Undercurrents -- online forum for discussion about interrelationships among race, gender, technology, and globalization


About Undercurrents

Welcome to Undercurrents, an online forum for discussion about interrelationships among race, gender, technology, and globalization. Undercurrents listserv was launched in 2002 by Irina Aristahrkova, Maria Fernandez, Coco Fusco and Faith Wilding. Current Moderators are Gita Hashemi, Anjalika Sagar, Ingrid Hoofd, and Lucia Sommer. The following description is from the list's original opening statement:

What is Undercurrents?

-- currents below the surface
-- hidden opinions or feelings often contrary to the ones publicly shown
-- electronic communication from other sites
-- heretofore unspoken questions about the racial politics of net.culture, new media and cyberfeminism

Undercurrents is a new on-line discussion about how feminism, new technologies, postcoloniality and globalization are interrelated. Although each of these terms has generated its own enriching debate, we see a need to bring these fields of inquiry together. We seek to challenge the utopian ideology of cyberculture that posits technology, in the words of Lisa Nakamura, "as a social equalizer which levels out race and gender inequities, since bodies are supposedly left behind in cyberspace." We believe that there are many practical and philosophical reasons to question libertarian characterizations of electronic culture and virtual reality. As much as we support the democratic goals of many who have contributed to alternative discourses within net.culture, we do not agree that the ideal of a digital commons, feminist or otherwise, necessarily transcends the problematic logic of race and racism. We are deeply skeptical of such assumptions because we understand that race and racism involve much more than skin, bodies, overt segregation or physical violence. We argue instead that race is manifest in both the essentializing ventures of law and science and in the arenas of performativity that denaturalize and de-essentialize embodiment, including cyberspace.

We believe that electronic communication and postcolonial migration are parallel forces that jointly affect who we are as human collectivities and how we live regardless of whether we ourselves are migrants. We are launching the list-serve to join minds with those who want to discuss how these phenomena relate rather than assuming that the virtual world can or should completely overtake the social, political and economic force of lived experience in the physical world. The digital divide is one important issue that many activists have tried to address in relation to racism's effect on access to new technologies, but it is not the only way that racial inequities are manifest in new media culture and theory. Our world remains polarized along racial lines, and in it, non-white peoples are the most likely to be exploited as lab rats for biotechnology, cheap labor, and sex slaves. The visual content of electronic culture is shaped by the racialized power relations of the physical world -- in the fantasmatic territory of cyberspace those realities are reconfigured, but not transcended. In this era of racist attacks against non-whites throughout Europe, rising xenophobia in North America, and overtly racist immigration
policies through the developed world, claiming that "we are beyond race" is not only symptomatic of willed ignorance but constitutes an act of political negligence in the service of white hegemony.

Universalized Whiteness is the Strategy/ Spatial Rhetoric is the Tactic

It has become commonplace in contemporary cultural theory about the internet and virtual identity to describe net.subjectivity as nomadic, deterritorialized, and hybrid. These terms cast the embodied experiences of poor and mostly non-white people in spatial terms, masking their socio-historical origin. At the same time, all too often in discussions of the net.cutural politics, attempts by people of color to raise the issue of race are dismissed by the white majority as "identity politics" that do not belong in analyses of cyberspace. We believe there are good reasons to question the tendency in net.culture to adopt terminology that describes the experiences of radically marginalized and disenfranchised peoples, most of whom are not white and who have little choice over their fate, to represent the imagined freedom that the majority white netizen population associates with being in cyberspace. Cybertheory's tendency to view postcolonial realities through the lens of a limited Deleuzian vocabulary and to simultaneously dismiss both race and auto-ethnography as "passé" limit our ability to grasp the complex interplay of identity and technology on and off line. This approach effectively silences postcolonial subjects by
de-legitimating the strategies that have evolved over five centuries to describe colonial domination in which the conquest of territory and the imposition of racial logic have been enjoined as the key means of commanding and controlling populations. Centuries of anti-colonial and anti-racist cultural resistance should not be misconstrued as being the same thing as a few years of bureaucratic multiculturalism in North America, a period that is routinely dismissed as informed by "political correctness." Let us not forget that this epithet emerged from the culture wars in the US that were designed to purge the culture any and all art that engaged with the social. Contemporary cybertheory, which cyberfeminism also partakes of, maintains a storehouse of tactics that suppress racial issues and thus tacitly invest in whiteness as the universal identity that underpins net.culture. These tactics don't have to be conscious to be effective -- on the contrary they work best when they are internalized as normative.

(Please see Archive for full text)

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