Fandom Racism 101: Feeling Fragile

No one likes feeling as if they’re under attack when they’re just trying to do their thing and vibe in a space that feels right.

Fandom is comprised of digital and physical spaces populated by people from various marginalized communities and with vulnerable backgrounds or traumatic pasts. We’re talking about people constantly under fire from someone, usually for something that they are or that they’ve gone through. In fandom, sometimes criticism at every single level is constantly taken as an attack and for the most part, I do understand the process behind rejecting critique that seems aimed to injure instead of educating others.

Except when it comes to racism in fandom.

For clarity’s sake (a little late considering the fact that this is our second installment), racism in fandom takes several different forms and usually involves or is aimed at characters, fans, performers and professional creators of color. It can include:

  • unconscious racism in fanworks (such as using a Black character as a villain in a story centering white characters, lightening a character of color in fanart)
  • purposeful racism in fanworks (writing stories rife with racist stereotypes or where characters of color are brutalized because it will hurt fans of color/please racists in fandom)
  • harassment of performers or creators of color (see what happened to John Boyega in January, Leslie Jones in 2016, any Black woman on a CW comic book adaptation since 2010 or so)
  • Framing conversations on antiblackness as inherently US-centric
  • Hypercritical approach to characters of color that zeroes in on their faults as a reason to dislike them
  • Erasure of characters of color from their narratives in order to center white characters
  • Framing fans of color frustrated with any of the above as “antis”, “haters”, “fandom police/fanpol”

However, these aren’t the only ways that racism shows itself in fandom. Racism in fandom can involve xenophobia between Asian fans because of historical conflicts, diaspora wars between Black people in different parts of the world, and a whole host of other transnational issues. Fans of color can participate in actions that fall under the umbrella of fandom racism for a variety of reasons so it’s never just white people doing the thing.

However, one thing that often appears in relation to white members of fandom is the fragility that comes out into the open at times when conversations about racism in fandom happen in their vicinity. 

Talking about white fragility – but ultimately doing nothing about it – has become all the rage since the end of May when people around the world became uncomfortably aware of the fact that racism is bad and that it kills people.

Coined by Robin DiAngelo in a 2011 paper, the term “white fragility” is a neat way to sum up the kneejerk “I’m not racist, you’re a bully” reactions that so many people have when faced with the realization that something they have said or done has been read as racist by a person of color.

While DiAngelo’s work and the specific term do center white people, I’ve witnessed and experienced fragility from other people of color – including other Black people who took what I was saying a bit too personally. So white fragility for me and can sometimes simply be “fandom fragility”.

In fandom, that fragility involves not just reacting to directly having a fan of color say “[username], this thing you said or did was racist”, but –

Just seeing a fan of color on their own social media/blogs or talking with their friends about how a thing fandom likes is uncomfortable because it reads as racist for them can trigger the ultimate in fandom fragility. (Seriously.)

But here’s the thing, white fragility and that instinctive “criticizing a thing I love for racism is a direct attack on me, a person that you apparently think is a racist” is a deeply personal problem that you need to unpack. Unlearning racism and practicing better behavior isn’t supposed to be comforting or easy and so if you’re going into learning about fandom racism and how to combat it feeling fragile…

If your approach to reading tweets or posts about Fandom’s very obvious issues with race and racism is to plan to reject learning if it doesn’t cater to you or whiteness…

If you tone police fans of color – who often aren’t actually being as mean as they want to be, trust me – and use the tone you think you’re hearing to excuse not caring about racism in fandom…

You’ve already set yourself up to fail.

Fans of color who are talking about racism aren’t trying to hurt you specifically or anyone in general.

We’re trying to unpack the fact that the cool and fun fandom space that we’ve been inhabiting our entire lives has been consistently hostile to us. Most fans of color talking about racism aren’t even talking to white people

We’re also almost always talking to other fans of color about things that affect us and not to people who really do the thing. Because we’ve all been burnt by trying to talk to a fan more invested in whiteness (which is not exclusive to white people) than they are in making fandom welcoming.

We’re talking amongst ourselves because we already know that most people don’t care and aren’t interested in listening. And if we’re being accused of being bullies for talking amongst ourselves about racism in fandom in a way that doesn’t center them –

Why on Earth would we try to talk to those people directly?

So how can you fracture your fandom fragility?

A Solution:

Recognize that this isn’t about you.

Like, unless a fan of color uses something you’ve done or said as a “look at this nonsense” example, it is literally not about you the individual fan who has done the thing. Unless you’re being called out by name, this isn’t about you. (Heck, even if someone is talking about a racist thing you potentially said or did, if you don’t actually think you’re capable of engaging without falling into some fragility… take the L and move on. It’s still not about you.)

I also don’t recommend that you read White Fragility (the book) unless you’re also going to be reading antiracist work from people of color in your area if you can get that work. (If you can’t get localized anti racism work from people of color where you’re from, US and UK writers will do in a pinch. Do your research first!)

Find a path to anti racism that looks at a wide range of voices, accounts for universal antiblackness even from other people of color, and that provides you with action items that you can be better to the people around you and in your spaces.

Anti racism isn’t only something that white people in fandom need to do, because we are all unlearning what we were raised into. So, find out what works for you where you are right now, and for pete’s sake… please stop unloading your fandom fragility all over other people. It is not about you in the moment, but that nonsense means that it could be next time.


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