A friend sent me a Reddit post in the r/FanFiction subreddit made by a Black fan venting (it’s literally tagged as such) about how it feels for her to read fan fiction while Black and essentially looking for support. Fandom being fandom – aka “racist as hell” – the most highly upvoted comments in the sub on her comment are from people insulting her, insisting that she’s an entitled “Black American” for venting, and complaining about “wokeness” in fandom (and some that even wind up getting in digs at people like myself apparently leading the charge).
A common thread across many of the comments? They’re not just telling the OP to “make your own” – especially in the case of Reader Inserts, but they’re also assuming she doesn’t contribute anything to fandom at all in the first place. If she’s “just” complaining without contributing – even though she says she’s a writer and has a clear history of engaging on the sub and other parts of reddit as a writer -, then it’s not her place to complain.
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.
Originally posted on Patreon December 3, 2021. (A few edits were made to the piece before public posting.)
There’s a James Baldwin video from a 1968 appearance on the Dick Cavett show that features prominently in I Am Not Your Negro.
Recently, the clip has been floating around social media, and I think it’s actually incredibly relevant to conversations we keep having in fandom. Especially the part transcribed below the video:
JAMES BALDWIN: I don’t know what most white people in this country feel. But I can only conclude what they feel from the state of their institutions. I don’t know if white Christians hate Negroes or not, but I know we have a Christian church which is white and a Christian church which is black. I know, as Malcolm X once put it, the most segregated hour in American life is high noon on Sunday. That says a great deal for me about a Christian nation. It means I can’t afford to trust most white Christians, and I certainly cannot trust the Christian church. I don’t know whether the labor unions and their bosses really hate me—that doesn’t matter—but I know I’m not in their union. I don’t know whether the real estate lobby has anything against black people, but I know the real estate lobby is keeping me in the ghetto. I don’t know if the board of education hates black people, but I know the textbooks they give my children to read and the schools we have to go to. Now, this is the evidence. You want me to make an act of faith, risking myself, my wife, my woman, my sister, my children on some idealism which you assure me exists in America, which I have never seen.
A common complaint I’ve gotten whenever I mention that a specific fandom is racist or say, generally, that fandom as a space is racist is… “don’t generalize this fandom” or “it’s wrong to generalize a fandom for what a few people do”. Some people literally pull the #NotAllFans approach I spoke of years ago.
This has been a constant over the years with people deigning to acknowledge racism in fandom being bad or terrible but then turning around to hit me with “but you shouldn’t generalize a fandom as racist because that’s just as bad”.
That’s… not how that works.
Racism is absolutely worse than people saying “hey that’s racist”.
I spent most of the past 36 hours researching and thinking about Harry Potter fandom and the barely still-around documentation of the racism that fandom enacted about characters of color – especially Blaise Zabini. They’ll be turned into organized thoughts eventually, but for now… thread collection:
Harry Potter fandom really has been openly racist for ages because they sure did ship Blaise with Draco and/or Hermione right up until the reveal he was Black and then, after the in-fandom rioting, he got the treatment that most Black characters get and his fanworks/ships went 📉
I’m tired of being told that I have somehow imagined racism in fandom.
Whether it’s an interaction between myself and someone else, a subtweet thread I come across, a cosplayer in Blackface condescending at everyone, or racism in a piece of fanwork or fandom itself… I am sick to death of being told I’ve somehow managed to exercise my imagination in a way that has “made up” racism in fandom and/or from the source media.
And so are a lot of other people of color across fandom.
Back in 2019, I wrote What Fandom Racism Looks Like: PickMe POC to talk about trends I’d been noticing in transformative fandom – queer/women’s fandom focusing on creating transformative fandom works to (re) claim the text as their own – where some fans of color would trot themselves into the line of fire and set themselves up as racists’ first line of defense from “mean” people of color who dare to talk about racism in fandom.
Content Notes: descriptions of police brutality and violence from law enforcement that includes sexual violence and violence against vulnerable people like children. Screenshots that mention harassment that include racism, threats, harassers urging people to self harm, and doxxing.
I also swear a lot and in a way that can be read as “at” the people who pull the nonsense I’m talking about.
Genuinely, I can hardly think of a clearer example of what fandom brain rot does to a person than the repeated insistence across multiple fandoms that ACAB – “All Cops Are Bastards” – somehow includes people on the internet who are critical of fandom at any level including just… being critical of racism in fandom and media in public.
The thing is that yes, ACAB as a term existed well before the horrific events of Summer 2020, the time period when lots of people on your social media feeds decided to put the acronym in their bios and display names for the first time… But it has never revolved around anything other than rejecting the violence that law enforcement/policing does as a system.
Something is very, very wrong in American police culture. This is why the saying “ACAB” — or “All cops are b*ds” — has become a popular rallying cry. It doesn’t actually mean every single cop is a bad cop, just like saying Black Lives Matter doesn’t mean white lives don’t. “ACAB” means every single police officer is complicit in a system that actively devalues the lives of people of color. Bad cops are encouraged in their harm by the silence of the ones who see themselves as “good.”
Holding one police officer accountable every time a black person is killed by police is not enough. The issue isn’t “a few bad apples”; it’s a tree that is rotting from the inside out, spreading its poison.
ACAB serves as a punchy shorthand referring to the way that there can’t be such a thing as “good cops” in a field fueled by violence including fatal antiblackness, sexual violence, theft, bigotry beyond all of that, and just… an entitlement to other people’s lives in literal cases.
I understand that with this somewhat valid fear of random people harassing others over fandom – a thing that happens no matter what you’re into – it is tempting to not just accuse people of policing your fandom experience… but to compare them to the real police.
“Fandom police” as a term has been around for ages too… but it’s the way it’s being used now to refer to fans as actual cops that’s literally the problem.
Another (relatively) short-and-spicy one in the style of the Fandom Wank installment, I’m here to point out that racism in fandom looks like apolitical or “drama free” fandom spaces. In discord servers, twitter group chats and other forms of fannish socializing, denoting a space as apolitical or “drama free” primarily winds up punishing marginalized people who speak up against issues in the fandom space or with fans they encounter.
For example, if a person you’re in a “drama free” fandom server with then goes off on an anti-BLM rant or suggests that George Floyd deserved to be murdered and you bring it up… Guess who’s more likely to get run out from the fandom space or seen as a “drama monger” or even… an anti? Guess who’s going to be seen as “needlessly” political and punished as a result. Not the antiblack person spreading hatred and victim blaming. You. The (likely Black) person going “this person makes this space unsafe for me”.
It’s wild because fandom prides itself on supposedly self-regulating, but then it… doesn’t.
Recently, Shafira Jordan’s sharp and insightful article “How White Fandom is Colonizing “Character-Coding”” has been making the rounds around fanwork creating & consuming social media. It’s a piece that speaks to something that I also have talked about (a few years ago): the way that white fandom will code white male characters as POC while also hating the hell out of characters of color in the source media/dismissing them entirely.
This ranges from deciding that a character oppressed racially in-universe like Loki being Jotun was directly paralleling an experience/existence of color to claiming they are “actually” of a marginalized identity like Kylo being Space Jewish because the actors playing Han and Leia are.
I’d known that I wouldn’t be able to depend on others to defend me regularly from a series of traumatic offline events – some of which did involve racism/antiblackness in my local friend group – back when I was a teenager.
So, in 2011, when I first experienced social shunning and harassment because I was a Black fan criticizing fandom – at the time, not even about racism, but about a BNF’s hypocritical hater stance on NSFW fanfiction – I kind of expected more of the same. I was not disappointed.
Fast forward to 2021 and now, I’m mad as hell about the fact that people will choose to be silent in the face of racism in fandom and watch as Black/brown fans are hurt and harassed for speaking up.
I currently have almost three hundred thousand people blocked on my main (still locked) Twitter.
Half of them aren’t because of any specific fandom thing (once, I chainblocked a massive “Report for [SPECIFIC IDOL]” account to see if it’d work in early 2020 and… it did, but now I can never undo it).
However, a huge portion of my blocks are because I ran RedBlock or some other browser extension on accounts I didn’t like, that were harassing me, or that were harassing others. (The other account, for my website, has about 150k people blocked, maybe. Because I exported my blocklist from main to that account in 2018 in the middle of a harassment campaign from the most annoying Star Wars shippers.)
I’ve never seen folks in fandom cut up aspects of a white hero to then give those characteristics to another white character. No one’s writing stories where Bucky was always Captain America and he went on to link up with the Avengers as a fandom norm. No one’s rewriting the Skywalker saga so that Luke is actually the (totally unrelated) rogue who falls in love with Leia while Han is shot into the icy vacuum of space.
White heroes are never stripped of their backstories, motivations, and the like to boost a minor white character or villain up to heroic status. The things that make heroes like Captain America, Luke Skywalker, or even Batman relatable are never stripped from them and handed to some other white hero. (And yes, that’s two superhero franchises and Star Wars, but I get to do that.)
What I have seen are plenty of instances where a hero of color has the things that make them unique in in their media not just stripped away, but then given to white characters in their show, film or comic franchise.
It’s a recurring theme that I am somehow silencing other BIPOC fans by… having and using my own website, twitter account, and the rare external platforms I’ve been offered across the past six years.
I am silencing others, you see, by having work out in public that people read and share because it is accurate and speaks to experiences that they have had or witnessed in their fandoms. I am silencing BIPOC in fandom, you see, just by existing and talking about what I experience and witness in fandom in a relatable way.
Did you know that on Twitter and Tumblr, there’s a thing folks do where they literally tag in another person of color to take over shouting at a person of color talking about race and racism in fandom or media?
Folks will see a fan of color say anything critical of a piece of media or in a particular fandom and if they disagree hard enough or they’re bored and want to start shit, they’ll tag a user they know disagrees publicly on Tumblr or Twitter, effectively turning them into an attack dog in the name of that specific thing.
And friends, I am here to tell you how that’s racist as hell.
Labeling the posts that fans of color make about racist fanworks (from accidental issues of representation to purposeful content created to harm) and racism from fans (again ranging from “I didn’t know this was an issue” moments to sustained targeted harassment) as “wank” or “drama” actually does contribute to people writing off what we’re talking about and experiencing. (Contrary to the “talking about racism in fandom makes it harder for folks to care about Real Racism” stance…)
If you don’t use “fandom wank” to refer to (for example) a fan creating really racist art of a Black character because they were accused of whitewashing them, but you do use it when talking about the people calling that out…
At the end of the day, if you use “fandom wank” or “drama” as your tags or terminology when you’re talking about folks talking about racism in fandom, you’re actively contributing to a culture of fandom that ignores that real harm is happening to fans of color in fandom because of the different levels of racism here.
It’s not something I expect to see change anytime soon because this is something I’ve seen done for at least a decade and folks do love their familiarity, but –
Consider that what’s wank and drama to you in conversations about racism in fandom – and why you tag and talk about it as such – is actually serious for many fans of color who are frustrated to see their experiences dismissed as “wank”.