My *Other* Problem With Recent DC Events

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Title: My *Other* Problem With Recent DC Events
Creator: Te
Date(s): September 20, 2006
Medium: post on LiveJournal
Fandom:
Topic:
External Links: page 1; archive for page 1; archive for page 2; archive for page 3
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My *Other* Problem With Recent DC Events is a 2006 essay by thete1.

The post has 418 comments.

Some Topics Discussed

Some Excerpts

Back when "War Games" was first wrapping up, I mentioned casually a few times that I couldn't really deal, at the time, with the other thing I loathed about the storyline. You know, the thing which *wasn't* Steph.

The thing which was -- *is* -- Orpheus.

There's a reason for that, and there's a reason why I couldn't deal enough at the time even to rant effectively, and that reason is all wrapped up in, well --

Race, Genre Fiction, Fandom, and the Confluence of Self-Destructive Behaviors with Self-*Protective* Behaviors.

One of the things I tend to bring up whenever the issue of misogyny comes up in fandom is the very personal and very true *truth* that, long before I hit puberty, even, I had accepted the fact that I would never truly see myself in the genre (fantasy for the most part) fiction and other media that I adored.

Really, they should be kind of a holy grail by the definitions I've flailed about above. They should've been, and they should still *be*, but -- well. It's complicated. Because I came to know those shows as a *fan*, and -- for me, anyway -- there is an objective difference between consuming media alone and consuming media with the full, explicit, and inescapable knowledge that there are people right there (for certain values, etc.) who are also consuming the same media and talking about it, and -- yay! -- writing fan-fiction!

The *complication* comes in...

Well, let me backtrack a bit. Long before blogging/livejournal made it much harder to remain ignorant about the demographics of various fan-groups, back in the days when we, as fans, almost never communicated outside of mailing lists, newsgroups, private e-mails, and all-too-rare conventions...

Because there's a difference between *having* cool characters of color and having *fannish* cool characters of color. There's an objective difference -- yes, even now, Virginia -- between the way we as fans (*especially* slash fans) treat characters of color. Why, in some respects...

In some respects, it's as if these admittedly awesome characters of color simply aren't on the same *shows*. Alternately, it's as if these characters only exist on those parts of the show that we, as fans, are not capable of being fannish about.

Because, you know, if you wanted to comment about the curious lack of *any* textual mention of the character's racial background... turning him into a stereotype = NOT THE MOTHERFUCKING WAY.

The same thing, by the way? Absolutely happened multiple times with Gunn.

When you add this issue -- so common that my fellow fans-of-color *all* have the same horror story to tell about one fandom or another -- to the undeniable fact that, in any given fandom *with* characters of color there will be *objectively* fewer fan-fiction stories written about them full stop...

Well, do you see where I'm going with this?

Wait, I don't think you do. Because -- this post isn't, actually, meant to harangue fandom as a whole for ignoring characters of color. I'm not here to scold. This is -- this is *personal*, okay?

Because wouldn't it have been nice to write more Smallville fan-fiction? More Angel? Certainly, any number of people have told me explicitly that they wished I had/would. I really *liked* the episodes of SG-1 I watched. Is it any kind of 'better' that I've forbidden myself that show "just" because the fandom made me upset? Leave genre aside -- I did the *same* thing with House.

Now, see, let me tell you all Te's little secret for judging -- yes, *judging* -- how a fandom is negotiating issues of race. It's all about those pretty little 100x100 pictures so many of us are so desperately addicted to.

Pretty much as soon as the character of Ronon Dex appeared on SGA? So did all those pictures of him. It's inescapable, even on *my* f-list. And that? Is a beautiful thing. I didn't really care for the show when I tried to watch it, but that's cool -- I can believe, in my heart of hearts, that y'all are doing your level best to get Ronon all the love he apparently deserves. Why, you're even *slashing* him! Right and left!

Did that sound snarky? It wasn't meant to. I am being dead fucking serious when I say that it makes me happy beyond *words* to know that, at this point, it's just not that hard to find tasty and well-written Ronon slash, even though I'll probably never seek it out for myself.

I can't even tell you how *happy* I was when I saw that they'd brought Orpheus back from metatextual obscurity. Black male characters of *any* sort had always been at critically low supply in the DCU, and he was neat, and had interestingly non-standard-male-hero *things* -- that's him in the pretty blue tights dancing about in my mood icon -- and the *way* they reintroduced him was just perfect:

It was understood and *right* that he would show up as a part of the secondary/larger ensemble, in the second circle of Gotham heroes and vigilantes, and thus not likely to *be* anywhere save for DETECTIVE COMICS and, perhaps, the occasional cameo in GOTHAM CENTRAL.

He would be -- *there*. And that was *cool*, because it allowed the writers to acknowledge that there were Black people living in Gotham, and that some of those Black people committed crime that needed to be stopped. Yay! Instant -- *instant* -- broader range of characters of color and thus broader range of potential storylines. And then! They gave him his own sidekick/partner! Who happened to be a large Black woman who spoke a lot of jive and it MADE SENSE FOR HER TO DO SO. (a. It was a very specifically *outdated* sort of jive, because b. she'd spent much of the past several years in a monastery away from the world. SO COOL.)

No -- SO COOL, WITHOUT PARENTHESES.

It's bad out there right now. It's *bad*, and it's socio-politically unsafe, and it's that much worse that these crimes -- these *crimes* -- are being committed by people who not only *should* know better, but, demonstrably in many cases, *do* know better.

They're just not looking at the big picture here, and while this is something everyone is subject to now and again... well, I'm sorry. If you're writing in a medium explicitly designed to cater to the young -- when not explicitly aimed at *children* -- you do, in fact, have a larger responsibility. You can't just fuck around with this shit, man, and if you do...

If you do, then shame *on* you.

Because this is personal, yeah -- but the personal *is* the political, and we *can't* forget that. We can't let this slide.

I'm married to this fandom, but I'm not going to pretend my husband isn't an ignorant, abusive sonofabitch.

And that -- right there -- is my other problem. Because one of the curious things about DC fandom is that there are any number of people here who'd apparently like me to do just that.

"You're not giving the new canon a fair shake!"

Honey, the new canon is built on a steaming pile of racist, misogynist shite.

"Yeah, there's a lot of problematic stuff, but it was just there to get us all to the big new ideas, which are really cool in a lot of ways!"

See above. And if I didn't let Tolkien fuck with me, why would I cut fucking comic books more slack?

"You're asking for too much/you know they didn't *mean* to be racist or misogynist!"

I don't care. I. Don't. Care. Accidental misogyny is still misogyny. Accidental racism is still racism.

There's no safe space for me, anymore. And I have to admit -- I have to *own* -- that the only reason why it seemed like there *used* to be a safe space...

Excerpts from Comments at the Post

[thelana]:

There was an article on metafandom a while ago that rather shocked me. As I said, usually when a black character is not popular, there's usually an excuse, bad actor, not exciting enough character and frequently you grudgingly you have to admit that in some cases that might be the truth (not that bad acting seems to keep people from slashing other characters all over the place). But in some cases all those excuses aren't there and somehow the characters still get overlooked/ignored. That one article was about [Static] Shock (which admittedly I know nothing about), a cartoon with a black main character and big black supporting cast and yet the fandom OTP that gets written about the most is between two white characters. That's the situations where it gets annoying....

Then again, I always found it most fascinating that both the show writers and the fandom seem to find it easier to connect to *not really black* characters, like Ronon on SGA (who is alien, not "our" black) and Worf (who was Klingon, not black and people wrote him as Klingon). Like them being alien allows people to write things about them they somehow wouldn't dare if the characters were traditionally black.
[Te]:

I tend to think there are two factors at work here:

(1) Fear to be racist/do things wrong. I kind of compare that to the whole femminism fear, people writing characters too much "by the book" because they are afraid to offend somebody and do something wrong. And because of that they are afraid to write black characters as edgy out of fear of being offensive. But fandom *loves* edgy characters. Take Adebisi from Oz. I don't know if he was popular or if a lot of fic got written about him (probably not), but the writers didn't shy away from making him evil (and they did have a wide array of less evil or even good black charactes to balance him) and in that way charismatic and edgy. And be became one of the most recognizable and essential characters of the show. And to me that is much more preferable to being pleasant but in the background. That's also why I like Foreman or Blade. Because they are allowed to be dicks at times, but they are dicks with a reason for it (not unlike Batman in a way). So nobody can tell me that making a black character a dick is somebody demeaning, considering how well it seems to work for a lot of white characters in making them popular (Spike, Batman, House). In order to be interesting they, to me, need to be allowed to have both good and bad. When writers are too afraid to let them do wrong things at times they are just going to end up with bad characters.

(2) Characters need a hook. And too often "being black" was the hook for many characters (like "being the girl" used to be the hook for a lot of female characters). To me it often felt that a lot of black characters either had a very stereotypical ghetto past and backstory (Gunn on Angel) or they were written exactly like a typical (usually boring) white person that they might as well have been not black (Sisko on DS9 who was a cool character and probably my favorite Star Trek captain was like that). I'm guessing it's a tough line to walk, how much *black* should be an influence on the character and how much it shouldn't be. I tend to think that it's a nice addition, but it should be only one influence and probably stand behind being a soldier/a father/a friend/a traitor/a vampire/an avenger/a hero/a bastard/a healer. (This might be a personal preference, but I prefer characters who are a healthy mix of a lot of defining roles rather than just one or two)
[philstar22]:

I have to say that it may not just be racist when people don't fan Foreman. Personally, I find both him and Cameron very annoying, for somewhat similar as well as different reasons. I don't fan him simply because certain of his characteristics annoy me.

I don't think you should be so quick to assume racism. I can't speak for other fans, but for me it is definately not racism.
[zvi likes tv addressing philstar22]: If that had been Te's point, then your comment would have been relevant. That's not what she said, and if you can't understand the difference between what she did say and 'disliking a black character=racism' you need to do a lot more learning about how racism works before you can intelligently participate in this conversation.
[eregyrn]:

I'm in a poor position to comment on this issue, because as a fan, I'm kind of active only in certain ways. I do write fanfic, but not primarily in media fandoms. So I'm "active" in SG-1 fandom but primarily with meta-commentary (after 5 years I wrote two pieces of fiction for specific challenges), and I consume a lot of other properties but I'm not even in the fandoms, and if I were I *probably* wouldn't write fic.

Thus I feel like there's something hollow about the fact that when discussing various properties, a lot of the time I can say that it *is* the CoC I *would* be interested in, or whom I find most attractive... because it's not like I'm putting my money where my mouth is, in fannish-activity terms. And unfortunately, the few places I *do* have activity going, I can't deny that, say, wrt SG-1, I'm a J/D gal foremost (although I will never pass up the chance at a Jack/Teal'c fic]] or vid, I like J/D stories that pair up Sam/Teal'c too). (And while I watch SGA I'm not fannish for it, so while I have a feeling that if I *were*, I'd be into Ronon a *lot*... it's a wash, because that's just hypothetical.)
[ratcreature]:

I sometimes wonder whether they teach somehow to shy away from characters of color, because when I read books like that Wizard thing on character creation for comics, which was published 2006 after all, I noted that the only non-white faces (except for one villain in the "Brutes" section, conveniently grouped near the gorillas and such) were among the photos the comics artists. Which is worse than the still appalling sections on women characters...

I mean, personally I still need to be hit over the head in its obviousness before I even notice the absence of black characters. Which is kind of sad and pathetic, but I guess it may be because when I was little there were far fewer black people visible to me than these days (partly because I grew up in a wealthier neighborhood than I live in now, and partly because there was more immigration from African refugees during the last decades), to the point that I can still remember the very first time I saw a black person in RL and not in tv when I was six. (I'm afraid I quite rudely stared while waiting at that bus stop, though the guy was nice about it...) So no matter what I may want consciously I'm unfortunately quite a bit more likely to notice the presence of black characters than their absence, unless I really pay attention.
[sockich]:

I don't feel qualified to comment on racism in fandom and I don't really feel qualified to comment on racism in RL, because I grew up in a country...I live in the fourth largest city and there is, I think, one black family in the larger area. There just aren't many non-white people here and I'm a white person and I don't really interact with the outside world a lot, so while I do not in any way, shape, or form claim there is no racism here (there is quite a lot of animosity towards certain (Balkan) nationalities, mostly because we, as a country, are doing our damn best to distance ourselves from them), I've never actually seen an act of racism, so yeah, other than to say that I completely fail to understand it, I don't really think I can say anything of value about it.

(And, wow, for someone who doesn't feel she can talk about something, I really have a lot to say)

Actually, all I wanted to say was, how incredibly jealous I am that you feel all this discomfort and anger towards DC and the fact you still have to wear the armour.

Because me, I've successfully turned myself into 90% computer when it comes to emotions. I just...I fail to feel most things, I look at everything with this scary rationalization and...you probably really don't care, sorry.

But the fact that I am 90% computer, means that the 10% of me that does feel is just so crazily intense and final and one way about it. I either feel anger or panic or love and always only one thing at a time.

It's tiring and frightening and I don't get to feel it enough, so when I do, I cling to it with all my lfe. Comics, they bring my joy. I can't remember when I've felt such utter happiness last and while I do recognize the flaws, while I am capable of ranting about them (because I recognize that I should feel angry and I am capable of reacting properly), I...nothing in them makes me angry. Not angry, or sad, or bitter or any of those things I know I should feel. I know the proper emotions I should feel and I agree with the sentiments and I react in the way I know is right, but I don't feel it. Because comics make me feel happy and I can't feel two things at once. I'm afraid to, because opposing emotions at the intensity I function at (all or nothing, that should be my tag line) would hurt me too much.

But you, you can love comics, and fandom and need both, but still feel anger towards it and I find that such an amazing thing and I am jealous, but mostly I'm grateful that you wrote this, because it lets me pretend I can feel all of this, instead of just knowing it and...
[queenofhell]:

Well, see, I think "I just don't get this character/this character doesn't appeal to my fic-writing sensibilities, etc." is actually a valid response on an interpersonal level. I mean, I love watching SGA and occasionally reading fic, but I have no desire whatsoever to write about any of the characters, because they don't appeal to my fic-writing brain. And in regards to a fandom I have written in--Xander, for whatever reason, just never appealed to me fannishly. Loved him, never wanted to write fic about him.

It becomes a problem when a) the people who aren't writing about, say, Ford, are writing about Lorne/Parrish, and yet still use the "not enough canon" response to explain why they're not writing Ford-fic, or b) when people fail to recognize that this is not necessarily about what they personally write but rather about what fandom as a whole is writing.

I mean, if one writer doesn't write about Ford because they prefer to focus on Sheppard/McKay or Zelenka/Weir or whatever, thats personal taste; if fandom as a whole is overwhelmingly writing about white characters, thats a trend and not just a bunch of isolated incidents, and that should be acknowledged by fandom and not brushed off with "but I don't do that/I do that because..." (as brown_betty pointed out in her "if its not about you, then its not about you" post).

And word on the defensiveness, although as someone who has just recently confronted my own defensiveness in terms of racial issues, its maybe too soon for me to be saying that. *g* Perhaps you can take comfort in the hopes that some of these people may look back at their own defensiveness in this post and others like it, go "wow, I was such an defensive, willfully ignorant asshole," and attempt to be more thoughtful individuals in the future. Thats what happened to me, and I'm (hopefully) a better person because of it.
[winterknight]:

This is an exceptionally interesting post and I just loved it and the responses....

The issue of race in fiction/film/tv/comics is one that I (a Whitey McWhiteperson) feel really intensely, actually. I'm a fic writer learning the film/tv trade and I never want to pull this crap, ever. One of these days I hope to have one of my pieces in print/production and I try (fumblingly, learningly, and sometimes wrongly) not to whitewash my worlds.

I find that the "oh, I don't want to write them WRONG" excuse angers me deeply, as much as when people turn every non-white character into a stock cutout of some stereotype. Hiding behind this priviledge of "it'll sell (get read) anyway because white is the norm" and "I don't have to worry about that if I don't want to" leaves me frantic with frustration. And I hear it all the time. It comes down to "I don't want to learn" and "I don't need to be aware".

Am I wrong in wanting to stab other writers in the eye every time I hear "Well, I didn't feel like I had a RIGHT to write so-and-so" or "Well, I didn't want to get him/her WRONG"? I'm not trying to co-opt any righteous outrage that isn't mine to have. This is coming from a genuine *headdesk* from my own side of things, and from being someone who has been and probably is still blind to a thousand facets of her own priviledge.

I write. And if I'm writing a stereotype, I want to know it. But I don't want to not write. I want to write it all. The response to "you're fucking that up" shouldn't ever be $EXCUSE, it should be, "tell me more." But I can believe, as we see it every time we pick up a comic or pop in a DVD, that it's $EXCUSE that's the best case scenario. I can't imagine people are quiet about this. All I can assume is that TPTB find it more convenient and economical to ignore the issue of race in their product. And to me, persistent ignorance/blindness in the face of offered awareness is malice. No excuses.
[angiepen]:

I agree with you that there should be more non-white characters in fanfiction. But I'm not writing any and the reason is I'm afraid to.

As a white woman I'm very aware of the racial landmines present in our culture, probably just as much as your average non-white person even if from the other side. And because I'm aware of those landmines I'm terrified of stepping on one of them.

I write all kinds of characters. I've written gay men, I've written aliens and elves and mages and vampires, I've written people who've experienced all sorts of things I never have and I'm reasonably good at it. But I know that if I get something wrong I'm not likely to horribly offend anyone. I've written rape victims and I was never worried that someone who'd actually been raped would be offended or possibly get in my face because I got this or that wrong. I don't expect an actor to be offended and complain because the actor characters I write were unrealistic.

But I do have a fear that if I write a character who's black or Asian or hispanic, I might make mistakes (heck, I'm pretty sure I would) and some reader who's black or Asian or hispanic and has a hair trigger because of their own life experiences will be offended and there'll be drama. Because race has a lot of baggage and you never know when one of those bags is going to blow up in your face.

[snipped]

I don't write non-white characters because I'm afraid to go there, and I think a lot of other white writers are too. Because the landmines are there, and if every person of color has had at least a couple of real-life run-ins with white people who are racist fucktards, I and most of the white people I know have also had run-ins with people of color who are just as much fucktards in the other direction -- people who know, for a fact, that Every Single White Person In The Universe is a racist. As an example, there was a black teacher at my college who believed this and who harangued her classes on the subject, verbally bullying her white students on a daily basis, because after all they were all racists, every one of them, and needed to be educated and shown what it was like to be mashed under someone's boot.

And as with the real racists, it only takes a few. I've known a lot of non-white people in my life and of course the vast majority are just people. Some are cool, some are nice, some are jerks, some are clueless. Only a very few are real, serious assholes. Just as only a very few white people are real, serious racists. But those few on both sides can keep the shit stirring enough to keep the rest of us on both sides looking over our shoulders.

That sucks but it's what the world is like and we have to deal with it. I deal by not presuming to write outside my race, and hope I don't offend anyone.
[zvi likes tv addressing angiepen]:

Also, can you point me towards an example of one of these electronic lynchings you fear? I have to tell you, as a fan of color, whenever I've spotted or been pointed to a story where someone does egregious racial insult (almost always because they've written a character in a completely out of character way), it doesn't blow up. It doesn't get noticed by fandom at large, the twelve other fans of color and our twenty-four clued in white people comment "word", the writer who done wrong writes in her journal about how she didn't mean it and her friends console her that the black people are being oversensitive, and we're out. I've yet to see a knockdown drag out fandom wank royale over a racially insensitive story [1], and while I do try my hardest to keep crazy people off my flist, that would be the sort of thing I expect deadbrowalking to let me know about.

“I deal by not presuming to write outside my race, and hope I don't offend anyone.” Do you realize that being white means you get the privilege of doing that? That's a choice you are able to make that a fan of color can not. I mean, a black fan would be able to do the same if she limited her fannishness to Oz, the Wire, and Homicide; but an Asian, Latino, or Native American fan would be dead in the water, trying to build a coherent story universe only of characters of their same race. And so, actually, you fail at not offending people me when you stand up in a post about how fandom is whacky about race and that makes it painful for fans of color to participate and proclaim you have to exercise your privilege to fend off the boogieman of a massive attack by fans of color.
[ebonbird]:

Fandom won't cope with race -- not really. You know I collect pictures of poc like whoah, right? Well...I got to a point where I would practically gnaw my liver when I'd look at enrollment at pic comms I modded and how that compared to pic comms about other characters/actors.

I think, what it comes down to, is that this culture is near hopelessly white supremacist and that most fans are lazy and wish to be comforted that they think in terms of the best possible words, worlds, and visions. They can't or won't take the humanity of Others for granted unless those others have pointy ears or crayola crayon box colors.

For me, I've made it a point to seek out people who love Color and humanity not just in the monstrous but mundane. :/ Anyway, I hug you much.
[ceares]:

I actually participated in a panel at Revelcon about this, which started with a pop quiz to name as many characters of color from any shows that you could in 1 minute. Sadly most people could barely do 10. Admittedly with more time to think...but that's kind of the point. They should just be there.

A lot of what came up was that people aren't comfortable writing the characters, and we just kept saying they're just people damn it! All different just like all the white characters, but but but...I have to admit as a bi-ish female, all my characters tend to be bi, gay for 'them' or lightly gay, because I'm not comfortable delving deeply into a world I don't know and I don't want to come off as phony or offend anyone.

The second thing was matters of attraction and interest in characters. I feel a bit guilty when I'm not that interested in the character(s) of color on the show and have no particular desire to write them as main (romantic) characters.
[holyschist]:

I have been noticing more and more lately that characters-of-color who should have loads of fanfiction (pornish and otherwise) written about them...don't. This seems to be pretty much cross-fandom, but less prevalent in book fandoms (maybe because the characters aren't so visually "other"?). I know I do have anxiety about writing characters who are too different from me--particularly in terms of race or nationality--but I do enjoy reading about a variety of characters. And it's not a rational thing, because I don't get anxious about writing about male characters or spies or whatever.

I think it's interesting how people in the comments here can have such opposing views of characters--"Tuvok's too bland!" "No, Tuvok's fascinating!" I've noticed the same thing with female characters ("There are no interesting female characters in Fandom X?" "What are you talking about? They're all fascinating!"), and it kind of makes me wonder how much of characterization is in our personal baggage and perception.

References

  1. Four years later: The J2 Haiti Fic.