When people of color talk about racism in a given space, we are always met with a truly disproportionate amount of anger. We are harassed, made into harassers, and essentially “policed” into silence, often by people who are publicly progressive at some level.
Back when I was working on #StitchProcesses Blackface, one of the things that stood out to me was about the inciting event. Sam Okyere is a man known for gently and graciously being “Korea’s Black Friend”. He’s also been someone that spoke candidly about antiblackness he faced in Korea when he first moved to the country. In fact, one of the first times I was introduced to Okyere was because of a viral video clip of him explaining to a rapt audience of Korean people that he had experienced racism here and it was a thing that happened regularly.
That’s why the backlash to him calling out the racism of blackface from the high school students at Uijeongbu High was so shocking to me.
Here you have a Black man literally known for talking about racism and antiblackness in Korea and him doing so, offering gently to educate others on blackface so they know how harmful it is to do it, essentially triggered a bunch of antiblack assholes into harassing him and destroying his career in Korea.
A lot went down: Okyere received messages with racial slurs and death threats. He received messages wishing death on his mother and sister. Some people were circulting at least one petition calling for Sam to be deported. There was retaliatory blackface done in response to his comments asking for people to be better.
A narrative (scarily similar to the one that Rey/Kylo shippers crafted about John Boyega’s “lay the pipe” comment on instagram in December 2019) formed around Sam supposedly sexually harassing a female celebrity based on an IG comment he replied to. They dragged up an old video where he appeared to be pulling back his eyes and said he was making fun of Asian features. His appearances on shows were canceled and, at this point, in 2021, his career as a familiar Black face on Korean television seems to be over and the haters are still harassing him.
And it is all because he dared to ask for empathy and offer education in the face of a form of racism that hurt him and other Black people – including Afro Koreans.
That is the pivot point. Him being gracious enough to offer gentle information about something demeaning and hateful led to him basically being subject to an unending harassment campaign that destroyed his ability to gain a living/income in Korea.
What Sam is still going through – his new YouTube channel ventures are not being super positively received with him receiving hateful, antiblack comments even now– speaks to me because it’s something that I and countless other people of color have gone through for years.
We are never seen as experts on racism. We’re “too biased”. We’re “too close”. But on top of that, we’re also seen as “too inferior” to speak to our “betters” about what harms us and how people can do better. That’s what really sets people off, that people of color dare to go “I am the best person to talk about this thing and it is racist. Here’s how you can do better or rethink your position”. That’s the thing that triggers abuse from even the most progressive people: us daring to be experts on racism, a horrible thing we cannot escape no matter where we go or what we do.
No matter how gently I have written about racism in media or in fandom, I am attacked and slandered for it. (And believe me, I am gentle about it.) I will never stop talking about the hate people feel empowered to spew or the harassment I have undergone because people on the internet hate that I write about racism in fandom at any level, regardless of my actual tone.
There are people who publicly declare themselves “anti harassment” but have turned around and continue to call me me a “cunt” or a “bitch” for… writing about what I’m observing, experiencing, and studying across fandoms. (These same people foam and froth at the mouth out of fear when I insult them in the mildest ways or when I ask for proof of the things they accuse me of, mind you.)
There are people who will tell others that I’m racist because I called someone a “PickMe” when talking about their super reductive take or when mentioning the way that a lot of other people of color in fandom will stand on the side of racists in fandom.
I’m subject to “ethics in fandom journalism”-shaped harassment campaigns because I am trying to inform people about things they’re missing and to let other fans of color, especially Black fans, know that they’re not imagining what’s happening. That they aren’t wrong for talking about things that harm them in fandom because fandom should be welcoming for all marginalized people.
Ultimately, I’m saying, “You may not know what racism in fandom can look like. Take this as a guide” and that is apparently… too much or too mean.
So I must be met with the most meanness possible.
At the end of the day, people of color aren’t expected to react to racism at all. No matter how we do it or what we’re responding to, we’re subject to incredible amounts of backlash. No matter the tone we actually take, we’re accused of doing harm… more harm, in fact, than the racists are doing to us.
After writer Nicole Chung wrote “My White Adoptive Parents Struggled to See Me as Korean. Would They Have Understood My Anger at the Rise in Anti-Asian Violence?” for TIME following the horrifying shootings in Atlanta, she talked about the immediate backlash she received.
In fact, every single time that Nicole Chung talks about anti-Asian violence, she goes on Twitter and shares screenshots of the hateful tweets and emails she receives in response. From white moms mad that they don’t feel “appreciated” for the “sacrifice” of adopting a kid of color to men mad that she’s not fitting their stereotypes of Asian women, there’s always someone publicly being AWFUL in her mentions or inbox over it.
Black and brown anti-racist educators get more backlash over their content than white ones do. Heck, half of the time they don’t even get paid at the volume they should considering the disproportionate hate that they get. Sometimes, anti-racist educators of colors don’t get paid at all as if they should be grateful for the privilege of taking time to open themselves up to abuse. Same goes for reporters and authors of color. And they all are subject to racist harassment and abuse that does not match the reach of their work.
As Gary Harki and media professor Gina Masullo pointed out in “When writing about race, abuse follows. Especially for journalists of color and women.”:
What’s happening to Pilot journalists is happening all over the world, from the largest to the smallest news organizations. A study of 75 female journalists from Germany, India, Taiwan, the United Kingdom and the United States found that most experienced “audience feedback” that went beyond critiques of their work and harassed them for their gender or sexuality. Journalists in the U.S. often believe they have no choice but to engage with the public online and thus face the harassment.
When reporters write about race, the gloves come off, Masullo said. The use of hateful and intolerant speech is disproportionately directed at women, specifically women of color, she said.
“They get attacked more because people feel like they can attack those groups more, because society devalues those groups,” she said. “It’s almost a double-whammy. If there’s a woman of color covering an issue that has to do with race, it’s like she has both forces coming against her in terms of being attacked.”
And in fandom, the people punished the most for talking about racism and trying to educate others are… people of color.
Of course, fandom also takes a hard stance against their version of “white traitors” – white people who are actively pushing back against racism and rejecting whiteness as an aspiration and ideology to cling to – but the brunt of the backlash is reserved for fans of color who are trying to help each other and keep wider fandom informed.
The harassment campaigns, hateful anonymous messages (even I get them every once in a while and that should tell you how determined people are), threats, solid attempts at reputation ruin, all kinds of genuinely bad shit… all of that gets aimed at people of color in fandom at increasingly high rates.
And because all of these people think that people of color talking about racism – and especially educating others about racism – is worse than being a racist or doing a racist thing, they miss the fact that us talking about racism and trying to get people to be less racist is a good thing.
It’s a labor of love. Because we do know the score. We do know that it’d be easier to actually weaponize our identity against other people of color and dismiss the racism in these fandom spaces. We do recognize that if we simply pretended racism wasn’t an issue and kept our heads down, we’d be subject to less of it.
Choosing to go “hey, this thing hurts me and people like me, can we please work on reducing racism in these spaces” is a radical gesture of care. It is an act of love and a sign that we believe people can change that is done knowing that the response will be more racism, more abuse, more harassment.
We try to educate and inform people anyway. Not for the racists intent on harming us and our peers, but for other people of color who are being gaslighted and silenced in the name of freedom of speech/in fandom. We do it to help and we get harmed in the process.
Every single time.
But we do deserve better treatment.
If your response to someone going “fandom needs to be less racist” or “this kind of fanwork is a bit racist” and then offering solutions to help is to derail and attack them/other POC or go rushing towards the people of color in your fandoms who’ll join hands with you in dismissing and harassing anyone coming to fandom with critical thinking about racism in fandom/fanworks…You’re currently a bad person.
You are a racist on some level that you are unwilling to address.
(Yes, even if you are “also” a person of color. Because a lot of people in fandom leverage a single (great) grandparent of color to excuse the way that they will tear into more visible people of color who talk about racism. As if that ancestry or the one drop rule cancels out present antiblackness…)
If you attack, harass, lie on, and otherwise bother people of color for talking about racism, you are, and I mean this meanly, a racist loser who needs to stop being selfish.
If you always have an excuse at hand to excuse ignoring any people of color about racism in fandom or media (usually you imagine anger in our tone that is never actually there), you are fragile in a way that is dangerous for us.
You are someone that is not actually safe for fans of color to be around and you know that you will turn on the people you use as a token sooner or later.
You know that you’re wrong and racist.
Now do something about it that doesn’t involve harassing us.