Recently, Shafira Jordan’s sharp and insightful article “How White Fandom is Colonizing “Character-Coding”” has been making the rounds around fanwork creating & consuming social media. It’s a piece that speaks to something that I also have talked about (a few years ago): the way that white fandom will code white male characters as POC while also hating the hell out of characters of color in the source media/dismissing them entirely.
This ranges from deciding that a character oppressed racially in-universe like Loki being Jotun was directly paralleling an experience/existence of color to claiming they are “actually” of a marginalized identity like Kylo being Space Jewish because the actors playing Han and Leia are.
Of course there was pushback with people like Amber “Who Likes To Try And Get Black Women and Femmes Fired” Goldsmith showing up in one repost of the article to show their entire ass with a lengthy thread no one asked for.
The pushback involves the claim that “no one does this” and many people blame it all on haters who supposedly making this all up and are… implied to be biased (read: racist) against these white male villains and the white women/queers who love them. Because deflecting is easier than engaging with what people are actually saying or doing.
Let’s be real here, friends… In 2021, few people actually say the exact statement of “Kylo/Loki/etc are POC coded”.
I don’t think it’s currently a thing people say… but it was a repeated sentiment across Tumblr and Twitter just a few years ago that whatever white male character was being criticized for his behavior/had a fandom wilding out was “actually” coded as a POC. What they do say now, however, is that people only hate those white male villains because they’re white. They say that “woke people” – a racist dogwhistle akin to “the Blacks” and used often by right-leaning people worldwide – have made it okay to hate (again, they mean: be racist to) white men. It’s self-victimization. It is an attempt at claiming racial oppression for white characters and people… that serves the same conversation-stopping purpose as “POC coded”.
(Because these are people who think that people of color use conversations about racism we experience to stop conversations and avoid criticism so of course, their shorthand to stopping criticism of a white person or character in fandom is… to rewrite them as somehow POC-ish.If we can “play the race card”, why can’t they, they reason.)
They don’t think that these white men are “POC coded”, something that isn’t even a thing. They don’t think these men are people of color. If they did, they literally wouldn’t create or consume content for them because that is what fandom is like. Fandom simply does not care about people of color as worthy of attention unless they match a narrow set of criteria for their interests. Most do not outside of a narrow range of East Asian characters and actors.
However, they think that these white men are criticized and therefore oppressed (by Black and brown people in fandom and sometimes in the media they’re in) because they’re white men.
Without saying phrases like “reverse racism” and “anti white”, a lot of people in fandom are drawing these ideological lines in the sand and others are just… eating it up.
No one hates Kylo Ren or Loki because they’re white. That’s literally not a thing anyone is actually doing. There’s no “oppress white male villains because they’re white” movement in fandom. (And even if there was, why on earth would you try to control people of color who felt that way especially if you were white yourself? Like… stop?)
In fact, these characters aren’t even largely being hated period. It’s criticism of their in-media behavior and their (self-reported, in some cases thanks to demographic surveys) super white fandoms… that is then met with hatred by those fans. But here’s a fact for you: positioning criticism and conversations about racism by Black/brown people as hatred and oppression of white people (white villains folks have assigned marginalized identities or vulnerable pasts to and the white women/queers that love them) is part of the white supremacist playbook.
You see it all the time in how racists frame Critical Race Theory as specifically “anti white” or how Black people speaking about racism they’ve experienced are often written off as hating white people. There are white people in your fandoms who think (and say) that the reason they’re getting called out for open racism or why characters like Kylo and Loki are getting criticism… is because they’re white and “woke” people hate white people. That people (of color & white traitors) are supposedly racist against white people in fandom now.
But they won’t say “reverse racism” and risk getting laughed off the internet so they hide their actual beliefs behind a laundry list of coded language… that isn’t even that hard to decipher.
If you’ve been online ever, white people going “they just hate me or a thing we like because we’re white” is something racists say.
It’s a racist statement because it hinges on self victimization and repositioning people of color as The Real Racists.
(Again Amber’s whole hate-on for me hinges on them repeatedly saying that I hate her because she’s white and ships Rey/Kylo… when she has repeatedly and publicly bragged about trying to get me fired and even posted about falsely reporting me to local FLORIDA law enforcement despite us never speaking.)
Anyway, like the villains you like. Villains can be super cool and I certainly am a huge fan of a wide range of villains. I am currently in an anime villain thirst spiral (shout out to Aizen from Bleach for being That Big Bitch!) but I also am rewatching Loki to put some notes together for my upcoming convo with my friend Jeanne.
I love villains and I think it’s clear that a lot of fandom does too.
However, it doesn’t make sense to frame criticism of white villains (or merely the conversations about how white male villains get more love from fandom than heroes or villains of color) as something that’s happening because “fandom now hates white men”/”it’s okay to hate white men”.
(Or rather, it makes sense because white fandom is increasingly white supremacist fandom in practice and positioning, but it’s also just weird because what they’re saying isn’t what’s happening and you’d think people would clock that.)
Denying that white fandom has, for at least a decade, tried to stick racial oppression onto white male characters to silence critique is a thing folks are doing right now. It is also not a good look for people obsessed with telling fans of color who’ve been here longer to “learn your history”. I know my fandom history. How about these folks learn their own and do better… Because this is embarrassing.
4 thoughts on “What Fandom Racism Looks Like: Revisiting “POC Coded” White Villains/Anti-Heroes”
It’s really fucking telling that in that thread, about Shafira Jordan’s article, she says not ONE THING about the fat shaming of Kelly Marie Tran. Not. One. Thing.
I guess for her, womanhood only goes so far as skin colour…
And she ignored how people were clamouring for Rey and Finn merchandise while Kylo Ren stuff rested on the shelves gathering dust. And I bet she said nothing of the harassment that drove Daisy Ridley off of Instagram or of fans harassing John Boyega to try and get her back on, because I sure as fuck remember that.
Since the article primarily focuses on race, and includes a Tweet that fat shamed Kelly Marie Tran as an example of how she was mistreated by the fandom, I’m not sure what else Sharifa would need to say on that front?
It’s funny, when I read these articles by you, I have to do things: 1. put myself in the place of someone who wants to identify with a villain, and 2. a white male villain. And that’s actually really hard for me.
Let’s talk about a white male villain who nobody is going to romanticize because he’s older and he’s not traditionally attractive, for a moment: Dreykov. Setting aside issues of what whiteness is or is not in Europe, do you know how relieved I was that Dreykov was what we, as American, see as white? Do you know how relieved I am EVERY SINGLE TIME the villain of a piece is a white, cishet Protestant-coded dude? Because honestly, I don’t have to worry that some dumbass stereotype is going to be perpetuated, etc. I mean, I have to worry about the problem you’re talking about above, but I guess to some extent I’ve seen that as the lesser of the evils between the thoughtless acceptance of villainy of Others from the population at large that any other choice ends in. But mebbe not, huh?
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Loki’s racial politics are weird. Genocidal protofascist white guy becomes liberationist anti-totalitarian freedom fighter. Meanwhile he’s surrounded by WOC [Hunter B-15, Hunter C-20, Renslayer] who speak truth to power to some degree. And the ultimate architect of this oppression turns out to be a Black guy. Wtf are they trying to say here?