The phenomenon of white people deciding that in fact there is zero racism in a space they inhabit, usually because they supposedly haven’t seen it, is bigger than fandom.
People of color experience this annoying micro-major aggression everywhere. We get to deal with it at work, in the grocery store, while watching the news –
Basically, if you’re a person of color that has been in or around a racist place (digital or otherwise), chances are that you’ve had a run in with someone who thinks that there’s no racism anymore.
They’ve never seen racism and/or they’ve decided that what racism they have seen is too small to count and therefore, what you’re talking about is nonsense.
This is similar to how people deny that white privilege is even a thing in the first dang place.
As Brando Simeo Starkey pointed out in his 2017 piece “Why do so many white people deny the existence of white privilege?”
Believing the system, when the system favors them, warrants vociferous defense, has become a cultural-family heirloom, much like grandma’s pearl necklace or grandpa’s gold pocket watch. Thus, when many white people hear requests to scour their lives for signs of white privilege, they are being asked to execute a mental routine they have been trained to perform poorly. White privilege is unconsciously considered both normative and normal — meaning, the system should privilege them and the daily privileges they receive never register as special.
Instead of knowledge and acceptance of white privilege, many white people display ignorance: What is this privilege of which you speak? I do not detect a hint of it. Perhaps you are being lifted by a race-based privilege because surely it is not I.
Such ignorance becomes a tool of racial domination. By denying the unfairness, white folk never have to confront it.
People in fandom love to deny the presence of racism in fandom.
Sure, some people will cop to some forms of racism (like acknowledging and shouting down the harassment Black cosplayers and fan artists get for trying to put themselves in their things), but it’s always framed as outsiders to fandom who are the problem. Not fandom itself.
(A really good example of this are the Rey/Kylo shippers who ignore their co-fans’ ongoing harassment of Black people including John Boyega across the past five years.
Instead of even saying “some of our co-fans are dicks and we will work harder to fight antiblackness here,” they blame it all on The Fandom Menace. On top of that, they work hard on framing themselves as marginalized in part because they ship Rey/Kylo (and especially because they are poor white women under fire) and ignoring the antiblackness that’s still very active in their fandoms.
The dudebro aspect of the Star Wars fandom isn’t great either, but it’s very much a sense of pretending the rot isn’t everywhere including the s[aces where queer people, ladies, and (some) people of color are.)
Sometimes, people in fandom admit that there’s racism in other parts of the world… just not fandom.
If they’re in the US and in fandom, they’ll talk about racism in politics like the systemic stuff that apparently has no influence on fandom somehow. (US fans love to point out “real racism” and say that there are more important forms of racism to address than the racism in fandom/fiction as if the late great James Baldwin didn’t make a clear connection between racist media’s impact on people’s understanding of Blackness/Black people as people.)
If they’re in another part of the world, they’re smug because their country (usually a European one where they abuse their Black politicians in the middle of proceedings in public and across social media) “doesn’t have racism anymore”. So, since they see themselves as above racism, they look at conversations about racism in fandom like “okay but we don’t do that” even when they do.
But talking about racism in fandom is important (as it is a form of “real racism”) and people outside of the US need to understand that they’ve likely internalized some form of kind (like in the way that antiblackness is universal and largely looks the same everywhere)
We keep being told that fandom is somehow post-racism or post-racial, but no one actually can prove it to me. No one can show me where the point changed over from folks being very racist in fandom to people… no longer actually caring about race in fandom. (They can’t show me that because it doesn’t exist!)
On top of that, no one even believes that except for racists and young people of color who have managed to miss seeing or experiencing racism aimed at them.
Which then becomes interesting because you see the conversations about racism in fandom being framed where “new” fans who supposedly don’t know better/enough are the problem, not racists.
Let me provide an example:
Every single time the Archive of Our Own does a donation drive, there’s a resurgence of posts shaped like “the AO3 has fully changed fandom for the better, it is perfect and if you have anything to say about the archive at any level that isn’t placidly worshipful, you’re a weenie that doesn’t know how to use its established tag tools/are a fetus in fandom/hate queer people”.
This round, there was a viral tweet by twitter user @rowenafterdark that called the AO3 “the fucking fanfiction dream machine” and blamed “literally all” of the complaints they heard about it on people who didn’t know how to use the website or its tools properly. (So, basically newbies!)
Talk about obnoxious..
Beyond that, however, the tweet (and subsequent whining thread) ignores the fact that the conversations specifically about racism in fandom and hosted on the AO3 – again, not “I didn’t know that Black people can blush” shit or depicting East Asian characters wearing outside shoes indoors, but actual overt racist content – cannot be fixed by “tools”.
They can’t even be fixed with education – because these fans aren’t interested in learning or doing better.
It also ignores that these conversations are ongoing.
They have been happening for at least five years.
I’ve been harassed for pointing out that the AO3 doesn’t have a way to report racist fic since 2018. (I got harassed off tumblr in part, because of trying to actually express myself and a desire for nuance in these conversations about where the AO3 wasn’t great!) And we’ve known that when you report something for racism – including someone using slurs at people – , you will get a snide “don’t yuck someone’s yum” message from the Abuse Team. This has been happening since 2016, I believe.
None of us are new here.
Most of us have left our childhoods (largely spent in fandom) far behind. I have friends I went to high school with who have kids starting high school or finishing their first year of it. It’s weird to see people say everyone who has issues with the current racist shape of fandom or racism in fanworks must be a child themselves or too new or too young to know what’s what.
It’s weird but also, let’s be very clear here: people who push the idea that fandom is post-racial and so the people saying “hey, this thing is racist” are newbies/inexperienced in fandom/fake fans just trying to stir shit up… are racists themselves.
I’m serious. They will never name themselves as such, but they do have an agenda to reframe fandom as this perfect utopia that is ruined by an outside or invading force of people who care about racism in fandom.
That this invasion is, to them, helmed by people of color who just don’t know their place, are assumed to be “new” to fandom, or don’t deserve to speak… says more about them than any person of color they come up against.
Fandom is full of gatekeeping. This is an actual truth about these spaces. We’ve known for decades that nerdy fandoms thrive on gatekeeping, pushing out “fake” fans based on a really narrow view of the ideal, real fan.
However, the parts of transformative fandom that are championed as super progressive because they’re oriented around women, queer people, and people with different marginalized identities… do gatekeeping just as hard. They really like to gatekeep the hell out of anyone that doesn’t fit their ideal image of the perfect fan!
Often, that includes people of color who are being rewritten as “the fandom killjoy”. Coined by Dr. Rukmini Pande in Squee From The Margins and based off of Sara Ahmed’s “feminist killjoy”, this term absolutely encompasses the negative point of view many fans hold of fans of color who talk about racism in fandom – even “just” amongst ourselves in social media posts.
Of being a “fandom killjoy”, Dr. Pande writes that:
To be a fandom killjoy as a nonwhite fan is a deeply alienating experience, as it involves either the internalized acceptance that certain pleasures and explorations are simply unavailable, or the identification of being someone who consistently brings unwanted drama to fan spaces.
Think about how people “know me” as toxic… despite the fact that I largely keep to myself and don’t wade in to start shit with people.
They’re going around telling people in different fandoms not to follow me or that following me is bad because I’m toxic, abusive, “causing drama”… but it’s never once been someone who can show that we’ve ever interacted. Because we haven’t.
When you’re a fandom killjoy because you talk about racism in fandom at any level, you get slapped with all sorts of labels that don’t actually apply. You’re treated as a bigger threat to fandom at large than people who plagiarize, scam money from other fans or… actually are responsible for threats or physical harm done to other people in fandom.
There are hundreds of people across a wide range of fandoms who react to me (like the mere sight of my name) like they’ve seen something horrifying, disgusting, or traumatizing.
My existence triggers them to say the nastiest things about me and they actively try to do me harm while often harassing my friends or anyone who tries to defend me.
They never get called “fandom killjoys” even though they are actively trying to strangle what little joy I’ve found in fandom. (Similarly to how antiblack people who are aggressively against pairings with Black characters to the point of harassing their performers… Never get called antis/anti fans while folks defending those characters and performers do.)
To a lot of people, I am the interloper. I am the invader.
To them, fandom was fine and everyone got along… until I showed up seven years ago and started talking about the racism I saw in fandom. Except… I’ve been here my whole life. Fandom was not fine.
Most of the people who I’ve seen talk about racism or their experiences with it in fandom have been here for years longer than the people moaning about their free speech in fandom – conveniently to excuse their antiblackness… also in fandom.
This is our space just as much as it is any fan-Karen’s space.
And we’re not going to leave so that racists can control fandom at large.
We’re not the ones who are out of touch.
We’re not the ones who are wrong.