Fandom Racism 101: Feeling Fragile

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.

Except when it comes to racism in fandom.

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Fandom Racism 101: Clocking and Closing The Empathy Gap

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 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.

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