Content notes: As with a majority of my pieces, this one focuses closely on antiblackness including the antiblackness inherent in weaponizing white womanhood to excuse dogpiling and slandering John Boyega as a misogynist, as a potential sexual predator, as a bunch of other gross and untrue things. I talk briefly about some examples of Rey/Kylo fics from the fandom’s past including non-graphic (I believe) mentions of sexual assault and include links to a recap of one and an image of the other.
White women have most (if not all) of the actual observable power in transformative fandom spaces.
White women are the image of the typical “fan” in Western transformative fandom spaces.
They are frequently the most popular Big Named Fans (BNFs) in online spaces, the people who dominate discussions about and displays of Being A Fan. If you’re in transformative fandom and you see a particular set of headcanons or a white dude slash suddenly get supremely popular out of nowhere, chances are that a group of white lady BNFs are behind it.
White women in fandom often get to “graduate” from fandom, dominating what we and outsiders think about transformative with staff writer, researcher, and professor jobs that they can tie directly into their experiences and time in fandom.
(Look at the overarching fan studies academic field for an example or fandom-focused journalism on sites like WIRED, The Daily Dot, The Nerdist, and CBR. Chances are that many of the names you know in these fields, if you know any names, belong to white women.)
With that much power already, it can’t be a surprise that many white women in fandom will do pretty much anything in order to keep the status quo level.
In this installment of my What Fandom Racism Looks Like series, I’m going to be talking about white womanhood.
I’ll be talking about how the “white” in front of women is often silent but implied in many conversations we have in fandom, how the default image of white women as a sort of unquestioned “alpha fan” serves to erase fans of color and further marginalize us within fandom, and how many white female members of fandom actively mobilize and weaponize their white womanhood to control the tide of fandom.
Back in May 2019, on my currently locked twitter account, I touched on the idea of whiteness always being assumed in the conversations we have in and about fandom, where I wrote that:
the whole thing about whiteness in fandom being so neutral we never talk about it is familiar & frustrating
for ex: fandom likes “blank slates” right? but only if they’re #FFFFFF and no one can/does actually talk about the whiteness of the slate = their popularity the whiteness is always assumed but we can never (because we’re Not Allowed) talk about it
like fandom likes villains = fandom likes WHITE villains
fandom is a safe space for queer women = fandom is a safe space for queer WHITE women
it’s always assumed and rarely interrogated it’s why i balk at anything that frames fandom, shipping, kink, and the like as progressive and perfect BECAUSE of the women and queer people involved:
people of color aren’t included in the equation unless we’re being used as a #NotRacist trap card to disrupt discourse
When people say that fandom likes villains – something that usually comes to justify their lack of interest in a hero of color – they mean white villains. When they attempt to short circuit criticism of fandom or reinforce fandom’s importance by bringing up how fandom is a safe space for queer people and women, they really mean to center queer white people and white women.
People of color are not in the equation at any step of the way.
(Unless they’re being used to excuse white fans’ interest in a ship, kink, or trope that other fans of color have called racist. Then they matter.)
Think about a portion of a comment gone viral in the past few days where the person in
question wrote that,
“If you’re reading, you’re a woman and you’re anti-Reylo: you’re a traitor to your sisters. Don’t you dare say you love women, in any way,”
While the entire comment is fifty shades of nonsense, it’s important to point out the words not said in this section of the comment. This commenter, like the author of the biased piece she’s responding to, is writing from a position of privilege in fandom. The women she’s thinking of at every step of the way are easy enough to infer.
She’s not talking to queer women with no interest in dudes and therefore limited interest in Kylo Ren. She’s not talking to women of color frustrated with the racism in the fandom. She’s not seeing us as women – except to tell us that we’re bad at womanhood and sisterhood because we might not like Kylo Ren/Rey together or their intensely aggressive fanbase that’s spent all of 2020 so far being really fucking embarrassing.
And of course, when pressed I’m sure the author of that incredibly embarrassing comment will say that “of course” she didn’t mean it that way. That she wasn’t removing other women’s womanhood because they don’t like a single white male/female ship. That she wasn’t making liking or not liking Rey/Kylo an issue that dehumanizes anyone that doesn’t like her ship –
But… she is.
And she did.
Whiteness is seen as a neutral state rather than a heavily politicized racial identity in and of itself and, as a result, so is white womanhood in transformative fandom spaces.
When we see people complain about the presence of “identity politics” in fandom or in media, we rarely talk about the idea of “white” identity politics or how these fans focus on whiteness and white people or character above… even good storytelling.
When whiteness’s status at the top of the metaphorical mountain is called into question, usually threatened by “threatening” fans of color or the existence of characters of color in Western fandom spaces, shit hits the fan and white women reach for their womanhood.
The idea of white women weaponizing their white womanhood isn’t actually exclusive to fandom or new. Aside from how women of color can talk about how White Tears have been used to silence them, the murder of Emmett Till decades ago literally couldn’t have happened without a white woman weaponizing that fear of white womanhood being under fire.
Back in May 2018, journalist Ruby Hamad wrote an article for The Guardian describing “How white women use strategic tears to silence women of colour”. In the article (which predictably sparked hundreds of white women using their tears and righteous fury to try and silence not just Hamad, but women of color who shared and supported the post), Hamad wrote that:
As I look back over my adult life a pattern emerges. Often, when I have attempted to speak to or confront a white woman about something she has said or done that has impacted me adversely, I am met with tearful denials and indignant accusations that I am hurting her. My confidence diminished and second-guessing myself, I either flare up in frustration at not being heard (which only seems to prove her point) or I back down immediately, apologising and consoling the very person causing me harm.
It is not weakness or guilt that compels me to capitulate. Rather, as I recently wrote, it is the manufactured reputation Arabs have for being threatening and aggressive that follows us everywhere. In a society that routinely places imaginary “wide-eyed, angry and Middle Eastern” people at the scenes of violent crimes they did not commit, having a legitimate grievance is no match for the strategic tears of a white damsel in distress whose innocence is taken for granted.
“We talk about toxic masculinity,” Ajayi warns, “but there is (also) toxicity in wielding femininity in this way.” Brown and black women know we are, as musician Miss Blanks writes, “imperfect victims”. That doesn’t mean we are always in the right but it does mean we know that against a white woman’s accusations, our perspectives will almost always go unheard either way.
This quote actually well-represents the experiences that many fans of color have within (white) female-dominated fandom spaces that are otherwise seen (or assumed to be) as more progressive than male-dominated spaces like sports fandom or other collector-based fandom spaces.
It represents a pattern that has historically been present in fandom spaces where a fan – primarily a fan of color – will express distaste in something or frustration with a white fan (or their creation) – and the next thing they know, they’re being accused of bullying or harassment as their fandom circles around the poor white woman fan to shelter her from the sting of responsibility.
As I write this part of the post, I’m winding down from a busy morning tweeting about racism in fandom and how the reliance on portraying fandom as a utopia means that fans of color that are critical of fandom’s institutions like the AO3 or of how other people “do” fandom are reframed as invaders or interlopers.
Undoubtedly, like what happens every single time I tweet critically about being in fandom as a Black fan and how fandom is actively hostile to Black fans, folks show their ignorance with some serious subtweets about how “no one” does what I’m saying they do.
But, y’all… think about how fandom in 2019 talks about criticism of fandom and who has always done a lot of the criticism about race in fandom.
(As much as the Franzeskas of the world want you think, the majority of folks who talk about race and racism in fandom aren’t white women desperate to appeal to mythical minorities: it’s fans of color.)
Think about what that means for tweets like the ones below:
In this tweet, fandom criticism – which we know comes most often from marginalized people in fandom who include fans of color – is written off alongside anti-fandom, bracketed by scare quotes, assumed to be something done for clout or “woke points”, and dismissed as something that matters, but would matter more if it wasn’t coming from those “clearly biased” people.
When you refuse to listen to the people talking about how they’re being hurt because they’re not saying it nicely enough to appeal to your inner white savior –
You’re the one showing a pretty problematic bias…
When I talk about how white womanhood is weaponized, I’m talking about how when I and other fans of color who are mildly annoyed by how frustrating fandom is for us, we get subtweeted for days by people who are just so very hurt by our existence criticizing fandom.
These white women become victims even as they subtweet en masse, placidly urging their followers to block and not engage with the “fandom police” just out to force (white) women and queer people into the digital dark ages – but then not doing anything when their fans inevitably get shitty.
No matter how we talk about fandom as critical fans who literally just want fandom to be better for everyone, we’re portrayed as aggressive interlopers, something that Ruby Hamad also references in her posts when she writes that:
Whether angry or calm, shouting or pleading, we are still perceived as the aggressors.
No matter how kindly I lay out my arguments, no matter how nicely I point out that unintended racism in fandom is still racism and needs to be rooted out, I am always portrayed as a bully.
I am always “too scary” to talk to, “too aggressive” to learn from. Someone whose tone supposedly keeps people from caring about what I have to say.
People will straight up lie about my history in fandom – saying that I’m a liar, calling me someone that’s been harassing POC since 2016 or earlier, and willfully misrepresenting my presence and work in fandom – when they see others recommend my work.
And this is normal in fandom.
Across fandom history, Black people have always been rewritten as threats to white womanhood and folks have rushed to cut us down in their haste to protect pure white womanhood. (Especially when the white women are queer or marginalized in another way, then we get to watch these women misuse intersectionality to act like they’re in danger from us privileged Black fans.)
Black women in particular are positioned as fannish King Kongs, out to force Fay Wrays in fandom to do what they want.
And we all know what happened to King Kong –
In fandom, where white women again reign supreme and binaries abound, you see this misogynoir in how Black women across multiple fandoms are constantly treated as violent aggressors out to destroy the utopic happy fun times white women deserve.
You see internalized racism in how even fans of color rush to deem other fans – especially Black women/lady adjacent fans – as aggressive, violent, bludgeoning, manipulative, and monstrous in some way or another in order to protect white women in fandom.
(Like this post where Holly – who, unlike me does not block people on Twitter – is the subject of a thread on twitter where multiple Rey/Kylo shippers who have her blocked lie and say that she wouldn’t accept critique of conversation with WOC in fandom.)
You see endless antiblackness in the way Black people in fandom have, across many years and many fandoms, always been turned into boogiemen and labeled threats specifically for hurting white women’s feelings – or not respecting them.
And let’s be very clear here, folks, this isn’t accidental.
To refer to Ruby Hamad again, she points out that:
Likewise, white women are equally aware their race privileges them as
surely as ours condemns us. In this context, their tearful displays are a
form of emotional and psychological violence that reinforce the very
system of white dominance that many white women claim to oppose.
The way that whiteness works in fandom is pretty obvious to fans of color.
We’re the ones experiencing racism after all and witnessing how transformative fandom goes above and beyond to center white experiences, opinions, and feelings at every single step of the way.
But that’s not to say that white fans… white women in fandom somehow have tripped into the trap of racism and they can’t get out.
They absolutely do understand what they’re doing when they whip their followers into a frenzy against supposed censorship, put Black fans on anti blocklists (or block our followers en masse, write overlong articles about how “well, actually there’s no racism in fandom, you’re just jealous of our white m/f ship” and smugly share content labeling specific fans of color as dangerous to fandom because they’re critical of it.
Not to infantilize these grown and willful adults, but it’s like when a baby cries in one pitch and gets no answer but then cries in a different pitch and they get the response they want and so they keep making that specific cry.
White women in these spaces have long-since figured out the cry that triggers folks – even perfect strangers not even in the fandom – to rush to their defense is to initiate that internal “Must Save The Sweet White Women From Their Own Nonsense” thing a bunch of people have.
Even if these women aren’t willing to name what they’re doing as weaponizing their white womanhood – triggering a societal need for folks to protect white women from the mean ole pee-oh-sees in fandom– they’ve learned how to weaponize… themselves.
And boy do they do it.
Here are just a few of the main ways this plays out.
- Claiming that WOC who don’t handhold them the right way are being aggressive
- Claiming that anyone that critiques them/their ship is actually racist themselves
- Acting like criticism of fandom is inherently anti-woman/queer people/etc
- Accusing POC who talk about racism in a fandom of minimizing “real racism”
- Reclassifying WOC who snark at/about them as bullies
- Boosting the WOC in their fandom who support their nonsense and thrive as PickMes
- Asking their followers to block and report WOC who aren’t doing what they want
- Mobilizing other WOC to actively go up against the WOC that they don’t like in fandom
Or how about one of the most outright upsetting ways I’ve seen it used so far: in Kylo/Rey fans weaponizing white womanhood – theirs, Daisy’s, Rey’s, their friends’ – in order to purposefully paint John Boyega as a misogynist, a potential sex pest, etc. –
All primarily because he dunked on their ship.
Oh, and because these women have never liked him or the character he played.
I know that they claim, somehow, that they’ve been the ones defending Finn from fandom bullies like The Fandom Menace and so his behavior is such a betrayal to them, but –
That is a lie.
I won’t talk about the years of nonsense beforehand from this fandom, but I will point out that since December 11th, these shippers have been in his mentions and flat out up his ass.
First, it was because Lindsey Romain’s lying ass set him up as a misogynist that actually thinks Kelly Marie Tran was weak (which is a sentiment still expressed by those shippers even though he’s clarified that he was talking about himself and Lindsey apologized three times – including once where she admitted her own antiblack bias).
Then it was because this fandom dripping with internalized misogyny decided that it was time to clutch pearls and claim that John was everything from a misogynist (again) to implying that making a single mild sex joke meant that he was making things safer for rapists that walk among us.
Let’s look at this timeline to start:
- On December 31st, John made a sex joke. One sex joke in the comments of an Instagram post in response to a follower. He repeated his comment when people tried to put words in his mouth but doesn’t appear to have made more comments.
- Shortly afterwards, Rey/Kylo fans proceed to swarm his mentions on Instagram and come on twitter to @ his account there with tweets saying things like “you’re the worst”, accusing him of being a misogynist, and trying to browbeat him into submission. (It’s worked for other celebrities and even official accounts like that one Netflix account – where they swarmed the account’s mentions with threats of boycotting and other unkindnesses until the social media manager pulled a tweet mildly dissing their ship – so why wouldn’t it work here, right?)
- At some point around here, John posts a photoset of four images poking fun at the idea of the Rey/Kylo Romance by showing violent moments between the two characters.
- The Rey/Kylo fandom increases doing the thing – the thing being performative shock and distress in John’s general direction. The shippers who haven’t seen his Instagram comment make their responses about how distressed they are that they are being told they “don’t belong in the fandom”.
- John claps back against some of the people who are making it personal – by insinuating that he’s desperate to get Daisy Ridley to like him, that he’s just jealous of Adam Driver’s career, and that it’s better to play a dead hero than “a guy that only screams after the white girl”. He doesn’t swear, he doesn’t actually insult them at a level I would have, and he doesn’t actually attack them.
- Again, the horde increases doing the thing while John Boyega goes off to ring in 2020 and then go on vacation.
- January 10th – John posted a video with a handful of the comments he got from Rey/Kylo shippers where he poked at their beef with him by smacking down, kicking, or whacking the tweets down. While John doesn’t censor the usernames in his video, you could just look at his replies to see who he’s been replying to on there so it’s not like those tweets weren’t already publicly connected with his Twitter account – which has roughly the same amount of followers as his Instagram account.
- And again, the hoard continued to do the thing. This time, folks accused John of “doxing” the shippers whose tweets were evident in his video even though they were all public at the time of his video going live. They accused him again of attacking a fandom made up of girls and young women. When Jameela Jamil actually reposted the video on her own account and defended John, they swarmed her mentions in order to let Jameela know how awful John is for sexualizing Rey/Daisy and for “attacking” a vulnerable fanbase of women and girls.
Y’all, these shippers have been on his tail almost every single day of 2020 so far.
(The latest thing and the last thing I’m counting because I literally cannot bring myself to deal with these women’s nonsense anymore, is a ridiculously biased NINE THOUSAND WORD LONG ESSAY basically about how actually “antis” of Rey/Kylo and John and his fans are exhibiting alt-right tactics to silence women whose only sin is that they ship a white male/female ship.)
And it’s all incredibly disingenuous in how they go about it. How they go about framing what is for once actually about ships (on their end) to a serious Attack on (White) Womanhood
They’ve almost managed to convince the watching world – as far as nerd shit goes – that this is about protecting women from this brute of a Black man and his equally awful fandom instead of about them feeling cheated and bruised over John pushing back against their nonsense.
John’s comment that supposedly started this – instead of their preexisting hatred of John and willingness to dogpile a dude that is uninterested in playing with them – was an extremely mild sex joke about his and Daisy’s characters post-series.
A single sex joke.
Not a rape joke.
Not a comment about how Kylo totally knocked Rey up while she was dead at the near end of The Rise of Skywalker.
Or a Beauty and the Beast alternate universe story where Finn is an overbearingly brutish Gaston and Kylo Ren is the misunderstood Beast. (The author of the story has since swapped Finn out for Snap Wexley because Finn wasn’t a character in the story so much as he was a racist caricature. Despite the change to the text, Finn’s name is still present in the story summary as of January 17, 2020.)
Not repeated insistence that Rey is an incel from Jenny Nicholson – in her video, a comment she replied to about it, and then on twitter.
(If John making a single sex joke is so wrong because The Rise of Skywalker is a children’s movie an children’s properties shouldn’t ever be sullied – which is why Jenny claims is why she’s so upset about John’s “lay the pipes” comment despite her hand in the kid (un)friendly My Little Pony Abridged series Friendship Is Witchcraft… what’s that, then?)
This is a fandom chock full of people who have – seriously and jokingly alike – created public content way more eyebrow-raising than a single “lay the pipes” comment. And a lot of it would be disrespectful to Rey… if she were real.
But Rey isn’t real.
While John definitely is.
And the fandom is pretty explicitly putting this fear of white women under fire – fans, Daisy, and the very fictional Rey – as the reasoning behind why they’re going so hard to paint John and his actual fandom (which is not The Fandom Menace or alt-right or whatever scapegoats these white women have decided to center on instead of their own passive and active antiblackness) as misogynists out to destroy (white) women’s simple and totally harmless joy. Why some of them are going in so hard to paint John as a predator in the making.
Over his single joke.
As it stands, a fandom where people do things like spread rumors about John (that he’s chasing after Daisy and that’s why his role was reduced, that he was on coke during the filming, that he was on steroids, etc.), or ignore a clarification he’s made to call him a misogynist and perpetuate an agenda-fueled lie –
Are flat out awful things for anyone in this fandom to perpetuate and to say that John “brought it on himself“.
(And of course #NotAllShippers, but if you’re not out there shutting down and flat out shunning people in your fandom who are promoting, sharing, and theorizing all kinds of antiblack nonsense about John in the name of literally protecting white womanhood… you are part of a very racist problem and you’re definitely part of a racist fandom.)
By and far, it’s clear (to fans of color) that there are racial power dynamics at work in transformative fandom spaces that lead to white women in fandom frequently using their power in fandom against fans of color. To silence fans of color. To keep fans of color on the back of the metaphorical bus.
I know that fandom demographics look diverse when people do obviously weighted informal twitter polls, but when folks like Fansplaining’s Flourish and Elizabeth do fandom surveys with demographic values front and center, you get the message that fandom is still a pretty white (lady) space so like… I don’t see why they’re so shaken.
I don’t get why they’re so threatened.
Clearly, they’re still on top.
What I do know is that even with this, fans of color feel more comfortable speaking up about racism they witness towards their fellow fans and towards other fans of color. What I do know, is that fans of color are fed the fuck up with fandom mantras like “Don’t Like, Don’t Read” and “Make Your Own” being trotted out when they criticize it and we’re more comfortable pushing back against it.
What I know is that more people than ever before are willing to speak up when they see nonsense like what happened with Michelle Buchman, the social media person for Star wars, not only believing two random ass Rey/Kylo shippers telling her that I was a liar and that I harassed POC in fandom – but rushing to accept work on race and racism from another white woman, one responsible for a skewed article rife with antiblackness and still not managing her way to an apology for me or any form of communication.
#NotAllWhiteWomen, but it is an unfortunate fact of fandom that many white women in transformative fandom aren’t comfortable with the fact that they can no longer effectively silence dissent the way it worked in the good ole days of Livejournal.
When fans of color talk about the racism in transformative fandom that they experience and witness, an overwhelming majority of the people who see it and take offense – subtweeting or even engaging negatively rather than addressing the issue and learning – are white women.
(Again, those are the ones calling for a return to the past. We know this. We see this. Not just in transparently terrible projects like the in-planning Fanexus but in how they comment on their own pals’ posts lamenting The Current Times.)
And repeatedly, they’re the ones dismissing conversations about racism because they’ve taken an objective look at things and have decided that actually that’s not racism.
Here’s a thing we need to talk about, folks: racism in fandom doesn’t necessarily look like it does outside of fandom.
As far as I can tell, none of the Rey/Kylo shippers who have engaged with John Boyega or his Black fans have done things recognizable as racist to many people who aren’t Black in fandom.
I haven’t seen any photoshopped images of lynchings – like some of Camilla Cabello’s fans did with Normani Kordei. I haven’t seen anyone use racial slurs. I haven’t seen anyone tell John to “go back to Africa”.
But what I have seen from the first of the year is this mobilization of white womanhood in order to portray John Boyega as a lout, as a potential abuser, as a problem, as someone who is a danger to (white) women in fandom, and as someone more privileged than the people wielding white womanhood as a weapon against him and trying to destroy his career.
I have seen non-Black fans – white women and fans of color alike – paint John Boyega and his primarily Black audience as bullies out to destroy their fun.
I’ve seen people react to an innocent and fun video of John with Daisy Ridley on twitter by saying their friendship was fake or unhealthy on his part.
I’ve seen people plot boycotts of his future films. I’ve seen people psychoanalyze him and say he has to be a narcissist – another person compared him to Kevin Spacey and wished for the end of his career. I saw someone call his character Finn, “Finn-Kong”. I’ve seen people call him by Finn’s Stormtrooper designation, and “boy”, and dehumanize him.
There’s one person – who’d tried to pretend they were interested in opening a dialogue across fandom and making fandom better – who actually went on to then suggest that John Boyega’s single sex joke meant that he was a potential predator who does go only knows what else in private.
I’ve seen a Martin Luther King Jr. quote used to boost morale among shippers – which is actually textbook antiblackness, to use a Black man super against racism as a way to get your fellow fans who are at best complicit in antiblackness towards John Boyega to keep on trucking.
But still no slurs.
Still no gore involving black bodies.
John hasn’t been doxed.
And because none of what’s been done in defense of Rey/Kylo pings as “recognizably racist” to people with a vested interest in ignoring racism, this fandom has decided that the real oppressed minority in fandom is… “innocent” women who were just minding their business. Women whose experiences in fandom were derailed because they got called out for antiblackness by a supposedly aggressive hoard – one willfully connected to the alt-right in order to render anything they say illegitimate.
But here’s a thing: when we talk about antiblackness in fandom and white women rush to pretend that they’ve ever suffered any meaningful consequences for it, that’s something that has never been true in this fandom – or any part of transformative fandom that’s been called out for antiblackness.
I brought up Racefail 2009 a lot in 2019.
More so than I have at any other point in my fannish history post 2009, probably. I bring it up often because fandom ten years out from that widespread event… has not learned from it beyond how to be better about hiding its racism from the general population. Most people literally don’t even know that the speculative fiction fandom exploded in such spectacular ways –
Half of the people that do know about Racefail don’t get that Black women were targets here too. Or that once again, misogynoir was performed in order to protect white women/white womanhood in fandom.
Of the Black women who were active in fandom around the time of Racefail 09 and talked about that event: how many of them uh… actually are still around? How many of them feel comfortable being in fandom as active participants now?
Now how about the white women who flailed and wailed their way through Racefail 09? Where are they? Are they still in fandom? Are they published yet? Are they thriving?
The white women who are currently performing victimhood in fandom are fine. They will continue to be fine because there will always be people there to assure them that the real problem in fandom are the people of color asking them to be less racist. Trust me on that one.
Because right now, I’m watching white women and their PickMe POC in the Star Wars fandom act out, lie their little asses off, and try successfully to rewrite the fandom narrative to paint a group that’s largely Black people – John and his deepest fans – as members of the alt-right, misogynists, and haters/antis without even pretending to engage honestly with the antiblackness oozing from this fandom.
And they’re doing this in order to protect white women who ship Rey/Kylo from any accountability for the antiblackness, targeted harassment, and entitlement that their fandom has been known for across the past four years.
But what about the Black people watching this play out? What about the Black people – like me, as I put this together for publication – who get to watch people spread baseless lies about them? What about the Black people who are being blocked, mocked, and lied on across fandom spaces because they don’t support the literal default of a white male/female ship in a movie about Space Wizards?
What about them?
What about us?
What about John?
What will we be?
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