Declaring the problem a ship war wasn’t so much revisionist history as wishful thinking: fans like to consider fannish space utopian, and racism doesn’t belong in utopia— therefore the problem wasn’t racism, it was ships. This line of thinking was white privilege at its finest (or lowest), with POC fandom as its casualties.
From “Not So Star-Spangled Examining Race, Privilege and Problems in MCU’s Captain America Fandom” by Cait Coker and Rukmini Pande in The Darker Side of Slash Fan Fiction
Time and time again in fandom, it’s been proven that the easiest way to stop people from taking the critical thoughts of fans of color seriously when we talk about racism in fandom spaces is to reframe it all as “just” a ship war.
If criticism of racism can be dismissed as “just” jealous shippers lashing out at a supposedly better positioned or more liked ship, then no one has to wrestle with what we’re actually talking about:
That time and time again in fandom’s shippy spaces, fandom actively chooses whiteness. Fandom constantly chooses white characters, whitewashed characters of color, white experiences, and white fans over people of color – real and fictional.
If you reframe it as “just” a ship war where petty babies are out to police fandom because their ship isn’t doing so hot in the charts –
Who’s going to listen to us?
Why would anyone listen to us?
This purposeful rewriting of fans of color – who, in these cases, tend to be Black women specifically – as jealous haters that want to control what others ship serves to make them seem untrustworthy. They’re rabid fans, antis, and social justice warriors. Doing this turns Black fans into people whose criticism of fandom can’t be trusted because “all they really care about” is shipping and are using racism as a “bludgeon”.
Another example I use is the way that Ichabod/Katrina (Ichatrina) fans of Sleepy Hollow and even noted actor Orlando Jones, himself an Ichabod/Abbie (Ichabbie) shipper, dismissed the conversations Black women in the Sleepy Hollow fandom were having about the way that the fandom leaped away from shipping the latter ship as… a ship war.
It’s been like six years since that season and I am still salty about that.
It doesn’t help that I found out on the 15th that Orlando Jones apparently term searches so he can be a dick to people he thinks are talking shit about him and has the reading comprehension skills of the average cactus. (Witness him showcasing that supreme lack of sense in this tweet made almost a month after the tweet he’s responding to from me. And please untag me if you’re going to engage with the tweet.)
Black women in the Sleepy Hollow fandom were talking critically about the way that the fandom zoomed right on past Abbie as a potential partner to zero in on the wife he was uncomfortable around and a bunch of white male characters that he didn’t even like.
They were talking about how it felt to see a Black woman with supreme chemistry with her white co-star once again get passed over for even the potential of romantic love.
They were talking about how much it sucked to see people rush to desexualize Abbie – who was now asexual and/or Ichabod’s “bro” – when we finally appeared to be getting a fully faceted portrayal of a Black female character in an urban fantasy series.
We had years of Black women being mistreated and whenever they did show us a potential relationship between a strong Black woman and a dude she wasn’t Mammy-ing, those relationships tended to go nowhere. And we clocked years of silence from non-Black fans of urban fantasy series like Charmed, Buffy, and Supernatural where Black women were erased, vilified, and/or killed off by a white protagonist.
And then Abigail Mills shows up and suddenly everyone in fandom’s an expert on what a strong Black woman is and why Abbie being one means she has no need of a man ever – especially if that man was Ichabod Crane.
Fandom has a script it drags out every time a Black female character is in danger of being loved, adored, or respected by the fandom and a white love interest. Every single time regardless of who the character is or what actual role she has in the source media.
Merlin fandom used it on Guinevere.
The Suits fandom used it on Jessica Pearson and Rachel Zane.
The Flash fandom is currently using it on Iris and Nora West-Allen.
The Star Trek fandom has spent decades honing the script on Uhura.
The MCU fandom has used it on Claire Temple, Nakia, and Shuri.
The DC fandom has, in the wake of racebending on Titans, used it on Kory Anders.
They’ve used it on Michael Burnham from Star Trek: Discovery.
The script fandom pulls out – and doesn’t have to dust off because it’s used so often – is one that rewrites Black female characters so that there’s a “valid” reason that the fandom doesn’t like them and can’t ship them.
It’s a script that centers on distancing Black women from the potential of love from the fans and from the potential love interest in the piece of media. It’s a script that gets trotted out the second a Black female character shows up to get love – even if it’s from another Black character – because Black women in fandom and outside of it aren’t allowed to have anything.
Not even space in fandom for ourselves and characters that represent us in media.
And it’s all in the name of (white) feminism and misogynoir.
Because what does white feminism gain from Black female characters being loved by fandom and Black fans not having to defend themselves and other Black women from an aggressive fandom?
Nothing at all.
That’s why the script is in play in perpetuity.
At the end of the day, Black women aren’t allowed to partake in the squee-ful space of fandom. We’re not seen as “real fans”. Our desire for Black characters to be treated well and to be loved is a direct threat to what fandom truly loves the most: whiteness.
And if you can reframe all of our critical conversations about what it means to see Black female characters redefined as unlovable by non-Black fans as a simple ship war, if you can boil or criticism down to “x says if you don’t ship this ship with a Black woman you’re racist lololol” –
Who’s going to engage honestly with us over what’s ~obviously~ a silly ship war that we started by daring to be Black and vocal about it in fandom?
Like Cait and Rukmini point out, fandom has a vested interest in the misogynoir script where the problem isn’t racism and anti-Blackness, but ships with Black female characters and the Black female fans that defend them –
Then they don’t need to pick up a new script.
Or be better as people.
3 thoughts on “What Fandom Racism Looks Like: Silly Ship Wars”
I have said this again and again: White supremacy, white fandom, and white feminism, has an almost pathological need to see Black women, specifically, as unloved, unlovable, and incapable of love!
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You are on point.
I could talk forever about what happened to Abbie Mills. I still feel some kind of way about it😠😠
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God, whenever I think of Sleepy Hollow because holy shit, it was bad enough seeing so many fans shit on Abbie Mills, but then the actual fucking showrunners had to shit on the awesomeness that is Nicole Beharie by denigrating her role behind the scenes and then killing her off.
Just… everything… everything you’ve said here, 100%.
What a lot of people forget, and I’ve been guilty of this for sure, is that fandom is a part of our society, and as such it HAS those bigotries and ignorance and racism.
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