When I used to be on Tumblr, I’d get a lot of messages and reblogs from people who made it a point to let other people know that I didn’t speak for all POC.
I was never arguing that I did, of course, but it was imperative to these other people of color to let me and white people in fandom know that they were here, they weren’t white, and that they thought I was full of shit about fandom racism.
Which is their right as people on the internet, let’s be real here.
But it’s interesting:
I, a queer Black person with most of a lifetime in fandom and an entire academic career focusing on media criticism and representation, couldn’t possibly speak for every single person in fandom when I talked about racism I witnessed in fandom… but they could speak over me in order to let other people in fandom know that I was a POC Not To Be Trusted.
“Pick Mes” have a home on the internet. It’s a term borne from African American Vernacular English (AAVE) that calls to mind the mental image of people jumping up and down and begging to be picked for a game. (“Pick me! Pick me!”) Only, in the usual context, it’s someone leaping up and down and trying to get the attention of someone that treats them with disdain.
Pick Mes want attention. They want gratification. And they don’t mind throwing other people under the bus to get shout outs and people holding them up as an example of what that kind of marginalized person should be.
In fandom, PickMes serve much of the same function: their goal is to disrupt conversations and make it “okay” not to pay attention to conversations being had by marginalized people in fandom.
While this term applies across the board to many different vulnerable and/or marginalized identities in fandom, for this post, I’ll be focusing on fans of color and fandom racism because well… this series is called “What Fandom Racism Looks Like”.
In this installment of “What Fandom Racism Looks Like”, we’ll be talking about those (un)helpful fans of color who only seem to care about race and racism in fandom when it comes time to claim that race in fandom doesn’t matter and that POC in fandom who talk about racism aren’t experts on it.
We’ll be covering several specific aspects in unpacking the Pick Me POC in fandom.
First, since we’ve already defined Pick Me’s, we’ll talk about what the real role of Pick Me POC is in fandom and why they’re so dangerous to discourse.
Second, we’ll talk about the different forms of PickMes across different fandoms and what their comments look like.
Finally, we’ll talk briefly about how to recognize Pick Me POC behavior and how to engage with people who are being used to disrupt and derail fannish discourse.
What They Do
Let’s start by talking about the role of PickMes in fandom.
Pick Mes in fandom are the fandom equivalent of a racist’s friend of color and they have two main jobs in fannish discourse.
First, they exist to make white fans feel more comfortable not just ignoring other fans of color’s concern about racism in fandom – but in acting aggressively towards fans of color who are critical of fandom’s racism.
They provide permission for white fans – or, in the case of a Black Pick Me, non-Black fans of color – to be racist. But because it’s a fan of color they’re modeling their behavior after and that fan says it’s not racist… it’s not. (To them.)
They tend to be the ones who rush to wail about how their ship/fandom/show isn’t racist because they personally don’t think about race/racism when they got into it.
Second, PickMes in fandom also serve as distractions for discussion. They derail as if it’s their job, but instead of financial payment, they get paid by being welcomed into fandom spaces that’d otherwise be hostile to fans of color.
They get this access because they use their POC-ness to defend fandom from criticism.
They’re POC too so when they sneer down another fan of color’s point of view on fandom’s racism or tell a “woke” white fan that they’re a white savior or are being racist for talking about racism, people listen and hold them up.
Pick Mes in this second role are the kind of people who dismiss white fans’ comments on racism in fandom to other white fans as coming from “white saviors” or deem it “virtue signaling” (which is, by the way, a term that the alt-right’s internet contingent uses willy nilly).
Look, it’s hard to be a fan of color in fandom. Even the ones who bend the knee to fandom’s foremothers are often subject to punishment for flexing an ankle or otherwise shifting underneath the expectations of their fandom.
But the response to fandom being racist shouldn’t be to roll over, bare your belly, and go “the real fandom racists are the folks talking about a decades-long problem”.
These Pick Me POC are so dangerous to fandom discourse because they shut it down.
I referenced it in my May 2019 post on Black female (and female assumed) fans being placed on the defensive thanks to misogynoir in fandom. A twitter user I’d never interacted with before had made honestly ridiculous claims about me using “accusations of racism” like a bludgeon against other fans and my apparently lengthy history of racism in fandom (unsubstantiated, of course) and wrapped it up by dropping her cred in the end of the three-tweet thread by informing the person she was lying on me to that she was a WOC too.
(Not specifically Black, but apparently being a WOC is enough to let folks get away on lying on a Black person in fandom? Interesting.)
That fan has no idea who I am. She probably couldn’t tell you a single solid fact about me or my fannish history that wasn’t accessible on Fanlore.
But because someone told her I was a problem and made up shit about me being racist – which has, in my experience, been related to my refusal to coddle other adult fans of color or for my mild annoyance with Rose Tico in The Last Jedi – she ran with it and spread it as fact once she saw a white fan (twitter user @freetofic) share me as a site for reference when it comes to discussions of fandom racism.
Think about how that looks:
1. A white fan recommends me, a Black fan with a 4+ year blog backlog, as a resource for folks to learn about fandom racism.
2. A female fan of color (who doesn’t say that she’s Black) rushes to discredit the Black fan by making unsubstantiated accusations about bullying and racism and ends her response with a flippant comment that’s basically “well I’m a WOC too so I can’t be racist against her” (like antiblackness isn’t often performed by non-Black POC in service of racism)
3. No one actually asks me, the Black fan with multiple avenues of communications who’s been tagged into this thread, about these accusations (and, as far as I could tell at the time, only 2 people defended me)
4. Now the white fan looks like she’s sharing someone Too Problematic and the Black fan gets another bad mark on their reputation because people don’t actually care enough to fact check
At the end of the day, Pick Mes in fandom are shields.
They’re cannon fodder on the front line to protect canon, fanon, and non-Black celebrities from fans of color and anti-racism minded friends.
Their identity as fans of color only matter as far as they can be thrown in the path of other POC to disrupt the conversations we’re trying to have about racism in fandom – or to trip white fans critical of fandom up because they’re obviously “talking over” POC when they disagree with the PickMes.
I couldn’t live like that in 2019, but hey… I don’t have to.
Now, let’s talk briefly about the different forms of PickMes across different fandoms and what their comments look like. I’m going to give examples of several fandoms and the kind of PickMe POC behavior on display in these spaces. I will be using a few example tweets (made in an app, as not to funnel harassment to real people) so think of these examples as an amalgam of the nonsense I’ve seen in fandom over the years.
The Rey/Kylo parts of Star Wars fandom:
If you’re new to my site and to me, you might not know that I have no fond feelings for the Star Wars fandom’s majorly militant Rey/Kylo shippers. I’ve got beef and it goes back to 2016 when I started talking about how the Star Wars fandom’s response to Finn was to go “ooh look, a villain that should’ve been the protagonist” about Kylo Ren and hype him up over Finn. (Who they continue to vilify in to 2019…)
The Star Wars fandom – especially the Rey/Kylo contingent – is rife with PickMe POC. They pop out of the woodwork to tell white fans that they’re being racist (for pointing out pretty clear patterns of racism in fandom) and to tell other fans of color that they don’t speak for all of the fandom.
These PickMe POC are part of a fandom that other fans of color accuse of racism because of their focus on rehabilitating a fictional fascist (Kylo Ren) at the expense of a hero of color (Finn). They say things like “I’m Black, how can I be a Nazi apologist/shipping a racist ship” and accuse people who point out that the fandom is largely dominated by white women of erasing the fans of color who ship it.
PickMe POC in the Star Wars Rey/Kylo fandom will break their own backs (and publicly and repeatedly attack and/or attempt to discredit critical fans of color) to defend Kylo Ren and other, whiter members of their fandom… all in the name of a fandom that they actually feel adrift in because of how racist the fandom is to them.
After Black Panther came out in February 2018, the MCU fandom hit a hard wall. Prior to BP’s release, the majority of MCU fandom interest landed squarely on ships with one or more white characters in romantic and/or sexual relationships. But then, Black Panther comes out and the cast/crew start hyping the characters up as better than the previous heroes in the MCU.
In my first installment of What Fandom Racism Looks Like, I brought up a fic author who’d decided that Shuri being labeled smarter than Tony Stark was a sign that the character was meant to be a Mary Sue and that Black Panther wasn’t worth watching in the first place.
One of the repeat commenters on the stories that author wrote was a Black fan who agreed with the fic author and saw nothing wrong with Wakandans being portrayed as manipulating and abusing Shuri – using her knowledge supposedly against her will – and with the author portraying Black members of MCU fandom as an aggro mob.
The commenter made a point of letting the author and other readers know that they and their family weren’t going to see Black Panther – because of Shuri – as a way to justify the author’s approach.
PickMe POC in the MCU fandom tend to throw themselves in the line of fire to explain why they don’t like a character of color in the franchise so it’s not racist that fandom also doesn’t care for that character of color.
Teen Wolf Fandom:
PickMe POC abounded in the fandom for MTV’s Teen Wolf reboot where no one wanted to acknowledge that Tyler Posey’s Scott McCall was a character of color, but they sure insisted on treating him like one.
You had Black men who’d throw Black women under the proverbial bus on the way to Sterek, Latinx fans who’d be like “Tyler Posey’s Latinidad doesn’t matter to Scott’s,” and a one of the most popular podcasts being run by at least one Black Sterek shipper who made it a point to fling herself onto the spears of criticism when Black people were doing the critique.
Even if you don’t see Scott McCall as a character of color, there’s no denying that he and other characters were mistreated in favor of Stiles/Derek. That nearly nonsensical slash ship between two characters had next to no chemistry and minimal interactions. Its popularity was largely because it was a ship between two white guys that allowed fandom to meet many of the requirements present in other popular white dude slash ships.
PickMe POC in this fandom stood by as fans of color critical of their ship or the fanbase’s treatment of the main character were mistreated and harassed. Many continue to do so to this day – as evidenced by the response to Princess Weekes article about how Tyler Posey and Scott McCall deserved better than they got.
Want to talk about cannon fodder?
Let’s talk about Black fans who like one or more K-pop artist or group throwing themselves into the path of what’s usually very mild critique of their idols partaking in cultural appropriation. (This happens across fandoms, mind you like whenever an idol gets a “hip hop” hairstyle for a stage or comeback concept, but I am zeroing in on a single fandom now.)
It’s probably impossible to miss that I’ve spent a huge chunk of time talking positively and critically about K-pop fandom spaces and the various groups I’m into. If you’re not in the know, one thing that I’ve found fascinating about these fandom spaces from the start was how many Black fans seemed to honestly just… fling themselves in the way of critique.
As I type this, many Black BTS fans are talking about the hair that rapper j-hope wears at points across the video for his updated take on the 2006 song Chicken Noodle Soup.
They’re also talking about the damn near endless antiblackness they’ve been receiving since the previous Thursday for voicing their frustrations with j-hope, with the video’s concept/the idea of the remake, and/or with the silence from BigHit and the majority of the fandom’s large accounts when it comes to the conversation on appropriation as well as harassment they have been getting.
But it’s not all Black fans in this fandom.
In fact, lots of Black BTS fans have made it a point of not only reassuring non-Black people in the fandom that nothing about any of this was antiblack and centering themselves as The Black Voices To Listen To, but they’ve also… attacked and mocked other Black fans in their pursuit of stan twitter gold.
They’ve also – possibly because they’ve blocked and/or muted everyone talking about it – decided that the only people who actually care about this conversation are white people and non-black people of color. (Or SM Entertainment stans because that makes all the sense…)
As frustrated as I currently am with BTS, I’m still a huge fan (like I’m still getting my tattoo and everything).
Even if one of my slightly more beloved membersof the group had been the one caught up in a conversation like this, I can’t imagine using my Blackness to erase or diminish concerns from other Black fans.
Not in general and certainly not over a boy group that doesn’t know anything about me as a person – and shouldn’t be expected to.
PickMe POC in this fandom space seem to be invested in protecting their favorite idols’ feelings at the expense of… Their own, almost.
Even though their idols largely never see or respond to criticism in the event of cultural appropriation, it’s more important that they and the fandom be protected than we have these conversations about how to be better – and how to get our idols to be more aware.
There are other examples like Black Snowbarry fans of The Flash who’ll say “I’m Black and I don’t like Iris because she’s annoying, not because she’s Black” and fans of color who watch the CW’s The 100 and who will excuse the mistreatment of the show’s performers and characters of color.
Being a PickMe POC is a self-defense mechanism because the alternative is being in the way of whiteness and (let’s be very real here) white supremacy in fandom that has frequently been mobilized against them.
I get why so many fans of color choose the PickMe path to avoid the harassment that many fans of color in transformative fandom get saddled with for being critical, but that doesn’t mean I don’t get pissed.
Peep That PickMe
Now, let’s wrap this up by talking briefly about how to recognize Pick Me POC behavior in the general form:
- A white fan (or a non-Black fan) tagged them into a tumblr or twitter thread where a fan of color is talking about racism in fandom
- They’ve never seen anything racist in the fandom you’re in so they know that’s not real/from real fans
- The only time they bring up their identity in fandom is to shut down conversations about racism in fandom (as in: they constantly try to separate themselves from their identity until it’s time to use it against someone)
- Often they use the anon function on Tumblr/Curious Cat or sock-puppet accounts on other social media to inform you that they’re a POC and that you are in fact the racist person for calling out racism
- If you’re a white fan that’s critical of the racism in a particular fandom or fanbase, they’ll slide in to inform you that you’re whitesplaining racism and how that’s actually racist (even if you link to or are sharing the words of a fan of color)
- They never actually engage with your argument. The goal is to derail and dismiss what you’re saying because to them/their friends it doesn’t matter. If they tackled what you were actually saying, they’d put weight on your words that it can’t have
- If you’re a fan of color, they’ll accuse of you weaponizing your POC-ness/race with no clear understanding that that’s actually what they’re doing
PickMe POC in fandom are pretty much everywhere. Their biggest sign is derailing in order to come to the defense of a white fan – or a fandom assumed to primarily be white lady-dominated – to keep those things from being talked about critically.
I’m going to be real here, all you can do when you come across them is well… not give up. If you’re talking about racism in fandom and you know you’ve got it in you to back up your arguments, hold strong.
Because what PickMe POC want is to win at discourse by shutting ti down.
And well… that won’t help anyone in fandom.
As a Black fan who’s vocal and critical about fandom, I’ve come across PickMe POC all the time. Non-Black folks love to throw them in my way as if they’re tossing down a trap card in Yu-Gi-Oh or a banana peel during a Mario Kart race.
Non-Black fans from the Teen Wolf and Star Wars fandoms, when I was on tumblr, constantly used to tag them onto my posts so that they could smugly decry me and my work because they were POC and they didn’t see a single lick of racism where I did.
Now that I’m on twitter, they don’t engage as directly, but boy do they love screenshotting my posts to have their little “I’m a POC too and I don’t agree” wail in a circle of non-Black fans who support their nonsense. It’d be funny if half of them weren’t going around a block to get at my posts…
Is it possible that some PickMe POC don’t know that they’re throwing themselves into the line of fire? Of course. I used to be The Black Friend to a group of racists back when I was eighteen and you couldn’t have told me that I was a pawn in a racist chess match.
But many of them… do.
Many of the PickMe POC I have had direct engagement with over the years absolutely know that they’re being used to silence other fans of color.
When they’re confronted in private by other fans of color – usually the very ones whose harassment and dismissal they facilitate – they admit to knowing that fandom is racist, to knowing that they’re being used by white fans to silence others, and to experiencing racism even still from those fans that weaponize them.
But they don’t stop.
Look, I obviously understand how hard it is to be a fan of color in transformative fandom. Even the fans who are supposed to be anti-racist often… aren’t when it’s inconvenient and when it comes to other fans of color, sometimes it’s clear that POC solidarity is a myth.
But like I said before: making fandom worse for other fans of color literally is the wrong way to forge your path through hostile fandom spaces.