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Tackling racism in/from the big institutions within fandom – a Big Named Fan with a 20k following, that fan studies scholar with a book and a bad reputation, or the Organization for Transformative Works itself – is scary. They’re huge, they have followings that they don’t even need to actively weaponize against you, and it’s hard to wear down a big rock in your online community.
So, when it comes to figuring out how to handle racism in your fandom communities and make these spaces inhospitable to racists, let’s start small.
First, it’s important to understand that you get to be imperfect as you try to figure out how to put things together. No one comes into fandom knowing everything. There’s no one in fandom that is starting as a level 100 Social Justice Scribe, not even me. It’s genuinely okay to fall and fumble and not know where to start with a specific concept.
The goal I want us all to be working towards is one where we try to be good to other people and to practice anti racism in a way that allows us room to get back up after we trip.
It’s okay to start caring about anti racism from a place of guilt or once you’ve only just realized that you have been part of the problem.
Starting to care and think about racism because you feel guilty after reading about experiences fans of color have in fandom or realizing you’ve been part of the problem due to action or inaction is actually super normal. So is feeling bad because you’re also a person of color and you feel super guilty over how you or your friends have treated other fans of color or how you’ve written or talked about characters/celebs of color.
That just… can’t be what fuels you past that starting point. You’ll actually run out of motivation if guilt is the only thing that gets your internal “activist” motor going because guilt isn’t great longterm fuel. (And… if you’ve hurt people? You need to make amends to them if they’re open to contact. Because they deserve closure and so do you.)
Ultimately, you should get to a point where the reason why you want and try to do anti racism activism and action in fandom is because you want these spaces to be better and safer for fans of color by default.
Anything else past the guilt or frustration at the starting point that got you actively rethinking your behavior and positioning? That’s not the best approach to take and won’t lead to growth. It’ll actually run the risk of breeding resentment in you and in the fans of color you’re trying to help for the wrong reasons.
Don’t forget to check yourself, your own biases, and your behavior.
How have you contributed to racism in fandom and in fanworks? How have your own ingrained biases shaped your interactions with people and characters of color in fandom? How has your friend group influenced the way that you understand racism in fandom? It’s important to recognize your own position in the fandom spaces you inhabit and what you’re possibly contributing to the environment of your specific community within fandom.
You don’t need to tell anyone any of this. Put it in your journal, unpack it on your own time, and keep it as a running process in the back of your head, but it’s something you should be thinking of as you go forward. Because everyone is starting from zero and that means we all have moments where we’ve messed up or where we’ve accidentally (or, in some unfortunately common cases, purposefully) harmed a fan of color. Yes, even as fans of color ourselves.
Next, take charge of situations but effectively.
If you moderate, host, created, or are otherwise responsible for a fandom event (like a fic fest, gift exchange, etc) or space (such as a Discord server, a Mastodon instance, or a community on Dreamwidth), there are things you can do to make things run smoothly and protect fans of color without smothering them.
A lot of people have talked about the ways different group chats and Discord servers have fostered an attitude that feels rather… pro-racism in fandom. I’ve seen screenshots of people using slurs at members in chats, of people planning harassment campaigns of POC in different fandoms because they talk about racism in fandom, and POC in different chats who are abused by their peers in the group chat for going “hey uh… racism is bad”. (I’m talking about people being kicked out of groups, shunned by fandom, yelled into silence or submission, subject to harassment campaigns, and even doxxed by people who previously claimed to like them… just because they try to bring up issues around racism in fandom.)
This is a nightmare.
Fandom is supposed to be escapist, but if the only people who can escape into fandom are bigots and the people who perform cover for them… that’s a real problem that needs to be addressed.
Where to start with the social groups/spaces you’re in charge of?
- Create rules within your spaces that prioritize protecting vulnerable fans and provide reasonable consequences for behavior that harms them.
- Provide ways for fans to communicate concerns with mods in the group or to report harmful content and speak up without being punished.
- If you’re worried about freedom of speech and censorship? Work as a group to create rules that respect people without stifling them or allowing racists to manipulate situations.
- Resist the urge to use a definition of racism that allows people to wiggle past consequences because they didn’t “mean” to be racist or to target POC for “anti white” racism – usually the mere acknowledgement of whiteness counts to them as such.
Anti-racism in fandom isn’t easy. It’s not easy anywhere.
We should all try to find ways to anti-racism that work for us as fans and as people trying not to step on other people’s boundaries. Different communities offline have some different understandings of what both racism and anti-racism can look like. We should keep this all in mind.
However, we should also be aware and wary of the way that racists in fandom have essentially pulled a page from the white supremacist playbook to frame anti-racism in fandom as: anti white, anti Asian, anti-non Westerners (which seems like it’s pro-POC elsewhere but is really pushed by/is about white Europeans/Latines), and pro-censorship.
There’s rot afoot and I promise you, it’s in the mouths of people claiming anti racism in fandom is an “anti fandom” thing and that every single one of our conversations are in bad faith because they’re sharper-toned and don’t cater to white racists.
You don’t need to follow along with every single anti-racism approach that comes across your timeline or even agree with them 100%, but you do need to be able to clock and call out racism in your fandom spaces and recognize that there are people collecting clout in fandom for being anti-anti racism here.
Make your space inhospitable for racists. Show racists that regardless of whatever content they make, they’re not more valuable than fans of color.
Start by making sure your actual fandom spaces – start small! It’s okay! – aren’t spaces where racists can exist peacefully. Then slowly, at your pace, branch out and challenge the racism and white supremacy present in several aspects of queer/feminist fandom over the years.