What Fandom Racism Looks Like: Migratory Slash Fandom's Focus

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Title: What Fandom Racism Looks Like: Migratory Slash Fandom's Focus
Creator: Stitch
Date(s): 28 March 2020
Medium: online meta essay
Fandom: multifandom; examples from Marvel Cinematic Universe and Star Wars Sequel Trilogy fandoms
External Links: https://stitchmediamix.com/2020/03/28/migratory-slash-fandoms-focus/
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.

What Fandom Racism Looks Like: Migratory Slash Fandom's Focus is a 2020 meta essay by Stitch discussing the migratory slash fandom's patterns of racism, in exclusionary practices and in the use of racist caricature. It includes an excerpt from and build off of another essay in this series, What Fandom Racism Looks Like: Beige Blank Slates. Since the essay is discussing the skin deep pan-fandom phenomenon of the migratory slash fandom, Stitch's arguments cover situations from multiple fandoms, including the Star Wars Sequel Trilogy and MCU fandoms.

Excerpts from the Essay

What makes Migratory Slash Fandom a prime example of what fandom racism looks like?

The sad fact that for the most part, these fans are largely just moving from one white dude slash ship to another. Migratory Slash Fandom is, for all intents and purposes, only capable of migrating to fandoms where the dominant slash ship is a white one.

Or, in the event of characters of color being prominent in a piece of media and serving as one or both parts of a popular slash ship, one of three things happen:

  • White prioritization: Fandom decides that actually, a minor crackship between two white characters with zero meaningful interactions or chemistry is more interesting and worth playing with than a ship involving even one character of color. (The overwhelming popularity of Kylo Ren/Hux over Finn/Poe in the supremely racist Star Wars fandom.)
  • Racist Stereotypes: One or both members of the slash ship are written in stereotypically racist ways (Latino characters as Lusty Lotharios, Black male characters with giant genitals, Asian characters as submissive flowers) and meaningful characterization tends to take a backseat to any white or, in the case of an interracial pairing involving a Black character, non-Black character present (see any Black male character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that’s part of or adjacent to a white dude slash ship).
  • Whitewashing: Characters of color are culturally whitewashed across the content that becomes popular in the fandom (see BTS real person slash fic where the Korean members of the group are often stripped of their Korean-ness even in stories set in Korea).
In this installment of What Fandom Racism Looks Like, we’ll be unpacking the role whiteness – and a fixation on white male characters in particular – plays in the powerhouse ships that dominate slash fandom.
If there’s a super diverse show with lots of well-written characters of color and white female characters, fandom will always focus on the white male characters in the show.

The Black Panther fandom didn’t actually zero in on ships focusing on the Black characters – outside of the cousins Erik “Killmonger” Stevens/T’challa. In fact, the fandom focused on the white men in the film to the point of zeroing in on Bucky and Steve because they just had to finish that thread from Captain America: Civil War.

Folks were out here writing “Bucky and Steve go to Wakanda for vacation” stories like that was ever an option for those characters, colonizing Wakanda for Stucky with zero shame.

They were also zeroing in on Martin Freeman’s character and on Klaue, a character who embodies white South African antiblackness. (He literally calls Wakandans savages and is pissed because they, the people using Vibranium as the backbone of their brilliant society, apparently don’t know how to use their own resource appropriately.)

We got a film that was entirely about Black people, Black excellence, and Black creativity and folks didn’t just center their fanfiction and shipping experience on white dudes… they centered it on white guys who weren’t even in the main film or the minor characters that weren’t a focus for a few reasons.

Fandom here, as it does in many other places, made the decision across the board to prioritize the first white dude that is relatively attractive to them. No one ever pauses to think about the fact that the default for fandom is… that.
Lastly, let’s talk about ways that people in Migratory Slash Fandom can make a successful effort to make those migratory patterns a little less predictable – and far less white than they currently are.

I have a handy list:

  • Interrogate yourself: why is it that you’ve gravitated towards the same-looking white dude slash ship (dark haired white dude + light haired white dude) for your entire time in fandom? Don’t give yourself an out with “I like villains” or whatever, actually dig deep.
  • Inspect your output: have you looked at what you’re actually creating to see what content you’re creating about male characters of color? If they’re just background characters to your main ship or living out incredibly racialized (and often racist) fantasies in fandom… yikes.
  • Invest in research materials: Yes, I know I said not to go looking for sensitivity readers for your fanworks but if someone’s offering or you’re writing in a fanbase, dear god please take the help. (And pay them for it in some way even if it’s “just” in returning the favor with a solid beta reading session.) But also, read up on the cultures and communities you’re writing in. Especially if you’re writing modern or college stories for your favorite East Asian franchise. Watch some local television, read some local books, and please stop putting people who live in various East Asian countries with high population density in sprawling cul-de-sacs like they live in South Florida or something.
  • Prepare to be bruised: the thing is that not everyone will approve of what you’re doing. Either way, someone’s gonna get annoyed. Either because you’re “getting woke” and “bending to the SJWs” in fandom or because you’ve tried your hardest and it’s still not good enough. You can’t please everyone, but you can do a little to make fandom less… single-minded.

Responses and Reactions

Sasha says:

March 29, 2020 at 10:16 am

I think I struggle with this as a POC. It’s a case of the white protagonists being written with more depth and attached to more interesting plot developments by white writers. So when it comes to creating fan fiction, it feels like more labor to develop POC characters that were written badly or with little depth. Then there’s the social feedback factor. Fanfic writers will get more hits and feedback and validation if they cater to the fandom’s tastes, which is always white. It’s really frustrating because I see all of the things you’re talking about, but I’m also playing into it because of these hegemonic forces. I have tried to write more POC characters and relationships to break out of this cycle, but like I said, the struggle for me is real. I’m just not as invested and even when I am, I get 1/8th of the feedback and hits, which I know shouldn’t matter, but ultimately it does.
Clover says:

November 22, 2020 at 4:47 pm

This was a really thoughtfully written essay and definitely a worthwhile read. I didn’t stay in the Star Wars fandom very long, but I remember seeing some really cringe-inducing depictions of Finn/Poe like you described before it gotten overtaken by other pairings. Considering how shitty John Boyega got treated by Disney and how much they shelved Finn’s character later on, I can’t help but wonder how much of this kind of racist writing is learned by fans vs how much of it is enabled by them. Thanks for sharing this.