This is a wrap-up/write-up of my overall comments during the PCA 2019 Roundtable on Racism in Fandom/Fan Studies Spaces (which I chaired). Feel free to check out write-ups from Robin Anne Reid and Samira Nadkari, two of the other participants on the roundtable.
Across transformative and curatorial fandom spaces, racism is so entrenched in the skeleton of fandom – from erasing fans of color via the ahistorical rewriting of fandom history to killing off or torturing characters of color in fanworks – that to uproot and remove racism from fandom would leave it looking like those floppy cored sheep from the bone vampire episode of Futurama.
PCA 2019 was my second time attending this conference in three years. It was my second time coming into these academic spaces and getting up to talk to a hopefully invested audience about racism in fandom spaces.
But it wasn’t my first time talking about the way that misogynoir works in fandom.
Not in general.
Not even for that day.
(As I’d done my presentation on misogynoir the previous panel session)
Talking about misogynoir and other forms of racism in fandom and media is kind of… my thing.
It’s an aspect of fannishness that I feel proud of working on and where I feel compelled to continue honing my skills. It’s a form of fannishness that I like because I finally have the room and the words to verbalize my concerns as a queer Black person in fandom.
So, when Robin Anne Reid and Cait Coker reached out to me about being on a roundtable panel they were putting together at PCA 2019 about fandom and fan studies ten years after Racefail ’09, I leaped at the chance.
After all, I had a great experience at PCA 2017 on that conference’s fandom racism panel and in 2018/2019, several months after completing my MA in English Literature, I was feeling a lot more confident about my writing skills and grasp of my approach.
In approaching fandom a decade after Racefail ’09, I chose to come to the conversation from the point of view of a fan that grew up in these fandom spaces, was a lurker around the initial events, and has watched fandom evolve around them. I chose to talk about how Racefail ’09 was relegated to fandom’s past as something folks either just didn’t talk about or held up as something fandom has moved past on its way to proper progressiveness.
When it really hasn’t.
When many of the white people involved and responsible are still active and un-shunned in fandom – while fans of color who pushed back against the nonsense largely left fandom or gained reputations for being difficult within fandom.
When antagonism towards Black women in fandom is at an all time high. When Black people in fandom who are critical of the things they see and vocal about the experiences they have in what’s supposed to be a fun and safe space in fandom, they are dehumanized. We are treated like outsiders invading fandom.
When fandom keeps having mini-Racefails, minor to major situations that show a profound failure of understanding in how to make fandom a better and more equal space for all fans, and white fans keep being shocked at the racism their fellow fans and fandom spaces are capable of.
I don’t have the luxury of shock.
I don’t have the luxury of being surprised by fandom’s racism.
Neither do a lot of fans of color – especially in Western fandom spaces.
Ten years after Racefail ’09, the last thing I can be is surprised at the racism my fellow fans are capable of and comfortable with. In the past ten years after the original Racefail, the one that gets the capital-R treatment, we’ve had many other racefails across many other fandoms.
Because fandom, as it exists now, is a racefail in and of itself.
Fandom as we look at it now, as we know it, fails hard at understanding, acknowledging, and respecting race – outside of whiteness, that is.
Fandom consistently and constantly fails hard at pushing back against racism.
Because if folks in fandom spaces had to push back against racism in their various fandoms… that would absolutely change the way that fandom works.
It would change who mattered in fandom.
And in transformative fandom, a pseudo-progressive haven that often doubles as a shrine to whiteness… that can’t happen.
At the start of 2019, I did a lengthy thread about what fandom learned in the ten years following Racefail ’09. I can’t remember the tweet I’d seen that sparked my own thread, but it was probably yet another plaintive wail longing for a time when fandom was supposedly better.
Conveniently, that “better” time for fandom is always one where white women could reign supreme and fans of color had to hide their identities or their criticism of fandom in order to keep the peace.
Let’s be very real here:
If you long for the “good ole days of fandom” where fans of color were invisible or silenced and white women had unquestioned and large amounts of power and/or fannish capital, I can tell you just what you’ve learned from Racefail.
And it wasn’t about being a better person when it comes to dealing with racism.
We’re ten years out from Racefall ’09 and fandom is still incredibly awful about race.
It doesn’t matter what fandom it is.
I know it’s hard to believe because fandom is presented as a progressive and safe space for queer people and women. However, the progressive politics of fandom frequently sit at the surface level and exclude a ridiculously large number of fans who don’t fit the fannish mold.
Ten years out from Racefail ’09, what has fandom learned about race and racism in fandom?
(White people in) fandom have learned better ways to control, shut down, and minimize the conversations fans of color have been trying to have about race and racism in fandom. They’ve streamlined their exclusionary rhetoric and honed their hatred of the fandom killjoy (see Rukmini Pande’s Squee From the Margins, p 13-17) to a fine art.
Ten years out from Racefail ’09, fandom has learned how to better couch its dislike of critical fans of color and their comments behind repurposed social justice rhetoric.
Fans have rejected being better on any level when it comes to race/racism.
Fans have embraced a stance that positions people critical of fandom as outsiders trying to destroy and disrupt the safe squee space of fandom.
Ten years after Racefail ’09, folks in fandom have turned Strikethrough into a cautionary tale (and the reason why nothing in fandom should ever every change) but largely pretend that Racefail didn’t happen or doesn’t matter.
That isn’t good.
What will fandom look like ten years from now?
Well, that depends on whether folks in fandom decide that they’re going to be honest and open about how they’re treating fans of color. That depends on how willing all fans are to listen to the needs and concerns of fans of color and do better.
Before fandom spaces become even more inhospitable to fans of color.