What Fandom Racism Looks Like: Beige Blank Slates

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Title: What Fandom Racism Looks Like: Beige Blank Slates
Creator: Stitch
Date(s): 1 January 2019
Medium: online meta essay
Fandom: multifandom; examples from Pacific Rim and Star Wars Sequel Trilogy fandoms
Topic:
External Links: https://stitchmediamix.com/2019/01/01/what-fandom-racism-looks-like-beige-blank-slates/
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.

What Fandom Racism Looks Like: Beige Blank Slates is a 2019 meta essay by Stitch discussing Western media fandom's pattern of overwhelmingly focusing on white male characters, even when the protagonists are white women and/or characters of color, and there are white female characters and characters of color who are equally undeveloped in canon. And the overlapping tendency to consider white male villains as blank slates, even though they have a characterization and backstory in canon.

She includes examples from Pacific Rim fandom and Star Wars Sequel Trilogy fandom.

Stitch also linked to, and quoted from, Wildehack's meta essay Fandom Ghost: Created Out Of Wholecloth By Fanon.

Excerpts from the Essay

In this installment of “What Fandom Racism Looks Like”, we’ll be looking at the idea of the “blank slate” primarily in Western media-focused slash fandom spaces. We’ll be asking what a blank slate looks like, what these fans and fandoms get out of these characters, what characters will never be considered blank enough to be loved, and how, while the claim that fandom prefers “blank slate characters” might well be true and there are many instances where the Beige Blank Slate provides necessary representation within fandom, the preference that prioritizes white male characters above all others kind of messes up something that has the potential to be great.
Fandom’s blank slate is a character that fandom believes is underexplored or unexplored by the narrative. They’re considered a blank slate because they’re not developed in the source material in a significant way (or, if they are developed with obvious characterization, fandom pretends that they’re not) so fandom can essentially write what they want onto this character.

[...]

Transformative fandom spaces are all about getting our hands on the characters in the media we love and think deserve more (and better) stories. This is just another aspect of that.

True blank slates offer even more freedom than the average fictional character because there’s technically no way to write them out of character, or to go against canon for them because they’re generally not characters who are developed in canon with set-in-stone characterization or backstory. So, you have a character who’s in your favorite canon that the creators aren’t even using, and… a blank slate is born.
The problem is that most of fandom’s biggest blank slates are white male characters… and it’s just accepted that these white male characters are somehow simultaneously more interesting and less developed than other characters that fandom doesn’t bother to develop. These characters that fandom tends to pass over are typically the white female characters and characters of color who are written off as “too boring” for fans to be interested in or engaged with even when they’re the stars of the source media or connected to the main character in whatever they’re in.
One of the posts I’ve had boiling about in the back of my head (but couldn’t find again until recently) is one that talks about fandom’s blank slate problem (not in as many words) in the context of Hux and a bunch of other white guys fandom loves and views as blankety blank slates.

In this post, the OP talks about the development of this fandom-exclusive character archetype that has little to no basis in their canon aside from basic appearance. Like Ben Solo, these characters are made up entirely of and for fanon and are characterized in a way that makes them accessible to fandom.

Some of those characterization aspects?

  • very tidy/a neat freak
  • pays a great deal of attention to his personal presentation (i.e.: is his uniform wrinkled? Is his hair mussed? Is he blushing? Has he lost his hat, or his leather gloves, has he got blood on his coat? Are his cufflinks okay? Is his suit endangered? All of these things would make him unhappy and definitely happen to him as a direct result of making out with his troublingly messy love interest)
  • just wants the galaxy/con/workplace to be Well-Ordered
  • is super competent/a genius/good at his job
  • tight-lipped with rage
  • embarrassed by how much he is into Inappropriately Messy Guy/embarrassed BY Inappropriately Messy Guy
  • scowls defensively

Many of fandom’s favorite Beige Blank Slates have that same characterization as well as a similar lack of evidence to how this sort of list is something that stems from canon.

In the linked post, the original poster wildehack describes the Hux-Arthur-Eames-White Guy in fanon as:

The familiar fanon ghost who leaves one shell behind and drifts into another, like a poltergeist. Or, like, a copy of a copy of a copy, dragged from harddrive to harddrive. a familiar ghost we drag around to install in fresh new bodies.
The fanon ghost is never capable of possessing someone like Riz Ahmed’s Carlton Drake (Venom) or John Boyega’s Finn (Star Wars) (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) or Hannah John-Kamen’s Ghost (Ant-Man and the Wasp) or David Ramsey’s John Diggle (Arrow). It’s never a person of color that fandom sees value in reviving as the ghost of fanon fussiness and it’s very rarely a white woman. Ghost status, being infected with that immortal archetype and subsequently being seen as the most popular dude in a given fandom, is something that only happens to white male characters. Characters of color in western media fandom are flat out denied the same room to be explored and they’re not just seen as filled in pages (as opposed to the blank slates) but as scratched up pages that no one feels like they can or should engage with.
And that’s the thing: in Western media-focused fandoms, characters (and people) of color aren’t seen as neutral. They don’t get to be neutral beige blank slates because of their status as “characters of color”. Without whiteness, they’re not automatically viewed as neutral in the same way that white characters – especially male ones – are.

[...]

White male characters are seen as an apolitical character to adore in these fandom spaces. Like it’s expected that in a show or franchise with a diverse cast, the fandom powerhouse ship will probably be two white dudes that don’t even like or know each other. They’re the easiest ships to swallow and they’re the ones that folks in fandom tend to champion above all others.

Because they’re supposedly sans-politics.

Except… that’s not true.

Even though fans try to handwave it away in their talks of escapism, whiteness – white maleness – is a political identity that can’t be ignored because it makes you feel some kind of way to see fans of color talk about this almost rigid focus on white dudes in fandom.
Blank slates aren’t inherently problematic.

Like I said, I get how fandom uses them and that they serve a different (if similar) purpose to self-inserts in fandom. I think it’s fascinating how fandom shapes blank slates and can even introduce representation in the form of the headcanons that become almost-canon across the fandom.

Take for instance the Inception fandom’s repeated headcanons that Joseph Gordon Levitt’s Arthur is Jewish or that Tom Hardy’s Eames is neuroatypical. In the Marvel Cinematic Universe fandom, Kat Denning’s Darcy Lewis is possibly the most popular female character and a character that definitely can go between blank slate and self-insert status. Fandom has decided that Darcy, like the actress who portrays her, is Jewish and that’s something that is present in many stories about her. (Actually, a lot of fandom’s Beige Blank Slates get headcanoned as Jewish and I really do like that part of the trend.)

My big beef?

The same care does not go into characters of color in general, much less when they should have attained status as their fellow blank slates.

In Western media fandoms, characters of color don’t matter to the majority of fandom. Outside of rather small communities within their respective fandoms, these characters don’t get the focus, the fleshing out, or the love that white characters with similar amounts of space in the narrative.
Your personal beige blank slate isn’t the problem.

Fandom’s overwhelming refusal to engage meaningfully, positively, or honestly with characters of color in Western media fandoms to the point where the idea of the “blank slate” in fandom is overwhelmingly a white male character and all other characters need not apply is.

It’s time to write on some different blank slates.