A To-Do List for White Fandom
I’ve seen several posts circulating today about racism in multiple fandoms. The arguments and counterpoints I’ve seen are not unexpected. For background: I am writing instructor and I devote a significant portion of my classes to discussions of media representation. Why? Because I realized I was doing everything that these posts talk about: Ignoring characters of color, sidelining them for white villains or sidekicks with far less screen time, ignoring women of color entirely, etc. And all the while, like so many of you, I said, “I’m not racist.” I had in-universe explanations for why I liked this ‘ship over that one, this character more than that. I could defend and explain everything.
Racism is not who you are. It is what you do. And here’s a fact: All white people do racist things. We’ve been trained to, taught to. It’s in our culture, all around us. If you’re white, our culture has allowed most racism to be entirely invisible to us. Racism isn’t just yelled slurs and burning crosses. Often, racism is simply *not caring* about people who aren’t white. Racism is an inability to empathize with or care about the story of someone who is not white.
IF YOU’RE FEELING DEFENSIVE, PLEASE KEEP READING. I beg you. That’s exactly the feeling we have to push through. I’m going to give you a brief list of actions we can take. And I know these are important because I have to do them, all the time. Because the poison is in me, too.
If you truly believe in equality and want to be a better person, then here’s what we, as white fans, have to do:
1. BE BRAVE ENOUGH TO BE UNCOMFORTABLE. It absolutely sucks to realize you may have hurt someone, or that you might be wrong. Realizing you’ve done something racist is a stomach-churning reality check. Have the courage to face it. Don’t run from it.
2. INSTEAD OF LOOKING FOR WAYS YOU’RE NOT RACIST, LOOK FOR WAYS THAT YOU *ARE*. It’s comforting and tempting to itemize the ways in which we’re open-minded. See #1 again. Don’t let yourself be comfortable. Instead, look for what you do and ways you contribute to fandom racism. Maybe it’s reblogging or creating gif sets that leave out main characters of color. Maybe it’s forgetting to include them in your fanfiction, even when they would rightfully be there. Maybe it’s reducing them to stereotypes or caretakers for white characters. Maybe it’s ‘shipping the white leads with anyone but the POC around them. Maybe it’s accusing POC fans of “starting drama” when they discuss racism. Look at your actions and be honest with yourself.
3. PUT IN THE EFFORT TO FALL IN LOVE WITH POC CHARACTERS. Here’s the thing: It’s easy for us to fall in love with white male heroes and villains. It’s what we’ve been training for all our lives, with every movie, television show, and book we’ve ever enjoyed. Media *encourages* us to love white men. So yes, falling in love with a character of color will be harder, and it probably won’t “just happen.” So, truly look at Finn and Poe, at Cassian Andor and Bodhi. Truly look at Luke Garroway and Magnus Bane, at Luke Cage, at Iris West and James Olsen, at Michonne. Seek out ways to connect with their feelings and their stories. Look at them as full-hearted, three-dimensional human beings. Force yourself to become obsessed with them. If you do this, I would be absolutely shocked if you don’t fall in love with one of them.
4. LISTEN TO POC FANS. Yes, even if they’re angry and call you names. For my research, I spend a lot of time on blogs that talk about hating white people, hating white fans, hating white feminists. The language is furious and vitriolic. So what? They have every right to be angry. Instead of judging their anger, LISTEN to it. Try to be better. Don’t say “not all white fans,” or “not all white people.” Instead, try to be a better white person. Be a better white fan. Be a white fan who is brave enough to look at themselves and truly be an ally. Do not silence POC fans. I promise you: Listen, and you’ll realize they’re not overreacting.
5. REMEMBER THAT “ALLY” IS A VERB. Our thoughts count for nothing. It’s our actions that speak for us. Maybe you’ve read all this and you still want to insist that you’re not racist. Okay. But your actions might be. Challenge the stereotypes that exist in your head, learn to identify them as stereotypes and be willing to hold yourself and other white fans accountable.
6. REPEAT STEPS 1-5 FOREVER. We cannot cure our internalized white supremacy in a weekend. This is a forever gig. But it’s one of the most worthwhile tasks you can ever give yourself. Want to feel like you’re changing the world? Here’s where it starts.
Inevitably there’s more to add to this list. I’m always learning, but I thought it might be useful to share a few of these steps I’ve learned along the way. I love fandom. I believe profoundly in the transformative power of fanfiction, fan creations, and the friendships forged through our shared love of media.
I believe we can become BETTER PEOPLE through fandom. But it will not happen without our willingness to be transformed.