What Fandom Racism Looks Like: (Not) Talking About Race

It’s a truth universally (but accidentally) acknowledged across a ton of books about being a fan of stuff, that fandom does not like talking about race. 

Regardless of how which side of a binary fandom is split into between curative fandom (they primarily collect things related to their fandom) and transformative (they primarily create things related to their fandom), one truth exists: it is easier (and better) not to talk about race at all than to talk about race and racism in fandom. 

No matter what “side” of fandom it is, no one but people of color (and not all people of color at that) want to talk about race as it relates to fandom and that is not a good thing. 

I own a bunch of fan studies books (we covered this a few months ago). One constant across the books I’ve owned – books in a publishing range from 1993 to 2022 – is that race is often an afterthought in many of these books. 

More than that, race is often explicitly put aside in order to focus on “more important” topics like sexuality and gender, topics that are rarely put forward in an intersectional way that remembers women of color or queer people of color exist in all of these different fandoms.

The women writing or covered by fan studies texts are primarily white women. The queer people mentioned in these books or writing them are primarily white queer people. The gender and sexualities of people of color in fandom, whether characters or real people, often appear to be an afterthought. 

Sometimes, if we’re lucky, we get a section of essays only about race – like in Seeing Fans: Representations of Fandom in Media and Popular Culture or The Routledge Companion to Media Fandom. Or, as with Lucy Neville’s Girls Who Like Boys Who Like Boys, we get a handful of sentences across the entire text that mention that fandom has always been bad about talking about race but then the text never attempts to change that by actually talking about race

One of the most annoying ways that fandom racism shows up is in the way that many fans –  curative or transformative, acafan or well… not that – flat out reject the idea of talking about race. That rejection means that fans of color can’t even talk about media about characters of color from our ethnicities in a positive light because fandom is not here for any of it. 

Think about how many times you’ve seen someone in fandom say outright or allude to their beliefs that Black Panther is an overrated movie that only got as far as it did because the majority cast was Black. 

Chances are, those people in fandom did not say anything about their favorite Marvel Cinematic Universe films being primarily helmed by white heroes. Chances are that they even talked negatively about how much press Black Panther got specifically because Black people who hadn’t previously been invested in the MCU – like non-comic fans and really little kids – flocked to it in droves. 

For fandom, just talking positively about Black Panther and the power of representation in Chadwick Boseman and crew playing swawesome Black characters was breaking the unspoken rule of fandom: that we don’t talk about race. 

And that was just the reaction to Black people being happy to be represented in one of the biggest film franchises in history. 

Imagine what the direct reaction is to Black people who are critical of representation in the things fandom loves…

It continues to be… not pretty.

2 thoughts on “What Fandom Racism Looks Like: (Not) Talking About Race

  1. This is related to racism and acafan discourse, and doesn’t quite address the gap you talked about, but have you checked out Lisa Nakamura’s work? Her whole focus is the translation and the incoherence of race and “deracialized” identities in digital spaces. Most of her focus is on video games, specifically MMOs. This doesn’t solve the acafan problem, but her work is spectacular.

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  2. I’m interested in this concept of “more important.” I will admit openly that I’ve never seen it phrased that way, which means f-all other than that I just haven’t paid enough attention, but it’s…a really strange choice to me. Why would you valorize one issue over another issue? Like, let’s set aside what we’re talking about for a moment, truly. Let’s say, for example, that instead, we were talking about two fairly undiscussed issues, such as…idk, language access and religion pluralism, okay? Why would one be more or less important than the other? It’s such a WEIRD and nonsensical argument. Sorry, I’m mostly just talking aloud to myself to try and have language for when/if I do run into this in the future. Thank you for bringing it to my attention.

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