When we talk about “toxic fandoms” and racism, the easiest example people go to are male nerds mad about Black people being cast to play comic book redheads and other “historically white” characters. However, one little known or talked about example is the way that the Harry Potter fandom from 2005 practically went to war over the one-line reveal that Slytherin Blaise Zabini was actually Black.
One perfect example of antiblackness in fandom that proves false these claims that Black characters and celebrities are just “lacking” something to make them worth shipping (characterization, canon romance, tapping tropes) and that is why no one ships them?
The Harry Potter fandom’s response to Blaise Zabini before and after JK Rowling’s reveal that Blaise was male (2004 in a Q&A) and Black (“He recognized a Slytherin from their year, a tall black boy with high cheekbones and long, slanting eyes” in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince Chapter 7: “The Slug Club in 2005).
Blaise Zabini’s only appearance prior to that book and film was in a single line in the first Harry Potter book (““Well done, Ron, excellent,” said Percy Weasley pompously across Harry as “Zabini, Blaise,” was made a Slytherin.). However, people instantly made up all sorts of headcanons for this character based off of a name and Hogwarts house.
For the eight years between Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, here’s all what fandom frequently decided Blaise Zabini was:
- Tan (but sometimes pale)
- Dark haired with light, sometimes blue or green eyes
- Draco’s best friend
- Draco’s boyfriend
- A pain in the ass to Hermione
- Sometimes shipped with Pansy Parkinson
- Sometimes a girl
- A bisexual Chad
- A cool badass
- Occasionally very Gender (and written as androgynous or gender queer/fluid)
- A pureblood
He didn’t have any characterization or lines in canon, but he sure did have all of that.
Until about 2004/5, Blaise was functionally a main character in the Harry Potter fandom despite being little more than a name, a house, and some bad vibes. Blaise had hundreds of stories where he was primarily shipped with Draco, Hermione, Ginny, or Harry. He was to Draco in fandom, what Ron and Hermione were to Harry in canon.
And then he “became” Black and promptly became less interesting to a fandom that had decided the “ethnic” people in the Potterverse were already clearly marked as such and therefore, there couldn’t be any more of them. The Harry Potter fandom, like most fandoms, doesn’t actually have much use for Black characters.
Once Blaise was revealed to be Black, his value to fandom plummeted and people bent over backwards to find excuses for
- No longer writing him in their fics/not writing new fics with canon-accurate Blaise for the first time ever and relying on their bond with “fanon” Blaise, a character less real than Fandom’s Ben Solo;
- Why Blaise couldn’t actually be a Black (and Italian) pureblood and so either their default interpretation of him as tall, tanned and handsome pureblood perfection made more sense… or he was actually biracial and a “half-blood” like Snape was
The thing that stands out to me about the notable backlash to Blaise being described as a Black man and then played by one – Louis Cordice in the film series – is that it showed really plainly in the antiblackness from fans in fandom when it came to things like… shipping.
Blaise went from one of the most popular characters and most-shipped in fandom – at a point where people would be like “wait how did you even do this” – to… not that.
We’re told that the reason why white characters and celebrities have all of this content and Black ones don’t… is because the white characters and celebs have more. They have more romance, more interactions, more interest for fandom…
But all Blaise Zabini had for eight years was that name and a Hogwarts house. And that was enough to fuel thousands of fan works and a pervasive fan-canon shared widely for him… up until the moment he was revealed to be Black.
Then he got the treatment all other Black characters get from the start.
Like I said on Twitter in this thread (archived here):
It is such a good example of antiblack racism in fandom. Until Blaise was revealed as both Black and a boy (some fans thought Blaise was a girl) he was shippable and they made backstories and fics for him. Once Black, he became unworthy of their interest and of their shipping.
If people stop consuming or creating fic for a character once they’re Black or will only create content where said character isn’t Black… They’re fucking racist. That’s not a difficult conclusion to come to BEFORE you realize how toxic and hostile the fandom was for YEARS here.
People in fandom chose to write tens of thousands of words where Blaise was all of those things up there in the bullet points based off of two details about his life. They didn’t even 100% agree that he was even a he. In the same vein, they also chose to stop writing for Blaise once they knew who – or “what” – he really was.
Beyond that, you know what else they did? The fans got really racist.
The second that the reveal happened in the pages of The Half-Blood Prince, people reacted poorly. The most infamous example of this behavior is in a post that’s still up on the Blaise Zabini LiveJournal community right after the book came out.
Now-deleted LiveJournal user kitsune_blaze (whose first post was barely two weeks previous) made a post titled “Nooo!!!!” with “disappointed” as their current mood:
I just got HBP and I nearly cried. My mental picture of our dear Blaise is shattered. I guess I’ll make do with the pieces. *tear*
It wasn’t just that this user had somehow put together this mental image of Blaise supported by absolutely nothing in the canon text up to that point, but that he was Black. That disrupted the fantasy for them in a way that a blond or red-haired Blaise wouldn’t have. Because fandom doesn’t fantasize about Black characters the way they do white ones.
The comments on the page range from people shutting down the OP (or… threatening them) to people validating the overt racism behind their reaction, like this reply:
For fuck’s sake! Why are you all so quick to judge the OP? You OhmiGod teh cool and so not over cunts from Fandom Wank can STFU.
Some white people just aren’t attracted to black people. It doesn’t make them racist, it doesn’t make them stupid, or bigoted. It just means that they aren’t fucking attracted to them. It could be the same for any race. Some people don’t see the attraction in Caucasians, some Asians, some Indians. Get the hell over it!
I am sick of morons who are so quick to scream ‘bigot’ at the slightest thing. To try and control what others think for fear of being shouted down by a load of morons looking for drama is thought policing. Grow the fuck up.
This is something that still lives on in the minds of fandom to this day. People think that their interest in random ass white men is an organic, natural choice, just a “preference”. They don’t just insist that that’s why they can’t bring themselves to find Black characters attractive ever outside of super freaking racist stereotypes about Black sexuality… they also get angry at people pointing out the racism behind reactions like this. The anonymous person commenting back in 2005 and people who comment like this now? The common element is rage that we dare to point out that their preference isn’t perfect and their choice to only orient themselves around non-Black characters is rooted in racism.
Kitsune_blaze’s first reaction in the community was an honest one: she was so disappointed about Blaise being Black, that she had to rush to the community and complain. That is the usual fandom response when a historically white character (or one that fandom assumes is white) is revealed to be Black. Remember the backlash to Rue being played by Amandla Stenberg?
In White Until Proven Black: Imagining Race in Hunger Games, author Anna Holmes writes that:
Adam says that the pivotal moment in the evolution of Hunger Games Tweets came on or around March 23rd, after he posted a tweet by someone named Alana Paul, a petite brunette who went by the handle @sw4q. Alana’s tweet was not the most offensive or nakedly racist of the bunch (that award could go to Cliff Kigar, who dropped the N-bomb, or to @GagasAlexander, who complained of “some ugly little girl with nappy…hair.”) but perhaps the most telling. “Awkward moment when Rue is some black girl and not the little blonde innocent girl you picture,” she wrote. She cc’ed a friend on the tweet, @EganMcCoy.
“That tweet was very telling, in terms of a mentality that is probably very widespread,” Adam says, speaking softly from his office high above Toronto’s downtown financial district. He doesn’t sound angry, but he also isn’t amused. The phrases “some black girl” and “little blonde innocent girl” are ringing in my head as he talks, as are thoughts about how the heroes in our imaginations are white until proven otherwise, a variation on the principle of innocent until proven guilty that, for so many minorities, is routinely upended.
Adam tells me that, on the post featuring a screenshot of Alana’s tweet, he added, “Remember that word innocent? This is why Trayvon Martin is dead.” As he says it, I am thinking the same thing: of our culture’s association of whiteness with innocence, of a child described without an accompanying adjective, of a child rendered insignificant and therefore invisible because of his or her particular shade of skin.
Blaise being Black robbed him of the value fandom assigned to him when he was a white guy. He was interesting, valuable, and sexy, worthy of intrigue… Up until he “became” Black and the fandom stopped caring about him. Like with Amanda’s Rue, the limits of empathy in fandom (what we’ve discussed as the empathy gap visible in fandom) mean that fans in fandom do not see Black characters as worthy of their care or affection especially if they believed the character was white originally.
Up until the moment that The Half-Blood Prince happened, everyone in the fandom assumed Blaise was white. That was his most popular interpretation: a white Italian Pureblood Slytherin with tons of mystery to him. It was to the point where people even went to the level of deciding he couldn’t be Italian or a Pureblood because Black people couldn’t be either.
Here’s noted fandom crank FPB getting dragged on fandom_wank (a precursor to/cousin of harassment hub Fail Fandom Anon) for his (second) post about Blaise Zabini:
And now let me repeat what I said before, and see if this time someone will actually bother to try and understand instead of going off at irrelevant tangents about Cameroon or promiscuity. Hogwarts is clearly an imaginative version of normal English schools, most like but not wholly like private “public schools”, but definitely rooted in that reality. It follows that if it is untrue to the English school experience in any major way, then it hurts itself. And all English schools, both state and independent, are now multi-ethnic. JKR inserted blacks, Irish boys, Indian girls, and so on, because that is what one would find in any school in Britain today; and she was right to do so.
A black Blaise Zabini does not fit. “Blaise Zabini” as a name indicates Italian descent. “Zabini” is a flagrantly Italian surname, and “Blaise” is the name of a Christian saint whose cult is pretty much restricted to Italy and France. One of the parish churches I used to attend as a child was San Biagio (St.Blaise’s), Monza.
For historical reasons, Africans with Italian names – as opposed to French, English, Scottish, Irish, Dutch, or Portuguese – may be counted on the fingers of one hand. A black man with an Italian name is unlikely. Nothing else in the picture of Hogwarts is unlikely, not with the kind of unlikelihood that demands a sub-story to be explained. You need no explanation for the Patil twins, the Weasleys, Viktor Krum (a splendid image of a sporting hero – one feels one has seen him in some stadium or some racetrack already) or Dumbledore.
These figures are part of the imaginative reality of Hogwarts, that is, an imaginative projection of a modern English school. The ease with which one identifies their types is not the ease of stereotype, but of archetype; several of them have entered the language (e.g. Willow in Buffy 7.01 telling Giles that he had gone all Dumbledore on her). I consider that, as compared with them, a black Blaise Zabini in Britain simply does not work. It has nothing to do with race, religion or any of the other fetishes that people like to wave at you when they have no arguments to offer: it has to do with the capacity to be easily identified and understood as a person.
This is a very good example of the limits people will allow themselves or that they will force upon others when it comes to race and racism in fandom spaces or media.
To FPB, “a black Blaise Zabini does not fit” in a world with dragons, witches, and magical schools. It is impossible for him to suspend disbelief – which shouldn’t even exist, there were already Black people in Italy in the Nineties, and they undoubtedly occurred at greater percentages as witches in the same space and time – because he (alongside much of the fandom to this day) didn’t believe a Black Italian could exist even in a world where magic did.
But then there’s also that last bit I copied over, where he repeats that “a black Blaise Zabini in Britain simply doesn’t work” and then adds on that, “it has nothing to do with race, religion or any of the other fetishes that people like to wave at you when they have no arguments to offer: it has to do with the capacity to be easily identified and understood as a person.”
First of all, again I ask how people are able to suspend belief to believe in a secret society full of magic and that is responsible for significant shifts in human society despite its vast incompetence… but these same people are like “whoa? A guy who’s a pureblood, a negro, and Italian? That’s too much for me”.
Then, there’s how FPB calls… caring about racism a fetish that “people like to wave at you when they have no other arguments to offer”. FPB spent a significant amount of time on this, the post quoted in fandom_wank seems to be his second and it’s clear that there are other posts on his account that reference other deleted posts. His argument is racist. He is racist. It has everything to do with race because FPB and his co-fans have made it clear that they think Blaise being Black is wrong.
Finally, it’s clear FPB – and many of his co-fans to this day – don’t identify or understand Black people as people. The issue isn’t us and it’s barely Rowling’s writing, but is instead all about their decision to default to white for Zabini based on two data points and make that their entire personality for over a decade.
But then we got to some other racist bunk in the fandom, from people who for sure should’ve known better. Like this essay where to unpack the secrets of Harry’s classlist, Grace has Victory digs into demographics and… drops a rather archaic slur:
In modern Britain, immigration is a hot issue on every political platform. But in fact the population is at least 92% Anglo-Celtic. The largest ethnic minority, migrants from the Indian sub-continent, are only 3½% of the total. In our sample of forty, there should only be three students from non-white families. JKR has given us a slight over-representation of four, but she has cleverly reduced the impact of this over-representation by making two of them identical twins from the same family.
Half of these migrant students should be Indian (Parvati and Padma Patil), one should be Black (Dean Thomas), and one should be of some other race – most likely Chinese (Su Li). Half of these migrants live in London (Dean and Su), and the others live in other major cities (since Manchester is already full of students who fit the Manchester profile better, let’s say that the Patils live in Birmingham). There is only a one in five chance that any student would be Jewish – an Eastern European rather than a Semite. In this case it is Anthony Goldstein. It is also possible that we would find a German or Italian surname. Hello, Blaise Zabini.
[Post-HBP correction. Blaise Zabini is a fifth non-white student! Given his Italian father, he is most probably a Mulatto, so I suppose there are four and a half non-white students. With a black mother and a Mediterranean father, Blaise must be very dark-skinned, and would certainly look ‘black’ to Harry’s casual glance.]
Please understand that this was written in 2005, not 1905, so the use of “mulatto” – a whole slur actually – is inappropriate entirely. However, what also stands out from the rest of the very racist segment is that Grace insists that Blaise is “most likely a mulatto”. Like FPB, she can’t imagine a world where a Black Italian doesn’t have a white parent. Instead of presupposing that Blaise has one Black British Pureblood parent and one Black Italian Pureblood one we get that he’s a mulatto… because he has to be biracial to make sense?
I always talk about the choices we make in fandom, and this is no different. Fandom chose to imagine Blaise as Romancelandia’s “tall, dark, and handsome” – a tan skinned, tall, hottie with dark hair. They also chose to snatch back their crumbs of affection – and continue, in some cases, to whitewash Blaise when they did use him in fanworks by fancasting him as the late Gaspard Ulliel or Ben Barnes– once it was revealed that he was Black.
To this day, people make the choice to either not write Blaise in their fanworks at all… or to write racist (stereotyped or whitewashed) versions of him. They choose not to engage with what has been baked into Potterverse fandom for over a decade: antiblackness and an explicit “preference” for a white male character that literally didn’t exist.
We’re told that Black characters simply aren’t interesting enough to write fanfiction for in a world where a character doesn’t even have to be assigned an identity for fandom to decide it’s a white man… And to them write tens of thousands of words about said white man.
As I wrote in Lies Fandom Tells About Why Black Characters and Celebrities Don’t Get Shipped
Consistently, endlessly, transformative or generative fandom that makes all sorts of queer or shippy content on a regular basis, chooses not to give a shit about Black characters. It chooses to highlight a wide range of white characters, white relationships, white experiences all while coming up with new reasons to specifically not care about Black media, characters, fans, and celebrities.
I have been in fandom for a full two-thirds of my life. The first half of my time in fandom – as I’ve said repeatedly – I didn’t put too much thought into the ways that people and characters of color were treated. Probably because I was a literal child at that point. But from 2008/2009, there was an open increase in how antiblack people were willing to be publicly in fandom and over Black people and characters. I watched the goalposts shift and memorized the excuses people gave to explain why they weren’t interested in these Black people or characters… and why you shouldn’t be interested in them either.
I see all of these posts and Twitter threads about how we should learn our fandom history, because fandom back then was better but it’s all a lie. I was there and fandom was different, but it wasn’t better. Truly, this sort of behavior and belief around choice and Black characters is a huge aspect of it. Fandom was never perfect. Shipping was never actually neutral. No one was ever actually well-behaved.
Overnight, hundreds (but as high as thousands) of people who shipped Blaise Zabini and viewed him as a white boy and therefore worthy of their desire… simply stopped. Some were openly and aggressively racist to fans – especially Black ones – who were excited for Blaise to be Black or wrote/drew him as such. They were fine harshing other people’s squee and being racist on top of that… Because their white dude got some melanin.
They turned off their thirst the second that he became someone they weren’t expecting to find attractive: a Black man. He was no longer white and so they were no longer interested in creating Reader Inserts for him to make out with – or using Hermione or Draco to stand in for their reader insert dreams.
I’ve seen first and secondhand accounts of the reactions to Black fans, but also to the idea of being expected to find Blaise attractive now.
This is what fandom has always been and all the snotty “back in my days, fandom was better” threads can’t gloss over the reality of fandom: racism is integral to fandom and fans have never felt ashamed of being racist, only of being called out.
What made Blaise unwriteable, unloveable, and unshippable to fandom almost overnight… was learning more about him.
The reaction to Blaise in 2005, and then in 2009 once he was played by the very handsome, very unambiguously Black Louis Cordice proves that “if we knew more about them/they were better written, we’d love them” is always a lie when it comes to Black characters.
Just like the people who said that they stopped caring about Rue’s death as much once they realized she wasn’t an “innocent” white girl in the movies, the reveal of Blaise’s Blackness is what dropped Blaise down from everyone’s favorite side character Slytherin to… kind of being replaced at Draco’s side and in his life by Theodore Nott.
Another white guy who doesn’t really exist outside of fanon.
How about that?
3 thoughts on “Who’s Afraid of A Black Blaise Zabini? Everyone in 2005 Harry Potter Fandom… Apparently.”
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I remember when he was portrayed as the sassy teen girl that both Harry and Draco wanted in fanfiction xD
The reaction to Blaise in 2005, and then in 2009 once he was played by the very handsome, very unambiguously Black Louis Cordice proves that “if we knew more about them/they were better written, we’d love them” is always a lie when it comes to Black characters.When I think of how Korra was hated in 2012, when she was first appearing on the screen, for not distinctively looking Eurocentric, being Black./Brown, being a very non-feminine and seemingly gender queer person and making that bi-curious joke. I can say THIS is true. Korra was hated just because there were vast moments she did not wanna put up with crap that political and social figures made her face. Not something Aang, in the same capacity, as a fugitive, had to face. Aang did not have to change his personality to be accepted but people in the media and the audience always demanded Korra change when she did not do anything wrong. So, all of this, is believable.