In his 2019 release How To Be An Antiracist, historian Ibram X. Kendi defines an antiracist as “one who is supporting an antiracist policy or expressing an antiracist idea”.
There are few actual antiracists in fandom.
There are people who think they are allies and that they’re so darn nice. They also have a script in play that they like to whip out whenever they’re confronted by the fact that their niceness exists only on the surface. But they’re not actually that nice.
Take this quote about the villains in Get Out from Lanre Bakare back in 2017 where he pointed out that:
The villains here aren’t southern rednecks or neo-Nazi skinheads, or the so-called “alt-right”. They’re middle-class white liberals. The kind of people who read this website. The kind of people who shop at Trader Joe’s, donate to the ACLU and would have voted for Obama a third time if they could. Good people. Nice people. Your parents, probably. The thing Get Out does so well – and the thing that will rankle with some viewers – is to show how, however unintentionally, these same people can make life so hard and uncomfortable for black people. It exposes a liberal ignorance and hubris that has been allowed to fester. It’s an attitude, an arrogance which in the film leads to a horrific final solution, but in reality leads to a complacency that is just as dangerous.
The same people who refused to see themselves in the villains in Get Out, the nice, white (except for Hiroki Tanaka), and yet very racist liberals who terrorized the Black people they came across, stealing their bodies and subjugating them in the twenty-first century… are the same people who refuse to see themselves as part of the problem when it comes to racism in fandom.
But they are. They really are.
I’ve spent three years specifically pointing out what racism in fandom looks like across different fandoms and experiences.
I’ve exposed how I have been subject to years’ long harassment campaigns from white people who call themselves allies (and in fact, who seem themselves as better at handling and “doing something about racism” than me) who weaponize their friends of color against me. I have had people argue passionately that they should be allowed to create fanworks where racists write Black characters being brutalized. I have seen people mock the idea of the Archive Of Our Own being a space where POC should feel welcome.
None of these people are the typical racist villains. They are “nice” in that they donate to or volunteer with the ACLU. They’re “nice” in the fact that they treat their friends of color well (until they’re no longer as useful). They’re “nice” in that they have always signal boosted social media posts and donate to fundraisers, bail funds, and will ask people to pitch in to toss some money to protests.
They’re all educated enough to do long threads about the real racism in fandom or misrepresenting the “Jaws Effect” to say that fiction doesn’t impact reality ever or whatever they can snatch at to say that racism in fiction doesn’t lead to racism anywhere else.
Unsurprisingly, these people often have Black Lives Matter in their bios or their display names and talk about promoting BIPOC voices – but only the ones that don’t confront their particular brand of racism and allow them to attack people like me (often in their defense).
And, if they could’ve, like the dad in Get Out, they would’ve totally voted for Obama a third time.
Because they’ve never called a POC a slur publicly – though I suspect many have in their internal monologues or in spaces around people who will allow it – they tell themselves that they are not racist despite spending months or even years attacking me and people like me.
Because they are claiming that I’m a dragon they’re white-knighting to take down in defense of fandom, the harm they actively seek to do to me/my reputation/my relationships isn’t racist. Because they make up reasons to hate Black people who talk about racism in fandom (like the years-long lie from Rey/Kylo shippers that my friend Holly was a “rape apologist” over a situation and user she knew nothing about), the harassment they heap on us is validated. It is acceptable. It is necessary.
None of this behavior is racist, to them, because we deserve it.
Because the people doing all of these things have decided that talking about antiblackness in fandom is itself an act of aggression that needs to be met in kind.
The only time these people ever admit that they’re racist is in the setting “of course I’m racist, I’m white” which is increasingly used to say that everyone with white privilege is super racist… and so the minor racisms they engage in are no big deal.
These people are not antiracists. They are racists in ally clothing who have surrounded themselves with sheep.
But are we surprised that they don’t identify as what they truly are?
As Kendi said in this 2019 interview with Owen Jones:
“I think most people across the world are taught to believe – and believe themselves – to be not racist,” he explains. Even obvious racists often do not self-identify as such, he notes, from slaveowners to colonisers to 21st-century white nationalists.
He goes on to note that:
Racists hold that “certain racial groups are better or worse than others”, Kendi says, while an anti-racist “expresses emotions that the racial groups are equals”. There is no middle ground, he says. We either support systems and policies that promote racial inequality – with enthusiasm, or by our own passivity – or we actively fight them. “So, the term ‘not racist’ not only has no meaning, but it also connotes that there is this sort of in-between safe space sideline that a person can be on, when there is no neutrality,” he explains. “We’re either all being racist or anti-racist.”
There are no fandoms or larger/wider fandom spaces where anti-racist practice is automatic, welcome, and effective as part of the default. The default, therefore, is that fandom is racist.
The issue beyond that, however, is that when faced with that knowledge and given the option to become anti racist and to urge fandom towards that goal… Fandom and the people within it actively choose to welcome racists. To protect racist fanworks and opinions as well as the people that hold and share them.
Wider fandom – we’re talking broadly but focusing on the “women and queer people oriented” fandom spaces that are supposed to be peak progressive – will go into overdrive to protect racists while actively punishing POC who dare to speak up about what’s happening to them and what they see in these spaces.
Part of how they do this is by redefining anti racism.
Think about how Critical Race Theory has been redefined as “anti-Asian”. That redefinition exists to make you second guess support for CRT, divide marginalized communities, and to actually make you feel as though people who reference it are themselves racist against Asians in their respective diasporas – especially Black people.
That’s where you get this framework, peddled publicly, that antiracism in fandom is a smoke screen for “anti rhetoric” and that anyone who talks about being anti racism is actually anti fandom itself. They frame being against anti racism in fandom in as fighting censorship… rather than being pro-racism in fandom.
They frame POC in fandom voicing their issues as pro-censorship, but of course, never detail the thing that these people actually have beef with. The fact that many fandom “discourses” leave people unaware that what a lot of the loud folks being written off as antis are talking almost EXCLUSIVELY about racism in fandom/fanworks… doesn’t escape me.
Fandom has always dismissed conversations about racism as wank and decided that literal wank – the people whining in response to us – is necessary and foundational to fandom.
But what we’re doing, what we’re talking about isn’t wank. It’s a strong pushback against purposeful racism, the retaliatory racism aimed at characters and performers of color in fanworks, and the accepted environment of fandom where every single space is full of people will protect a racist who is directly harming and harassing fans of color in their fandom or outside of it over POC.
And if you decide that being anti-racism in fandom in fandom is anti fandom itself and something to be booted from fandom? That says a lot more about how you do fandom and what you value in these spaces than you’d think.
Being anti-racist in fandom is only equal to anti fandom… if you’re a racist and you think that your bigotry is integral to the shape of fandom as you know and love it.
Have fun with that, I guess.