Meme-Ing For A Reason #16: You CENSOR FANDOM?

Is this our first text-based meme for this series? I do believe it is!

Rather than me pulling from a photo meme, I jacked the “You kick Miette” meme for my own ridiculous ends. I’m very pleased with the result.

I know a lot of people have been watching the various conversations about what content is “allowed” to be in fandom spaces with bated breath and anxiety – especially as we know that conservatives in the United States and elsewhere trying to ban books about queerness and race/racism. It is documented that the people and stories most often affected and silenced by censorship – even non-governmental – are queer or “non-white”

In fandom, there’s a crop up of free speech absolutists branding themselves as so radically “anti censorship” that they will even defend racism in fanworks because it’s “just” fiction. They’re not talking about accidental “white author can’t write POC” snags, POC disagreeing on how they feel about tropes, or whatever – but active, purposeful inclusion of racism in fandom and fanworks.

In the past two years, I’ve seen these people rail against hate speech laws, support white people accused of using racist slurs, defend hate symbols and uniforms associated with bigoted movements (Nazi and Confederate, for both things), and actively try to (non-governmentally) censor and harass POC for talking about racism in fandom spaces… They do this all while touting themselves as pro-free speech, and while claiming they’re actually on the side of CRT/fighting against anti-CRT bans across the United States.

The thing about the anxiety around censorship in fandom is that it’s not entirely unfounded…

We’re at a point where companies like Apple and Google can and do dictate what we’re allowed to say and do on their corners of the internet – see the recent issue with what content is banned on the iOS app for Tumblr.

However, many people in queer/feminist online fandom spaces are using that anxiety to excuse racism, harassment, stalking, and a bunch of other stuff.

Fandom isn’t directly and actively in danger right now, but people are doing the math about Apple’s increasing puritanical bent, the anti-sex worker policies in place to isolate them online and keep them from making a living, and the attempts to ban content about queer people and people of color… and they’re coming up with a not entirely invalid or irrational fear that one day they will be next because of their fandom content. 

So, what does this all have to do with racism in fandom? Or my meme?

One of the things I am constantly accused by – by “radically anti censorship” weenie racists in fandom who have actually tried to (non-governmentally) censor me and my work – is of being pro-censorship.

Why? Because I’ve expressed current personal dislike of some things they like… and I write about racism in fandom and fanworks.

Back in September and October when everyone and their Fandom Mom was out here defending the right and need for the AO3 to host racist content sans consequences – I mean like hateful, purposeful shit always – they were also publicly presenting POC who talked about racist content they saw, racist encounters they had, and how it felt to see defenses of such racist content/behavior all on the AO3 as… pro censorship. Pro censorship for being anti racism…

This is, and I’m sure this comes as no surprise to you, something that is pulled straight from the conservative playbook. In an opinion column (complete with letters to the editor) about the uproar over the racist images in Dr. Seuss books that Seuss’s estate pulled from the market, one response stands out because of how performative it is and how much it mimics what I see constantly from fandom:

As a children’s book author and novelist whose first novel, “Hey, Dollface,” was banned in schools and libraries all along the Bible Belt when first published in 1978 — and remains on the banned book list to this day — I was taken aback by the withdrawal of six Dr. Seuss books from the market. (My book is about a relationship between two 15-year-old girls who may or may not be gay.)

While the inherent racism displayed in the Seuss books in question is in every way offensive, it is the responsibility of the teachers or parents who choose to read these books to their children to point out and condemn that racism. The books can be used as a learning tool. Children are smart. They have every right to see, examine, challenge and reject the racism for themselves, and to have it pointed out and vehemently rejected by the adults who read to them.

To remove them from the market, however distasteful they may be, is censorship, pure and simple.

Deborah Hautzig

New York

When I say this letter to the editor actually mimics the exact stance of racism-defenders in fandom, I mean that I’ve seen white people and white/ness aligned people of color say that wanting the AO3 to do anything about racist work or racists on the site – like for one thing, blanket ban on racial slurs in story titles, summaries, and tags – is actually infantilizing POC and therefore worse than racism itself. 

Remember, the people pushing this stance where doing something about racism in fandom is worse than racism in fandom… are usually queer people, women, and other people of color.

Most of the time, the racism in their work is the product of not doing research or thinking that their whiteness (or their queerness) can close the gap between the cultural complexities they don’t understand from the source material or home culture.

They’re not the people writing racist fic in retaliation over a person of color saying a trope is uncomfortably racist to them. They’re not the people writing stories where Black characters are murdered by law enforcement like any of the numerous troll-fic that popped up after George Floyd’s murder in 2020. They’re not the ones writing stories with slurs or racist sexual stereotypes because that’s their kink. They’re not the people purposefully writing racist fic to “own the antis” and harm fans of color. They’re not the ones writing stories where characters of color are brutalized by a writer who just wants them “put in their place”.

And yet, the people who don’t do all of that… have chosen not just to defend inactivity on the part of the AO3 and OTW… but insist on the supposed value of those incredibly racist works and the people who create them. 

Why? Because they are told and they do believe that it’s better to defend a racist they don’t know rather than support “critical” POC in fandom who are against racism and risk getting fussed at if their milder racisms come under the microscope.

That’s the hill they’ve chosen to die on and die they fucking do because the racists they defend will turn on them even when they’re not POC themselves.

Fandom in 2021 made it explicit that fans of color matter less than racists in fandom and the people (some of whom aren’t even white themselves) who will defend them. Hundreds of people argued, publicly with their main fandom accounts and some of them, with their wallet names, that fandom was like a nature preserve or an ecosystem and that it was natural and normal for racists to be here too – and that we couldn’t run them out or make them experience a single shred of consequences. (Thousands liked and reshared those social media posts across different platforms.)

What’s apparently both unnatural and unwelcome in fandom forever?

People of color talking about racism, offering suggestions for how fans can be better about their own racism and the racism in their community spaces and social groups. For decades, we have been framed as outside agitators, trolls, and antis –

For talking about how something normal in fandom (to white and white aligned fans) absolutely ruins our experience of escapism and puts us in a state of stress. 

Back in 2006, coffeeandink wrote “How to Suppress Discussions of Racism“, a piece that was a part of  International Blog Against Racism Week back then. The entire post is so very relevant to experiences and derailments I’ve had launched at me for years and it’s disturbing to realize that queer fandom hasn’t become less racist in almost sixteen years.

It’s become more racist.

“Oh so you want to censor fandom/queer people” is a racist strawman that gets launched at people of color in fandom when we talk about the racism we see in fanworks. It’s something that these people do a lot because, as coffeeandink points out, there’s value in “misrepresenting your opponent’s position so it’s easier to refute”.

Think of all the things I’ve been accused of saying I want for fandom when I talk about racism in fanworks/racist behaviors in fandom:

  • Wanting the ability to punish people personally for their content or behavior
  • Deleting all Reylo fics from the internet
  • Banning all stories where Black characters are hurt (this one, was in direct response to me talking about racist revenge fics where Black characters like Dragon Age Inquisition‘s Vivienne were hurt to please a racist author)
  • Creating a committee on the AO3 where I direct “antis” to harass white people in fandom because I am… racist against them apparently
  • Wanting to tag other people’s work for them

None of these are things I’ve ever said or expressed wanting. But because they’re easy to refute and even easier to get people super fucking angry over, they’ve been attributed to me over the years by people who wouldn’t dare to actually engage with what I’m actually saying abotu racism in fandom and racist fanworks.

But, they don’t have to.

They just have to say “stitch said _____” and dozens – and in some unforrunate cases, hundreds – of people will take it as fact without checking or reaching out.

“I get that you’re salty that we ratioed you one time. Racism won’t be solved with fanfic censorship unfortunately.”

Part of a truly ridiculous comment I kicked to spam on “The Evolution of Anti-Critical Consumption/Thinking “Anti-Anti” Fandom“. First of all, brigading is an abusive attack so I wouldn’t be bragging about spamming Teen Vogue with lies trying to get be fired. Second of all, accusing me of wanting “fanfic censorship” is strawmanning in action especially on a piece that actually seeks to clarify fandom history…

“[Fan of color] just wants to censor fandom/fanfiction” is literally an attempt to trigger wider fandom to attack us because no one is going to go “okay but racism in fandom is bad” or “okay but give me a link to where they say that”. The most proof they ask for or get are cherry-picked, out of context statements made to make fans of color look unhinged and abusive…

And no one stops to think “but wait, are you really publicly getting mad at this person of color for disliking racism in fandom?”.

There’s something so ghoulish and racist about how many people are comfortable with accusing fans of color of being “pro-censorship” or actually censoring fandom for talking about racism in fandom.

It is horrifying that so many people who think of themselves as allies, or even anti racist, within fandom spaces openly declare fans of color at any level who just say “hey i think this thing is racist” with, and I’m not kidding here, anti queer censorship.

If you think that fans of color talking about racism in fandom with any level of heat is “censorship” and you need to fight against it… you are pro-racism. If your anti censorship leads you to defend racism, you are are pro-racism, full stop, and all of your fake-radical anti-censorship bullshit can’t hide the fact that you’re a bigot.

People of color – especially Black fans – are not censoring fandom by talking about what we’re seeing in front of our salads, in our mentions, and in our inboxes.

However, lots of very racist, very shameless people across fandoms are doing their best bet to censor us by relabeling us as enemies to fandom, urging people to boycott our work (even when we write fic they like but also people tried to… boycott Teen Vogue over my column), and implicitly connecting us with book burning Nazis…

In 2022, perhaps reconsider mindlessly accepting the horrifying, absolutely out of character things people tell you about fans of color who talk about racism. (Like people have repeatedly accused me of sending threats to people or saying they deserved abuse – something I would never say even to my worst enemy. And yet… people just accept that they now “know” this about me.)

Do your own research. Use your common sense. And ask, publicly and loudly, why people in fandom are more interested in defending racism and racist fanworks… than making fandom welcoming to fans of color.

About Stitch

Stitch writes about what needs to be written.
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