“[…] this problem of cannibalizing a hero of color to enhance a white character isn’t new.” – tumblr user thehollowprince in response to a tumblr message received July 16, 2020 (Archive link.)
I’ve never seen folks in fandom cut up aspects of a white hero to then give those characteristics to another white character. No one’s writing stories where Bucky was always Captain America and he went on to link up with the Avengers as a fandom norm. No one’s rewriting the Skywalker saga so that Luke is actually the (totally unrelated) rogue who falls in love with Leia while Han is shot into the icy vacuum of space.
White heroes are never stripped of their backstories, motivations, and the like to boost a minor white character or villain up to heroic status. The things that make heroes like Captain America, Luke Skywalker, or even Batman relatable are never stripped from them and handed to some other white hero. (And yes, that’s two superhero franchises and Star Wars, but I get to do that.)
What I have seen are plenty of instances where a hero of color has the things that make them unique in in their media not just stripped away, but then given to white characters in their show, film or comic franchise.
So, in this What Fandom racism Looks Like installment, we’re going to look at how fandom cuts up characters of color and repackages their best parts for white heroes and villains. We’re going to start by flashing all the way back to the Teen Wolf fandom and how while Scott McCall may not have been Mexican American in the writers’ minds, he certainly was to the fandom (considering how the fandom treats him). We’re also going to talk about how the Teen Wolf fandom’s cut and paste for Scott’s characterization – while heaping hate on him and his actor Tyler Posey – may have paved the way for what the Star Wars fandom would go on to do to Finn and John Boyega in the quest to validate their interest in Kylo Ren.
You might be asking yourself “Why is Stitch bringing up Teen Wolf in 2020?”
Three years after the show went off the air, there are still tons of people who’ve made hating Scott McCall and Tyler Posey an integral and identifiable part of their personalities in fandom and behave accordingly. (I name a couple of them here and these three are all grown ass adults.)
Back in 2018, when The Mary Sue’s Princess Weekes wrote “Scott McCall Should’ve Gotten More Fandom Love for His Beautiful Heroism in Teen Wolf”, she made a really good argument for why Scott literally deserved more love and pointed out where the problems started. Weekes wrote that:
Despite [Scott’s] power and the fact that he will act to save his friends, he will always look for a peaceful solution, believing that everyone can be saved in some way. He embodies everything we want in a young male hero. Yet, he was not the character who the fandom came around and propped up.
That was Stiles.
Now, I’m not here to shade Stiles or his fans, because Stiles is an adorable character—mostly—nor do I want to make this Tyler Posey vs. Dylan O’Brien, because it isn’t the actors who are responsible for this; it’s fandom—fandom and the way it asks for diversity but continues to prop up white characters who do the same thing as literally so many others, while ignoring leading characters of color, especially when they are altruistic.
It’s a great piece that reaffirms the issues of fandom – where people of color real and fictional are explicitly deemed less valuable than white people – while also showing that Scott McCall was a character that deserved respect and more fandom attention. It’s such a fantastic read.
And you know what Weekes got in response?
Plenty of rude ass comments on the article, but also the direct attention of the long-time
losers haters like the Beacon Hills: After Dark podcast who took to twitter to try and dunk on Weekes back in the day and other die hard Sterek fans who continue to show that they also don’t get that their ship was never going to be canon. Please consider that all Weekes pointed out was that Stiles’ fans treated Scott unfairly and gave Scott the attention that he literally earned and deserved. All she did was stand up for a character who got a truly disproportionate amount of hate from a fandom that gave his best characteristics to the white characters around him.
And this is what fandom does.
As thehollowprince points out, this isn’t new.
Fandom choosing to pick and choose characteristics a character of color has to then slap willy-nilly on a white character is not new. It is just how fandom works.
But it shouldn’t be.
The Teen Wolf fandom started from day one giving other characters Scott’s pieces. From his red hood and baseball bat being given to Stiles – turning him into a Little Red Riding Hood archetype that he really wasn’t. It was like watching folks in fandom chip off piece of a statue and glue it onto another work of art. Scott’s caring, his relationships with other people in Beacon Hills (from his boss and mentor Alan Deaton to beta wolf Isaac), his True Alpha ™ status, his friendly and open personality… all of those things got handed to Stiles or Derek while Scott got erased or turned into a minor villain.
And the fans didn’t actually hide that they were doing this.
Essentially, when Teen Wolf was still on air and long after it’d been canceled, fans made it super clear that they didn’t think that Scott had earned and didn’t deserve anything he had on the show… and that that’s why it was necessary to give those things to Stiles and Derek. At the same time that they did this, they weren’t taking white characters’ backstories, relationships, and interesting species quirks and giving it to them?
There was no “what if Stiles was actually a Kanima too” AU push in the way that fandom definitely did outside of the Nogitsune arc where Stiles was possessed by a “void kitsune”. No one actually decided to give Stiles Isaac’s traumatic past as an abused child to add a little whump that’d make Sterek a hurt/comfort-oriented pair. That cop who was sleeping with Lydia at one point was a whole hellhound and yet… no Stiles-As-Hellhound content everywhere.
The pieces those fandoms chose to carve off to stick on Stiles/Derek were solely coming from characters of color like Scott, Kira, and Braeden because they only mattered when they could be useful…
The Teen Wolf fandom’s nonsense started back in 2011, but its influence in fandom discourse and how racism became part of the fandom experience for many fans lives on. I actually see the Teen Wolf fandom’s die-hard Sterek fans as people who did pave the way for the specific cut and paste that Kylo Ren’s fandom gave Finn everything they could of Finn.
In Fleeting Frustrations 6.5: “We Can’t Have Anything, Can We?”, I wrote that:
Finn is literally not allowed to have anything for himself in this fandom.
Everything that he has or is, the Star Wars fandom seems to think Kylo Ren deserves more.
And generally, when Black fans point out how Black characters in fandom spaces get rewritten or literally erased in order to center white characters instead, we’re framed as selfish.
Even as white fans take the little bits of representation we get and aspects of nerd media’s few Black characters and erase them wholesale or give those things to their white favorites like Kylo Ren.
If you’ve been in the Star Wars Sequel Trilogy fandom, you probably have seen the intense backlash against people pointing out that a lot of the traits folks assign to “Ben Solo” seem like they were ripped from Finn.
That’s because they were.
From the start, the Star Wars fandom took-took-took from Finn.
They took his connection with Rey, their mutual adoration, the first meeting he has with Rey on Jakku, and ultimately his backstory of being a soldier forced to fight for the First Order… and gave it to Kylo. They erased Finn in official scenes and press images and John from the early press he did with Daisy Ridley for The Force Awakens.All while insisting that those traits were there before, and that Finn’s actual fans are selfish for pointing out that he’s being cut up and grafted onto Kylo by a fandom that actively seems to hate the idea of Finn as a hero.
Many of these fans did learn this from the Teen Wolf fandom. They learned to position themselves as a fandom made up primarily of “women and POC” to dodge criticisms of racism – which obscures the fact that by their own fandom demographic surveys, Rey/Kylo fandom skews very white.
A majority of survey respondents identified as white, but a vast number of different groups/origins were represented. These could not all be captured here, so only those groups that could be visually represented on the pie chart are shown.
(Only 2% of the fandom’s respondents identified as Black, by the way. Considering how every single time a BIPOC talks about the fandom’s antiblackness we’re told about how diverse the fandom is and speaking over this “massive” portion of fandom… Well. It’s just funny to me.)
Anyway, what we’re seeing in Star Wars Sequel Trilogy fandom even now in 2021 is the result of perfectly honing an argument until it appears airtight on the surface. The argument may not have started with aggressive Sterek fans’ hatred of Scott and rejection of that kid as the series’ hero, but by the time we hit 2011/2012, transformative fandom had a pretty solid blueprint of how to turn a fandom against a character of color –
And boy did they use it against Finn.
Over the years, I have talked about how migratory slash fandom focuses almost entirely on white men (barring a few sparse examples that buck the trend like Korean idols now that everyone’s into BTS and the cast of The Untamed – and its source material). Folks in fandom will use “preference” as a way to only care about white characters, and when that fails – because we know the game at this point- they then claim that they did actually always care about the character more and before than their actual fans of color.
But that’s the thing that rings hollow about these fandom discourses around characters of color: if they actually cared more about these characters – see the “we’ve always cared about Finn/Scott/etc” from various fandoms – why didn’t they write about them in fandom? Why is it that if they thought the source media did them so dirty… that they didn’t turn around and fix their issues instead of making them worse?
I read a lot of Sterek fic back in my time. It was actually my ship beyond polyamorous pack piles. However, what was very clear was how much the fandom then not only didn’t like Scott… but had no interest in rewriting him into a character that they could like. Instead of fixing the issues they saw in Scott – an “obsession” with Allison, being a bad friend, a Gary Stu – fandom kind of… doubled down on all of them. They made Scott only see Allison which of course helped make him a worse friend and then, even though he is not a Gary Stu in the show – think Batman here – that’s definitely what he was in fic… when he showed up.
There is nothing wrong with disliking a character of color.
However, a persistent pattern across decades of fandoming is that people will actively harvest characters of color for their parts – their goodness, their relationships, their sex appeal, their chemistry with a white lead – all while saying that the character of color in question is… poorly written.
Well, if they’re so poorly written… why is fandom always quick to give away the best parts of them to a white villain or a hero?
Thanks to a Tyler Posey anti who can’t read what I actually wrote (which is primarily about Scott, not Tyler) and has chosen to write me several hundreds words of comments shitting on Tyler Posey today, comments are now off on this piece. Thank them for stifling genuine discussion and please remember that it’s not silencing or censorship to disallow hateful comments on my site.