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Sunday, March 13, 2005

THE FREEFORM IDENTITY BEBOP OF EBONI KHAN

Part III of "THE FIVE PEOPLE YOU MEET IN SECOND LIFE", a series of random interviews with Second Life Residents—details here, Part I here, Part II here.

I met Ms. Eboni Khan, a Black Republican Buddhist Fortune 1000 executive who is testing the appeal of upscale social events with no explicit sexual content, by moving my mouse over a list of Residents online during the day, and clicking on it with my eyes closed.

I first got acquainted with her in-world at a live jazz performance in Beverly Hills, a private island simulator, and after the event was over (she was its hostess), we went on a couple short tours of the sim, chatting about race, race and avatars, jazz clubs, socialization, men who seduce women while acting as women, going in-world from airport terminals, and more.

On her Second Life...

My main gig in SL is Event Manager for Beverly Hills [a private island simulator]. It is the most time- consuming, but I also make futons and clothes. I am building a new store right now; I do it out my pocket. I am working on a fashion show for Saturday, and I had a modeling agency cancel on me, and I had to get another, so now I am regrouping some things...

Event hosting is a lot of work... but I love this sim so much. I am committed to event hosting here.

On the success of Beverly Hills:

Beverly Hills usually stays in the top twenty [most popular places] with no events-- that is pretty impressive, since most of the top tweny sims run events 24/7. [I attribute Beverly Hills' success to] the beauty of the sim. [It's] laid out like a city-- sidewalks, roads, in a grid, with an entertainment area in the back. It's clean, neutral, yet slightly flashy, and all the popular designers are there... With so many unzoned and ill-planned and unstable sims, Beverly Hills is stable in design and well-planned. People like structure-- just like children.

As much as people like unrealistic things in virtual worlds, they love the realistic. Not everyone can shop on Rodeo Drive in real life. Or on 5th Avenue. But you can come on SL, and with your meager stipend, buy a rather expensive dress, at an exclusive boutique in Beverly Hills. It makes people feel good…

On what she spends her in-world money on:

This is a skin [I bought], but I did the features. Does anyone make their avatar anymore? Second Life is my relaxation point, so I only make things that interest me and bring me pleasure. If it is frustrating or not cost-effective for me to spend leisure time on, then I buy. I make enough money in real life to spend money in Second Life-- it's part of my entertainment budget. What I spend in one month in SL isn't even one night at the bar. [laughs] So it's a savings.

On her ongoing in-world social experiment:

Basically, I want to see if upscale events will be well-attended in SL. The club (which I can show you later) does not look like other clubs in SL. I have made sure of that... no strippers, no escorts, although there will be dungeons below, that are separate from the club.

But upstairs, where I am, will be clean... I enjoy the element of completely creating a second life, and am open to all that SL has to offer, but I'm not for public nudity or public sex. Even if it is just pixels. [smiling] My avie has strong morals.

Well, I am sure it will fail, so "failed experiment" has a better ring to it. The other title would be "My new way to pour money down the drain experiment"... I doubt "upscale" can compete with sex.

On Eboni Khan, in her first life...

[I'm a] mid-level Executive for a Fortune 1000 Company. I'm a technology manager-- I travel the US doing site visits with customers.

I think coding is for monkeys. It's slave work, so I do other things. But I know how. I have an Engineering degree from a top engineering school. I only did it in college, or out of necessity at work. I have always been middle/low level management, high-end tech support. [Now] I do mostly servers and networks, but also manage people.

I get online [into Second Life] from hotels with my laptop... it depends on the network speeds in the hotels. If they are slow I just give up and hit the bar. [smiles] I sometimes log on in airports when I have layovers, or my flight is delayed. It's not great [connection quality] but it works. Most airports have high speed wireless; I use it all the time, probably sucking all the bandwidth for the terminal. [laughs] So Second Life has become my home on the road.

My life is in constant flux. But SL is a stablizing factor.

I have tried to get more of my real life friends to play Second Life, so I can spend more time with them, but they have declined. But I am still working on them. They say if I don’t cut back they are going to perform an intervention. I showed them my futons on [in-world commerce website] SLExchange, and they have decided that Second Life is a little too involved. But really, they are supportive.

On the club she'll manage with owner Amy Stirling:

My [intent] is to run the club more like a real nightclub. At least a real [big city] nightclub... years of [real world] clubbing, running events in college, and dating DJs and club managers teaches you a little.

People crave change. And people love something new. As much as people like the familiar, they crave the new. Notice how new sims are snapped up. So a new club, offering something a little different on a popular and well respected sim, means something.

While touring the club, still under construction...

The stage here with the wood [surface] is for [jazz musician] Flaming Moe. More intimate environment. Since all the other clubs have huge stages, this one will allow people to be closer to him. Every [real life] jazz bar I have been in is a hole in the wall. Even the nice ones. You are almost sitting on the stage. These huge venues are ridiculous here…

On socialization in Second Life...

[In the previous world she was a member of, p]eople spent a lot of time in their homes socializing with friends, etc. That doesn't happen here. I rarely ever go to a person's home and hang out… [because] you can build. You can make things and have instant satisfaction... I do sit around in the house with my boyfriend a lot and talk religion and spirituality and assorted other pointless and deep thoughts.

Yes, my Second Life boyfriend. I am very single in real life. Can't have a man when you are on the road five days a week.

Her thoughts on why some men roleplay as female avatars:

The men pretending to be women are more into dressing themselves and admiring themselves-- and attempting to build relationships, which is interesting. The men that I know [who] are women here, are very feminine. And strive to have loving friendships and relationships. Which leads me to believe a lot of men think they can't accomplish the same thing [while] being a stereotypical male.

Sensitive and tender? Pretend to be a girl, then seduce the girl of your dreams. Then tell her you are a man, and hope for the best. I think the majority of these men just want to be tender and loving, and think a female avie makes it easier for them to do it.

On her avatar's appearance...

[My] avie looks like me, if I was six foot tall and ultra thin. Always as dark as possible, with African features... I have been going for an "aging African model who made it big in Europe" look. But I wonder what would happen if I looked more like Alec Wek than Iman.

I am trying to get someone to make me a darker skin, but you lose detail with darker [features]...

I have tried to be lighter, or a different race, but it makes me uncomfortable. I had a hard time in real life being a darker Black person. It took me a long time to be comfortable in my own skin. So an avie that isn't dark like me makes me uncomfortable. [laughs] Like I am passing...

[I'm] more of an Oprah color, in real life... peacan.

On race in Second Life...

Race is pretty much a non-issue here. Although when I first started playing, there were very few African-Americans in the game. Now there are plenty. Or plenty pretending.

You don’t find many African-American people being dark online. Which is funny, because there are plenty of dark black people in real life. I came from [another online world], and I was one of the few chocolate avies. Most were caramel. They blamed it on clothes being designed more for caramel [skinned avatars]. But that's a cop-out. I think it speaks to larger issues with race and skin tone. But you can't preach to people online who only want to get virtual ass. So I keep my observations to myself… People come online in these worlds to have a good time, not engage in deep socially political talk, which is what I crave.

I rarely interact with African-American avies, only a few people that I know from [the previous online world].

On whether that matters to her.

Nope.

Well, yes. Let me not lie. I wish I could interact with more black people [in SL]... From various backgrounds. It would be nice. My interactions with them are limited in real life, to some extent.

What does bother me is that most of the things [here] seem to appeal to the lowest common denominator. And that extends to [in-world] Mafias. I hate the thug culture. Pointless drivel. People have computers worth hundreds of dollars. The know-how to get online. The ability to navigate Second Life, which is not the most intuitive software. And they want to pretend to be thugs. Real thugs are on the street making money. These people are lame, pretending. If they ever met a real thug they would piss their pants. Owning a JayZ CD and some Roc-A-Wear doesnt make you a thug, pimp, or a balla… it sucks that all people see [about] black culture is thugs. There are so many black scholars, inventors, business people, but you never hear about them. The celebrity worship culture in Western society is against that.

On once being uncomfortable in her own skin...

Well, it was more growing up… My father was very dark. He and my mother hated each other. Me being dark reminded her of him, because I looked like him, and it made it hard for her to love me… [also] where I grew up, most of the Black people were poor and uneducated; my family was upper class. My grandmother was a veternarian researcher at a university. Not many Black vets, not many Black doctors. And for a lady her age, well…

On whether it had anything to do with white on black racism.

Nope. Not at all. White people are far more accepting, at least in my life they have been. Your own people can be the cruelest... And my unique personality-- I'm not, umm, the stereotypical or average Black person… A lot of Black people seem to hate when other people act differently. They take it as you think you are better, and that you are trying to be white. It seems impossible to just be different. [But] I will never apologize for being smart. Or [liking] sci-fi.

On revealing herself to the world...

I have started coming out more to my friends. Being a conservative Black female Republican Buddhist isn’t easy. I just started admitting I am not a Christian, which is hard. Even for your non-religious friends, because most of them still believe in Christianity, even if they don’t practice… I have been exploring other religions for about 13 years. [I like Buddhism's] simplicity, the singleness, the fact I don’t need to be with or around other people to practice, the explanations about life. It seems practical.

On the Republican part:

[Laughing] Again, seems practical to me. But my family has always been Republican. My grandfather was the head of the local NAACP, and he used to talk about how Democrats wouldn’t let them vote. I learned to loath Democrats early on.

I am really more libertarian in political leanings, but I vote Republican. I dont care for [President Bush], but I don't like many politicians. I do respect him greatly as a strong leader-- he seems to do what he thinks is right and to hell with polls and public opinion.

The first Black or Hispanic [to be President] will be killed, my personal opinion. Or people will try, hard. This country hasn’t came that far.

I get on a plane in a suit, with a laptop, Blackberry, expensive cell, and people ask me dumb questions and seem surprised I have a marginally impressive job. You would be surprised how shocked people are when I sit in First Class. I deal with a lot of people traveling. This country hasn’t come far enough for a Black President.

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Comments

"by moving my mouse over a list of Residents online during the day, and clicking on it with my eyes closed"


Looks Like Eboni is lucky with the random find clickings! I picked her randomly once too for my "warm fuzzie days".

Woo Eboni!

Posted by: Launa Fauna at Mar 16, 2005 1:35:32 PM

Wow I really enjoyed that article, the one thing that hit me hard was the comments about avatars skin tones. I am a very light skinned black woman and when I first entered the virtual world I fashioned myself after my RL skin. Over time I would get to know people and I cared not , what race they were but how they treated me as a person, eventually I would get the questions after some time "OMG your black?" I mean just because my avie wasnt the darkest skin tone you get ment that I was what 'caucasion with a tan?'
Even now in SL I have a dark tone, nothing near my rl tone, just to feel some identity or rather give myself an identity to those just meeting me. Also I am in agreement regarding the persona of African-Americans in SL. I have tried to hang out in S.I. and frankly it bores me, everyones a thug with chains hanging down to their stomachs or the 'sisters' who usually have there pre set cliques. I have never felt welcome as a new person or someone who even frequents there. Well enough of me venting, but I thought for the longest that I was the only one who felt this way. Anyway I enjoyed the article hope to see more.

Posted by: Kimber Steele at Dec 30, 2005 6:56:47 AM

I really enjoyed this article. While I might not be on the same page with Eboni on her political views, her wits, her attitude, and how clearly she seems to see what she wants made me like her quite a bit. I have been to the Beverly Hills sim, and she is right, it is a beautiful. I have never met her nor been to any of her events but now after reading this article I am looking forward to it.

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