The short answer?
We live in a racist world and that world doesn’t stop existing when someone crosses over some kind of threshold to fandom.
The long answer?
In fact, because fandom communities are insular and twist themselves in circles to avoid engaging meaningfully with things that disturb the peace that they’ve surrounded themselves in –
The racism that folks have as baggage lugged around offline? Gets stuffed full of more racism and carted around to other fandoms.
Many people already don’t get why I – and many other people of color– write about racism in fandom. My actual mother, who’s obviously known me my entire life and knows some of what I’ve gone through in fandom, sometimes asks me why I’m doing what I do. She thinks I’d have a better career in fiction, somehow.
But at a time like this, when people rise up in protest night after night to rage against the injustices that affect Black people, there sure are a lot of “fandom isn’t that serious/why talk about this now” tweets and Tumblr posts from folks who’ve made their entire identity revolve around their fandom participation… and who are plenty antiblack on top of it.
Since the end of May, I’ve seen such fascinating posts from people who were claiming themselves or their fandoms as anti-racism… even though they were quite antiblack on main.
One of the wildest things about the past days of protests and public proclamations that #BlackLivesMatter from non-Black people in fandom and the publishing and music industries was how performative and antiblack so many of the people shouting out on social media have been and continue to be.
I saw people who’d publicly attacked John Boyega because he doesn’t like Rey/Kylo tweeting the hashtag and sharing the little carrd site with links to petitions.
No seriously, after he walked with the family of Belly Mujinga – a rail worker who died from COVID-19 as a direct result of a white man spitting on her – on June 3rd and publicly gave a speech about antiblackness and violence against us as people –
I literally saw several of the same Rey/Kylo or Adam Driver fans who’ve spent the entire year so far misrepresenting him as an abuser, sexually obsessed with Daisy Ridley, and other nasty things including insulting his primarily Black fanbase… claiming once more that they’d always loved him and that they supported him now. (You can see that last bit as a square on my Star Wars Fandom Racism Bingo card from February.)
Rey/Kylo fans are out here claiming that John putting his life and career at risk by speaking out and taking to the streets with Black people in the UK is a scam and performative… as if having money negates anyone’s Blackness. All while resharing links to petitions and helpful information about Black Lives Matter.
Lindsey Romain and Jenny Nicholson, two women who’ve used their platform to misrepresent and shit on John back in December and January – Lindsey for the Nerdist and Jenny for… her YouTube channel – have been seen publicly pretending to care about John following him gaining a further following for speaking out against antiblackness.
Two women who remain antiblack specifically about him and who refuse to take responsibility for the damage they have done to his reputation.
Then, I saw people hyping up a public donation from Jay Park, a Korean American rapper whose thoughts on cultural appropriation and past interactions with Black fans talking about it have been… bad. (He also, along with my actual hero in Korean hip hop Tiger JK, recently liked an incredibly antiblack Instagram post which kind of proves the point I made at the end of my last post…)
People who’ve actually dismissed me as a person with feelings and who have mocked my work on fandom studies and who’ve spread lies about me are crowing now about how much they care about Black lives really do matter –
Even as they continue their quest to delegitimize the work I’ve done for years in fandom and to make me out to be a bully trying to burst their happy fun times.
I’ll be writing about this in future posts but while I’m flat out proud of the effort that the fandoms for Korean pop/hip hop artists that I have followed have been working their asses off to do things like donation chains and get folks to sign petitions… my primary fandom in particular has been hell for Black fans who just wanted to be seen and respected this past week.
From accusations of us being “self-centered Americans” that were “bullying” our artists to blocklists primarily made up of Black people in the fandom who had any critical thoughts about our artist faves to folks blatantly refusing to understand how disheartening to see that Black music matters to these artists but maybe not Black lives… and at every corner, folks were claiming that they truly cared about Black lives (even to the point of telling Black fans that they weren’t doing enough when they were talking about the antiblackness aimed at them).
Many of these folks had #BlackLivesMatter/#BLM in their bios or display names even as they were aggressively antiblack to and about Black fans.
All of the people who are saying #BlackLivesMatter while making it clear that Black people and our opinions don’t… they think that what they’ve done is enough. They think that tweeting that hashtag and sharing links to bail/mutual aid funds or posts is enough. They think that caring about Black lives now in this super performative way – as many aren’t donating money, protesting, or doing anything to help or support the Black friends they think they have – negates the harm they do to Black people in fandom on the regular.
Even as they are all, to a fucking one, still incredibly antiblack on main with no sign of stopping any time soon.
I’m going to keep talking about racism now because it is clearer than ever to me that there is no wall between the racism in fandom and the racism offline.
The people who are racist offline are racist in fandom.
The racism doesn’t just stop because they’re in a digital space.
In fact, it mutates.
It becomes less obvious, more dog-whistle-y. More slippery.
It looks a lot like… Amy Cooper calling the cops on Christian Cooper and pretending that her life was in danger when all he wanted her to do was leash her damn dog, actually.
(And before you accuse me of “trivializing real racism” or whatever the actual fake woke set is calling it these days, understand that what Amy did and what the nice white women of fandom do are the same kind of behavior and they all weaponize their white womanhood for the same end: a permanent silencing of Black voices that they don’t like or agree with. I get to make comparisons like that considering that I’m subject to Amy Coopers in and out of fandom.)
In 2018, I started writing about “What Fandom Racism Looks Like” after a Tumblr user wrote two racist Black Panther stories literally to put Black people in the MCU fandom “in their place”. But I’d been writing about racism in fandom for six years before that.
I’d written about the Doctor Who fandom’s continuing dislike of Martha Jones – long after she was off of the show as a regular. I wrote about how weird it was to see Young Justice fans decide that Kaldur wasn’t Black and couldn’t be subject to antiblackness from the writers or the fans back when that show was online. I talked about the overwhelming whiteness of slash fandom and how the focus on white male characters often went along with hate towards white female characters and characters of color.
I called out the misogynoir in the Sleepy Hollow fandom when from day-fucking-one that fandom decided to try to boot Abbie Mills out of the leading role. I even talked about how the Avengers’ film was one of the whitest portrayals of the US I’d seen in ages – and got hate for it too on Tumblr back in the day.
For eight years, I’ve been writing about racism in fandom and racism offline. I have been talking about what it’s like to be in fandom as a Black person – more lows than high – in public for so long.
At every single step of the way there’s been pushback. First, it was just white people in fandom who were so invested in their “I’m not racist” self-mythology that they couldn’t stop themselves from jumping in to duel me and diss me. Then came the PickMe POC whose main rebuttal of “Well I’m Black/Brown and I don’t think this is racist” has never worked on me… so they’ve since shifted to “Stitch is harming Black/brown people in fandom [by talking about racism in fandom]”.
You know… because lying on me for clout is definitely a thing that proves fandom isn’t in anyway racist, right?
I’m going to keep writing about racism now more than ever because fandom is full of hypocrites.
The same people performing anti-racism for clout on twitter and tumblr right now, do not actually believe that Black people are actually people who get to not be okay with things in fandom.
They’re still out here slapping Black people on “anti blocklists” for being sharp when we talk among ourselves and on our own social media about the antiblackness we see on fandom.
There have been two or three “Marvel Characters Deal With Police Brutality” stories in the past week and a half and even though they are racist and insensitive on top of that, the AO3 wasn’t going to take them down. The authors did because of “mean ole Black fans”.
Folks in fandom are still writing cop alternate universe fiction and metaphorically jacking it to their faves cosplaying as the 5-0 even as they retweet posts about “abolish the police”.
They’re still writing slavefic.
The same people who have made fandom – various fandoms, all fandoms – hell for Black fans across years of fandom are now faking that they give a shit about our lives.
The same people who call critical Black fans “antis”, accuse us of being “fake woke”, and playing the race card when we talk about the things that fandom does that harms us and makes us feel unsafe –
They’re all out here pretending that they care about Black people right fucking now.
People who have been antiblack as fuck in how they talk about me where I can’t see and even in threads where I am tagged are all fucking out here acting like they’ve suddenly seen the light because they watched George Floyd die and now they understand that we are all humans too.
And it is sickening because they don’t actually believe that.
And they know it.
Because even before it’s once again no longer cool to care about Black people – I mean like literally right now, they’re doing it – folks are cranking up the antiblackness they already do in fandom. They’re already subtweeting Black and brown fans talking about antiblackness in fandom. They’re already mass-blocking Black people in their fandom(s) for wanting their faves to speak out. They’re already complaining about Black people “expecting” people who profit from us to pretend they give a shit about us.
They’re already tired and wishing for things to go back to “normal”.
But things aren’t going back to normal any time soon.
Now is the perfect time to write about racism in fandom because fandom is racist.
It is impossible for it to be anything else.
More than that, however, with tens of thousands of folks in fandom rallying around claims that “fiction isn’t reality” and “fandom isn’t activism” that refuse to look at how fandom and fiction shape our real lives, it’s the perfect time to keep pushing back against those ideas. Because fiction – harmful mythologies about what Black people are like worldwide and literal pieces of popular culture – is why it’s been so easy to dehumanize us. Because fandom is a space where people do unlearn things they understood as fact – like about sexuality and gender – even as they reinforce other things they have always had in their head.
Like the racism.
Always the racism.
For years, any attempt at even showing folks how to recognize racism in fandom – from fanworks and from fellow fans – has been met with aggression, dismissal, shunning, and a whole lot of other nasty stuff. People have looked at my body of work and claimed that I was hiding an agenda in it because they didn’t like how I was writing it. People of who write about racism in fandom – like myself and like Dr. Rukmini Pande – are getting burnt out because everything we do, everything we write about, is taken as an attack on fandom.
I write a blog post pointing out how white women in the Reylo fandom are willfully weaponizing their womanhood to harm and malign John Boyega? An attack!
I do a snarky video about cultural appropriation from Korean celebrities? An attack!
I express hurt that people lie about me, sometimes plainly in public where I can see it because I’m tagged on the posts? An attack!
The fact that I write sharply about the way that all fandom spaces that folks like to trot out as progressive because they’re largely made up of women and/or people of color is in and of itself an attack on fandom. Apparently.
And that’s why I’m going to keep doing it.
Because people spend a lot of their lives in fandom. I’ve been in fandom, one fandom or another, since I was a tween and new on the internet. I started as a lurker with accounts lying about my age and now, I’m here.
Almost twenty years of reading other people’s fan fiction on the internet… and their bad opinions too.
And fandom has always been racist.
It’s just more racist in some wild ways like how there are folks now lumping anti-racism in fandom – like me writing my articles and twitter threads to show what’s happening and how to be better – in with bullying, trolling, and violence even as they stand by and smile placidly when other people in their fandoms dogpile people like me and slander us….
Many of the same people who are out here performing care for Black people through their use of the Black Lives Matter hashtag and signal boosting Black activists… actively work to shut down any attempt at critical thinking in fandom, especially when it comes to race.
That’s why I’m going to keep doing this.
I’ll keep writing about racism in fandom because it’s not like fandom has gotten any less racist across the past few days of protest. It hasn’t gotten less racist at any point after any other murder of a Black person by white supremacy. It’s not like the shock from seeing George Floyd die will urge these folks into making sure that that fandom is better for Black people trying to create and consume content in them.
Because fandom is your safe space.
It’s not mine.
And it’s not a safe space for many other Black people because we are often told explicitly to choose between what we love as fans and who we are as Black people.
When fandom – various fandoms, all of fandom – stops being racist then I’ll stop writing about racism in fandom.
But until then?
I’ll continue using my experience at writing to raise awareness of the ways in which these online fandom spaces many people claim are safe and fun ~for all~ are actually hell on earth for many Black and brown people who are trying to make our way in them.
But let’s try that question again anyway: why write about fandom racism at a time like this?
Because Black opinions matter too.