What Fandom Racism Looks Like: No Safe Space/”Curate Your Space”

I currently have almost three hundred thousand people blocked on my main (still locked) Twitter. 

Half of them aren’t because of any specific fandom thing (once, I chainblocked a massive “Report for [SPECIFIC IDOL]” account to see if it’d work in early 2020 and… it did, but now I can never undo it).

However, a huge portion of my blocks are because I ran RedBlock or some other browser extension on accounts I didn’t like, that were harassing me, or that were harassing others. (The other account, for my website, has about 150k people blocked, maybe. Because I exported my blocklist from main to that account in 2018 in the middle of a harassment campaign from the most annoying Star Wars shippers.)

So yes, I block freely.

I also mute words I don’t want to see, mute accounts that annoy me but don’t seek to harm me or others, and make use of things like AO3’s tag exclusion tools when searching for fan fiction. I don’t search any form of my name (pseudonym, handle, website name, or my birth name), I keep notifications filtered heavily on all of my accounts, and I actively do not search for or interact with people I dislike.

I curate the hell out of my space. 

And yet?

I am still harassed and slandered regularly to the point where it feels as if, when people enter a new fandom (any fandom at this point), they’re handed a primer that not only sets me up as an enemy of fandom, but encourages people to harass me directly or to harass my friends for being friends with me and defending me.

Curation has its limits. 

Merciless curation of my fandom space so that I can have the best possible experience has not stopped:

And that is with almost 300k people blocked on Twitter, notifications on a major lockdown, comment moderation on my site, and a refusal to engage with things that upset or stress me. I exist in a gaze-unfocused haze of “don’t like, don’t read”.

But with all of that, I still get harassed!

My space curation and the way I block people who clearly do not respect me or my boundaries are actually used as an excuse to harass me, to label me as “guilty” of harassment by… blocking people who have harassed me or who follow people who have been harassing me. (It’s some “the real harassment is trying to avoid people harassing you” shit, I tell you. Please imagine if all of the people in the replies to Teen Vogue back in february… could do that in my DMs or mentions!)

Seriously! I am simultaneously being told to curate my space while being punished for curating my space.

(The Teen Wolf fandom in particular loves to bug me about this. The comments I get from them also insist on calling me an “anti” even though I love the show and I shipped the main pairing in fandom, Stiles/Derek! Imagine leaving me comments where you’re anti sex work, use ableist language about addiction, and insult me… and then expecting me to publish it!)

I do everything I’m told to cut down on engagement with people I dislike… I should be exempt for harassment because I do it all. By their logic at least.

I guess… there’s just one thing I do that apparently excuses that: I write about racism in fandom. 

That is apparently equal to me not minding my business or providing unsolicited criticism (even though I do not @ anyone and am not telling people “hey @PERSON, YOUR SPECIFIC THING YOU HAVE DONE IN YOUR FIC/ART is racist”).

Worse than that, I think, is that people listen to me about racism in fandom.

In February (Black History Month, US edition) I was being harassed to the point of severe mental health issues over fandom by hundreds if not thousands of people who had either “BLM” or “anti-harassment” in their bios. Someone tweeted something like “Teen Vogue will let anyone write there/get a byline”, but… that’s not true. We know that’s not true because it’s my column, no one else’s.

I have a platform, one that I built largely on my own because of repeated attempts to silence me across fandoms, and that’s what makes it fine to harass me and lie about me even while touting space curation as the way to have the best possible fandom experience as a person of color.

But I digress:

Beyond my somewhat higher profile, what has been happening to me for years happens to other people of color in fandom who have spoken about racism in any way and at any level in these spaces or in the media we watch. Talking about how we’re affected by racism in fandom turns us into an ideological enemy of fandom itself and it’s not like enemies on an ideological divide deserve humane treatment, privacy, or respected boundaries. 

Right?


“Curate your space” is an oft-repeated mantra of fandom. You can see it touted by everyone from those dreadful fandom discourse blogs to otherwise reasonable people whose posts on space curation go viral.

“Curate your space” is also a statement at odds with the immediate negative response to people of color who do curate their space because of racism we are witnessing or experiencing. 

When people of color curate our fandom spaces with the same sharp pruning that other people apply to us (usually for talking about racism), we are punished. There’s never actually a point where curation works for us.

Our boundaries are ignored or trampled over. Our inboxes are inundated with hate. Our friends are harassed for interacting with us, or worse, for defending us. We’re subjected to years of harassment from people we probably haven’t ever spoken to.

And –

We are told outright that fandom would be better without us (specifically and in the general sense of being “mouthy” people of color) and that we should leave (and create our own archive/fandom spaces) since we don’t like fandom as-is/”can’t” deal with the racism and racist harassment. 

If that last one sounds like the familiar refrain of racists around the world for decades… that’s because it is.

“If you don’t like how things are, just leave” is something bigots say to people everywhere, of course. But when coupled with the explicit statement that fandoms would be “better off” without us? That’s when it becomes a racist staple. 

(Nevermind that when people of color actively create our own things, try to curate our spaces, and control how much racism we see and are subjected to in fandom… we’re made fun of and accused of being into things like “purity wank”.

Nevermind that the first time someone made a super fake “archive of antis” – hosted on WordPress.com, a site no one would even attempt to host user generated content on, that’s not what that site is for – people took it at face value and mocked it as a real thing… including one of the writers over at The Mary Sue.)

Even other people of color get in on the game, complaining that they shouldn’t be blocked because of course they can’t be racist… even as they block evade, harass us in DMs, slander us in other people’s DMs, make excuses for racist tropes in fiction and racism in these spaces, and tell other people not to listen to us because we are the real racists, that we are using our identity as POC for clout/to avoid criticism despite the fact that they’re… definitely the people doing that nonsense.

Telling people of color talking about how racism makes fandom hell for them to then “Curate your space” and touting it as a way to stay out of “fandom drama” is unfair. 

It’s unfair because it’s an expectation that we know doesn’t work.

If AO3 provided a top level “Racism” tag, that wouldn’t actually do anything to protect fans of color from racism in fics or racist writers. (Which is why that’s never been what I’ve talked about wanting from them, by the way.)

The top level “Racism” tag or archive warning won’t work to help fans of color curate their space because writers either don’t recognize that their work is racist and balk at the idea of having that pointed out (“You’re harassing me by suggesting I add this warning/this is racist”) OR… well most racists don’t care they’re being racist.

A person of color who just follows like 200 accounts in their fandom and mutes everyone and every word they dislike… is still going to see someone calling conversations about racism “discourse” or “wank” because the tools we have aren’t even effective.

Me blocking basically everyone – like I think I have blocked most of the Voltron fandom from 2017 because of Keith/Lance shippers being very aggressive and then… a solid chunk of Rey/Kylo fandom from 2018 – has clearly not stopped people from being racist to/about me.


There’s another annoying binary here:

People of color in fandom are expected to curate their spaces in order to somehow “avoid” racism in fandom spaces and if they see a racism, it’s because they are bad at curation/the internet.

AND 

People of color in fandom who curate their spaces and talk about racism behind the hedges they’ve grown to protect themselves will have people trample their boundaries on purpose because we dare to expect better treatment.

At the same time that people of color are expected to control our own fandom experiences and somehow avoid racism in what is an increasingly racist space, no one else is expected to do this? 

In queer-and-women-led fandoms, in 2021, no one can brush off homophobia in a fanwork as just “a preference”. But they do it with racism all the time

The people telling people of color in a fandom “don’t like; don’t read” as a direct response to them going “racism in fandom makes escapism hard and actually this is painful to us”… never curate their own spaces? 

They’re always reading anti-racism work (to an extent, they’re very lazy about it and treat it the same way that racists outside of fandom treat Critical Race theory right down to sneering about “wokeness” in fandom)… They’re always monitoring and harassing people of color that talk about racism in any capacity. Even in their own communities within fandom.

How can we, people of color, curate our spaces in fandom to avoid racism in fandom when:

  • People will term search in order harass us and other people of color
  • Fandom gimmick blogs post racist memes for fun and moan about “antis” when called out on it
  • Strangers will create accounts to monitor (via hate following on an unobtrusive/locked account or keeping you on a private Twitter list) and then reshare your social media content to people who have you blocked
  • People will devote hours/months/years to harassing any person of color they dislike including celebrities
  • Racists – including the dreaded and dreadful PickMe POC – will create troll accounts to “debunk” your lived/documented experiences with racism in fandom for clout in fandom

?

But more than that, why – 

Why are fans of color the only marginalized group apparently expected to use curation to deal with bigotry aimed at us in fandom?

Why are fans of color who curate these spaces for ourselves and our friends in fandom then mistreated and mocked for it?

Why is talking about racism – something that next to no one in fandom seems willing to do anything about – seen as something that is an actual threat to the sanctity of transformative fandom?

Why isn’t anything we do good enough to stop these patterns of harassment?

Why is it so difficult for racists to leave fans of color alone?

Why isn’t fandom actually for us too?

I do everything I can to curate my space. I know so many other fans of color who have felt forced to shrink their public fandom profile until it’s invisible because they were being harassed by people who swear they’re not actually racist. So many of us do whatever we can to have fun in fandom and to spend our time with people who get and love us as we are and who recognize the issues within a given fandom or the larger wider space – 

And we still get shit.

About Zeenah

Zeenah writes about comics, nerd history, and ridiculous romance novels when not working frantically on her first collection of short stories and complaining about stuff. One day, she'll settle down and write that novel.
This entry was posted in What Fandom Racism Looks Like and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to What Fandom Racism Looks Like: No Safe Space/”Curate Your Space”

  1. jayse says:

    i’m so sorry that you’ve been subject to so much harassment over the years. i’ve never been public enough in fandom to directly be harassed and this essay makes me so glad for that, even tho it hurts my heart to see other black folks get harassed. it really sucks that there’s no winning for us, to the point where i basically do not engage in fandom except to read fics every once in a while.

    this was an excellent essay and i’m so glad that despite all you’ve had to deal with, you still continue to write articles like this and speak out against racism in fandom. ❤

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s