What Fandom Racism Looks Like: For Clout and Social Capital

Across Korean pop/hip-hop twitter, anyone who calls out or even mentions the antiblackness that is a constant from the artists, the industry they’re part of, and the fandom spaces we’re in on and offline… gets accused of doing it for “clout”. 

And by clout, they mean positive power or influence in fandom

Here’s a newsflash for y’all: there’s literally no scenario or fandom where a person of color – or even a white person – talking sharply and critical about the racism in a fandom, in the source material, or from a celebrity gains measurable powerful and positive influence in fandom for it. 

None. 

I have had this site for five years and was on Tumblr talking about racism in fandom for three or so years before that and if you think any of that translated into people overwhelmingly and actually listening to me when I talk about racism in fandom…

You would be extremely wrong. 

In fact, rather than getting “clout” in fandom for talking about why fandoms around the internet are problematic as fuck about race and full of racism, you know what I actually get?

Lots of fucking bullshit. 

People putting me on massively shared blocklists, hopping into my mentions on twitter to be dicks, screencapping my tweets and articles to mock me for their friends and followers’ entertainment, and lying on my behavior and work in fandom to other strangers. 

I get disrespected.

Pretty fucking often actually.

So when I see someone asking if someone – usually another Black person – is calling something racist out for clout, I tend to lose my shit because there is no clout involved at any point here. 

When we talk about things like fandom’s pesky penchant for sexy slavefic or how seeing an idol don a faux-Rastafarian wig and/or mock African American Vernacular English hurts us

You know what happens more often than not?

Not tons of people throwing money at our PayPal accounts or following us in droves because we’re speaking truth to power or whatever.

We get blocked.

We get harassed.

We get dismissed. 

We get torn down.

In the case of what happens every single time Black people talk about antiblackness from an East Asian idol on any level, we get shut down to protect celebrities or even just more popular fans who are actively being harmful to and about us. 

And here’s a lil side note for y’all:  you can keep your mouth shut about how ignorant and uneducated you think Koreans are and how they also should never be expected to learn or uh… care about Black people and our culture beyond gentrifying it. 

Because that isn’t just unhelpful and annoying: it’s also clearly infantilizing Koreans in an attempt to keep them – as a people – from having to unpack systemic antiblackness that they’re often active participants in when it comes to these spaces. 

At the end of the day, there are no people of color or anti-racist white folks who make bank from fandom because they’re talking about racism in fandom. No one who gets a job or thousands of followers or a media deal because they’re wiling to talk about the racism they witness and/or experience in fandom.

No one.

In fact, you actually make more money creating videos, blogs, and podcasts dunking on the dreaded ~social justice warriors~ than anything else. There’s a whole cottage industry on YouTube where folks in different fandoms hop on top of whatever Z-List fandom folk that’s currently Caring Too Much About Other People on main. 

Hell, on twitter and tumblr, right now? Those anti-anti accounts that crop up to talk about how anti-censorship and pro-fandom freedom they are? The literally exist to collect clout for dunking on or even silencing critical conversations in fandom – especially those by people of color like me talking about race and racism in fandom.

They treat fandom discourse like they’re playing Katamari Damacy, dodging nuanced criticism of both blatant and subtle racism in fandom while ramming into the basically batshit ones – or misrepresenting the nuanced commentary as batshit – collecting followers and all kinds of clout in the process.

And despite the fact that these accounts – the anti-anti accounts and the anti-Social Justice Warrior accounts alike – are all performing in bad faith for the express purpose of setting themselves up as voices of reason and wisdom in fandom and gaining power in these spaces… 

No one actually accuses them of doing shit for clout.

Even though they obviously are.

There’s this (incredibly incorrect) assumption that the only reason that fans of color – and white folks who are Aware of the Mess – call out or even talk about racism in fandom is because we want something tangible and personally beneficial from fandom. Not like… people being less racist or anything like that. 

But control. 

Money. 

Power. 

We’re assumed to be incapable of contributing anything to fandom and so we must want to remake it in our image and make folks create our kinds of Presumed Pure ™ content.

(Aside from how if this is how you’re talking about fans of color who are brave enough to voice concerns about racism in fandom, you’re a walking racist red flag… that’s not how this works.)

But I find that the relabeling that comes along with these conversations is as interesting as it is telling.

In her June 2019 interview with Henry Jenkins following the publication of her incredible fan studies text Squee from the Margins: Fandom and Race, Dr. Rukimini Pande talks about the term “fandom killjoy” as “something that is ascribed to or imposed upon fans who point out the operations about race/racism in fandom spaces rather than a role that they seek out.”

She goes on to point out that:

“fans who do talk about these issues are often branded as activists who are motivated by a desire to score social justice points rather than by a genuine fannish investment in a character or text. This othering also often comes with a hypervisibility that inhibits further fandom participation as their energy is expected to then go towards ‘fixing’ the problem they have identified.”

Fans of color are placed into this precarious position in fandom. 

We’re the “fandom killjoy” out to wreck everyone’s ridiculous fun… but we’re also the only people expected or allowed to do and say anything about racism in fandom. 

(If you’ve ever seen a conversation about racism in fandom by a white ally derailed by a fan of color who has decided that they’re the only person who’s allowed to talk about racism in fandom – just in time to shut down the conversation entirely because they don’t see a thing as racist – you probably get what I’m talking about.)

At the same time that we’re assumed to be doing this – talking about race and racism in fandom spaces – in order to gain something from fandom, we’re also expected to do it anyway. When white fans talk about racism or non-Black people of color talk about antiblackness, they’re frequently shut down within fandom.

They’re accused of “speaking over fans of color” –

By fans of color who’ve positioned themselves as the POC to be listened to in fandom… and who have an obvious investment in being that cool friend/fan of color that ignores the existence of racism in fandom in order to keep their social position in fandom. 

Meanwhile, while these Cool Fans of Color gain measurable social capital in fandom – by picking up followers, being tagged into discourse duels, and not being shunned or silenced in fandom – critical fans of color on any level are rewritten as enemies of fandom.

Even though we’re a part of fandom and we primarily just want fandom to be as good as we keep telling people it is.

I’ve made Talking About Racism my thing over the past five years. I have a reputation of sorts. 

It is not a good one.

While there are people who find value in my work and seek the same positive changes in fandom that I do, many more people react with incredible rudeness towards me and my work and flat out slander in the process of trying to take me down.

Back in May 2019, literally a month after I did a presentation about misogynoir in fandom spaces and how things were getting worse because fandom was becoming increasingly anti-criticism, I posted an article about the way that Black fans like myself were (mis) treated by fandom and not allowed to defend ourselves. I opened it by sharing a screenshot of a blatant lie someone was sharing about me – on a tweet thread I was tagged into and wrote that:

When I saw the screencapped thread and a few others that painted a portrait of me as a jealous, racist shipper that only talks about racism in fandom to try and force folks to somehow do what I want (whatever that is), all I could do was block them. I couldn’t @ them (despite the fact that I’m tagged in and got notifications for their thread).

Because if I do it, I’m just proving them right that I’m a bully and mean and trying to hurt other POC.

Fast forward to February 2020 when several Rey/Kylo fans decided to lie on me to Star Wars social media manager Michelle Buchman and said that I harassed other POC in fandom… and that I charged people for my work. Essentially, that I do all of this – tweet and run a website about representation in media and fandom – to get clout and capital from fandom. 

Fandom.

Which has never actively welcomed my presence even when I wasn’t Critical on Main. Which has always been full of people willing to subtweet me and misrepresent me. Which is a space that is increasingly anti-criticism and toxic to people urging self-reflection at any level.

Why would I even want clout from such a space?

But even if I wanted clout for any of this – and boy do I not – you can’t show me anyone in fandom – especially a Black person – who’s gotten clout and therefore success and respect in fandom for calling out the racism in fandom and its source media(s).

Because that doesn’t exist.

That doesn’t happen.

And you should pay close attention to the people saying that it does and ask yourself…

“What do these fans have to gain by dismissing conversations about racism as attempts to gain clout from fandom?”

About Zeenah

Zina writes about comics, nerd history, and ridiculous romance novels when not working frantically on her first collection of short stories and complaining about stuff. One day, she'll settle down and write that novel.
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2 Responses to What Fandom Racism Looks Like: For Clout and Social Capital

  1. Pingback: May is here! || Send help or join the chill – The Reader in the Attic

  2. ospreyshire says:

    Great post. I’ve noticed a lot of racism in various fandoms as well. I stumbled onto your post which was recommended after I did a post on one of my blogs about being a melanated film and anime critic. Good job calling this stuff out.

    Like

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