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I am not an avatar

I am not an avatar. I never have been.

I have an avatar. Technically, I suppose, I have dozens for various services. They’re analogous to a change of clothes or an ID card.

I am no more an avatar than a person with a disability is their disability.

“Words affect attitudes,” says disability rights pioneer Lex Frieden, who joined the faculty of The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston in 2007. “If people use misinformed language, it perpetuates the negative stereotypes and perceptions about groups of people.”

To say that someone is an avatar or to describe them as one is to diminish them, by missing the point that they are a person. The avatar, like your skin and my clothes, is just the part you see and that’s never been the most important part of a person.

There certainly is an avatar, and it is appropriate to describe it as such, but to describe the person as an avatar demonstrates superficial thinking that many people consider insulting.

In one offline discussion I had a couple years back, the fact that I was a Second Life user came up. The tone suddenly turned chilly.

“Oh, you’re an avatar.” spoken in much the same way as if he’d said “Oh, you’re a nigger.”

Filed off in a little box with an all-too-convenient label and dismissed then. Not even a second-class person.

A non-person.

Words matter. Words have power to form and change attitudes. Described as an avatar, you’re a class apart, and separate from the bulk of humanity. If you’ll pardon the pejorative term, a digital nigger. Easy to dismiss, easy to disparage, and easy to ignore. Some even feel like they have some sort of duty to ‘put you in your place’.

I am not an avatar. I am a person. A one-word difference makes me much harder to ignore, to dismiss, segregate or disparage.

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