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Abstract

Contemporary theories of racism, like Bonilla-Silva’s (2010) Racism Without Racists, assume a subtle, covert presentation of racist ideologies. This assumption is based on the prevalence of societal norms that make overt racist language or actions taboo. The Internet represents a distinct social environment, and communication in many online contexts is not bound by the same norms as face-to-face interaction. How does the Internet affect the presentation of racial ideologies, and how do these distinct presentations affect young people of color? This study seeks to answer these questions using data gathered from in-depth interviews with undergraduate students of color and archival data from a campus-based website. I present a framework for understanding how structural characteristics of the Internet shape the expression of racist ideologies, change the way students of color engage in racial discourse, and facilitate the development of student racial and activist identities. I find that on one hand, decreased accountability in online spaces can facilitate increased expressions of explicitly racist ideologies, which have tangible influences on the way students of color conceptualize the significance of race and approach interracial interactions on campus. On the other hand, however, on the Internet students of color perceive more peer support when faced what they perceive to be hostile racial interactions, are more likely to be openly critical of microaggressions or racial slights, and perceive increased agency in shaping their campus racial climate. I conclude that while the Internet can increase the risk of exposure to overtly racist ideas, it may also provide students of color with a unique set of tools with which they can engage in acts of critical resistance and counter dominant racial ideologies. I discuss the implications of these findings for the way we understand race, racism, and racial socialization in the information age, the surprisingly coarse racial discourse witnessed during the 2016 elections cycle, and the way online social media is being utilized in contemporary social movements for racial justice.

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