sue wilson

Veil, Abbie Mills, James Olsen and Iris West have things in common beyond their blackness

Most notably, they seem to be designed from the ground up to be as appealing as possible. All of them are clearly positioned to be the love interest to a non-black protagonist, who is clearly smitten with them. And why wouldn’t they be?They are extremely competent, charming, selfless and kind. They are confident and rightly so, and rarely display any traditional flaws or vices. They are supportive of their co-leads in material and emotional ways, often saving others at great personal cost. All of them are portrayed by gorgeous actors, some of the most talented in their respective shows.

And there is a vocal contingent of creators and fans who see them as useless, shallow, annoying, whiny, arrogant or otherwise undeserving of the main characters’or audience’s love. Often the character is accused of ‘hogging screen time’ from other characters, yet when they take a back seat, this is cited as evidence that their character is not fleshed out. This catch 22 can also be seen in their response to trauma or conflict. If they show emotion, they are whiny. If they don’t, they’re unfeeling. If they are assertive, they’re manipulative, if they do what others want, they’re pushovers. If they get hurt, it’s their characters’ own fault (they might even be held responsible for the safety of people rescuing them), but if they take care of themselves, they’re ‘Mary Sues’. When they are happy, the show is boring. When they are sad, they are ruining the show. When they are in a relationship it is trite, when they are not, they should be ignored. The goalposts are constantly moved to make them look bad, even if their supposed sins are nothing compared to their white counterparts. People will jump though hoops to redeem nazis and serial killers, and at the same time decry how a black character is misogynistic for holding a white lady’s hand. 

I keep seeing this pattern in fandoms over and over again, and the ultimate conclusion is that these critics don’t want to see Veil, Abbie, James, Iris (Finn, Poussey, Rhodey, Sam…) in any kind of central role. There’s a tendency among writers (both of fanfic and canon) to restrict them to a foil or support for others, if not isolate and minimize their presence altogether. Ultimately, the desire is often to kill them off. It is not a constructive criticism: the characters are seen as irredeemable as long as they are central in the narrative. This is why defense squads exists.   

This process often starts immediately after the audience finds out a character is black, usually before the series even airs. But even if people who hate Veil, Abbie, etcetera don’t know or care to be racist, this hate affects black lives. Representation plays a huge role in self-image, confidence and ultimately mental health. It also affects public perception and empathy, which affects discrimination and policy, after a fashion. Hatred of that representation can do the opposite. That is why it matters. That is why I’m not interested in debating the merits of these characters with someone clearly set against them. 

There is no gotcha moment that will justify their dislike for black characters designed to be perfectly lovable. And there is evidently nothing a black character can do to be truly accepted as a co-lead by all. This might seem frivolous, but it is part of the stuff antiblackness is made of, as far as I understand.   

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