It is also interesting to note that Glee debuted in 2009, the same year as RaceFail ’09. In many ways, this event, though not engaged with at the same level in all fandom spaces, marked a watershed in the ways in which debates around these issues were framed. While fans who point out the overwhelming whiteness and US-centrism of fan spaces and texts still face backlash, there has been a definite shift in the ways these categories are approached.
I have written a lot about M/M and “dudeslash” fandom practices over my time of thinking critically in fandom because that was, for a very long time, the loudest part of the fandoms I was in, and adjacent to, and the thing I wrote the most as a fan creator. However, that may give the impression that femslash and F/F fandoms do not have the same issues that wider fandom spaces do and that would be incredibly incorrect.
For this Fandom Racism 101 installment, we’ll be talking about how femslash fandoms also suffer from some of the same issues that other fandom spaces do. We’ll also cover some reasons why more people don’t know that femslash has these issues, how we can clock racism in femslash in its most obvious forms, and some examples of how these fandoms fail… alongside ways they can be better about their practices.
I love a tol and a smol and if you’re in fandom… chances are that you do too.
There’s something supremely thrilling about size differences in a pairing. I know people who’ve gotten into their ship of choice specifically because of the huge height difference between the pairings. Hell, I got into Devilish Joyspecifically because the lead pairing has almost a foot difference in height between them when she’s not in heels. Even before you get into macro/micro content, a lot of fandoms and different internet subcultures are pretty positive towards size differences and body differences.
Now, what does that have to do with fandom racism?
One of the things that we all have to learn is when to block in silence. It’s very easy to get caught up in engaging with someone who is vocally a bigot. Because you think “Oh, I can change them, I can show people not to be like them.”
But at the end of the day, they want the engagement, y’all.
No one likes feeling as if they’re under attack when they’re just trying to do their thing and vibe in a space that feels right.
Fandom is comprised of digital and physical spaces populated by people from various marginalized communities and with vulnerable backgrounds or traumatic pasts. We’re talking about people constantly under fire from someone, usually for something that they are or that they’ve gone through. In fandom, sometimes criticism at every single level is constantly taken as an attack and for the most part, I do understand the process behind rejecting critique that seems aimed to injure instead of educating others.
How does fandom’s empathy gap come into play when the trauma of POC is on the table? Why does the empathy that fans extend to white characters, fans, and performers, hit a hard wall at POC – especially when it comes to Black characters, fans, and performers in my direct experience?
In the Slate.com article “I Don’t Feel Your Pain”, author Jason Silverstein uses the following example as he describes the racial empathy gap:
Let’s do a quick experiment. You watch a needle pierce someone’s skin. Do you feel this person’s pain? Does it matter if the person’s skin is white or black?
For many people, race does matter, even if they don’t know it. They feel more empathy when they see white skin pierced than black. This is known as the racial empathy gap.
The way that non-Black people literally do not believe that Black people feel the same levels of physical pain – documented through over a century of studies – is one way that we see the empathy gap play out. However, this isn’t the way that it tends to play out in fandom because there’s no one out there pricking fans of color with pins to see if we bleed the same color and amount. (Yet.)
But what they do is constantly privilege white feelings over Black ones.
The first time I used the hashtag #WhatFandomRacismLooksLike, it was March 2018 and the Marvel Cinematic Universe fandom post-Black Panther was hell. Despite everything that Black fans in the fandom had been trying to prepare ourselves for from the fandom, the fandom’s immediate focus was on either the minor white male characters who were in the film on any level or on diminishing the value of Wakanda.
As a result of what I kept seeing, I decided to write articles about what racism looks like in fanworks as well as in the behavior on display by fans towards performers and fans of color alike. I’d been doing it on Tumblr from 2012 and on my website since 2015, and I figured that as someone seeing all of this nonsense happening right in front of my salad, that I should just keep at it.