Let’s talk about racism in The Archive – again.

Tweet thread originally posted on main this morning. Turned into a lightly edited (for clarity) blog post because I recognize that a lot of people were caught up in blockchain and have no way to then let me know that…

Let’s talk about racism in The Archive – again. Not just the AO3 but the idea that archives are judgment free and therefore bias free and everything SHOULD go and be hosted/archived… Including objectively harmful and RACIST content.

Recently, @dhifantasy posted about how the latest AO3 update was about image embeds… When everyone else is at least once again pretending to care about moderation and racism in User Generated Content and their TOS.

Holly’s original post: https://diversehighfantasy.tumblr.com/post/640044277530001408

The screenshot below was one response she received from a user who struggles to make the connection that Holly… Literally made in the post they’re responding to.

(Please remember that Holly is an expert on MULTIPLE fronts here.)  [She works in tech, has clearly been Black in fandom for her whole lifetime, and has been talking about issues of race and racism in transformative fandom for years.]

Link to post with reblog response from Nerds Against Fandom Racism: https://nerdsagainstfandomracism.tumblr.com/post/640100953560956928/ao3-status-on-twitter

Tumblr user paradiseismade’s response to Holly:

And what update were you hoping for? Do you really want a volunteer run non-profit with the aim of archiving internet fan works to comment on the fact that Trump’s Twitter got banned?

How even is this related? Ao3 is founded on the idea of being a space where fan works can be collected and archived without judgement, like a traditional archive so that information is preserved.

That’s a very different context to a discussion about Nazis using social media and a too little, too late response to Trump’s calls for violence.

What stands out to me the most in this context (so beyond the willful ignorance) is the following:

“AO3 is founded on the idea of being a space where fan works can be collected and archived without judgement, like a traditional archive so that information is preserved.”

Not only does this user ignore that Holly is specifically talking about racism and that archive’s moderation failures when it comes to openly racist fanworks AND harassment of real fans of color that utilizes/weaponizes active racism…

They also ignore that archives ARE racist. They’re racist because of what is valued within archives. What’s seen as valuable to the future. What’s seen as harmful to the Archives themselves.

Archiving, historically and even now, has a race/racist problem because POC aren’t valued in/by Western archives…like the AO3.

I know this because I did two grad level courses on archiving for my MA and because… I know my history, but I guess other people don’t know that the traditional archive is an institution and institutions (like the traditional archive, like the AO3) are prone to racism?

Here’s the Alabama state archives documenting the harm they’ve done with racist revisionist history:  https://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Society/2020/0922/Alabama-s-state-archives-confronts-its-racist-past

Archives absolutely archive content WITH judgement and with bias that includes the archivists’ bigotry.

But many are taking steps to fix that – except the AO3… which is, IMO, not actually a true archive especially because content is not curated and can be wiped from it.

Archives don’t have to be racist if the people putting the content together are coming from a collaborative, anti racist standpoint and correcting biases along the way. That is NOT what the AO3 is doing because it is… Not built for/organized around that.

See something like this where students at the University of Richmond put together their own archive as what an active anti racist archive could look like: https://memory.richmond.edu/about-fall-2017

Traditional archives are actually (at least pretending that they’re gonna start) negotiating with and trying to handle race and racism in the content and in the curation more effectively. See this statement from the national archives: https://aotus.blogs.archives.gov/2020/11/13/examining-and-addressing-racism/

What was AO3’s response to any of the Conversations about racism reawakened in June?

Not much beyond a very weak line of questioning of its board that hinged on Being Nice and obscuring/dismissing the overt racism in fanworks and from fans.

[See naye’s thread of OTW Election Q&A Category “AO3 Content Policy and Warnings” that paid lip service to conversations about racism in fandom/on the archive that looked at what folks running for the board covered:

No detailed plans to make fandom safer for ALL fans of color. No definitive pushback against racism in fandom. Not even protecting fans of color when they have been under attack from racists using the Archive to write various kinds of racist troll fic.

Just those questions…

And responses that actually put my emotional and mental health in a spin from racism in fandom because of how they referenced my and Dr. Rukmini Pande’s work and the fandom pushback from racists even before we asked for them to take it down:

[My experiences in June were detailed here as part of  Antiblackness in (Service of) the Archive: A Statement]

The AO3 is doing LESS than plenty of traditional archives & their terms of service remains really ill-equipped to deal with increasing racism and white supremacy in fandom.

But it doesn’t have to be that way at all.

This is a choice by their board and by fans to center whiteness


Here’s a pdf on dismantling white supremacy in the archives https://www.gracenbrilmyer.com/dismantling_whiteSupremacy_archives3.pdf

Here’s a piece on archiving while Black. https://www.chronicle.com/article/archiving-while-black/ 

Folks could do the work if they wanted to. They just don’t want to. Which would be fine if the AO3wasn’t ALSO touted as the most progressive fandom space even while it (via mods who apply the TOS unevenly) makes more attempts to punish POC than handle overt racists/racism.

All this to say that:

  • Archives are institutions and are not inherently ANTI racist by default.
  • The AO3has no plan for dealing with racist fanworks or harassment of fans of color on its platform.
  • It is doing LESS than many traditional archives while fans laud it as better.

Bonus 1:

the AO3 is supposed to be for all of us. The 2nd O in the acronym AOOO = OUR. And yet, the Archive AND its most rabid racist defenders actually make it clear that THEY think it really should be renamed to the Archive For Queer White Folks (And Assorted Tokens Of Color)

In the tweet quoted in this tweet, you can see folks mocking the idea of me + Rukmini daring to think that we (POC) are included in the Our and being racist and SUPER aggro as a response.

[The following tweet is part of a thread I did on how we need to be talking about way fascism and racist radicalization infects fandom spaces including transformative fandom. Then it does link to another thread where I unpack the aggressive racist response to myself and Rukmini talking about the AO3 as a racist space defended by racists and includes a link to FFA where that was happening (that thread was collected here):

If you’re blocked on my main and you want me to unblock you (and we don’t have beef either way, of course) so you can see these threads I make, you may feel free to message me on @stitchmediamix on Twitter or via my contact form. If we have beef… Well that just sucks and at some point I’ll unspool the thread that’s not unspooled!