Fansplaining: Race and Fandom Part 1 and 2

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Podcast
Title: Fansplaining: Race and Fandom Part 1 and 2
Created by: Flourish Klink and Elizabeth Minkel
Date(s): May 18, 2016
Focus:
Fandom:
External Links:

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Fansplaining: Race and Fandom (Parts 1 & 2) is a podcast by Flourish Klink and Elizabeth Minkel.

There were five contributors to part one, "Two of them we’re going to interview, and three of them have prepared statements that we’re going to play. So first we’re gonna hear from Holly Quinn, she prepared a statement, then we’re going to interview Rukmini Pande, then we’re going to hear from Shadowkeeper with a prepared statement, then Clio we’ll interview, then PJ Punla..."

There were five contributors to part two, "So we’re going to have statements from Roz, from Traci-Anne Canada, and from zvi LikesTV, and we’re going to be interviewing Jeffrey Lyles of Lyles Movie Files and Zina, who operates Stitch Media Mix on Tumblr."

For others in the series, see Fansplaining.

Introduction: Part 1

"In “Race and Fandom Part 1,” Flourish and Elizabeth follow up on the last episode’s questions about the impact of racism in the Star Wars fandom—and how it’s a microcosm of fandom at large. They interview Rukmini Pande and Clio, and they hear clips from Holly Quinn, Shadowkeeper, and PJ Punla. Topics covered include the historical presence of fans of color, space nazis, femslash and its discontents, and the Filipino perspective on the whiteness of media."

Introduction: Part 2

"In the second and final installment of our “Race and Fandom” episodes, fans of color continue to speak about their experiences in fandom. Elizabeth and Flourish interview Jeffrey Lyles and Zina (@stitchmediamix), then hear clips from Roz (@rozf), Traci-Anne, and zvi LikesTV (@zvilikestv). Topics covered include being Black and Jewish, Star Wars weddings, cosplaying characters of color, and why kink is never divorced from the real world."

Links

Some Topics Discussed

Excerpts (from Part One)

FK: And as we started talking about it with Toast we realized that this is podcasting so you can’t see us, but I am white, Elizabeth is white, Toast is white, and we were about to be three white women pontificating about race. And that’s not a good look. So.

ELM: No.

FK: We decided that we wanted to devote some actual time to inviting people of color to talk about this issue, to reaching out to people of color and interviewing them about it, and basically to not be white women pontificating about race. But instead to provide a platform for other people to talk about this issue.

ELM: Right, and if you heard the last episode we asked specifically about this, and this is, I spent a lot of time with the audio as I’ve edited it over the last few days, I think this was said but people talk about this as a macrocosm [sic] or a very illustrative example of broader trends in fandom. The privileging of white guys, frankly, we’ll be talking a little bit about—gender will come into this but it’s definitely the privileging of white characters over characters of color. And this is a movie with characters of color in the lead, and somehow they don’t get to be in the lead in fandom’s mind. And what’s going on here, basically is the question that we want to explore.

FK: Right, and this was all underlined by the fact that coincidentally at about the same time as DestinationPost—(laughs) Destination Post! Listen to me. DestinationToast posted her stats, there came out a meta by Franzeska which covered issues of race and gender in fandom. But really got talked about because of the way that it handled race, which a lot of people found very problematic. And we’re going to link to the meta and to a lot of responses to it in the show notes, but we wanted to call it out because it hit at just the right time to be tied up in this conversation and to be a major issue.

ELM: This became part of the discourse. Yeah, I mean, the basic way to say it is like, it’s discussing preference. So if you’re working from a point of saying “fandom privileges—” fandom, and we spend so much time talking about what is fandom, we’re talking about transformative fandom, female dominated fanfictiony kind of fandom. And obviously you see parallels in other corners of fandom, or media consumption, or society at large, but this is who we’re talking about. Talking about preference. Saying, if you always go for the white guys, there’s a lot of ways you can excuse it, right? Or you can attempt to excuse it. So that’s basically what it’s going at, and there were a lot of problems.

[Rukmini Pande]]:

Personally I think what is my issue with the ways that a lot of this conversation is framed is we keep seeming to be set back to zero. We keep seeming to have these conversations, RaceFail happened, the treatment of Uhura happened, the arguments continue to be the same. We seem to keep repeating ourselves. And that’s tiring and not very productive. Also I think this, not to get into the meta… It’s this continual framing, I think, and I was talking about it today on Twitter as well: “Let me tell you about the history of fandom.” This very condescending and completely pretending to be historical but rather ahistorical look at what the Archive of Our Own is, what slash is, what kinds of conversations have been happening…

To frame it as historical and not talk about all those times when these conversations have happened and have been happening not with outsiders who have suddenly decided to rip apart somebody’s safe space, but as people who have squeed, who’ve ran challenges, who’ve written fic, who’ve contributed, who have I suppose in a sense bought into the narrative that these are spaces where we talk back to culture.

To craft all these narratives and then to be told that you are just ruining everybody’s fun to score social justice points is, it’s deeply hurtful and it’s deeply alienating. And again, we’re set back to zero. We have to start all over again with the justification of why we’re here. When were we here. How long have we been here. What have we been writing. What have we been reading.

It’s that position of feminist killjoys, I suppose, once again. You talk about it, you’re the problem. Everybody else is having fun. I suppose that’s my take on this cyclical thing that just keeps happening. And you see patterns that have always been present, but you perhaps looked at—like I said, you look at them through the corner of your eye, because you know the minute you look at it you’ll never be able to unsee it. And I think these people who are finding communities that talk the same kind of, you know, who value characters from different backgrounds and who legitimize the squee. You’re not being random when Finn is important to you. You’re not asking for something that is not valid.

Now, for a lot of people who perhaps have been sailing along in their particular experiences of fandom are saying, “well, this was never a problem earlier, I don’t see why you guys are coming in"—you know, coming in and taking over our spaces and spoiling our fun. And I’m like, we’re not spoiling anyone’s fun! I don’t see how saying "hey, Finn is a great character, I know you like these characters because I’ve read the fics that build these characters up even when there isn't—” we’re not unfamiliar with the tropes! We’re not unfamiliar with the traditions! We’re not unfamiliar with trash ships or whatever! I am not somebody who is “oh, I will only read PG-13 fluff.”

It’s not about that! The consistent characterization of fans who talk about these things as somehow kink-negative or slash-negative or somebody who’s like “we’ll only read these kinds of stories” is ridiculous. The smugness of the “oh I read all these very edgy fics while you want to be safe in your little cocoons of unproblematicness,” this is not true!

ELM: I was, it’s interesting because I think that one of the things I really value about slash—and slash has tons of problems and someday we’re gonna actually sit down and have a slash episode—but one thing I really value about slash is it doesn’t wait for anything, and it just makes the text, queers the text immediately. It’s not waiting for the content creators to catch up and often doesn’t care about that. And I think it’s pretty telling that because I think of white people’s… I don’t know if it’s discomfort or underlying racism or whatever, but I’ve never, I shouldn’t say never because I think that erases—there’s plenty of people doing plenty of work. But the fact that it has to come from the content creators first makes me sad. Because one thing, I’m a very fuck canon kind of person and I love slash because we’re like “I’m not gonna wait for you! Fuck you! They’re gay!” And it’s sad that we have to wait for the people that we’re supposed to be kind of fixing to come in and say “no, you can’t ignore it anymore.” Does that make sense?

RP: Yeah, no, I’ve been saying this for awhile actually in the sense that I think Star Wars proves it. I think Star Wars proves, and this is something that I want to say in my own work, that whiteness is a structuring force in fandom. That’s what it is. It’s something that we don’t want to talk about because it goes directly against everything we love about the space, but you cannot have it both ways. You cannot say that this is a space that talks back to culture, this is a space that resists narratives, this is a space that allows for all these exploration of identities, and in 70+ years of writing we haven’t had one juggernaut, not one. It’s unavoidable. And it literally took a JJ Abrams directed movie—

RP: It’s telling to me… and even now, that’s not just in terms of slash! I think slash gets it more, because this is the space where we’re supposed to be, that has been built up as this kind of resistant space, but I think that there’s an equally interesting conversation to be had about Finn and Rey. About—and particularly about Finn. Because Finn is this, he is unavoidable. He’s right there. He’s unavoidable in every conversation you have in Star Wars and he is right there and he is not allowing any kind of sweeping under the carpet. And I think that that’s very key.

It’s a particular combination of character, of actor, and of plot and of film. It is the Star Wars franchise. It means things. It’s tapping into a whole lot of nostalgia. It’s tapping into a whole bunch of archetypes about what a hero is and what we love and as I said, what happened when Finn took off his helmet? He’s just standing there right in the center of all of this. And for once fandom can’t ignore him. They can’t. They’re going to have to deal with him in some way. And how they’re dealing with him in both het and slash, because I think they’re quite connected now as spaces—the fan continuum is not—and even in femslash! My friends who’ve kind of been in femslash communities, Finn is so important there. And one of my friends who’s been in femslash very funnily said, “usually our reaction to boys is like, ew boys, why boys, why are boys here.” And she was like, within those spaces, Finn—you know, the great Peradi fic Have You Heard, that fic is being passed around. Finn is being seen as this important moment, this important character.

And I think Finn’s Blackness is huge in all of this. I think if he were any other type of character, if he had any other racial background, it probably wouldn’t be this flashpoint. It goes straight to the heart of these insecurities and kind of just lays it open.

[Shadowkeeper]: I’ve been in fandom for about nineteen years at this point and fandom was racist back then and it’s still pretty racist now. There’s been a little bit of progress. The fact that there are more nonwhite characters in Western media than there were 10, 20 years ago, especially in the media fandom latches on to, has helped fandom seem a little less like a monolith of whiteness where white media is made for white fans. Fans themselves seem way more comfortable identifying themselves as nonwhite than a decade or two ago, also more comfortable speaking up about it. There’s a sense that there’s a community nonwhite fans can find support in to call out Hollywood or fandom when they need to.

I feel like putting the onus on fans of color to improve fandom racism is like asking people to work harder to fix societal racism. Fans of color can speak up and bring attention to the issue, call out racist behavior, but we’re not the ones with the power, and we’re not the ones Western media is mostly catering to. Half the time, it feels like fans of color are only speaking to each other about the issues, and occasionally get loud enough for white fans to hear us, which of course brings defensive white fans and racist trolls flocking in to derail the conversation. White fans as the majority have the privilege and power to ignore the issue and carry on with the status quo. Things will only improve when white fans recognize that their behavior is contributing to the problem and take steps to improve it.

White fans who only have white favorites or white OTPs, who only write fic or make art about white characters, could take a second to question themselves about why that is. What is it about characters of color that don’t appeal to them? Or if they do appeal to them, why are they staying silent about it? I’m not saying white fans need to make their fandom hobby all about trying to solve racism or other social issues, but that in the fandom activities they already participate in, white fans try and consider including more characters of color in their fannish focus. If you write or make art and you like a character of color, maybe spend some fandom time focusing on them as well.

[Clio]:

I think that there’s right now, especially in Tumblr I definitely have drifted into something more like a femslash fandom. Which, femslash is so small that it ends up being its own space and everybody may be watching this show or that show or into this movie or that movie but it’s sort of this larger multifandom femslash space that a lot of people are participating in all at once. So all those people are talking about it all of the time and interested in it, reading it, participating in it. And then things bubble up, like a whole bunch of lesbian ladies on television getting killed in a week, and then it kind of bubbles up, and people kind of talk about it for ten minutes, and then it kind of descends.

And I think the same thing happens with race, where there can be a lot of things, a lot of small ongoing things, and no one’s paying attention, and something becomes too big to ignore, and then everybody talks about that for awhile, and then that issue gets resolved or no one cares about it, everybody’s done talking about it, everybody’s tired of it. Which I totally understand. And then it just goes back down. Because people don’t really change.

I think that if there’s one thing, if I were a person who talked about things a lot on social media that I would say: there are a lot of people and I think they’re very well meaning who will reblog or retweet or link to someone writing understandably frustrated meta about either people writing about women or people writing about characters of color. But then that’s all they do. They just reblog the meta. I mean I know that I will get more attention if I write a really pointed, sarcastic, angry series of paragraphs about race than if I write anything nuanced or thoughtful or if I write an actual story.

Excerpts (from Part Two)

[Roz]: So, I can probably go look it up and find out that Tony and Steve and Steve and Bucky have way more fics in the MCU than Steve and Sam, or Tony and Rhodey. And I don’t know if that’s racism or if that’s just we like tragic backstories, or something else. In Veronica Mars with the character that was non-white and Veronica Mars, it was that the non-white guy didn’t have a whole lot of screen time. So if you were gonna write fic, you have to make a series of jumps to get your story started, whereas if you’re shipping the guys or the characters—let me be general and not think just of slash—you’re gonna write the people that you see more often. And that’s just kind of the way it is, that’s the way I’ve seen race approached: it’s a thing that exists, I know that it exists, I know I live it, but I live it in a way that’s probably different living in the suburbs as a mixed kid than my cousins that grew up in Los Angeles being African-American. And that’s just kind of the way it is, and I don’t know that that’s implicit racism or if it’s just they write what they know.

To your second question, do you think fandom’s perceptions on race have affected me personally. No, because there’s like three characters on the planet right now that are probably mixed-race, and even fewer of them that are Jewish, so I don’t see people like me in media and that’s not a thing that bothers me. I don’t think it’s people trying to be racist, I think it’s just Hollywood as a system casts white people a lot more, which may be implicitly racist on some sort of systemic level that I can’t figure out or that I don’t know about.

ELM: Well, OK. So I think you hear a lot of people saying, that kind of line you hear in fantasy too, “oh you can imagine all these fantastical elements, is it too much to imagine this universe might not only be populated by white guys.” It’s interesting cause it sounds like it’s working on multiple levels for you. You’re happy to see a Black male lead, but you’re also, he’s just a Star Wars character. Is that a fair characterization of what you’re saying?

[Jeffrey Lyles]: Definitely. I was in this weird time frame with the 80s where more filmmakers were trying to at least have, what in the 90s was referred to as the token Black, the token whatever. I just saw it as them including more people or being more inclusive and not just sticking to the norm. Because it would be easy, it would have been really easy for Lando to have been a white guy. No one would have batted an eye. I wouldn’t have disliked Empire Strikes Back any more from it just having white guys. But the fact that it does have a Black guy makes it so much cooler to me, just cause it expands the universe so much more.

And I think for kids who are watching Star Wars for the first time with Force Awakens, they’re gonna see it and be like, oh, cool. And they’re not gonna know, hey, it’s a Black guy, it’s a Latino guy, it’s a white female. They’re just gonna be like, these are Star Wars characters! But as they grow up and as they hear more of “other races are inferior and why are they in this movie,” they’re gonna be like wow, that was pretty cool. This movie was pretty groundbreaking for us in terms of being a better representation. There is no white male in this movie. Arguably the one white male in it gets killed. So. Spoiler!

FK: So we’ve been following you on Tumblr since you’ve written some really great things about the infamous meta, and we were hoping that you could share a little bit of that, you know, walk us through some of the things you’ve been critiquing about it.

[Zina]: Really the instigating meta is not the big meta, although it’s the one that’s angering people the most. The meta writer Franzeska wrote one specifically about the shipping in the Star Wars fandom in which she lists racism, boring ships, and kinkshaming as the reasons why people are no longer shipping Finn and Poe. Except she dismisses racism right off the bat by going “I don’t think it’s as big a reason as people are saying.” Which, I mean, that’s wrong, and it’s very dismissive to say something like that, especially if you are not a person of color which I’m pretty sure she’s not. But I’m not about that identity policing, so. Anybody can fuck up.

ELM: So here’s a distinction I’m wondering, because I have read both these metas—well I only read the first chapter of the one that was specifically about Finn/Poe cause it just got right into details about kink, and I don’t read kink, so it’s even very foreign to me. Though I respect everyone who does! My clarification, and maybe you’re gonna get to this so I don’t wanna jump the gun, is like, the dismissing of straight up racism is the suggestion that people don’t want to even go near the ship because they are not interested in people of color. Is that…? Whether that’s something blatant or systemic and internalized.

[Zina]: The thing is, not necessarily that it’s a white people thing, it’s a writer thing. You go into your writing afraid. I have four commissions that I should be doing and I’m like I don’t know if I can do ‘em! And I’m writing about Poe, I’m writing about Finn, I’m writing about characters of color, I’m a person of color. And no matter who you are, there’s a point where if you go into something going “I 100% know what this is about, how I can make this perfect,” that’s when you fuck up. This recent… it tends to be in response to writing Black characters where they go “oh I’m so afraid of writing these characters, because I’m worried about the backlash.” They’re using it as a shield. You probably are not. You know? Because you are still writing these characters!

But the “I’m worried about social justice warriors getting angry at me so I’m not going to write characters of color,” is you going, “I never intended to write characters of color so now I have an excuse.” It’s blaming the people who want representation for you not giving them representation.

[Zina]: Yes, and it’s not exclusive to the Star Wars fandom. Any fandom wherein a huge pairing is an interracial male/male ship, where one guy’s white, so Tony and Rhodey, but even with Sam and Steve, one of the earliest Sam/Steve stories I read, it’s still on Archive Of Our Own but I don’t remember what it’s called. It’s so bad. And it was written by a biracial Black woman and it is literally Steve has a thing for big Black penises. Just dehumanizing sex framed as kink. And all of the responses, it’s like “oh, well, this is what gets me off.” A lot of things get people off that really shouldn’t, and that’s OK!

I have a post—it’s been in progress for like four years, because I know that the pushback is gonna be really really horrible. It’s called “Your kink is not OK and that’s OK,” because of the whole fandom thing of “your kink is not my kink but that’s OK.” It’s not how it works. Because fandom is the real world. So your desire to see a white guy held down and fucked brutally by a Black guy is tied into more than your size kink. It’s tied into societal expectations for Black masculinity. It’s the same way the few white guy/Asian guy ships you have tend to have the Asian guy framed as “submissive,” in air quotes, which didn’t come across very well! Because we expect certain things based on white supremacist society. And you don’t stop being in that society just because you’re in fandom. In fact, fandom kind of zooms in, because it’s so into it.

[zvi LikesTV]: So things are different from days in the past, they’re still not perfect, but I have in the past had fandom drive me to tears on issues of race. I’ve had fandom make me incredibly furious. I wrote a piece about a Harry Potter community using the word “miscegenation” [1] to describe Dean and Luna fic, and people were tagging human/magical creature fic and human/goat fic on the same prompt, and this was because the way they had defined “miscegenation” was so removed from the meaning of miscegenation. Which for those of you who don’t know, miscegenation is describing the relationship between a white person and a person who is not white which pollutes the whiteness. It was introduced as a word and as a concept during the American Civil War to drum up opposition to abolitionists. So it doesn’t have a neutral meaning, and they presented it as if it does.

They treated me as if I were delusional for bringing this issue to them, the runners of the community when I brought the issue to their attention. That I think is one of the things that’s changed. People don’t assume that if a person of color is bringing up a race issue they’ve somehow gone off the deep end and are seeing things that just aren’t there. That’s not everyone, but it’s not the first and default response. I think that we have finally communicated that there is racism inherent in the system.

So one of the things I think has changed about the way we talk about race is that acceptance that there is racism inherent in the system, and if I could get one thing through to white people—particularly American white people—it would be that acknowledging that you have done a racist thing is not a confession of mortal sin. It’s not a judgment that your character is besmirched and you are inexcusably irretrievably evil. It’s not a confession to a crime. Being racist is a perfectly normal thing for white people to do in the United States. White people do it all the time. And the panic and furious denial when someone points out that a white person has done a racist thing just compounds the first error and makes correcting and improving so much more difficult than it has to be.

If nothing else that people take away from this episode of your podcast, I want them to understand two things: one, fans of color keep having this conversation because we are fans. Fandom is our home. I’ve been here for fifteen years, I’ve lived with people because of fandom, I’ve fucked people because of fandom, most of my current friends came through fandom, so I live here, that’s why I keep saying this place isn’t right. This racism is affecting me. There’s violence inherent in the system that I’m not going to allow to persist, because fandom is mine and I am here. That’s why fans of color keep talking about it.

References

  1. Dog Whistles and Insults (2007)