Virtual Resistance: A Preliminary Analysis of the Struggle Against Racism via the Internet

Colin A. Beckles, Ph. D.
Department Of Comparative American Cultures
Washington State University

We are Anti-Racist Action (ARA). We have chapters all over the United States and Canada. We're growing fast. ARA is a network of regular people, together to solve a problem. We intend to do the hard work necessary to decrease racism, sexism, anti-gay bigotry, anti-Semitism, and the unfairness which is often suffered by the disabled, the youngest, the oldest and the poorest of our people. We confront hatemongers like the KKK and other white supremacists. Every time they come out we want to be there. We won't stand and watch these terrorists recruit (ARA, 21 January 1996,

That the Internet is and will be a legitimate source of social power has become an agreed upon fact, accepted across a wide variety of circles. Utopian predictions about the Internet as a "color-blind," "virtual community," "global information marketplace," and the next great "democratizing" technology, continue to prevail across the media (Harris and Battle, 1994; Mann 1995; Gore 1994). By the same token, a few "critical" assessments are beginning to surface as well. One significant fact revealed by recent studies is that the present composition of, access to, use of, and domination of the Internet has for the most part been the preserve of historically privileged racial groups (Defife in Information Access company 1995; Drew 1995; Besser 1995; Brook and Boale, 1995; Gandy 1995; Miller 1995, Rand 1995 (, Shiller 1995, Sclove 1995; Slouka in Louv 1995).[1] Indeed, while racial minorities have had a presence on the Internet, they have done so in a limited capacity.[2] As such, the information "revolution" takes on even greater dimensions; its racial "imbalance" becoming even more conspicuous.

The significance of this racial imbalance will be quite evident, especially in terms of political utilization of the Internet. Formal mainstream politics have flourished on the Net (Mann 1995, Pethokoukis 1995) and studies will most likely show that those primarily engaged in this type of "Net" politicking will be whites. Given this situation, what is also becoming evident are the historically violent, white racist extremist groups utilizing the Internet for their political purposes. In their quest to reassert their "supreme" racial position within the global order, the Internet has become the latest tool for racist propaganda, aggression, and violence. Simply stated, historically violent, white race organizations have seized the Internet as their latest propaganda tool to lead them into a 21st century, state of the art, "Cyber-race war." They are archiving and disseminating racist information on the Net, surfing the Net for new recruits, verbally attacking and threatening Internet users, and connecting and consolidating with racist organizations locally, nationally, and internationally (Barney, 1996; Beckles 1996; Dennis, 1996; Drew 1995; Jones, 1995; Pethokoukis 1995; Sheppard, 1995; Vallely, 1996; Jones, 1995).

Thus stated, what has escaped investigation is the manner in which activist groups have utilized the Internet in order to defend and empower minority groups. How is the Internet being utilized to combat racism in both "virtual" and "real life?" This paper seeks to provide some initial insight to this and related questions.

Research objectives

The overall task of this paper is to provide an initial analysis on the use of the Internet by minority group activists to combat racism. The following three general questions are addressed: How do minority group activists use the Internet to challenge racism? Are these activists isolated or is organizing and/or networking activity occurring simultaneously? What is the connection between virtual activities and "real-life" activities?

Research methods

This research was performed according to standard qualitative methods procedures (Emerson 1983; Schatzmann and Strauss 1973; Strauss and Corbin 1990) beginning with the review of archival data: newspaper articles journal articles, and books which pertained to the racial struggle as it occurs on the Internet. Moreover, this archival data was supplemented and cross-validated against ethnographic data gathered at theoretically relevant Internet sites (homepages and linked sites). Twenty theoretically relevant sites were observed during the months of January and February, 1996 with sites originating in the U.S., Canada, and Europe. Finally, textual analysis was performed on electronic mailing list correspondence received by the author during the month of February, 1996.

Preliminary findings: (Re)presenting history: Archive, disseminate, discuss

Initial assessment suggests that minority groups have quickly come to understand the present and future power of the Internet as both a commercial.[3]and political resource. Moreover, minorities and minority group activists have also come to understand how the Internet is being used as an assault on minority communities. As such, across the globe, activists are establishing and/or controlling their own homepages, archives, bulletin boards, mailing lists, and newsgroups. These pages have as one of their primary goals, the documentation and dissemination of material that challenges racist information spread about minorities as well as information deemed necessary for the empowerment of racial minority communities. Thus, we see the establishment of sites specific to peoples of African descent- MelaNet (, Chicano/Latino descent- CLNet (, Asian descent - Vincent Chin Homepage (, and Indigenous descent - NativeWeb ( African Americans, for example, are using the Internet to document, disseminate and discuss information that challenges historically racist representations of African American and African Diaspora History:

And the proof is only a modem connection away. Hook up to World Wide Web "Yellow Pages" like Yahoo or the Universal Black Pages and you'll find hundreds of home pages exploring the history and culture of the African diaspora. The Library of Congress African-American Mosaic, Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, Vibe (magazine) Online, AfriNET, MelaNet, Griot Online, the Nation of Islam and NetNoir Online are just a few of the home pages where people of all races go to chat about black culture. African-Americans also often go to non-race-specific parts of the Web to get information about mainstream society and culture (Battle, 1996).

Complementing these homepages dedicated to a specific minority group are the growing number of multi-cultural, "anti-racist" sites, such as the Anti-Racism Resource Homepage (http;// Some of these sites have been established to specifically challenge the profusion of "cyber-hate" available on the Net. The founder of the "Hate Page of the Week" discusses how he was moved to take action by his encounter with "cyberhate:"

Racism and anti-Semitism remain great threats to our democracy. We cannot allow ourselves to ignore the hatred and intolerance", said Frank Xavier Placencia, a political science student at Rice University, who set up his own Net home page, The Hate Page of the Week. The home page is designed to draw public attention to the growth of hate groups in cyberspace, he said. "There were pages out there that so shocked and angered me that I wanted the whole world to see. (Sheppard 1995)

Organizing: Inform, recruit, and connect

Whether they are race-specific or multi-racial, many of these activists are not just concerned with challenging racist discourse in the virtual world. Many have ties to organized "real life" political groups. For example, the U.S.-based Black, Hispanic and Anti-Racist Socialist Page ( is connected to the Democratic Socialist of America group, while the England-based AFRANet (, is associated with various groups including Campaign Against Racism and Fascism. As illustrated, these sites can serve as information dissemination and recruitment points for real-life events. The homepage for AFRANet, for example, provides the user with information about blacks killed by racist violence in England, and upcoming anti-racist demonstrations against England's Immigration and Asylum Bill. Moreover, space is provided for site visitors to electronically sign their Anti-Racist Charter.

It is also evident that these sites are not operating in isolation of one another. Networking actively occurs as many of these sites establish virtual "links" to other sites involved in the struggle against racism. Once linked, the anti-racist information reaches local, national and international points of contact. This information dissemination occurs in at least three ways. First, Internet users from around the world can link to their pages via typing in the specific site address. Second, organizations such as the Anti-Racist Action group have established sites in Canada and the U.S. Third, anti-racist groups such as Anti-Racist Resource Page, AFRANet in England, and Anti-Racist Center in Holland have links from their sites to other anti-racist sites across the globe. What becomes manifest is the forging of a growing, electronic anti-racist infrastructure spanning the United States, Canada, and Europe[4].

Direct confrontation: Virtual and real

A variety of tactics have been used by anti-racists on the Net to directly halt the racist attacks upon minorities. The most common is virtual verbal combat. These occasions occur via e-mail, mailing list, or in newsgroups. Oftentimes, the battle with white supremacists and right-wing conservatives can become very aggressive. Indeed, unmoderated interactions can make newsgroups and chat rooms seem like a "wild west saloon brawl" (Battle in Jones, 1995). Notably, sites such as Cyberwatch have provided a space to document incidents of racist e-mail verbal violence as it occurs on the Internet.

Another cyber-warfare tactic is to shut down racist sites altogether. Here, the activist overloads the site where the racist information is originating from with e-mail messages. This effectively causes a shutdown in site operations, thereby ceasing the outflow of racist messages (Clough, 1996). Another more controversial technique is to target the Internet providers. The goal is to force providers to act as censors and not host sites which disseminate racist messages. Private groups such as the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, in particular, has asked that providers adopt a code of ethics for Internet users:

The Simon Wiesenthal Center of Los Angeles has asked Internet access providers to adopt a "code of ethics" that would prevent extremists from publishing their ideas online. Internet providers that adopt the code would refuse service to individuals or groups that "promote violence and mayhem, denigrate and threaten minorities and women, and promote homophobia." (Bray, 1996)

Other activists have pressed government bodies to intervene and censor cyber-hate. European governments and commissions in particular are utilizing their powers to establish rules and regulations banning Internet communication which "incites" racial hatred and violence[5] (Brown, 1996). Again, the targets have not only been private Internet users such as Ernest Zundel[6], but Internet providers such as Compuserve and America Online as well:[7]

America Online Inc. said Friday that it is part of a broadening probe by German prosecutors into hate material on the Internet, joining CompuServe Inc. and a European online service. The company said it may face charges in Germany for permitting German citizens to access neo-Nazi and anti-Semitic material on the global computer network (Los Angeles Times, 3 February 1996).

Another direct confrontation strategy revealed was the utilization of the Internet to organize for direct confrontation with racist groups and individuals in the real world. Anti-racist activists document and monitor the on-line and real world events of white racist groups. Anti-racist homepages and e-mail lists are then used to inform other activists about the planned racist activity. Counter-demonstrations and rallies are then planned. "Net surfers" are then recruited to participate in the counter-demonstrations at upcoming racist rallies. The Anti-Racist Action group in particular seems to favor this tactic. They frequently monitor the white supremacist homepages and mailing lists in order to find out where the next white supremacist rally, march, or conference is to be held. This information is then posted on the ARA homepages in the U.S., Canada, and Europe. All who can participate in the anti-racist counter-demonstrations are encouraged to do so in order to form a counter rally. The results of the "real life" battle with groups such as the Klan are then posted on the Net:

A faction of the Ku Klux Klan from Michigan, led by David Newman, obtained a permit to have a rally January 6th at the State House in Columbus, Ohio, "to protest against the Martin Luther King holiday." The A.R.A.-Net and a coalition of other groups organized a counter-demonstration. As they have at two other previous Columbus rallies, the police had a massive presence, including a fenced-in pen to keep hundreds of protesters away from the dozen or so Klan members. The Klan was effectively shouted down for an hour and the few who actually came to hear them were chased out. One took a beating for which a man was later charged with felonious assault. Another protester was arrested for allegedly "assaulting a police horse" as the police cavalry attempted to disperse a large group that had gathered to confront the exiting KKK party. About 100 A.R.A.-Net members from around the country held a meeting after the rally to discuss tactics and organizational structure. There was a tense debate over issues such as whether or not to enter "the cage" set up by the police and what method should be used to establish representation on an A.R.A.-Net steering committee. The group discussion was cut short, but many members continued meeting at various social gatherings. All in all, it was a successful action against the Klan and a valuable exchange of ideas and positions in what will surely be an ongoing dialogue between A.R.A.-Net members. For further info, or to get on the A.R.A. News mailing list, write: ARA, PO BOX 82097, Columbus, Ohio 43202, or e-mail the address at the bottom of this page. ( rally.html, 1996)


This paper has attempted to serve as an initial starting point for research on the utilization of the Internet to combat racism. As a preliminary analysis, the study was not intended to be exhaustive; alternatively, it is intended to provide an overview of the general dynamics and identified parameters. Moreover, the use of "encryption devices" may have limited the type of information available to the author. Thus stated, the following initial conclusions can be drawn about the various ways minority group activists utilize the Internet to fight racist activity:

  1. dedicated to information archival and dissemination which represents the history of racial minorities in a non-racist fashion;
  2. engaged in political organizing including planning and advertising "virtual" and "real life" anti-racist conferences, events, and rallies;
  3. electronic linking among activists such that local, national, and international anti-racist networks are being spun across the Internet;
  4. direct confrontation to challenge, expose, and document racist sites and their activities on the Internet;
  5. recruitment of Internet users for virtual and "real-life" confrontations with racists at both electronic sites and "real-life" events.

Future research

Future research will entail the continuation of sampling additional theoretically relevant sites in order to further develop, modify and verify the above activities. This undertaking will be supplemented with the following activities: a) content analyses of data obtained from respective internet sites as well as from e-mail list results; b) interview of Internet activists; and c) ethnographic inquiry at Internet-generated anti-racist events.

Future theoretical perspectives will focus on the following: a) further analysis of the relationship between race-specific sites and multi-racial sites; b) assessment of the factors behind the expansion/contraction of the international network; and c) assessment of the effectiveness of anti-racist activity as it occurs via the internet. Finally, the manner in which historical relationships between "real-world" political organizations affect the contours of the Internet struggle against racism will be explored.


[1] Indeed, recent studies found that:

Race is independently related to computer and network access--whites being significantly more likely to have access to both than blacks and Hispanics". An information elite still exists, made up of those with access to and knowledge about computers and e-mail. ... access to computers and to computer networks is not evenly distributed throughout the population. Specifically, computer access and use is positively related to higher levels of education and income. Also, race is independently related to computer and network access--whites being significantly more likely to have access to both than blacks and Hispanics. Probably most significant for this study of the implications of countrywide access to e-mail is the fact that income- and education-based gaps between these groups are widening over time. Apparently, if current trends continue without intervention, access to electronic information and communications technologies (and associated benefits) will be skewed in favor of traditionally advantaged groups (Rand, 1995:xiv).

[2] While the number of minorities in the "virtual community" is dwarfed by the number of whites, this does not mean that the numbers utilizing the Internet is insignificant. Minority groups are fast attempting to gain access and utilize the Net for commercial, social, educational and political objectives. Jones (1995) comments on the extent of African American participation on the Net and the process used to enlighten their community:

The numbers mirror national Census Bureau figures from 1993, which estimated 25 percent of blacks used computers at home, work or other locations, compared to 37.5 percent of whites. Rey Harris and Stafford Battle, co-authors of The African American Resource Guide to the Internet, think the statistics are misleading. "Earlier on, Rey and I were reading a story that claimed African-Americans were road kill on the information superhighway. We don't think that's true" said Battle. "We think there's a much larger African-American presence than the statistics show. ... African-Americans have long had a presence on the Net. But those numbers exploded in the last year because of strong media interest in the subject (which raised popular awareness about the Net) and the Web's point-and-click ease." (Jones, The Commercial Appeal, 17 December 1995)

[3] "Making deals in the faceless environment of the Internet may actually be a boon to black-owned establishments. One of our sayings is when you're on the Internet nobody can judge you by the color of your skin' said Battle. 'They judge you by the content of your e-mail message'"(Jones in The Commercial Appeal, 17 December 1995).

[4] These sites are not linked solely to sites whose primary purpose is the anti-racist struggle. They link to other progressive sites as well, thus increasing their potential presence on the Internet.

There are hundreds if not thousands of bulletin board services, Freenets, and other computer sites that along with such established progressive sties as PeaceNet and The Well, make up an informal alternative information structure. (Drew 1995: 82)

[5] "The European Commission (EC) has formed a pan-European group to 'encourage the mixing of people of different cultures' from both inside and outside Europe. According to EC officials, the first task of the Consultative Commission on Racism and Xenophobia (CRAX), as it is called, will be to investigate and, using legal means, stamp out the current wave of racism on the Internet. In a prepared statement, CRAX said that it hopes that the EC 'will take all needed measures to prevent the Internet from becoming a vehicle for the incitement of racist hatred'" (Newsbytes News Network, 31 January 1996).

[6] "A European Union committee on racism has demanded that the Internet be censored to prevent the incitement of racial hatred. The Union's Consultative Commission on Racism and Xenophobia last week urged all member states to follow the example of Germany, which has been attempting to censor racist and pornographic messages in cyberspace. The latest scandal was caused by Ernst Zundel, a German neo-Nazi based in Canada, who has hired space on a computer in California to promote his views" (Brown in Star Tribune, 5 February 1996).

[7] "More than a million Germans are now able to access these through Internet services. Last month Deutsche Telekom, the largest provider of Internet services in Germany, cut off all access to the computers of Web Communications, the company that rents space to Zundel. Since this is a large and respectable commercial concern, this also meant that the Deutsche Telekom subscribers lost access to another 1,500 web sites" (Brown in Star Tribune, 5 February 1996).


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