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A 2011 article on pop culture website Oh No They Didn’t entitled “Fandom and its hatred of Black women characters” opens by asking readers “What do Martha Jones, Tara Thornton, Guinevere, and Mercedes Jones have in common?”
The short post details the various ways that fandom goes out of its way to diminish the awesomeness of Black female characters, but for this section, I’d like to look at the excuses fandom gives for why they don’t like –and frequently, actively hate – Black female characters.
Livejournal user flint_marko, the author of the ONTD post, provides a handy list of insults that fans use to excuse their hatred of these female characters that includes:
- They have an attitude problem.
- They’re lazy.
- They’re mean.
- They’re stupid.
- They’re ungrateful.
- They’re selfish.
- They’re sluts.
When I say that fandom hates Black women, this sort of thing is a prime example. All of the examples that flint_marko gives are things that fandom has used to excuse disliking or hating Black female characters throughout the years.
And of course, these reasons are largely linked to racist stereotypes and beliefs about Black women. They hinge on insulting Black women’s personalities, their willingness to work, their intelligence, and their sexual identity. All of those things have been and are used to excuse the terrible treatment of Black women. All of these things have been and are used to excuse violence towards us.
The way that non-Black people perceive aggression in Black women – we’ve got attitude problems, we’re mean, we’re selfish – leads to increased persecution and hyper policing. It leads to our deaths. When they see Black women as “sluts”, they’re hypersexualizing us. It leads to our sexual assault.
Black female characters are disliked because they supposedly have attitude problems – which is code for “not being grateful and/or subservient to a white character fandom loves”.
They’re called lazy because they’re unwilling to do labor – emotional or physical – for a white character. They’re mean because they don’t let white characters boss them around. They’re called ungrateful and spoiled because they shouldn’t expect better treatment from the (white) characters around them.
And of course, fandom loves to call Black characters sluts… for sleeping with the white characters these (ostensibly) white fans lust over themselves.
The consistently negative treatment of Black female characters in fandom is related to the treatment of real live Black women.
It may not directly lead to sexual assault or deaths of real live Black women (and so fandom refuses to see it as “real” racism), but it does lead to folks uncritically creating or sharing content where these “uppity” Black female characters are “put in their place” by or for white characters.
I’m talking about the hatred of Vivienne in Dragon Age: Inquisition that led to stories where she was raped and/or tortured in order to put her in her place.
Vivienne, an explicitly Black female character, has the same political views as several other companions across the series that fandom loves (like Wynne in the first game) and yet she’s the only character that fandom takes pleasure in dehumanizing in that specific way.
I’m talking about the people that co-signed two Feb 2018 fan fiction pieces about Shuri where the author used Tony Stark as a mouthpiece for their own unwarranted beef with Shuri (after being yelled at for calling Shuri a “Mary Sue” as a pejorative).
Her first story had him essentially put her in her place while using an anonymous crowd of social justice warriors to represent the Black people in fandom that called her out for her nonsense.
The second story used Steve Rogers’ righteous anger (later replacing him with Sam Wilson because the original was too racist) in order to frame Wakanda as an abusive country for how they were supposedly mistreating Shuri and not allowing her a childhood. That author never apologized for their racist fanworks and I doubt sees anything wrong with that – because Black women were unkind in response to her open racism towards a Black female character.
In a fandom that flat out fawns over white male characters that are (re)written to be too good to be true (Tony Stark, Steven Rogers, and the like), it is supremely telling that the MCU fandom’s biggest issue with Shuri is that she seems “too perfect” (too smart, too beloved, too funny, too snarky) for them to care about.
The misogynoir literally leaps out in the immediate and intense hate-on that the MCU fandom nurtured for Shuri – especially once she was deemed the smartest person in the world and (mildly) dunked on Bruce Banner in that one scene in Infinity War.
Back when True Blood first aired, folks wrote Tara Thorton off as a sassy black friend. They called her “static” despite constantly going through life-changing relationships and transformations and a “bitch” because she took shit from no one. She was one of the more famous Black female characters that fandom first decided had an attitude problem for the same take charge behavior that they’ve loved in white heroines and to this day, she doesn’t get the same treatment that other white characters in the franchise do from fandom.
Fandom loves strong female characters. They love boss, bad ass bitches who take charge of all kinds of situations and have all the sex with gorgeous (typically white) guys and girls.
My go to example: think of the fandom reaction to Atomic Blonde where it was seen as this strong and sexy feminist film because of Charlize Theron’s main character being a James Bond-esque character while ignoring that the film goes full on #BuryYourGays with Sofia Boutella’s character and is super freaking white besides.
Fandom eats that shit up with a spoon and then labels it as feminist… right up until a Black woman comes into the picture as a Strong (and not Single) Female Character.
Then it’s a problem and she suddenly has to be put in her place.
Despite spending years cleaning up various Elena-related messes on The Vampire Diaries, Bonnie Bennet was always treated as if she was the worst and most selfish friend in the show (on top of her being boring).
Think about how often her fears, desires, and needs took a backseat to that of a white female character that was supposed to be her friend and you’ll realize how much of the accusations of her supposed selfishness are made up.
(Also, the showrunner for that show didn’t bother to develop her character outside of what she could do for white characters so if she’s boring… well, whose fault is that?)
One thing about the convenient excuses that folks in fandom use to try and diminish Black female characters and excuse the way that they talk about and/or mistreat them, is that these excuses never change. The script stays the same across the years and across fandoms.
Transformative fandom didn’t like Zoe Saldana’s Nyota Uhura in 2009 because she was in a relationship with Spock was somehow bitchy and that still hasn’t actually changed – though many of them are clinging solidly to the false idea that romance somehow reduces Black female characters/women. Now in 2019, Michael on Star Trek: Discovery is… also too bitchy for showing so many of the same behavioral/character traits that her brother Spock is lauded for.
Right now, there are folks in fandom ragging on Iris West and Kory Anders for having love and getting a white (or white-passing in Dick’s case) male character to show them affection now that they’re racebent… and this matches with folks from a decade ago that hated that Angel Coulby’s Guinevere was the one that Arthur ended up with as his love interest (instead of one of the white characters that fandom felt was more suitable).
There’s always something that folks in fandom just don’t like about Black female characters like Claire Temple (Daredevil and Luke Cage) or Nakia (Black Panther) who are actively loved by Black male characters. They can never actually put their finger on it, but it’s always related to one of their very convenient excuses and therefore never “really” counts as misogynoir/racism so when Black women point it out… they’re framed as the problem.
Here’s another thing about the convenient excuses that folks in fandom uses to try and Matrix-dodge accusations of racism in fandom when they’re hating on a Black female character:
We know that the real reason you don’t like Kory Anders/Abbie Mills/Bonnie Bennett/Shuri/Iris West isn’t because they’re actually boring, or too perfect, or whatever random ass reason you’ve pulled from what is at this point a decade-old script.
We know it’s because they’re black.
You know it’s because they’re black.
If you’re going to insult Black female characters, don’t compound your misogynoir by also insulting Black women’s intelligence and our ability to understand and unpack a very typical form of (mis) treatment for Black female characters in fandom.
Oh, and get better excuses.
Because they’re qwhite transparent at this point.
Next month: Black Women in the Way.