Note: The section on RPF and whtiewashing deals pretty plainly with real person fan fiction – where a real celebrity is treated like a character in fan works – but from the POV of “stop whitewashing them” rather than a judgement call on the fandom itself. I’d suggest skipping this section, scrolling down to the solutions section of the piece, and waiting a little bit for me to finish writing my actual RPF-focused installment of What Fandom Racism Looks Like later this year because it’s been in the works for a while and will tackle K-Pop RPF, Hockey fandom, and the One Direction fandom’s endless racism towards Zayn.
The Fanlore page for Migratory fandom describes it as, “the most recent term used to describe the idea that slash fans are always on the lookout for the next shiny, new juggernaut pairing”.
First seen in fandom discussions across Fail_Fandomanon – one of many multi-fandom anonymous memes – the term is a reference to this idea that slash fans are constantly moving to the next fandom that’ll provide them their dose of slashy goodness.
On the surface, there’s nothing even remotely wrong with moving to another fandom because the one you’re in is running dry on content. Honestly, I’m right there with folks because when a fandom I’m in is dried up entirely or the fan content it’s creating has been done to death before… I always feel like jumping ship at least for a little while.
So I get the motivation.
But this is “What Fandom Racism Looks Like” and you know that means that there is something I find frustrating about migratory slash fandom that falls under this series….
What makes Migratory Slash Fandom a prime example of what fandom racism looks like?
The sad fact that for the most part, these fans are largely just moving from one white dude slash ship to another. Migratory Slash Fandom is, for all intents and purposes, only capable of migrating to fandoms where the dominant slash ship is a white one.
Or, in the event of characters of color being prominent in a piece of media and serving as one or both parts of a popular slash ship, one of three things happen:
- White prioritization: Fandom decides that actually, a minor crackship between two white characters with zero meaningful interactions or chemistry is more interesting and worth playing with than a ship involving even one character of color. (The overwhelming popularity of Kylo Ren/Hux over Finn/Poe in the supremely racist Star Wars fandom.)
- Racist Stereotypes: One or both members of the slash ship are written in stereotypically racist ways (Latino characters as Lusty Lotharios, Black male characters with giant genitals, Asian characters as submissive flowers) and meaningful characterization tends to take a backseat to any white or, in the case of an interracial pairing involving a Black character, non-Black character present (see any Black male character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that’s part of or adjacent to a white dude slash ship).
- Whitewashing: Characters of color are culturally whitewashed across the content that becomes popular in the fandom (see BTS real person slash fic where the Korean members of the group are often stripped of their Korean-ness even in stories set in Korea).
In this installment of What Fandom Racism Looks Like, we’ll be unpacking the role whiteness – and a fixation on white male characters in particular – plays in the powerhouse ships that dominate slash fandom.
We’ll be talking about the ways that the migratory slash fandom phenomenon fails characters of color – going into detail on each of the three examples above.
I’ll be reaching back into relatively recent fannish history to talk about the excuses white fans make to dodge criticism for their predictable patterns of fannish migration and lastly, we’ll talk about ways that fans can make the effort to make those migratory patterns a little less predictable – and far less white than they currently are.
Note that when it comes to data here, I’ll be referring back to Centrumlumina’s “AO3 Ship Stats 2019: Overall Top 100” list from July 2019. If Lulu provides a 2020 version accounting for the latter half of 2019 and part of 2020, I’ll update my post accordingly once I am notified.
In July 2019, when Lulu posted her 2019 ship rank post cataloging the most popular pairings on The Archive of Our Own, all ten of the most popular (by volume of fanworks) ships on the platform are Male/Male pairings. Of those ten pairings, only two involve at least one character of color: Voltron: Legendary Defender’s Keith/Lance (where Lance is confirmed Cuban and Keith’s human heritage is never unpacked) and Yuri!!! On Ice’s pairing of Victor Nikiforov/Yuuri Katsuki.
Victuuri, by the way, is the only canon pairing in the top ten of Lulu’s list. All of the other ships are fan-made pairings largely unsupported by their respected canons.
So what drives fandom to look at two white dudes that don’t have a romance and go “they should smush mouths and other body parts”?
Well… I think it’s time for us to talk about the fanon ghost again.
We talked about the idea of the fanon ghost – this spirit that folks in slash fandom basically summon to inhabit dudes in their new fandom – back in Beige Blank Slates while linking to a post from tumblr user wildehack who unpacks it. In that installment of the series, I wrote that:
The fanon ghost is never capable of possessing someone like Riz Ahmed’s Carlton Drake (Venom) or John Boyega’s Finn (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) or Hannah John-Kamen’s Ghost (Ant-Man and the Wasp) or David Ramsey’s John Diggle (Arrow). It’s never a person of color that fandom sees value in reviving as the ghost of fanon fussiness and it’s very rarely a white woman.
Ghost status, being infected with that immortal archetype and subsequently being seen as the most popular dude in a given fandom, is something that only happens to white male characters.
The fanon ghost haunts migratory slash fandom.
Shippers summon that ghost to inhabit one or both members of their favorite slash ship every time they move fandoms and need a new focus to zero in on. The fanon ghost only ever finds its homes in white characters – and some Korean boy band members, as you’ll see in a little bit – and everyone else has to kind of… hope that their canon characterization is interesting enough to work against fandom’s fixation on white men.
In a thread on FFA, some of the platform’s anonymous users went over the tropes assigned to the different ships that fandom becomes popular and for me, something stands out about some of the examples.
Steve and Bucky (Stucky) is popular because it fits a Best Friends trope and appeals to fans who like to see friends to lovers as a trope.
But in the same fandom, Steve/Sam and Tony/Rhodey aren’t anywhere near as popular.
In fact, despite the long-standing friendships on display across both of those pairings in comic history, fandom kind of… doesn’t care about them in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Even though Rhodey/Tony Is a close friendship in the franchise from the first Iron Man film, fandom has actually chosen to not only repeatedly #NoHomo their friendship, but vilify Rhodey and decide that he is the reason the relationship wouldn’t work or isn’t shippable.
(The same thread mentions the Military/Genus and BBC’s Sherlock series and it’s important to me to note that Tony (a genius)/Rhodey (in the Air Force and a genius) would absolutely fit that archetype – but then it doesn’t. For fandom.)
The people in the thread I’m looking at calls Migratory Slash Fandom the “Any Two Guys crowd” referring back to Fanlore’s article on it (which stemmed from The Fanfiction Glossary), but of course, they don’t exactly brush against the idea that it’s really Any Two White Guys. Like, I checked.
The word “white” is used once in this thread once in the phrase “whitecock” on the way to saying that while Clint/Coulson is that, it’s not “Any Two Guys” in practice.
Which is hilarious considering that Clint/Coulson is a ship that sparked from literally nothing. I used to read fic for that ship and I still cannot tell you that they’ve ever had a meaningful interaction in canon or that they know that they’ve ever actually spoken directly.
Clint/Coulson, with its ten thousand, eight hundred and three stories on Archive of Our Own and nearly non-existent screen time together across the Marvel Cinematic Universe, literally defines “whitecock”, “Any Two Guys”, and any other way you can say “That Thing Fandom Does Where It Zeroes In On Two White Dudes At The Direct Expense Of Any Other Potential Ship”.
And let’s be real here, whoever handled the edits for the fanlore page for “Two White Guys” put Clint/Coulson as a Two White Guys pairing that has little/no interaction in canon isn’t “taking the characters away from a more obvious pairing” despite the fact that:
A pairing involving a character of color – especially a Black man – is never slash fandom’s “more obvious pairing”. (So Coulson/Fury isn’t a “more obvious pairing” even though that friendship fuels a lot of the decisions that Coulson makes in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.)
The idea of a “more obvious pairing” not existing prioritizes white fans and white pairings really obviously because even in slash fandom, I could think of pairings just as crack-y that didn’t get half as much of the attention as Coulson’s left eyebrow.
In the above screenshot, the person who put together the list listed Bond/Q from the Craig set of films and the fans of that ship literally took Bond away from the Moneypenny/Bond ship and took one of their actual steamy moments for Q in the process of reducing her to a Sassy and Sexless Black Friend.
Anyway, these powerhouse ships (Clint/Coulson, Shawn/Lassiter, Mike/Harvey from Suits, Arthur/Eames) are only the most obvious pairings out there because fandom literally refuses to see characters of color as potential partners for their faves or a fandom focus outside of a few fandoms.
Outside of anime fandoms and East Asian music and drama fandoms (to an extent), fandom’s focus tends towards the #FFFFF type.
They wouldn’t notice a “more obvious pairing” with a person of color if it was a life or death situation.
Because we don’t fit into archetypes. We don’t get haunted by the fanon ghost.
There are literally situations where – like with the popularity of Shawn/Lassiter over Shawn/Gus where Gus and Shawn are childhood best friends and they’re basically mad married – folks in fandom bend over backwards to absolutely remove the potential for romance. (Like with Shawn and Gus, it was that they were “like” brothers to fandom, but considering many slash fans happily ship incest pairings, the excuse never holds water for me.)
And on that note, I think it’s time we talk about the ways that Migratory Slash Fandom’s nearly single-minded focus on white male characters and whiteness sets up in ways that are disrespectful to characters (and performers) of color and harmful to fans of color.
The last time we talked about “white prioritization” it was August 2018 and I wasn’t yet fed up with fandom at the level I am now – understandable considering all that I’ve been through since then.
When it comes to Migratory Slash Fandom’s white prioritization, I mean it on two fronts when it comes to (largely) Western-based media:
1. MSF literally deciding that the only characters worth shipping are white dudes in a given media property.
2. If they deign to ship a character of color with a white dude (or more than one white dude) the ship revolves around the white characters’ needs.
White characters are pretty much the only characters that matter in transformative fandom. I get that people don’t like to admit that because it makes them look bad, but –
We’ve seen the numbers. We’ve seen what fandom actually focuses on.
And it’s not characters that look like me.
If there’s a super diverse show with lots of well-written characters of color and white female characters, fandom will always focus on the white male characters in the show.
The Black Panther fandom didn’t actually zero in on ships focusing on the Black characters – outside of the cousins Erik “Killmonger” Stevens/T’challa. In fact, the fandom focused on the white men in the film to the point of zeroing in on Bucky and Steve because they just had to finish that thread from Captain America: Civil War.
Folks were out here writing “Bucky and Steve go to Wakanda for vacation” stories like that was ever an option for those characters, colonizing Wakanda for Stucky with zero shame.
They were also zeroing in on Martin Freeman’s character and on Klaue, a character who embodies white South African antiblackness. (He literally calls Wakandans savages and is pissed because they, the people using Vibranium as the backbone of their brilliant society, apparently don’t know how to use their own resource appropriately.)
We got a film that was entirely about Black people, Black excellence, and Black creativity and folks didn’t just center their fanfiction and shipping experience on white dudes… they centered it on white guys who weren’t even in the main film or the minor characters that weren’t a focus for a few reasons.
Fandom here, as it does in many other places, made the decision across the board to prioritize the first white dude that is relatively attractive to them. No one ever pauses to think about the fact that the default for fandom is… that.
And this is a thing that fandom does:
Fandom constantly decides that a minor crackship between two relatively underdeveloped white characters with zero meaningful interactions or chemistry (see Hux/Kylo, one of my villain origin stories in fandom) is actually more interesting and worth playing with than a ship involving even one character of color (Finn/Poe)
Back when Star Wars: The Force Awakens came out, one thing that I noticed almost immediately in the fandom was how the folks creating content for Finn/Poe as a ship could not stop reaching for the racism.
Across the first few months of wild racist fanworks, I saw things like a story where Finn was a dog (or hybrid) adopted by Poe, a story where Poe had to explain Finn’s dick to him because he wasn’t sure how it worked, and lots of stories where Poe was reduced to a Lusty Latino hungry for cock while Finn was basically a set of walking genitals that provided therapy to Poe.
Neither character really was a character to a very large portion of the fandom.
They were racist stereotypes about what men of color were like in bed.
They fullfilled fantasies and fetishes.
And when Black and Latino fans complained – rightfully so – about what their fandom was doing with these two nuanced and interesting characters of color, what did a whole huge chunk of fandom do?
They either doubled down on their racist crap and create racist content –
Or they jumped ship to Kylux.
Hux/Kylo’s popularity versus that of Finn/Poe – and the fandom’s really wild response to Black and Latinx fans pointing that out – honestly marks a turning point in how I actually “did” fandom.
Because it was wild. People – like Franzeska, my semi-nemesis – were out here making all kinds of excuses for why the ship isn’t popular all without acknowledging that slash fandom and their fandom in particular… really just wanted some good ole whitecock.
Which is… whatever.
At the end of the day, the Star Wars‘ slash fandom told us what mattered.
They showed it by claiming (to this day) that Kylux’s popularity versus Finn/Poe’s… lack of it was because Finn and Poe fans kink shamed them or hated villains/their fans and drove the fans off towards Kylux.
They showed it with the support for Franzeska literally rewriting fandom history to exclude fans of color and snottily explaining why fandom wasn’t focused on writing for Finn/Poe – in case you missed it… she basically dismissed the role race and racism had to play in order to link the drop in attention to… kinkshaming.
I can’t make this up.
Here’s the summary for 2016’s Why Isn’t Stormpilot Staying Popular? where Franzeska writes:
Destinationtoast posted some meta showing Stormpilot’s meteoric rise and then sudden fall in popularity, and now we’re all wondering why. If it were just fandom gravitating to the white guys, there wouldn’t have been that initial spike in popularity. If it were just a movie fandom burning itself out, most of the ships would show the same pattern. So what the heck is going on?
It’s probably no surprise that in the actual piece of meta itself, Franzeska literally opens it (after where she regurgitates the summary paragraphs) by dismissing the very potential of racism influencing the fandom’s shift to whiter pastures, writing that:
Three main theories have been advanced:
· Racism scared people away.
· Kinkshaming scared people away.
· Boring fic chased people into Kylux’s dirtybadwrong arms.
Personally, I think two and three are much more likely than one, but all are hard to substantiate beyond an individual person explaining why they personally lost interest.
Please understand that if I ever meet Franzeska’s incredibly antiblack ass, I’m going to have to challenge her to a duel. Like it’s 1850 and I’m Alexandre Dumas, but more full of rage and prone to fighting.
Because Franzeska’s Finn/Poe meta – literally posted two days after her other incredibly racist meta Your Vagina is a Bigot; My Vagina is a Saint – actively dismisses Black and Latinx fans’ concerns. It ignores the fact that people were writing racist content because it got them off and instead is like “oh well actually kinkshaming and boring stories are the villains here”.
She’s lying by the way.
She has always lied about the landscape of fandom.
She has never actually apologized for writing meta that I know actively contributes to the sorry state of discourse in fandom across the past few years.
And both pieces of her racist ass meta are still up on the Archive of Our Own – although the Finn/Poe hasn’t been updated since. Probably since you know… in the time since she’s posted it, Black and Latinx fans have made it clear that we’re done with that dreck and that we’ll band together to make her really wish she hadn’t tried us.
Again, this is normal for fandom.
Folks are out here writing characters of color in slash ships in stereotypically racist ways (Latino characters as Lusty Lotharios, Black male characters with giant genitals, Asian characters as submissive flowers) and meaningful characterization tends to take a backseat to any white character – or, in the case of an interracial pairing involving a Black character, non-Black character present (see any Black male character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that’s part of or adjacent to a white dude slash ship) –
And when we critique it or just go “hey this isn’t cool”… folks act like we’ve just taken their guns or something.
But they’re out here, again, writing Mandingo 2020 in fandom and getting mad when Black fans don’t bow down.
At the end of the day, no one has to write characters of color.
But slash fandom loves to do this thing where they write characters of color along obviously racist stereotypes and then blame pissed off fans of color for why they can’t be bothered to create content for or care about those characters anymore.
Perhaps, if y’all didn’t treat writing characters of color well like the “joyless slog” Franzeska described it as and didn’t gravitate towards openly racist tropes for then, maybe fans of color wouldn’t get so pissed?
The Merriam-Webster dictionary definition of “whitewash” as it relates to media is as follows:
a: to portray (the past) in a way that increases the prominence, relevance, or impact of white people and minimizes or misrepresents that of nonwhite people
b: to alter (an original story) by casting a white performer in a role based on a nonwhite person or fictional
(You can see the specific examples they use at the link!)
Here’s a thing you probably didn’t know about Migratory Slash Fandom:
When the fans do deign to give a shit about some characters of color (who are usually East Asian or “White Passing” Latinos), they whitewash the hell out of them.
Mind you, they don’t literally whitewash the characters and performers the way the 2017 Ghost in the Shell film whitewashed uh… many of the Japanese characters from the original franchise by casting White American and Europeans in key roles.
However, in the process of making these characters or performers culturally accessible and relatable, they rewrite (or represent) them in ways that make them more palatable to an audience that’s assumed to be white (or, more specifically non-East Asian Westerners) themselves.
The most visible and frustrating example I’ve found in my deep dive into slash fandom spaces in 2019 and beyond – and what this section is about – can be found in the Western-dominated portions of East Asian media fandoms for live action properties like The Untamed or for Korean pop and hip-hop groups like BTS, Monsta X, and EXO.
No joke, a lot of the modern Korean pop fans that create and consume content? Came from various fandoms underneath the umbrella of Western migratory slash fandom. So, they came from things like One Direction real person fic (RPF) or from other “dead” slash fandom spaces because they’re being “given” new content in these fandoms.
What draws in Migratory Slash Fandom to a new franchise first and foremost?
New and attractive vessels for the fanon ghost to possess that interact in ways that can be read queerly – or like… at all.
And the actors of The Untamed, the characters they’re playing, as well as the handsome young men in Korean groups that bring in massive audiences to their concerts and other events?
Are really fucking attractive.
And, to many of the people in these fandoms? They’re still new and shiny enough for the fanon ghost to come a haunting.
The thing is that… while we know these aren’t white dudes and the fandom (more or less) registers that they’re not white dudes, it doesn’t quite compute? And it definitely doesn’t show in a lot of the fanworks that exist in the various fandoms for these three fandoms.
I know that part of the legend is that RM/Kim Namjoon learned English via watching Friends with his mom as a kid. It’s like… incredible considering everything I know about Friends makes it hard for me to understand why folks lost their shit at the idea that it would’ve been removed from Netflix a few years ago.
But there’s still nothing wilder than going through some Korean pop Real Person Fiction and being jarred out of the setting because the writer has these people fixating on like the white and western literary canon. Like flat out salivating over the chance to get their hands on like a first edition of Pride and Prejudice or fixating on a White Feminist ™ text rather than on uh… anything else.
(And for the latter note, it is absolutely wild to see someone be like “Namjoon, noted feminist, keeps a copy of Mary Wollstoncraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Women on his nightstand to remember that women have rights” as if it’s not even remotely likely that there are actual facts feminists writing shit in Korea.)
While I’m not saying that there’s zero value in Western literature (with my entire ass English Literature MA, I can’t do that), it is wild that people in these fandoms can’t be bothered to google what Korean people are consuming and creating when it comes to media.
For BTS RPF in particular, there’s this preoccupation with focusing on Americana in Seoul? Like the members of the group are frequently written solely consuming fast food more common in the United States. They’re frequently written with childhood ripped from US Suburbia, neatly separated houses with big lawns in cul-de-sacs and brownstones ripped from Brooklyn. The shows they watch in these stories – like the Great British Bake-Off or Keeping Up With The Kardashians – and the books they read –
Quite focused on the Western Literary Canon.
Like it stood out to me at one point that it’s actually rare to read these stories and see the characters – or performers-as-characters – actually engage with cultural aspects from their own countries or even neighboring ones?
Everything is Troye Sivan this, Ikea that.
I’m a queer person in the United States and I can tell you that I have never once in my life listened to a Troye Sivan song. (Which brings up another thing about how the queer experiences on display in many fanworks revolving around East Asian media or celebrities… are queer white experiences of a certain age that don’t just Not Apply to the majority of people in fandom, but we literally do not have time for this.)
Y’all… it is ridiculous that for fandoms revolving around characters and real people who cannot be divorced from their heritage… when it comes to transformative fandom’s take on them? They do just that.
Let me tell you how wild it is to see BTS real person fic where these seven Korean dudes are largely stripped of their Korean-ness even in stories set in Korea.
I’m not saying that y’all need to go out there and badger Chinese, Japanese, and Korean members of fandom for sensitivity reading sessions.
Honestly, I’d say… don’t do that –
Especially if you’re writing RPF – because at the end of the day, RPF does involve turning real people into fantasies and when it comes to actual people of color that is… something that, rightfully, many people don’t approve of and don’t like to engage with.
But if you’re writing stories set in Korea, Japan, or China (whether or not you’re writing RPF for bandom, tackling the hottest new anime pairing, or focusing on those Ancient Chinese Gays I hear so much about these days) and you make negative effort to figure out to write these people as they are or in a way that highlights and doesn’t erase their cultures?
You… probably shouldn’t be writing these stories to begin with.
(Edit Note 5/7/21: I wanted to clarify that the jab at Ikea and Troye Sivan in fic and this section is two-fold: a) it was fueled by then-frustration at how English-language Korean RPS writers were layering their experiences onto these celebs without knowing “hey, these WOULD be great queer signifiers” AND b) I actually just don’t like either Ikea OR Troye Sivan very much, and kind of needed to be goofy-petty about that in a fit of pique)
Lastly, let’s talk about ways that people in Migratory Slash Fandom can make a successful effort to make those migratory patterns a little less predictable – and far less white than they currently are.
I have a handy list:
- Interrogate yourself: why is it that you’ve gravitated towards the same-looking white dude slash ship (dark haired white dude + light haired white dude) for your entire time in fandom? Don’t give yourself an out with “I like villains” or whatever, actually dig deep.
- Inspect your output: have you looked at what you’re actually creating to see what content you’re creating about male characters of color? If they’re just background characters to your main ship or living out incredibly racialized (and often racist) fantasies in fandom… yikes.
- Invest in research materials: Yes, I know I said not to go looking for sensitivity readers for your fanworks but if someone’s offering or you’re writing in a fanbase, dear god please take the help. (And pay them for it in some way even if it’s “just” in returning the favor with a solid beta reading session.) But also, read up on the cultures and communities you’re writing in. Especially if you’re writing modern or college stories for your favorite East Asian franchise. Watch some local television, read some local books, and please stop putting people who live in various East Asian countries with high population density in sprawling cul-de-sacs like they live in South Florida or something.
- Prepare to be bruised: the thing is that not everyone will approve of what you’re doing. Either way, someone’s gonna get annoyed. Either because you’re “getting woke” and “bending to the SJWs” in fandom or because you’ve tried your hardest and it’s still not good enough. You can’t please everyone, but you can do a little to make fandom less… single-minded.
But here’s the biggest way Migratory Slash fans can be better about the patterns their fandom-ing falls into:
They can stop gaslighting fans of color about what we’re seeing in fandom and when it comes to these pairings.
They can stop rewriting fandom history – and supporting the people who do it, like Franzeska and like Kate McCort or whatever her name was in the Star Wars fandom – to excise and excuse transformative fandom’s unending and unchecked racism.
That’d be nice.
Because I am far from the first person to note these patterns. I may be the loudest right now, but I am not the first. Not even close. The stuff I got a bunch of folks pissed off about in 2019? Fans of color were talking about it in 2009.
This is not new.
We are not new.
Migratory Slash Fandom was called something else when I was a teenager. It’ll be called something else in the future. But the one thing that has never changed is that people will bend over backwards to center what they love most –
And it’s not what they keep telling us it is, that’s for sure.
27 thoughts on “What Fandom Racism Looks Like: Migratory Slash Fandom’s Focus”
So funny that the people who are supposed to read this won’t.
Maybe eventually they’ll check out my posts and go “oh, i should’ve thought about this sooner” but… I doubt it.
I can’t think of many people who’ve reached out to me and said “i rethought how i approached fandom because of your work and I’m glad it exists” after trying to pretend it doesn’t exist.
Well I’ve rethought how I approach fandom and stuff bc of your works. For context I’m a black asexual woman. And I’d never noticed how racist(and by extension queerphobic,misogynistic and aphobic well the aphobia I figured out in my own when I realized how much fandom hates aspecs but anyway) fandom was.
I just never noticed it and then I read your stuff (and others’ on the topic but you were my gateway)
And now I see it *everywhere* and the more I notice fandom bigotry the more pissed off I am.
The racist tropes and other bigoted things just so much fandom Bullshit I never realized was there because I was a naive teenager(currently 21) who thought fandom was oh sooo progressive look they ship two Cishet white guys together! Progress.
It didn’t look like the racism of KKK, neo Nazis, alt right anti SJW anti PC YouTubers( I shamefully admit I as a dumb teen almost got sucked into that alt right BS but I thankfully broke away)
So thank you for showing me the light. Although I admit I’m probably not the type of person who you wanted to be delivered from racism the white women of fandom probably need your message more than I did but still thank you. If you think your work isn’t changing minds or helping people question racism don’t because it is it helped me and I will always be grateful for the work you do.
I don’t know if I count, having never had much of an online presence, but as a white person, I have learned an enormous amount from your blog and have been trying for some time to figure out how to express it. I’m still nervous about posting but I‘m going on the idea that an imperfect attempt to communicate the positive impact your work has had on me is better than none at all, so I‘ll give it my best shot.
I was introduced to your blog via your WFRLL series on the Star Wars fandom. My experience in my own fandoms had generally been one of knowing something was horribly wrong but not having any words to describe it, let alone find the confidence that I wasn’t crazy or missing huge things in the source materials. I straight up didn’t know that it was a documented pattern for people to just make things up out of whole cloth and claim that “it’s right there in canon!”, and I didn’t have the tools to recognize when they would weaponize social justice jargon. So I would freeze and get into circles of “did we read/watch/play the same thing? Or do I just not know how to read? Are there really these huge overtones I just never see? And why do I still not see them when I comb through the source twenty more times?” I think I would still have picked up the bad faith if I had known how to see past the abuse of social justice lingo, but as it was, I would be blindsided and think, “Wait, they seem to know about these things, so they’ve read at minimum everything I have about feminism/anti-racism and they’re still saying this? So that means I should shut up and listen, right? I can’t argue with a survivor of (blank)” (but apparently they could talk over other survivors of (blank)?) In conclusion: yiiiikes at my past self, on so many levels!
TL;DR: I may not have been a Kylo apologist equivalent in any of my fandoms but I used to freeze in the face of their nonsense, which meant that I didn’t provide any effective pushback until I learned, largely from your work, that these were patterns across fandoms. Your blog was a revelation and I spent many months reading and re-reading for example your entire series on the Star Wars fandom, constantly thinking “oh my god, that’s what was happening!!!” Your work gave me the tools and confidence to say something instead of doubting myself, and if I am able to be a safe and positive presence as I become more active online (no time like a quarantine for that XD), I will owe so much of that to your work. So, thank you so much.
Hope you and your loved ones are safe and healthy.
I think I struggle with this as a POC. It’s a case of the white protagonists being written with more depth and attached to more interesting plot developments by white writers. So when it comes to creating fan fiction, it feels like more labor to develop POC characters that were written badly or with little depth. Then there’s the social feedback factor. Fanfic writers will get more hits and feedback and validation if they cater to the fandom’s tastes, which is always white. It’s really frustrating because I see all of the things you’re talking about, but I’m also playing into it because of these hegemonic forces. I have tried to write more POC characters and relationships to break out of this cycle, but like I said, the struggle for me is real. I’m just not as invested and even when I am, I get 1/8th of the feedback and hits, which I know shouldn’t matter, but ultimately it does.
My goal is never to put the weight of this representational lack on my fellow fans of color, but to focus on how whiteness (and white fans) in fandom basically strangles diversity in its cradle. We’re stuck in a cycle of whiteness – as fans of color – not even primarily because that’s what we’re actually into or invested in –
But because the folks who create the trends in fandom and who consume/create the majority of content in fandom have no shame in letting us know that 99% of characters of color don’t matter to fandom.
It’s definitely one of the hardest things about being a POC writing in/for fandom. Because I don’t know any one of us that actively starts out going “I only care about white characters/performers so that’s what my output will look like”
We want to write about the characters we love and get feedback from the fans we’re trying to build a community with and the silence is one of the hardest things to deal with. Because we’re creating good work for great characters, but it doesn’t feel that way when no one seems to engage with what we’re creating.
I have been where you are, and I absolutely understand how hard it is for us to even *want* to create content for characters *that look like us* because fandom makes it clear who matters. Absolutely. It sucks, it hurts, and it isn’t freaking fair!
If you ever need to shout about what you’re writing or you want a cheerleader in your corner, let me know! I’m here and I conveniently have a ton of free time to yell about stuff!
Now I’m white, so you can take all this with a huge grain of salt, but I kind of have to disagree with your opening statement, based on over twenty years in fandom.
See, here’s the thing, It’s not about white protagonists being written with more depth, nor that they’re ‘attached to more interesting plot developments’, because the erasure of poc characters happens whether that’s the case or not.
Finn was written with far more depth than either Kylo Ren or Hux, and had the most interesting plot potential of any character in the Star Wars sequels.
Yet none of that had any effect on how fandom saw any of these characters. Instead they took Finn’s story, and gave it to Hux or Kylo Ren.
the same happened in Teen Wolf fandom. Scott McCall is everything Stiles fans wanted Stiles to be. Yet over and over and over again, they claimed Scott was boring, as they then took Scott’s traits, Scott’s story, and Scott’s relationship with the other characters, and gave them to Stiles. All while claiming Stiles was more ‘interesting’, even as they erased the grand majority of Stiles canon personality, story and relationships with the other characters.
Or compare Gunn on Angel, with Xander on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Both were similar character tropes, with Gunn in canon getting all the story and character traits, that Xander fans loved to give Xander in their fanfic. Yet in fics Gunn was stuck being a supporting character to a supporting character, while Xander became a fandom fave.
Coulson in the MCU had little to no personality, either in Iron Man, or Thor, but fandom ‘gave’ him a personality in their fics, to the point that the canon eventually made his role larger.
Whereas the opposite happens with poc characters. Fandom ignores the poc characters, and shows and movies pick up on that lack of interest and slow but surely then start pushing those poc characters more and more aside.
Hell take Supernatural, Victor Henriksen was a great character with huge chemistry with Dean Winchester. But if you look at fandom, the only fics writing him in a main pairing, tend to be kink fics. It’s rare to find any fics that delve further in his characterization.
But, then you look at fics involving Gabriel, a character who up to season 10 had an equal amount of eps, characterization and impact on the storyline to Henriksen, along with an equal amount of appearances, and in fandom, Gabriel was suddenly made a member of Team Free Will, and widely shipped with Sam, Dean and/or other characters. The difference between them… Henriksen was played by a black actor, while Gabriel was played by a white one.
I do agree that there’s a social feedback factor involved.
People instantly hooked onto these particular characters because they got positive feedback when they did. you get more comments, more response and more readers, if you write for the fandom faves. I see that in The Old Guard fandom, where fans get ‘rewarded’ for writing for the interracial pairing of Joe/Nicky. But even in that fandom, it becomes noticeable how most of the fandom response is to the white half of the pairing, and thus on Nicky’s feelings, emotions and backstory, Where Joe often becomes an extension to Nicky’s story, just there to gaze admiringly at his white partner. POC and SJW fandom is fighting back on that urge, but it’s a constant struggle. And for a lot of people, not even just white people, that’s part of the problem, because it’s easier to just give in to the ‘fandom ghost’, to just write what ‘fandom’ wants, rather than think about why you go with the flow, instead of think about what you’re writing. Especially considering doing so, is what gets you ‘rewarded’ through comments and kudos.
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[…] and fetishism prevalent in the Finnpoe fandom, its popularity took a sharp nosedive. Non-Black fans who couldn’t grapple with addressing their racism migrated to Kylux and […]
This was a really thoughtfully written essay and definitely a worthwhile read. I didn’t stay in the Star Wars fandom very long, but I remember seeing some really cringe-inducing depictions of Finn/Poe like you described before it gotten overtaken by other pairings. Considering how shitty John Boyega got treated by Disney and how much they shelved Finn’s character later on, I can’t help but wonder how much of this kind of racist writing is learned by fans vs how much of it is enabled by them. Thanks for sharing this.
Thank you so much for reading my essay and for commenting! I really appreciate it!
And so with the Star Wars fandom, I think it was a blend of both? All of the bigger writers – established NSFW content creators, not just newbies – were writing Finn/Poe in the ways I described. They’re experts in fandom, right? I’d known some of them in various fandoms for years –
So why would anyone question their kink choices right? And more than that, if the experts at stellar and sexy NSFW content were writing Finn and Poe like that… then it must’ve been okay to write as well? That’s the logic fandom was clearly working with.
However, then you also had the fact that when Black and Latinx fans would talk about our issues with the frankly dehumanizing way Finn and Poe were being written in fandom, you had two responses that contributed to enabling:
First, you had the fans who’d run around assuring everyone that actually it wasn’t racist because THEY, as the only POC worth listening to apparently (even when they weren’t Black or Latinx), didn’t find the racist content racist. So it urged people to ignore us.
And then you had people who would actually make even more racist content in retaliation. Like if we say “don’t write Finn as a pet for Poe” they’d turn around and toss out a quick drabble where he was a dog hybrid. If we said “hey, don’t whitewash Finn/draw Finn as a hulking brute next to Poe”, someone’ld draw a fully whitewashed original art book version of Finn or draw Finn massive and brawny.
And the circle would continue.
Agree with everything here, really good read.
Just one tiny question, I know this is a nitpick, but as an afro-mestizo, why did you put quotes around “white passing” latino? :0 Are you talking about white latinos?
Coming from the Teen Wolf fandom where Tyler Posey was called white and white passing on the regular by folks who were also racist to him and often referenced his features as part of what they disliked about him (wild, I know), there’s a sore spot I have with how “white passing” is used in lots of fandoms. So I’m talking about characters that fall under the role of fandom’s white passing and not like… The woman from Gilmore Girls, I think, who is a white Latina.
I wanted to drop a comment because this is something i have been seeing for a while in fandom and have been discussing with my poc friends (i am a white hispanic), and it frustrates me that the people who perpetuate this never seem to grow or learn. I want to help out more but is it my place to say anything? Genuine question and thank you for the article.
Thanks so much for reading!
And yeah, one of the things that’s very frustrating is that the people who keep this really single-minded focus on white men across fandoms (or do the weird whitewashing thing with East Asian characters) never lear. They kind of refuse to learn, actually.
Worse still is that one of the best utilized tactics is to shut down other people – especially white people trying to ally – by deciding who can/’t speak about racism in fandom or try to find solutions that still let people have their fun. So white people in fandom aren’t “allowed” to talk about racism in fandom… but really only if they’re trying to point out what fans of color have been saying for years, because then they get accused of “speaking over” people in a way that white racists never are.
My thoughts on white allies speaking up in fandom are that if you see an issue and you feel like you can speak to the person doing it (publicly or privately) with something like “hey, have you considered doing [not the racist thing]” if you know the person and think they can change.
What’s even more helpful though is that if you want to raise more awareness of a specific character of color in your fandom and flood fandom with quality fanworks and lots of love for them, work with your friends of color to do small and large fandom events and make it clear that you’re not going to let anyone come for your friends of color in fandom.
I hope that’s helpful!
thank you for taking the time to respond to my comment! admittedly i am rather out of my depth in these discussions because i wasnt in any of the fandoms that were mentioned in this discussion (i watched star wars and pacific rim but i never felt the need to make fan content for them) When i was more active in fandom it felt like i was one of five people making content of a poc character (godot from ace attorney) and due to the bad experiences with the aa fandom ive not wanted to make any aa art at all, and have largely switched to drawing my ocs and persona 5 fanart. i do actively try to stick up for my friends of color in fandom so they dont feel alone in fandom, but i am unsure if i would feel up for doing a fandom event due to personal reasons. idk how to explain this and i think its a completely separate fandom issue that would need its own collective meta post because its happened to more people besides me. I have ptsd (unrelated to fandom) however because of this ptsd i was often the target of uncomfortable sexual comments and expectations, where people expected me to be sexually pure due to my ptsd, and would react violently when i discussed any kind of sex at all (i would never discuss sex around minors, all of these situations were in 18+ spaces) but because of the repeated sexual harassment i dont feel comfortable enough even trying to set up events in fandom.
Forgive me if this seems forward but i wanted to know if you felt like as a person of color you had sexual expectations forced upon you in fandom?
on a separate but related note about godot, something ive noticed in my personal experience is how people like the idea of his character but refuse to use him. what i mean by that is many times in fics people will change the characterization of one character (usually miles edgeworth or klavier gavin) to make them more like godot in personality/mannerisms (for fucks sake several fics even made them blind like godot) but conspicuously leave godot absent or have him be a sexist parody of himself. i ended up going headfirst into shipping phoenix/godot mainly because so many fics just made edgeworth have godot’s personality or if they did have godot non-bastardized he would end up having better chemistry with phoenix than edgeworth (oops). i also ship godot with phoenix because i think godot is the best and deserves good things (c’mon godot said that looking at phoenix reminded him of what love felt like, how can that NOT be gay)
I am kind of familiar with Ace Attorney (I’ve played the games and know the popular ships) and so I know that the fandom probably made very bad calls wherever a brown-skinned character that wasn’t the one with blond hair. So definitely I’m unsurprised that this fandom may behave super similarly to others when it comes to what’s popular which means that artists like you felt alone and adrift when you were creating (which sucks, of course)
And with Godot having his characterization or relationships given to other characters –
Oh that is such a big pet peeve I have! Folks will refuse to write a character but then slap their best traits onto a “more appealing” character and then leave them with an awful fanon personality where they’re unworthy of interest. FRUSTRATING!
On the subject of fandom events, i would say yeah don’t do anything that can risk retraumatizing or triggering you. Maybe cheerleading your friends as a strong but background support if they choose to do an event?
And so I have not had direct sexual expectations placed on me in fandom (I tend to keep to a close knit friends group in whatever fandom I’m in because of offline issues I’ve had that have left me uncomfortable with too many new people, so my circle is small so I don’t experience those issues online. What I have had to deal with, wildly enough, is strangers who hate what I do (writing about racism) then turn around and make strangely sexual comments about me (like hate-shipping me with themselves or others) and muse amongst themselves that my relationships with other people they hate must be sexual in nature. That’s been uncomfortable to see but thankfully I haven’t seen it in a while.
I hate that fandom is a space where people can just… harm others and no one really can do anything to help folks who are affected. Ugh. If you need to talk or you just want to shout about your feelings, shoot me an email on my contact form okay?
Thank you so much for this article! This has been super helpful in allowing me to recognize biases and check my own in fandom spaces. Having read some Voltron lance/keith, I have definitely found cringe fics that do a horrible job at depicting bilingual speakers. However, writing about language in fics is a whole other topic, but it is something that your article made me think of.
As a queer Chinese American I definitely hopped onto the Untamed train (book and show) and I noticed how much it bothered me when authors would not take any action to learn Asian culture to enhance the world. I can understand AU fics to an extent as the world itself is fictional, but you put it perfectly into words how the Chinese background is often erased. Thanks for all your work!
I’m white (European), and your essay has given me much to think about. I actually went over the fics I have written over the years after reading your essay to analyse my own shortcomings. I have never written anything for Star Wars or read any fics, mostly because I thought the new trilogy was meh in general (I was extremely disappointed by Poe’s absolute waste of an extremely promising plot in the first movie) and never really got over it) and didn’t feel like wading through badly written Reylo fic to find a good pearl about characters I actually care about.
I did write a couple of fics for Voltron and decided to take a thorough look at them. I’ve always thought I was fairly okay as a white person at standing up against racism and dealing with my own internalised racism. Having lived internationally for the last decade has probably helped a little. One of my Voltron fic is mildly popular. It was for a friend about a fake disease which is a trope I’d never really enjoyed but a bday gift is a bday gift. In this fic, I chose to make Keith half Korean (a trope that was quite popular at the time and I liked it). Although there was nothing inherently racist about the fic, I am now seeing the other side: the absence of actually talking about Lance being Cuban, or Keith being Korean more than as a passing comment, and not mentioning almost anything about their culture.
Since that fic I have moved and continued writing for much smaller fandoms, where I’ve continued the trope of making white characters PoC because tired of seeing the same thing over and over. But from now on, I will make sure to learn more about each culture and actually include it in my writing.
I hope one of my fics will make a PoC reader smile one day, seeing a piece of their culture in a short story about cakes.
You’ve absolutely opened my eyes to a lot of things in fandom that have been bothering me for years but never could quite figure out why. Thank you for the time you take to educate us. I will take your words and carry them with me as I continue reading and writing fics with a way more critical eye.
This was a rly astute post & covered a HUGE amount of ground!! Youve been linked on tumblr, so this writeup is for sure making an impact 🙂
But as someone who is apparently overwhelmingly lucky to have dropped out of fandom fast enough & so avoided these fics thus far –
WHITE RPF RLY LOOKED AT ASIANS IN ASIA & THOUGHT THAT MEANT THEY JUST KEEP WRITING AMERICA?
😂 REALLY? 😂
WATCHING FRIENDS?? 😂😂😂 Literally white ppl cant stop having a go at me because I precisely grew up NOT knowing friends (did someone say CAUCASIAN CENTRIIIC just kidding whats new) & im fully western
ISNT KOREABOOS WHOLE DEAL THAT THEY GORGE ON KOREAN SHOWS, WHICH LITERALLY ENTIRELY ILLUSTRATES KOREAN CULTURE?
I CANT –
Ok im done.
Really enjoyed the post, srsly 🙂🙂✨
Really quickly, a minor correction. In the dog fic, Poe is the dog and he’s adopted by Finn. It’s actually still up as of today.
Good read. As a kpop fan, ive noticed this a LOT. Everything is always set in american communities because the author “is more familiar with the setting”, but it’s just an excuse to whitewash them. Even when they’re written as americans, they’re stripped of their korean identities and act no different from white americans. Koreans exist in america too and their experiences are much different from white people. For crying out loud, their names are Hoseok and Jimin, not Hunter and Jim.
I’m not majorly involved in any big fandoms so I can’t really say much about the ships you’ve talked about here (aside from seeing Kylux in passing years & years ago and thinking “oh nice, villain aesthetic” but that’s a different topic entirely), but I have to say that the whole thing with KPop kind of… blew my mind, for lack of better words? This is pretty much coming from a dumb white American standpoint but I do find myself very often forgetting that my experiences/typical white American experiences are not universal, regardless of how obvious the notion is. TBH it’s kind of scary trying to figure out how to write anything that wouldn’t take place in America or characters from different cultures, but I think you give some really good advice on how to do so (plus the emphasis on making sure you pay sensitivity readers *something* for their time). Definitely a new blog to follow ❤
thank you so much for your post! I happen to be a fan of Chinese dramas, but haven’t dipped a toe into writing them because I’m doing some culture research, (which happens to be fun for me!) and I happened to come across a post in a Chinese diaspora creator blog, a blogger noted that Chinese fans hate poly ships, (very prevalent in Western fandom) most Chinese dramas feature a monogamous relationship ‘the one true love’, to the extent that a character can’t have a new relationship even when the person they love has died, this is why reincarnation stories are so prevalent, it’s certainly made me reconsider what I would write about.
Pretty interesting article.
As someone who’s never really interacted much with slash (at the turn of the millennium it was because I was an insecure kid, and since then its mostly been because almost all slash feels inorganic and fetishistic), this isn’t something I’ve ever but much thought into. Racism present in fandom, definitely, that’s obvious in many areas, but i’ve never thought about it in the lens of slashfic.
The bit about kpop rpf in particular is morbidly fascinating, and makes perfect sense. Of course people writing rpf slashfic aren’t going to be doing research.
Pretty interesting post.
Enlightening, as someone who tends to avoid romantic fic (and finds the voyeuristic fetishization of gay relationships in slashfic very uncomfortable), but also sadly unsurprising.
OF COURSE slashfic has all the racism of the rest of fandom.
OF COURSE people writing slash rpfic of korean popstars do zero research and just fit them into white archetypes and white culture
This was very thought provoking for me. I have been aware of this phenomenon, but this article really brought it into focus. Thank you!
You’ve brought up a lot of interesting points that have given me a lot to think about. Especially with the whitewashing section. Because it brought up stuff that I think I subconsciously noticed that I found really annoying but couldn’t quite place. I used to spend a lot of time in anime fandoms when I was younger and I remember getting really frustrated with how “American” the fanfiction tended to be. (Note: I’m Australian and biracial (white and japanese) so I’m only focussing on elements that I know about):
Highschool settings would make no effort to integrate elements of the Japanese school experience or even
deviate from the familiarity of the American high school eg. characters used terms such as ‘freshman’. Any time they went to the shops it would always be a American stores and American brands. Holidays celebrated would be western ones with no mention of Japanese cultural elements in how they were celebrated eg. kids getting money from older relatives for New Years.
I’m now wondering how much of what I was picking up on was actually whitewashing instead. If I went back and read those fanfics, how many elements of whitewashing would I now pick up on now that I’m focussing on that instead of ‘American’ elements?
The other problem I had was coming across discussion in fandom that treated all anime characters as ‘white’, eg. complaining about there being no ‘poc’ in anime despite the shows being set in Japan with a Japanese cast. Don’t get me wrong there’s a disscussion to be had about racism, xenophobia and colourism in Japan and how that is reflected in Japanese popculture. But it was clear that, at least in the posts I came across, that wasn’t what they were talking about.
Or instances where people in the Naruto fandom would arbitrarily assign (asian) characters as ‘white’, because they ‘looked white’ or they didn’t personally like the character. I understand that Naruto is set in fantasy ninja land not in Japan, but as far as I’m aware white people didn’t actually exist in that setting? Just because non western media doesn’t go out of its way to make it clear that a character is “Asian” (aka nonwhite/Other) doesn’t mean you can blindly ignore the character’s Japanese name and the elements of japanese culture in the setting that mark it as explicitly non western. As if a character’s ethnicity and culture were something inconsequential you could strip from them in order to pigeonhole them into the wierd problematic to unproblematic hierarchy that the ‘sjw’ side of fandom had created based on oppression Olympics. Eg. I don’t like this character-> they must therefore be Bad and Problematic -> they must be white (they don’t fit into asian sterotypes).
Anyway, thank you so much for writing this essay. It brought up a lot of good points that I think western fandom as a whole should be more aware of.
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