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Racism, Sexism, and Gaming—Cruel Optimism: The Problem with Meritocratic Media


Professor Lisa Nakamura has been writing about digital media, race, gender, and ethnicity since 1995. Her scholarship focuses on racism and sexism in video games, social media, and online communities. On Friday, September 15, at 4:30 p.m. in the Vollum lecture hall, Nakamura will present “Racism, Sexism, and Gaming—Cruel Optimism: The Problem with Meritocratic Media.”

Sexism and racism are serious problems that flourish in the relative anonymity of digital culture, especially in the gaming community, where the cultural backlash against “social justice warriors" proliferated. A recent study of online harassment by the Pew Research Center showed that 26% of young women have reported being stalked and 25% being sexually harassed. Fifty-one percent of African American and 54% of Hispanic respondents experienced some form of online harassment, compared to 34% of white users.

The lecture flows from the theme of her new monograph in process, Workers Without Bodies: Race, Gender, and Digital Labor, which is about the history, practices, and politics of women of color in digital culture. Nakamura will argue that the calling out of harassers by women of color in the gaming community is a vital form of unpaid content moderation that benefits all internet users.

Nakamura is a 1987 Reed College graduate and is currently the Gwendolyn Calvert Baker Collegiate Professor of American Cultures at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. She is the coordinator of the Digital Studies Program at the University of Michigan and a former co-facilitator of FemTechNet, a network of feminist scholars, teachers, artists, and activists who work on technology.

Nakamura is the author of Digitizing Race: Visual Cultures of the Internet, which is the winner of the Asian American Studies Association 2010 book award in cultural studies; Cybertypes: Race, Ethnicity and Identity on the Internet; and co-editor of Race in Cyberspace and Race After the Internet.

The Eddings Lecture is named for fantasy-fiction author and philanthropist David Eddings ’54.