'quick' friend, I'd wear a normal skin and try to make my outfit match before I visited somewhere. People came up to me to talk, even though the conversation was 'petty'. You know "Wow I love your shoes where'd you get em?" or "Oooh that's a really cool shirt, who made it?" That kind of thing. But I always get the opposite reaction when I'm purple.

I can visit the same sim in 'my' kind of dress and not a soul will talk to me. When this happens I take innitiative. I start out with a simple 'Hi' usually ... which generates little to no response. Oooh back away I'm purple! It might be *gulp* contagious!

As I said earlier, I understand the 'business' end of having to look 'normal'. I've been operating a video business in SL for almost three years now (with the help of my husband Keith/Bebop Vox) and though its always seemed to be okay for HIM to look like a cyborg - I get shoddy treatment from clients when I'm in my purple skin. But once I slap on a CS or ND skin - all is right as rain! Its funny, but at the same time very very sad.

Why is it funny? Its funny to me because I know that the individuals who judge in such a way are in no position to do so. Even if you're a multi millionaire - you have no right to judge another person. Another thing that makes it funny is that big DUH factor of it just being an avatar. But it makes me wonder .. if these people have such a small tolerance for a deviation from the 'norm' here in SL .. what are they like IRL? And suddenly that's when it isn't funny anymore. They really are just being racist because I'm not whatever color they are (which ranges from redhead pale to Tom Jones Tan).

Many people have said "Oh don't be silly! There's no racism in SL!" Then I ask "Why are there so few skin makers that cater to anyone of color (ANY COLOR besides white, tan, and Christmas Turkey Skin). Why am I treated differently when I wear a skin made by Starley or Ambyance than when I wear my beloved Wysteria skin by Munchflower if there is no racism? Since there is no racism then every skin maker should have a rainbow of skin colors - or even have an actual black skin.

I've just come to the conclusion that content creation isn't about creativity at all - its about money. Content creators don't make things that make them happy .. they make things that the droning masses will buy. Sally Skinmaker doesn't care what color you WANT to be, she cares about what color you'll buy when you have a limited choice.


Merry said...

I think you look really great and it's really sad that people would do that. I'm not so sure I'd connect up them disliking your purple skin to racism but maybe more the kind of intolerance you'd find from high school cliques for not conforming to what they wear.
But I agree about the racist implications of the lack of variety in skins generally in SL, it's pretty depressing.

Jackie! said...

A very sad stigma, indeed. I don't operate any businesses in Second Life, so I can't say I understand how looks would matter in that instance... but as a participant in the art community in Second Life, I have to say that it's easier to come across strange-looking avatars (ranging from dorks with highwater burlap slacks and pink socks to roasted chickens wearing tophats). Damn the conventions, I say, and keep that lovely purple avatar!

Nohae said...

I thought many skins from Mallory Cowen at RaC made one look African/African-American (even in the paler tones, some tend to enhance those ethnic features). Minnu Model has some gorgeous black skins, though less ethnic, and so does Lovey Boutique.

And here are some realistic black skins that I'm not sure where they come from:


Now, this isn't to refute your point, I do agree. I've been thinking for a while to go around a little more like this: - but then I would come across on the outward as more original than I really am as a person. And perhaps that's all "SL racism" actually is, lack of imagination and creativity.

It also depends on what spheres you hover in, and the people who populate them. SL has many layers to it.

As for racism regarding ethnicities actually existing in the real world, I'm mixed. I know the rare times I've seen black avies (half the time they were gorgeous) everyone would gush over them and compliment them (I suppose because when you do take the time to care, you really do it well, also, oddly, the persons behind the avatars would tend to be caucasian). But I know when I moved from a pale RaC skin to one of her ethnic ones, random dudes rarely approached me anymore for 'petty talk' during the many months that I wore it (thank god actually), though my avie's style was generally much lauded.

Garrett Larkham said...

Oh wow, Orchid. What a great post! People were ignoring you (?)...where were you hanging out with your purple skin, Phats? I think it's gorgeous! So original.

As for me, I'm trying to look as sultry as a white guy can be, but I'm toying with the idea of an African-American skin just to be different when the mood strikes.

There are certainly not enough Blacks and Asians in SL..when I see one I try to start a conversation, and they almost always turn out to be creative people.

Orchid said...

@nohae -- Yes Lovey does make a really good African/African-American skin even though it has that hand-drawn feel. And though I find her line appealing -- that hand drawn look really does require a 'taste' for it.

It goes back to settling with what you get. Big Name designers don't do colored skins (not just black but green, purple, or blue) because they feel there's no market for it (that's my conclusion anyway).

You made awesome points, and I really do appreciate your take on the whole matter! Hugs to you!

Orchid said...

@Garret - the only skin that I wear that isn't 'normal' are purple skins. And yes I can never get any form of interaction from anyone unless A-they already know me B-they are wearing a 'different' skin themselves or C-I'm in a sandbox.

I hang out at random places - one of the MAIN places I hang out in all my purpleness is a trivia bar thing where some prim spouts trivia questions and folks sit around and answer them ... but I never seem to have problems finding good conversation in places like that.

Clubs are a no-no while I'm purple, as well as TPing in people who want wedding videos. They immediately turn up their nose when I'm purple, but will talk to me till they're blue in the face when I'm 'normal'.

The flip side is that there have been a few jobs I've gotten BECAUSE I'm purple - but this is mostly from companies that find the eccentricity of SL fascinating and therefore see me (in purple) as a personification of that.

dandellion said...

You are hanging wrong places dear. Though I have no doubts that racism is widespread in SL (and I mean both RL and SL racism) there are places where people are nice even if you are all purple :p And, I could bet, you can find more interesting people there. Otherwise, I wouldn't have a single friend in SL. Not for my skin, but for my make-up and clothes.

Anna Zwiers said...

I change avatars alot. And I'd have to agree that my normal snore bore white girl gets approached more often than any other avatar. If you like your av that's all that matters; let everyone else sit on a pointy stick. =7 )~

In case no one knows and wants to try out a black avatar.... There's a free black m/f starter av at the I am Legend sim (search map> IAL Orientation Island).

I've had a number of friends who have black av's and all rave about Chip Midnight's (photo real) skins. The black skin at Another Shop was nice too and hand drawn. Just two more options for anyone looking.

Ann Launay said...

I generally enjoy the 'Mean Girls' posts, but I find myself moderately appalled by this one. Racism? "People don't talk to me because I choose to wear a purple skin in SL" is nothing like being denied a good job, decent education, or a myriad of other opportunities that many of us take for granted in RL, just because a person's background may be something other than Caucasian/Christian.

Is there prejudice in SL? Of course, but I tend to view this sort as being related more to the emphasis which society still puts on women's appearance. We're supposed to be beautiful in a way that's frankly unattainable for the majority of us...except, in SL, we can attain it. Why then, popular opinion seems to ask, wouldn't you take advantage of that? Why would you choose to be something so different (read: not hot), whether that means purple/furry/neko/robotic/whatever?

Male avs do seem to be allowed a bit more freedom to be 'weird' without others getting judgmental about it...again, I believe this is because society is less concerned with their youth and beauty in general. After all, how many ugly old bastards with money and power end up with hot young women in RL? Archaic as it may be, we're still somewhat wired towards those superficial roles...women valued for their appearance (perhaps as an indicator of fertility), men for their wealth/ability to provide.

I think I've wandered a little far afield here. Basically, I don't believe what you're talking about is racism, although it certainly seems to be a type of prejudice. I do find that ridiculous in a world where we can be anything we want, but if what others want is to be close minded...their loss.

Dorra Debs said...

I agree with dandellion... your hanging out at the wrong places. One of my best friends is has green noob skin with freckles and green spikey hair. Another wears noob skin, rainbow thong, fishnet tights, william shatner tee shirt and a crown.

I love that they are different!

One of the places I hang out has trivia and games. Thats where I met both of these awesome people. If I had the slurl I would post it. maybe later when I log into SL I will. Your welcome to join us anytime!

Kitten Martynov said...

Both lives have a lot to do with perception, and your personal style is a tool for both expressing yourself and influencing how others react to you.

I actually agree that the avs which look different are hard to approach, but for a different reason than the one you suppose. They seem cooler than me!

I don't have the guts to be blue and pot-bellied, and I usually assume that the avs who do are self-confident and silly, which makes for way better conversation, but can be more intimidating than boring and polite.

I met my best friend when he was green-skinned and wearing a helmet - but he said "Hi" first. I think that might be all the change you have to make, Orchid.

Noirran said...

I'm sorry you've had those experiences. I haven't seen it and honestly I could care less what color people are when they talk to me. I care what they say.

Nohae said...

Thanks for the hugs, Orchid! ^_^

And oh trivia places! I'd always wondered if there was that kind of thing on SL. Do kindly throw a slurl or two, anyone!

I'm thinking of approaching the girl who was wearing that blue skin for a chat. I think she made it but that she's not selling her stuff. Who knows if she could be talked into making more of that awesome crazy stuff available for those of us open to it. :)

I agree about the hand-drawn look on Lovey's skins, and have yet to be seen wearing one, but those two other places I mentionned are really worth a look. As well as Another Shop too, since her skin packs are only 200L, I hear. They do have a little bit of a doll look to them, but are very sweet nonetheless. And I'll have to check if Chip Midnight is the guy those realistic african skins I've seen around originated from, because those were mind-blowing!

Caterin said...

You look beautiful Orchid! How could anyone not want to be your friend? Stupid swine...

Phoenix Chapman said...

I love how you look, and I would talk to anyone in a purple skin...

That being said, I am shy and rarely talk to ANYONE, even if they're so-called normal.

Anonymous said...

Orchid, I think your Avatar is more appealing WITH the purple skin, personally. Then again I'm also a purple freak. ;-)

At least in Second Life, we can choose what we want to look like, which IMHO gives us the freedom to think outside the box. One person's wacky style is another person's Haute Couture.

Keep your chin up, Orchid. Your mind and personality are what people should really be noticing.

Orchid said...


I can't really say I disagree with ANYTHING you said - because there IS a lot of truth in it.

And as I said - racism (or predjudice) does play a big part in my work in that I get treated differently if I look MY kind of normal.

A huge part of my income comes from doing wedding videos. These are your average avatars wearing normal skins who's wackiest 'family member' might have on neko ears. So when they ask me for a TP so they can talk to me - they always distance themselves conversationally even though my manner of speaking doesn't change.

When I wear a normal skin there's never any question - they like me, they like talking to me, and they like my work. The conversation lasts longer and the individuals are more inclined to actually look at work I've done and its a positive exchange.

Yes perception plays a HUGE role -- but this has gone far beyond what I "think" is going on and has become what IS going on. I have lost money because I prefer to wear a purple skin. Education wise - no of course it hasn't had an impact as I'm not looking to learn anything (in a conventional sense) in SL since IRL I'm just an overweight white girl who likes to dye her hair weird colors and wear wacky clothes.

Dorra Debs said...

the slurl for the place in my earlier post is

Its owned by my friend Wendela Beckenbaur and has trivia, letters, greedy, truth or dare and on wednesdays there is an "Iron Poet" event. Hope you can come :)

Serenity said...

Sorry, couldn't help but chime in on this one. X3 I completely understand this but mine's a little different pov because I'm a furry, and man it's tough being one out there. I really hope SL gets over this stupid racist crap, most sims will allow you in if you have purple skin. But I've been kicked from places for being fluffy (if you will xP)

Squeedoo said...

Ay, Orchid, you're such a gorgeous lavender grape! I actually feel a bit sorry for the folks who avoid you because of your purple nature. Don't worry, I and my circle of buddies would gladly stalk--I mean talk to you, no matter what skin you're in. :D

Skinkie said...

I'm not sure I'd go as far as to call it racism, but there is certainly prejudice in SL when it comes to skin colour, as I have found out personally, and wanted to rant about for a while ;-)

One of my "hobbies" is to put together realistic "looks" or costumes. I recently made a Bollywood look for a particular event (skin from Nomine, tweaked a little with the sliders to achieve a realistic Indian skin-tone) and loved the outcome so much I wore it for a few days. Now, I'm causcasion in RL and my everyday avatar is a blonde-haired tanned-skinned "beauty". When I go out, anywhere - dancing, shopping, exploring, whatever - I get chatted to, a lot. However, dressed in my sari, with long dark wavy hair, and dark skin, I was totally ignored, even when I spoke to people.

Maybe everyone was having a bad day, or perhaps I was being over-sensitive (could it have been reverse-racism?) but it sure as hell felt like people were put off by my dress and the colour of my skin.

Could it be that this metaverse is more tolerant of humanoid canines walking around with their genitals exposed than it is of a person of non-causcasion race? Hmmm.... I'd not wish to make that call, but try it one day, see what you think.

[I'll post a link to some pictures once I've got around to uploading them :-D]

Orchid said...


I'd love to see your Bollywood get-up! So yes - please send me a link when you have one (and feel free to IM me in world too if you'd like!)

It really irks me to know that there are lots of other people out there (there = SL) that stop doing things they like or simply DONT do it all because of how they are treated if they are.

And though your furry view is moderately accurate -- most furries are discriminated against as well.

I think tomorrow I will dress up as a random Pokemon and run around shouting KARP KARP MAGIKARP!

Skinkie said...


I *finally* got the pictures up.

Enjoy :-)

Pia Qi said...

Fascinating discussion. People do react differently to short, Asian pia then they do when I'm inworld as a tall, pale-skinned redhead. Even when the comments are positive, suddenly my ethnicity becomes a point of discussion. Nobody has ever come up to me and said "hey, you're Irish!" when I'm in the other form. Nobody asks if I'm really Caucasian IRL when I'm prancing around as a white girl but it seems perfectly natural and okay to people to question me when I'm presenting as Asian.

How many SL blogger avies are something other than Caucasian, be that purple or furry or some First world ethnicity? I don't see a lot of people of alternate color out and about in general and even fewer in the modeling/fashion world industry. Even in SL, where you can be anything, the standard of pretty seems to be tall, skinny, pale.

BlueCockatoo said...

That's an interesting post, Orchid and makes sense, though I think there's something more fundamental than racism involved.

As human beings we're all drawn to be more accepting of the "perfect" representation of a human than we are to abberations or the exotic. I remember a documentary on anthropology I saw where they did a study with people rating headshots of various people as attractive or not. One of the headshots was a composite of hundreds of people to come up with a "normal" person looked like (the fictional "average" person, I suppose). That composite rated most attractive over all the other photos of real people, and the other photos were basically ranked by how closely they resembled that standard.

It wasn't a matter of race or anything else, it was how close they were to being the "perfect human", something we're apparently hardwired to be attracted to.

So while many people like to celebrate their individuality and non-conformity, there's a natural tendency for that to turn-off other people. I think logically we know that's silly, especially in the context of a virtual world where you can be and look like anything, but we can't help it. Being accepting of people who don't conform is usually a conscious effort, and frankly, most people are too lazy to make that effort, especially when they have alternatives.

That doesn't fix your problem, I know, but maybe it gives you a new possibility as to why people treat you that way!

Faerie said...

I just stumbled on this from New World Notes and thought I would post the same comment here:

I wear coloured skins all the time - usually either Blue/Aqua or Brown/Orange (and wings to match) and I haven't come across any direct harrassment about my looks.

But I do remember that when I first changed from a "normal" skin I noticed a massive reduction in the number of people saying hello.

It took a bit of getting used to, but now I think this is great because it acts likes a filtering system allowing the shallow people to filter themselves out! It does sometimes (but not too often) mean that I can be surrounded by people all ignoring me - but if it happens its just that they're all not my type!

Now when a random stranger wants to talk to me I know that they are much more likely to be the sort of interesting personality that I want to know!

A friend introduced me to a new acquaintance of hers who said to her in open chat "I prefer my women to look more RL" but when I asked him: "In a world where you can be anything, why would you want to be like everyone else?" - his only reply was: "ummm I guess I see your point". It was clear to us both that he didn't (and I don't think my friend has seen him since either).

And yes, we both totally ignored his use of "my" =^.^=


Shockwave Plasma said...

I don't find this very surprising at all, it's normal to be attraced to what we find familiar.

When I did some NLP, this was taken to the point of matching the breathing and ghethurs of another person to build rapport with them. I think it's the same here.

On one hand I guess I prefer non-human Avis to odd-looking human Avies. I guess I feel move comfortable talking to a wolf or a dragon or a Dalek, than someone with bad hair.

My own skin is white, thats an ambino/zombie white, not causcasion and I have noticed even that puts people off. When I was a noobie and still had the default skin I would get random Hellos quite often, but now it's very rare.

I would have to agree with Nohae on this.

zoozo said...

GREAT article. I am relatively new to SL yet have seen a smattering of what you describe. When I look "non-traditional" others do tend to ignore me. But I am actually tickled that I don't have to spend even 30 seconds of my precious SL time interacting with them. It's a very effective way to separate the wheat from the chaff!

Maniko Manamiko said...

Hi Orchid:)!(btw i luv yours and Bebops vids:))It's realy sad that you have such a bad experience in sl being purple(and thats just wrong..the experience not the purple part i mean:D)...but...your position is something very hard for me to understand,i guess...i apsolutely agree-there is racism in sl.And that final note about content creation in sl was a nail-i'm glad somebody finaly sees it as i do.But!:)...i myself am black in sl..and my friend i am talking cole black-that means that my skin is so dark that none of my facial features are visible.Nothing but black.people told me that i look like a shadow:).And here comes the people part-i hardly ever swich to a regular skin(its just sooooo boring...damn im feelin sleepy just thinkin bout those taned bimbo-suits)and when i go to publick spaces people don't say hi to come over and say-"why are you black?"-i tell am that it's my stile,and they say stuff like-"wow tahts so cool"or that its interesting and things like that.The point is that its probaly not only the racism thats making the sl'lers such haters(and kids,don't hate)it's the the point of view when some people see skins as skins and others see skins as a mirror of life styles and personality.I think what you go through is aproblem.One of those social mentality problems in sl.Maybe a skin maker with a fresh point of view should start a busines in sl selling only rainbow color skins and not a one regular color.That would make for an interestin experiment to see how much a skin maker like that would sell.Maybe somebody here should consider that:).
I hope that one day you wont have to go through shit like this,cuz you're a realy cool girl:)oh and btw sorry for any spelling errors,english isn't my first language...will anybody judge me for that?...

Eladrienne Laval said...

I am a very fair-skinned Black woman in RL and switch between a CS skin that is very similar to my RL skin--freckles and all, and a dark tan ND skin that is like my RL sister's complexion. People have asked me what it is like before, which is funny because to me, I am for real, so "It is what it is."

I have always noticed the lack of other AVs who are truly "ethnic" so to speak and love seeing and being other skins such as lavendar and dark gray drow. It is interesting to see others' reactions. They don't always know what to make of it and sure, you've got your ignorant dumbasses, but that's on them--not you. As I'm coming up on my one year Rez Day next week, I've gotten to the point that I could care less what others think about what I look like in here. It's not going to stop MY fun! Enjoy your lovely purple skin hon! Rock it!

zoozo said...

Hello Again! My previous comments still stand, but I have been thinking more about this subject because, as avatars go, when I am not a fairy or a short white duck with a pink bow, I am a whitey. Not goth, just the palest, slightly pink-cheeked white I could find.

I have done this for two reasons: I don't particularly care for the fake "tan" skins available, and after becoming smitten with dead white skin and pink cheeks early on, I decided to keep the look, albeit refined. I consider my avatar to be ethnic, as well(shock! so non-pc!), a true Scandinavian, which is my heritage.

I love seeing almost all the looks in SL, and my non-preferences have nothing to do with skin color, only with the implied sexual or aggressive/violent nature of the avatar. Some folks just want to look ridiculous, I think!

I would love to see more of the rainbow-colored skinned avatars but don't seem to run into them. When I do, I am always appreciative. Let's hear it for color- ALL colors!