Open Letter to the OTW on Racism in Fandom

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Open Letter
Title: Open Letter to the OTW on Racism in Fandom
Addressed To: OTW Board and Committees
Date(s): June 19, 2020
Medium: online
Fandom: OTW
Topic: Racism in Fandom
External Links: The open letter
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Open Letter to the OTW on Racism in Fandom is a 2020 open letter addressed to the OTW Board and Committees calling for a commitment to combating racism within fandom, specifically on their own platforms.

The letter was translated into several languages and allowed readers to sign their name or fannish pseudonyms to the letter, as well as stating their connection to fandom and the OTW.

See also What's up with the AO3 and racism? for background.

The Letter

To the OTW Board and Committees,

We, the undersigned, write to express our deep unhappiness with the OTW’s inaction on combating racism within fandom. We strongly urge the Board to take immediate steps to help make fandom a space where all fans, particularly Black, Indigenous, and ethnically marginalized fans from all over the globe, can thrive. This is particularly essential now, as many different kinds of organizations respond to worldwide protests sparked by the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis by taking steps to dismantle institutional racism wherever it is found. And it is found all around us, on every continent and in every cultural sphere, as we live in a world scarred by both historical and present-day colonialism.

We recognize that the OTW is a volunteer-run and donation-dependent organization without deep pockets of money or time. But it is also a leader across fandoms, from its legal advocacy work to its maintenance of vital spaces like the Archive of Our Own, Transformative Works and Cultures, and Fanlore. The excellence and importance of these efforts was recently recognized when the AO3 won the prestigious Hugo Award for Best Related Work. OTW’s actions and policies set the tone and precedent for other fannish institutions, from fanwork gift exchanges to edited academic collections in fan studies and beyond. Precisely because of the vital contributions the OTW makes to fandom, its Board, committees, volunteers, and fans everywhere must begin conversations about how to combat racism within fandom together. This starts from the inside out.

The OTW's failure to make a formal statement or initiate concrete action in response to the events of the past few weeks—instead only publishing a news roundup about racism in fandom—reinforced a complicit silence rather than necessary, urgent reform. None of us approach systemic racism and discrimination from a position of innocence. We are all implicated. The first step for any organization is to formally acknowledge their own complicity and culpability in perpetuating racism through both actions and silences.

We write because we love fandom. Because we value the OTW, AO3, TWC, Fanlore, Fanhackers, and all of its projects. And we want them to be better. To begin self-assessing and working towards becoming spaces that serve, not exploit, all of the fans who make fandom awesome.

We urge the OTW Board to:

1. Immediately begin the process of hiring a paid external expert on racism, participatory culture, technology, and non-profit policy-making who can advise the OTW on how to become actively anti-racist. The OTW’s historical inaction on racism within fandom has alienated many Black, Indigenous, and other ethnically marginalized fans. The OTW must make a clear institutional commitment to antiracism, backed by organizational resources of money and time, before asking fans to volunteer in this endeavor.
2. Support the AO3 team in making changes to the Archive’s technological structure and abuse policies that address racist content with the same seriousness they currently accord to violence, sexual assault, and underage content.
3. Publicly apologize to scholars of racism within fandom, most prominently Stitch and Dr. Rukmini Pande, for highlighting their work as a resource without making any effort to implement their suggestions for the OTW in that work. This unsought citation exposed them both to harassment and denigration during a time when, as the original OTW News post noted, racist violence is already high.

We look forward to receiving your response and working together towards a more inclusive era in the OTW’s history. Thank you.



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Fan Response

OTW Response

On June 20, 2020 the offical OTW twitter posted the following:

We're working to address ongoing criticism of the OTW's handling of racism in fandom and fanworks and will have a statement soon.

We welcome this feedback: diverse perspectives make us stronger as a community. We wholeheartedly condemn the harassment of those who have voiced criticism of us, and we apologize to those who have been harassed in our name.[1]