I am always very fascinated by how many of the people online who claim to be “radically anti censorship” and who appear to be very strong advocates for freedom of speech also… actively work to silence other people and censor them.
Most often, as we’ve seen lately, via constant and successful attempts at silencing Black and brown people who write and teach about anti-racism in any space they (these white anti-censorship advocates) consider their own.
As I said in What Fandom Racism Looks Like: White Silence/Violence, I make a point of connecting things in the world we live in offline with fandom.
This is no different.
The same people who will say “I disapprove of you writing/saying [any level of questionable or bigoted content], but I will defend you to the death for your right to say it” don’t just go out of their way to silence dissent. They also work to silence criticism in “their” space entirely – usually by presenting it as “silencing”, “censorship”, or actually bigoted in order for people to rush in and shut the person down.
What happens in fandom is a direct parallel between the people who rage because the Seuss estate will no longer be publishing super racist books, but try to (and succeed at) getting college professors and grad students kicked out of academia for daring to practice anti-racism or teach critical race theory. They’re “just” doing it to Black/brown journalists (like myself, The Mary Sue’s Princess Weekes, and Jezebel’s Ashley Reese) and to Black/brown academics like Dr. Ebony Elizabeth or Dr. Rukmini Pande.
These radical anti censorship folks in fandom will defend bigots as long as what they’re creating is somehow valuable to fandom.
I have seen them, across different fandoms, defend the depiction of hate symbols (the Nazi or Confederate flag) in fan art, fanworks that mock atrocities like George Floyd’s murder or that eroticize the Holocaust/sexualize real war criminals, and the use of actual slurs by people with no business using them. That belongs in fandom. That gets to be protected in fandom.
What doesn’t – according to them, at least?
Black and brown people who believe that they belong in fandom at any level.
Black and brown people brave enough to speak up about racism in any fandom and who dare to talk about how much it hurts that this escapist space is full of the same bigoted fucks that make our lives hell offline… we are outright told that we don’t belong in fandom.
When we speak up on social media or use the same fandom spaces the racist shit is on to go “yeah, that shouldn’t actually be allowed because it’s harmful and alienating”, suddenly it’s time to start censoring us.
Suddenly, the same people willing to defend content that seems indefensible and who claim to want to let everyone speak, they take up a pro-censorship stance and start shutting down other people in fandom.
When fans of color use their spaces to talk about how fandom doesn’t feel safe for them because of racism and racists… Then, the same people who pretend that they care about freedom of speech and freedom in fandom, to fandom itself, suddenly take a page out of the online right wing playbook.
Suddenly, they’re all for censorship and pro-silencing (and pro-harassment too)… as long as the person being silenced is someone that seeks to disrupt the status quo.
I’ve talked about how words like “fancop” and “anti” get used, like the SJW of yore, to diminish the speaker specifically for caring “too much” or in the “wrong way” about a social justice issue like racism in fandom or homophobia in media.
Used without any real proof or explanation, anyone slapped with those labels is deemed unworthy of being listened to and of being treated like a human being. Instead, they’re now reimagined as an outsider or an ideological enemy of fandom.
This is normal for fandom.
Anyone with a critical opinion is deemed an outsider trying to infiltrate the space or malign it.
Additionally, one staple across every single fandom space is that fans of color aren’t seen as real fans even when we are quietly consuming the content and not doing anything to actively remove us from consideration as fans.
I wrote back in 2019 about the way that fannishness is assumed to be a thing Black people specifically don’t do (and I’d like to gesture wildly at the existence of Black weebs because really):
When many people think of “fans” or “fandom”, they don’t think of Black people first or even second. So when we’re in these fandom spaces, we’re definitely a community or demographic that is well… underrepresented and underappreciated. We’re assumed to be outsiders first and foremost and have to “prove” the appropriate levels of fannishness in order to be taken seriously by other, usually non-Black, fans.
What’s frustrating – and why I’m writing this Fleeting Frustrations installment – is that fannishness is something that Black people aren’t assumed to have and it’s impossible for our presence in fandom to even be neutral.
Because we’re not fans – or we’re assumed not to be fans – we’re viewed as suspect even before we speak up about racism or race at all in these spaces. Academia does this. Publishing does it. Fandom sure as hell does it.
It doesn’t help that the only people of color in a given fandom space that do get defended, that get respected in fandom… are the ones who support the status quo and defend racism in fandom and in the media. They’re the ones ignore that anything can be used as propaganda regardless of creator intent, who make excuses for racist tropes like the “mammy” trope in fiction (because there were real mammies…), and who allow their identities as people of color to be used not just to silence other people of color… but to excuse the abuse and harassment those other people of color get for speaking about what bothers them.
Those people, the people I have been calling “PickMe POC” for several years – other people have far spicier names for these fans – are the only fans of color who actually get to talk about racism at any level –
And even then, that’s only until they speak up in a way that isn’t useful for the fandom status quo or that challenges it and then, they’re right here in the anti-racism dungeons with the rest of us.
Anyway, I made that meme because I find it funny. I also find it apt.
The same people who will defend things that most of us don’t talk about enjoying outside of a very select audience in a given fandom and will ride to battle to defend a bigot in a heartbeat… have made it clear that POC who talk about racism do not deserve the same freedom of speech.
We do not get the same protection from fandom unless we allow ourselves to be used to prop up the status quo.
The second we waver in our unthinking defense of fandom – like the young woman I once called a “PickMe” for her exemplifying that behavior with their defense of the mammy trope… who was then was harassed and run out of her fandom spaces months later for calling out racism by the same people who continue to use her to excuse violently harassing me to this day – we are crushed underfoot.
Fandom is merely a portion of the real world.
Few things exemplify that better than the ways that fandom is having the same conversations about “cancel culture” and problematic content that conservatives are having, conversations that conveniently always end in Black and brown people being brigaded, stalked, and harassed into silence unless or until they are compliant.