It’s been over a year (this piece was originally supposed to go up in June 2021) since the Organization of Transformative Works’ Board of Directors, Chairs, and Leads released a statement of some solidarity with fans of color – particularly Black fans – in the wake of George Floyd’s murder and the worldwide protests against antiblackness, police brutality, and white supremacy that shifted the world on its axis back in 2020.
The OTW – and its “child”, the Archive of Our Own – has yet to make any meaningful inroads into making their segment of fandom accessible, welcoming, and safe for fans of color. In fact, racism done in the name of the Archive of Our Own specifically has increased to some extent with fans of color being subject to increased attacks including shunning, slander, and direct attacks on their fandom and offline reputations for going “perhaps this space could be… less racist”.
Here are a few examples:
- An “anonymous” user (actually a long-term antiblack troll) posted a racist Transformers fic using the most well known “Black-coded” character in the franchise to reenact George Floyd’s murder in July 2020
- A creepy racist in fandom setting Dr. Rukmini Pande up for tons of harassment (including them publicly plotting to try and get her fired) for talking about their Nazi omegaverse fic and pattern of harassment (and people who reported this were told it “didn’t count” when the AO3 Abuse Team finally got around to it because the AO3 clearly didn’t take Dr. Pande’s side).
- At least person who reported fic for racism and was told, by AO3’s Abuse team, that they shouldn’t “harass” the racist (I don’t have a link for that at the time of publishing, but will add it once I find the saved thread of the most recent incident)
- Someone impersonated me in the AO3 comment section… and then someone else basically proceeded to be racist at that person impersonating me
- That time in 2014 when a Hockey fandom writer used slurs at people in the fandom who called them out for their purposefully racist fic and how… that deliberately racist fic was not something that got any consequences from the Abuse Team
- In the replies to the initial post linking my and Dr. Pande’s work, at one point there were people spewing racist lies and hatred about us and accusing us of trying to remake fandom in our image (which we’re not doing, but also… if anti-racism is so at odds with fandom as a whole… yikes.) The same goes for the OTW/AO3’s tweets that mention anti-racism in any capacity. They have done nothing to protect two high-ish visibility fans of color from the racist backlash as a result of us calling fandom racist and backing it up with proof… Or to punish the people actively being racist about us in their comment sections.
Let’s be clear here:
The AO3 continues to be a space that will do more to protect racist fanworks and the racists that create them than fans of color who would like to escape into fandom sans racism.
The OTW, as the “parent” organization, is responsible for things like the AO3’s ineffective terms of service that hasn’t gotten an update to address and provide meaningful consequences for bigoted works/bigotry or to document what forms of harassment exist on the platform and what consequences exist for that. There has been the repeated rejection of hiring an outsider consultant to help it level up (people who are so not me literally exist to work on companies like this to make sure they’re hitting their markers), and no real acknowledgement the racism done on its fanwork-hosting platform and in its name.
These are all facts proven to be true by years of inaction in the face of increasingly aggressive racism. (But also in a few cases, it’s proven by the active punishment of fans of color who try to speak up about racist fanworks they’ve seen or harassment they’ve gotten on the platform.)
Despite the value they hold for fandom and how necessary archiving fanworks is as a practice, these are spaces that protect racists and do not condemn racism in fanworks or against fans of color. You know, because “max inclusiveness” is more important than making sure bigots know they’re not welcome in a fandom space.
It’s been over a year and the most meaningful fandom institutions have done nothing to live up to the sort of promises made in the past.
I think people who report racist fics – and again, I always mean hateful and hurtful content, not writing issues or a failure to research and write well or a trope that is wonky to some people of color- still get brushed off with snotty condescending nonsense from the Abuse team.
If they get any response at all, that is.
People will say that the only complaints about the AO3 are from antis, “puriteens” and people who don’t know how to use the archive tools properly. You know… Instead of acknowledging that there are very valid complaints about the inadequate ways that racism and other forms of bigotry are handled by the Abuse Team.
Over a year after the announcement up-top and friends, fandom is still racist.
The AO3 still protects racists in fandom.
It still punishes people of color that dare to speak up about racism in fanworks and from fellow fans on those platforms.
The OTW has still done nothing even remotely useful when it comes to trying to change the culture of fandom that allows racism to be a thing people inject into their fanworks and enact in service of the AO3 and fandom as a whole.
This is not a debate or a hypothesis. These are facts backed up by action and inaction.
In the end: I’m used to disappointment.
Most of the companies that pledged to do anything in the wake of George Floyd’s murder didn’t actually do shit. Their promises were empty and their wallets remain flush. The AO3 and OTW are not actually doing anything new here because they are following the trend that institutions around the world did: empty platitudes followed by absolute inaction.
The OTW, the AO3, the people on the different boards, and all the people invested in protecting Fandom For Fans (all very concerned with being nice over being anti racist) have done nothing to make fandom better for fans of color. These institutions and the people who worship have done nothing to make sure that racists know that racism – whether in fanworks or aimed at other fans – has no place on its platforms or in fandom. These institutions have never provided any meaningful consequences for racism on the Archive or that’s done in defense of it/the OTW.
Twitter has had a better response to dealing with racists than the OTW and AO3 have. Again, multiple Korean celebrities have done a better job of showing care for Black people than that organization ever has. My old job at very least didn’t make a performative ass statement about caring about antiblackness because they knew it would’ve been a lie.
The Organization for Transformative Works has not just failed fans of color with its lack of active anti-racism measures. It has emboldened racists on and off of the platform to attack, abuse, and harass fans of color in the name of this nebulous “freedom in fandom/of fanfic” that conveniently doesn’t include fans of color unless they’re bootlickers lapping at the toe of the status quo.
Fandom is racist and uninterested in changing that. I have known that for well over a decade. I don’t expect fandom institutions to do better when there’s no actual reward for it. But I wanted people paying attention to know that I have seen the purposeful lack of progress in this space and that it will never leave my mind.
I didn’t expect the AO3 and OTW to do or be better when it came to racism in “their” spaces.
But man does it actually suck to be proven right… Especially when what I actually want from this fandom platform is as far from censorship as you can get (unless you’re one of the people that think valid consequences for shameless and purposeful bigotry is “cancel culture” and in that case… Yikes.)
As I said to a friend a few months ago in my portion of private correspondence, what I want (but do not actually expect the Archive of Our Own and OTW to be able or willing to provide) is:
- A regularly updated harassment policy that accounts for different types of on-site harassment but also off-site evidence of harassment (i.e., not just rules against people harassing others in the comments of a story (for whatever reason), but an author creating a racist story and tagging it in a way to harass someone else (like if someone tagged a story with a creator’s government name or wrote racist RPF of them) OR people off-site aiming harassment at someone on the site like if they literally say “I’m doing X to harass people” or “Go harass Y for writing [PROBLEMATIC SHIP]” over on Twitter/Tumblr)
- An offensive content policy that accounts for things like purposefully written bigoted content like it’s hateful and hurtful because that is the author’s kink. (Things where marginalized characters are brutalized/subject to extreme violence because the author hates them – like what happens to a lot of Black characters across fandoms.) This I get can be hard, but often it can be connected to the harassment policy because a lot of people do publicly say they are trolling on their main accounts.
- An overhaul of the abuse team’s protocols because the responses I’ve seen directly in response to things like Black fans reporting racist slurs used at them, fans of color being targeted in harassment campaigns via tagging or storynotes, and a few other things… Those are not good responses. The responses I’ve seen are often… very bad. (Condescending, dismissive, speaking to a person publicly off/on-site harassing someone and taking their side rather than acknowledging that that was happening, ghosting people who’ve reported actual awful racist things – not controversial or complex issues like what I’m working through with stuff like certain kinds of darkfic or just plain bad writing.)
Maybe by June 2022 the AO3 and OTW will finally get their anti racism approach in gear and make meaningful changes to the TOS that include a stronger offensive content policy? Maybe by then, they’ll actually figure out that fans of color are more important than racists in fandom?
I use the AO3 as a reader and, sometimes, as a writer. I recognize its value as a hosting platform and the work it does for incorporating old archives of fannish work. I trust it to keep doing that.
But when it comes to the bare minimum to address racism literally on its platform – not even fandom at large? I will not be holding my breath.