Hypervisibility and Racism in Fandom

Curator's Note

In the linked video, Black cosplayers talk about their experiences within fandom spaces. I note that in doing so they articulate their frustration with the ways in which they are simultaneously both invisible and hypervisible. Their existence within offline and online fan forums is conflicted. On the one hand they are overlooked and seen as a minority of the (assumed white) cosplaying community. On the other hand, when registered, their presence is seen as something disturbing to a (white) norm about how things should be done. Black cosplayers then must spend time articulating the issues they face while also establishing their credentials that they belong in a fan community.   

I would also argue that in the latter cases this leads to a hypervisbility around their bodies, words, and actions which is then seen as a solution to the original complaint. So in this case, any success that cosplayers have in raising the issue of racism (in this case through a hashtag campaign) is seen as definitive proof that the problem itself is being addressed.

After all, how can the cosplaying community have a racism problem when Black cosplayers exist and are vocal?

As Sarah Ahmed notes in Complaint as Diversity Work, “A complaint teaches about institutional direction because a complaint is often treated as misdirection by the institution. Another way of saying this: to locate a problem is to become the location of a problem. Diversity work: becoming the location of a problem.” Indeed, after the complaint is raised it is most often the complainant who becomes the focus of scrutiny.

Therefore, in naming the problem of racism within fan spaces, it is fans of color (and specifically Black fans in this instance), who are faced with the choice of continuing to provide evidence of the discrimination they face, or allow their, now hypervisible, fandom presence to assure white fans that the problem has been fixed.

This is not a problem limited to fandom spaces and is reflected in disciplines like Fan Studies wherein the articulation of its whiteness – as reflected in bibliographies, edited collections, keynotes etc – by non-white scholars such as myself is seen as disrespect and as not engaging with the discipline in good faith. Simultaneously, the (limited) success that such scholars have had in naming this issue is seen as proof that the discipline is listening and it is us who are the real problem in claiming otherwise.

After all, how can Fan Studies be white when (some) work of race and racism in fandom exists?

This was seen most recently in the events around the upcoming #FSN2019 conference which Samira Nadkarni discusses with much depth and nuance here. I draw attention to this event and Samira’s discussion because it is tempting to see this as an incident involving individuals which was resolved on that level. However, the much more fraught question to be pondered is how Fan Studies as a discipline has responded (and will continue to respond) to this moment, as only one example in a much larger history of institutional whiteness. 



Rukmini, thanks for this. (I had entertained using this video for my post, but guessed that someone else could use it to greater effect, as you have.) Among the many issues your essay intersects with, I believe the treatment of minority fans, whether marginalization, colorblind nonchalance, or rejection of their creative work as "not canon," happens because of contemporary racial etiquette. Almost no white fans will go up to you and call you a racial epithet, but most likely they will not engage with you in terms different than they are used to. Thanks to social media, racist white fans who must act out have many fora. But as long as they don't "say anything that sounds racist" (many of my Wisconsin undergrads' guide to whether they should talk at all), they can go on unchallenged, unenlightened, and misinformed. 

I recently went to Star Wars Celebration, which had maybe 10% minorities, enough that you could call "diverse." But there sure isn't any interaction, so the whole experience was--business as usual.

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