What Fandom Racism Looks Like: White Silence/Violence

I’d known that I wouldn’t be able to depend on others to defend me regularly from a series of traumatic offline events – some of which did involve racism/antiblackness in my local friend group – back when I was a teenager. 

So, in 2011, when I first experienced social shunning and harassment because I was a Black fan criticizing fandom – at the time, not even about racism, but about a BNF’s hypocritical hater stance on NSFW fanfiction – I kind of expected more of the same. I was not disappointed.

Fast forward to 2021 and now, I’m mad as hell about the fact that people will choose to be silent in the face of racism in fandom and watch as Black/brown fans are hurt and harassed for speaking up.

There’s a quote that says “white silence is violence” that’s been used often to reference the way that when faced with racism in a given space – a community they’re in or politics or in the world around them – many white people choose silence and effectively choose… violence. 

In choosing silence in the face of racism, these people are saying “I value the community bonds and relationships I have with other white people/compliant people of color more than I do the safety and happiness of people of color experiencing racism in these spaces”. It is a silence that speaks loudly. It’s powerful.

To quote Christina Capatides’ article “White silence on social media: Why not saying anything is actually saying a lot”:

The phenomenon of white silence has existed for centuries – long before social media – but the rise of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram has only served to make its presence more palpable.

“White silence is incredibly powerful,” said Savala Trepczynski, executive director of the Thelton E. Henderson Center for Social Justice at UC Berkeley. “It’s not neutral. It acts like a weapon. It’s not even silent. It speaks volumes, right? And the people of color who are around a silent white person, they hear the silence. And they feel it. And they feel what it means, which is: I don’t have your back. Or I don’t care enough to get uncomfortable to speak out. Or you know, despite the fact that black and brown people have been acting up and protesting on our own behalf for centuries, I still don’t quite get it enough to say something.”

I connect a lot of what we’re seeing in other offline and online spaces with what we see in fandom. This is no different. 

Fandom doesn’t exist as an island adrift, far removed from “real world” -isms. By making the connections that I do, and always have, between wider racism and racist violence and what is accepted and protected in supposedly progressive fandom spaces, I’m aiming to show people where fandom fails fans of color frequently. Real racism is afoot in fandom and it does not always look like physical violence – especially now when we’re not really doing in-person fandom. 

Sometimes it looks like weaponized white womanhood aimed at Black celebrities and fans with a goal of changing the narrative and reframing racists as victims. Sometimes it looks like social media silence in the face of antiblackness. It looks like white silence and the violence it then makes possible because “no one” is seeing it.

Fandom is full of white silence. 

It’s full of people who duck their heads and metaphorically keep it moving when racism in fandom is a thing folks are talking about. It’s a space full of people who never seem to speak up publicly about racism in fandom or the harassment that a given fan of color is receiving right in front of their digital salad – unless they can claim it’s coming from outsiders or dudebros. 

Fandom full of people who quietly decide not to signal boost tweets or pieces by people like me because they can’t – or won’t – properly handle a taste of the racism we get. Or people who, when faced with other people lying about us, choose to nod and go “oh I didn’t know about that” and retract their support, their opportunities, and our access to them… rather than reach out to us to ask what’s going on. 

Fandom is full of people who publicly say nothing to defend people of color in fandom who are dealing with racism in fandom, but privately flood our inboxes with shallow messages of support because they’re so shocked-and-appalled.

These private messages, of course, ultimately do nothing to show we are supported and believed in the face of ongoing harassment campaigns that seek to redefine us and make us monstrous. Because the people sending them are clearly too afraid to buck the system and weather even an ounce of what we do to risk supporting us on main.

And because fandom is full of white silence, it is also full of racist violence. 

Violence in this case takes the form of racist whisper campaigns against Black and brown fans who talk about racism in any capacity. These campaigns, helmed by queer white people including White Feminists TM, urge people to block us, hate us, and shun us as a rite of passage in fandom.

Violence here takes the form of mass blocking, brigading, and attempts to actually deplatform fans of color who talk about racism. It takes the form of publicly harassing Black/brown fans (ableism, calling us ugly, calling us TERFs even when we are nonbinary and trans, and fighting fiercely for our removal from our literal jobs/internet spaces) based on racist lies.

Violence looks like somehow missing – or ignoring – the racist lies told about fans of color by people who swing between hysterical victim and aggressive avenger as Ruby Hamad points out here:

White women can oscillate between the role of the helpless damsel in distress who needs the protection of white men to the role of the enforcer of whiteness: the damsel in defense.

Violence looks like accepting it when people say that fans of color like me are getting what we deserve… for writing about racism in fandom in a way that doesn’t vibe with what the status quo wants.

Now, don’t get me wrong, in my experience other fans of color get in on this too. 

White silence in fandom, like white supremacy in fandom, couldn’t do as much damage as it has done to me and other Black/brown fans… without the help of PickMe people of color

Without other people of color (including other Black people ) telling racists in fandom not just that it’s okay to not listen to me, but lying about my behavior to say I’ve harmed them and giving them carte blanche to harass me in their name… do you really think guilt wouldn’t have eaten the girlies up by now? 

But they were given permission by another person of color – or multiple people of color – to harm me and harass me in their name in fandom so of course… that’s not racist.That’s not something they need to feel guilty about now.

(And I know that some people have convinced y’all that “PickMe” is a racist/misogynistic slur instead of a helpful way for labeling people who’ll put their tenuous position in the status quo above being in solidarity with other people (who are queer, “of color”, a woman, etc) but they are wrong little bootlickers and you are all racist weenies.)

I have never been quiet about what people have been doing to me for years. I’ve documented the aggressive and frankly horrifying escalations of antiblack harassment that supposedly progressive people in fandom have aimed my way from 2015 with my earliest viral-ish post and… No one cares. 

Fandom at large does not care about racism and has largely chosen to punish me for writing about racism in fandom and for divulging details of the constant antiblack harm done to me.

For years, I have been punished for what I write or how I write it as well as for how I try to protect myself and how I curate my spaces in fandom. I am constantly being punished for writing about racism in fandom and for going “hey, I am being harassed by these people for this”. 

But no one clocks it or speaks up except for some people who’ve followed me and have been friends with me for years – they’re similarly vulnerable people who do get viciously abused for daring to show their support. Because this is seen as “drama” or mere “discourse” to the majority of people who glimpse it in fandom and so it becomes something to ignore or to pretend isn’t happening.

So they stay silent.

And the silence leads to more violence aimed my way because it is okay to hurt me because… who’s going to have my back? Who can speak up to shut down racism and hatred aimed at me? Who would even bother to protect me that way?

The thing about white silence in fandom is that it’s always actually saying a lot.

It’s always saying how much the status quo in fandom hinges on pretending racism isn’t happening and that real people like me don’t matter because what’s more important is protecting racists who can cry on cue and who put their fandom experience above that of Black/brown fans

It’s clear that with a little pressure: fandom podcasts will balk at having me on or will apologize for giving me a platform, fandom newsletters won’t recommend my work, acafans won’t cite or recommend me as a source, and of course… non-Black fans with any level or size platform will continue to pretend that none of this is happening even though they see it. (And yes, this includes how they all will follow and engage with people publicly heaping antiblack abuse on me in the name of freedom in fandom/of fiction.)

I’m here to ask that you guys to please speak up because white silence and violence is directly harmful to our health – emotional, physical, and mental – and there is nothing fans of color can do to protect ourselves from this harassment. There is nothing we can do to stop what’s happening to us when we point out racism in different fandoms.


2 thoughts on “What Fandom Racism Looks Like: White Silence/Violence

  1. Another good article, but a sad one at that.

    It’s frustrating because it’s so obvious. I’ve been dealing and seeing how those people work since the days of When Fangirls Attack would collect articles about sexism and racism in the superhero comics, and almost nothing has changed in the way they go about things…

    They get too loud with the racism, then dial it back and go at others by making their language seem more critical, which is nothing new in history when it comes to racism. White Flight detailed how the push back of black homeowners in mostly white suburban areas went from the KKK to Home Owners Associations ‘concerned’ about the property values and reputation of their neighbourhoods.

    Obviously preaching to the choir here, but christ, I really wish social media platforms would actually enforce the rules they say they do in contributing to the harassment you face, but they’re too afraid of driving away engagement.

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