“A discipline overrun with whiteness”: FSN2019 and Making a Statement

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Title: “A discipline overrun with whiteness”: #FSN2019 and Making a Statement
Creator: Samira Nadkarni
Date(s): May 13, 2019
Medium: Blog post
Fandom: Pan-fandom
Topic: Racism and structural whiteness in fan studies, Fan Studies Network Statement on FSN2019 and the Whiteness of Fan Studies
External Links: https://stitchmediamix.com/2019/05/13/fsn2019-and-making-a-statement/
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“A discipline overrun with whiteness”: #FSN2019 and Making a Statement is a guest blog post by Samira Nadkarni that was published to Stitch's Media Mix on May 13, 2019. It concerns Samira's experiences of being part of a roundtable on Race and Racism in Fandom and Fan Studies at PCA/ACA 2019, and the contribution she made to the roundtable, which was to unpack the Fan Studies Network Statement on FSN2019 and the Whiteness of Fan Studies in February 2019 and the events that gave rise to it.

In the blog post, Samira highlights the inadequacies of Fan Studies Network's statement as a response to the verbal attack and tone policing carried out by scholar Nicolle Lamerichs in reply to a thread by Rukmini Pande about the structural whiteness of fan studies, and how this is indicative of the problems with fan studies as a whole. She also discusses the centering of white selfhood in fan studies and fandom, and how this creates a hostile environment for fans and fan scholars of colour, requiring them to perform emotional labour by explaining and documenting racism and structural whiteness.

Excerpts From the Post

Context

In April 2019, I was invited by Zina Hutton, Cait Coker, and Robin Reid to be part of a Roundtable on Race and Racism in Fandom and Fan Studies at the PCA/ACA 2019 conference held in Washington DC, USA. The intention was to discuss Fandom and Fan Studies 10 years after the events of RaceFail ’09 to see if things had changed and, if so, how. While I didn’t speak to the events of RaceFail ’09 itself, it did inflect my critique of institutional responses that followed in the wake of a more recent event.

What follows here is a rough estimate of the things I said at the conference, much of which was unscripted. I should note that these are my views alone and that I do not speak for Rukmini Pande, who was also involved in the series of events I plan to discuss.

At the same time, I should also be clear that many of the points that follow are points that fans of colour (hereafter FOC) and acafans of colour (as well as acafans working on critical race theory in fandom) have already noted. In a multiplicity of ways, I am echoing their work, restating it, forcibly reinscribing it as best as I can, and ascribing it as best as I can (and Rukmini is part of this, though again she is not the first).

...the events themselves led to further factors. The first was a range of support from other FOC and acafans of colour, as well as other scholars from a range of disciplines, but the second was also an array of responses demanding an explanation of the whiteness of Fan Studies and the need for Rukmini or myself to justify our claims (despite most being well aware of Rukmini’s extensive work on the subject).

The latter, in particular, insisted on acafans of colour, one of whom had recently been verbally attacked, perform further emotional and time-consuming labour of establishing the very basics of racist interaction. Moreover, this was usually done in false faith as the scholars in question had no intention of changing their perspective or their attitude towards the event. The intent was merely to perform engagement and dismissal, to remind acafans of colour that acceptance was contingent on white acceptance or approval.

This centring of white selfhood assumes all documentation and evidence begins from their entry into the space of discussion and positions itself as the norm, even when it is not. It positions itself as vulnerable in its lack of knowledge, and yet all knowing enough that its power is what decides the event itself. White selfhood of this sort assumes that whiteness is incidental/vulnerable/under attack/trying but not validated enough for trying/ at a disadvantage because of its privilege.

This centring of white selfhood remains key to why Fan Studies and Fandom itself is exhausting for many people of colour.

Discussing the Fan Studies Network Statement

When I began my section of the roundtable, I began by noting that I was going to be angry and “mean.” I said this not to be theatrical but to pre-emptively note my awareness of how my words were likely to be received. I was going to talk about being angry that Rukmini was the subject of an attack, I was going to name Nicolle, and I was going to chronicle the events all over again in spite of having accepted her apology. I felt, without the verbal intervention of anyone else, that to show my anger again, to replay the issue, would be perceived as rude, uncouth, and not truly accepting of Nicolle’s promise to change and learn.

In a professional space where I am an early stage academic, and at a conference that has its own issues with inclusivity, I was not unaware of the fact that doing this would lead to lost opportunities and see me labelled in particular ways. I knew that this perception would affect my chances at professional and personal networks. I know that to be a person of colour refusing to let a discomforting incident of racism be closed and resolved will result in claims of attention seeking, rudeness, drama, bullying, and more.
It shouldn’t be unusual that FOC and acafans of colour can centre their own emotions when discussing the aftermath of racism in Fandom/ Fan Studies post-apology, and yet somehow it is perceived as such. This may be because we’re not supposed to be seen as more than the site for a “learning experience,” or, depending on the space, a site at which white acafans come to gain absolution for stating that ‘race exists and is important but there’s no space to consider it in this paper’ as though whiteness is unraced.

Manners have long been the tool of racist colonial enterprise and this is no different. A lifetime of internalised self-policing informed me that my feelings were less important than performing reconciliation; that being polite would be to refuse to name people, to name events, to call this racist. Neither Rukmini nor Nicolle, who am I to speak to this event?

At what point of defending a friend did my own personal experiences of racism in academic and online spaces frame my responses? At what point would people reading this or hearing it then begin to exclude my perspective as “less than objective” because I can imagine what Rukmini experienced because I’ve experienced numerous similar interactions as well?

I began by calling myself mean because, despite the apology and #FSN2019 statement, and despite being an outlier to the original tweet interaction, I was going to refuse the tidy nature of “it happened, a white person learned, it’s over and Fan Studies is the better for it.”

At the roundtable, I read out the entirety of the Fan Studies statement reproduced above so as to familiarise the audience with it. I contextualised it. And then, for the second time, I did the work whiteness refuses to do: I historicised the events and unpacked what was being said and what was deliberately erased.

[...]

Erasing the work is part of how whiteness forces us to re-establish a baseline. Erasing work is how work fails to proceed, is hampered at five minutes out the gate, and is then termed simply “too personal” for academic note. Erasing the work is how exhaustion or anger are framed as aggression too early in a set of responses that one side has been repeating for decades together while the other claims an innocent lack of awareness. Note that only one side gets to claim innocence in this and it isn’t the side being harmed.

The statement goes on ... to refuse any culpability, locating those within the Fan Studies Network board as all precarious academics, suggesting that #FSN2019 has grown out of their own close networks but has only now arrived at the need to consider race (a whole other issue I don’t have the time to unpack). As such, this statement shifts from erasing and dehistoricising the twitter events affecting a brown cis woman acafan in India (Rukmini) and documented by myself (also a brown cis woman scholar in India) to centring white precarity in the Global North.

Forgive me if my sympathy is so limited as to be non-existent; not all of us have white tears to cry.

This deliberate repositioning of the narrative to showcase white vulnerability is subversively racist. That a response to a racist attack has been to recentre white precarity in a carefully crafted statement says more about the whiteness overrunning the Fan Studies Network than I ever could.

The thing is, I do believe that the statement by the Fan Studies Network Board does a lot of work.

The issue is that it does none of the work for change, only its own preservation. It is a performance of willingness and allows for the Board to both, claim active work in the process of inclusivity (in name only) while maintaining relationships and refusing to alienate acafans who refuse the work of anti-racism.

It is unlikely to herald systemic change because the processes are left amorphous, and may or may not be enforced depending on who has power in the situation (which historically has been concentrated with whiteness).

How can we be ten years on from RaceFail ’09 without systemic changes in Fan Studies? This statement is but one example of how that happens.