There’s a part of my brain that can’t believe that this all began because of an overused meme. There’s a part of my brain that’s almost embarrassed that I was able to build so much content as a result of scrolling through character tags on tumblr and taking in the way that some of my fellow fans were talking about characters of color via the “cinnamon roll” meme.
Pulled from the title of an Onion article turned meme, the “cinnamon roll” in fandom is a character who is literally seen as being too good and too pure for this world. While different people in different sub/fandoms can’t decide on a uniform meaning or usage of the meme, one thing that the meme has come to represent is that the different “cinnamon roll” characters tend not to get the same content as other characters.
Unless they’re designated as a “sinnamon roll” (who is often a problematic character, usually a villain), these characters get “softer” content and they’re typically coddled in the ships fandom does popularize for them.
It’s a meme-turned-trope that should be adorable and sweet because well…
Everyone loves a cinnamon roll.
However, when those characters are characters of color well… it can become a problem.
This isn’t to say that viewing characters of color as the various rolls on the cinnamon roll meme is inherently or automatically racist or that using these tropes or memes to build archetypes in fandom is a form of straight up racism.
I am not saying that.
However, I’ve found that fandom’s usage of the meme to easily categorize characters – and male characters of color in particular — is another case of what happens when people don’t think intersectionally and, as a result, wind up accidentally promoting or reencoding racism in their fanworks and fandom practices.
I think that a major problem within fandom, is that many people don’t stop to think that there’s no “one size fits all” approach to the tropes that they like in fandom. Fandom literally doesn’t allow room for people to pause and think “is there anything wrong with applying certain tropes to certain characters” and that’s how we get a ton of casual racism that fans don’t recognize as problematic.
But that’s the thing: it’s easy to mess up with characters of color by not thinking in an intersectional way and by not doing research into how certain “harmless” tropes or kinks become harmful when applied willy nilly to these characters.
In previous pieces, I’ve covered how women of color – especially black women – are deemed “too strong” to need a man or romantic relationships of any kind at all. Women of color aren’t typically described as cinnamon rolls in fandom because they’re not seen as soft or sweet.
(And I’m assuming that fandom just… forgets that people of color that exist outside the gender binary exist in the world and in their source media of choice.)
In this piece (which is the opening for a series of little essays that will go on as long as I’ve got material for it), I’m going to be looking at the way that fandom tackles male “cinnamon roll” characters of color. I’ve noticed that calling male characters of color cinnamon rolls is one of the main and most recent methods fandom has used to keep them distant from a shipping focus and since that’s something I study… Here we are.
To start with, I’m going to use Rogue One‘s Bodhi Rook, Star Wars: The Force Awaken’s’ Finn, and Marvel’s Luke Cage‘s Luke Cage to talk about the specific ways that fandom, by way of the cinnamon roll meme, tropes applied without a background of intersectional thinking, and other aspects of fandom culture, has dehumanized and/or infantilized these characters of color in the process of Othering them or rendering them unshippable.
Up first (next month) will be an essay about redefining familial bonds for characters of color in order to excuse infantlization via Bodhi Rook.