Sam Wilson. Abigail Mills. James “Rhodey” Rhodes. Eve Moneypenny . Joan Watson.
What do these characters all have in common?
Well, they’re all characters of color in popular films or television shows.
They’re all shippable with fandom’s white dude darlings (Steve Rogers, James Bond, and Sherlock Holmes for example).
And oh yeah –
Fandom constantly desexualizes them and removes them as valid canon or fanon love interests for said white dude darlings so that a white character can swoop in and fandom can have fantastic ships.
Let’s face it: fandom has a major racism problem.
The clearest sign of this is how characters of color and the fans that defend them are treated.
Fandom, we need to do better. We need to talk about the fact that there’s no balance. We need to talk about how either fandom is hypersexualizing characters of color or desexualizing them.
We also need to talk about how fans and characters of color do not get treated well in fandom and yet it keeps getting glossed over as if it’s not a sign of serious racism in fandom. Reduced to drama or ship wars, discussions about the methods that fandom undertakes to deliberately distance characters of color from white characters (either with regard to friendships or romantic relationships) are frequently pushed to the side.
Whenever someone makes a post or writes an article about the way that fandom pushes these fans and characters to the sidelines, it rarely goes well.
I know this for a fact. I’ve written my fair share of those posts and the negative responses have been both intense and immediate.
Even on my previous posts about fandom’s racism problems, I’ve gotten dismissed by people who otherwise seem like they’re great. I’ve had nasty messages sent to my inbox. Fandom friendships have suffered. After a while, you get labeled as a trouble maker because fandom is supposed to be this carefree place where oppression is ignored unless it’s that of actually diverse fictional characters and the fans wanting representation to carry over to the fandom.
Despite that, I’m not going to keep quiet about it.
I’m here to talk about this racism problem in detail by using different fandoms and ships as examples along with my personal experiences and those of fellow fans.
For the next five months, we’ll be looking at how fandom mistreats and misuses characters of color and how fandom spaces tend not to be so safe for fans of color who are vocally uncomfortable with this treatment.
First in November, I’m going to talk about some of the techniques that fandom uses to push characters of color into the background. This month’s post will be highly ship-specific and focus on how fandom for media properties tends to revolve around white male characters at the expense of characters of color.
Then I’ll look at the way that POC-specific culture, history, and experiences are coopted by fandom in their ships and fanworks. From ill-thought out AUs to fandom’s need to write endless stories about their white guy faves as kitsune, we’re going to look at how not to use POC history and cultures as material for your ships. Why? Because December’s our anti-cultural appropriation month.
Next in January, I’ll be looking at the treatment of fans in fandoms when they decide to speak out. I’m taking a serious look at the way that fans (especially fans of color) who talk about racism are treated especially when it comes to talking about racist reactions to ships or whitewashing in fanart/fanworks. This one’s a little more personal for me because of my experiences, but I’m looking forward to talking about that as well as sharing experiences from other fans of color who have dealt with that sort of chaos.
After that, I’ll use February about how the drive to make fandom a safe space and appear welcoming to outsiders means that people of color who speak out against racism wind up treated as if they’re causing dissension in the fannish ranks. I’ll be talking about wider fandom experiences and doing a throwback to Racefail 2009 and looking at SFF fandom’s continual aggression towards everyone toeing the party line. This one’s going to be interesting because I’m going to try interviewing a few people since this isn’t something I have a lot of experience with!!
And finally, I’ll be looking at ways that fandom can do better and make the experience fun and safe for everyone. March will be about finding a fix and checking privileges. If you’re invested in making fandom a true safe space, you’re going to want to stick around for this post.
Part fan-academia study, part “I’m so tired of fandom and I need to write this all down” rant, this hybrid essay-rant series is going to look at fandom’s race problem with a highly critical eye. Fandom doesn’t exist in a vacuum devoid of twisty racial politics and misrepresentation, so why do we keep trying to act like it does? I’m not pulling any punches and I’m not softening my language either.
Our experiences as fans (of color and otherwise) looking at the continued erasure and mistreatment of characters and fans of color in these supposed safe spaces color everything from how we look at media or choose what to engage in to how we interact with fellow fans.
Most articles about fandom focuses on positive things and we rarely get to see discussions of race without horrible things happening, but my goal is to get old and new members of fandom thinking and talking about the issues and how fandom can do better.
Interested in joining this conversation or sharing your experiences in fandom?
Feel free to get in touch!