What do Martha Jones, Tara Thornton, Guinevere, and Mercedes Jones have in common?
- If you answered that they are major supporting characters in hit TV shows, give yourself 1 point.
- If you answered that they are among the few fictional representations of Black women on major network television shows, give yourself 2 points.
- If you answered that fandom, for some mysterious reason, hates the shit out of them, give yourself 5 points.
- If you answered that fandom’s hatred of these characters are particularly gendered and racialized along stereotypes about Black women, hand yourself the internet.
The level of hatred spewed at these characters sometimes even manages to spill over onto the actors who portray them. Poor Rutina Wesley can’t do anything right in True Blood fandom. And according to some Merlin fans, Angel Coulby is probably the Antichrist. OK, I exaggerate. But not by much.
If you watch Merlin or True Blood, you’d know that some of the more melanin-challenged characters deserve that sort of vitriol waaaaaaay more than the characters it’s directed at, particularly if you consider reckless endangerment of innocent lives to be morally reprehensible. These are the same people who swoon over Franklin – a psychopathic vampire kidnapper/rapist/murderer – but wish all sorts of hellfire and brimstone onto Tara Thornton. Let’s not talk about how, in the eyes of Dr. Who fandom, Martha Jones’ chief flaw is not being someone else*. Gleeks seem to hate Mercedes just because she’s competition for Rachel. And Merlin fandom seems to believe that Morgana’s treacherous magical White girl ass is a more empowering role model for women than Guinevere’s steady, quiet strength**.
(*This reminds me way too much of The Color Purple, where Celie reveals that Mister beats her because she’s not Shug. Ugh.)
(**Funnily enough, this sort of subtle fortitude is something that I only see Black and Brown actresses pull off.)
What’s so wrong with these characters according to fandom? Hm, let’s see:
- They have an attitude problem.
- They’re lazy.
- They’re mean.
- They’re stupid.
- They’re ungrateful.
- They’re selfish.
- They’re sluts.
- ETA: They’re ugly.
I’m not going to break down the history of stereotypes against Black women because, hello, Google is your friend (until it enslaves us all to its will). This is Ars Marginal. We’re beyond that 101-level bullshit. Instead, we’re going to talk about how it affects real Black women in the real world. You know, the Black women you live with, work with, play with, love with, and so on.
When I see fandom reacting to fictional Black women this way, I wonder what they’re saying about real Black women while our backs are turned.
- If we react angrily to being repeatedly ignored, disrespected, and/or abused, will our White co-workers say we have an attitude problem?
- If we are open about seeking and enjoying sex, will our White friends call us slutty?
- If we demand recognition of our talents and gifts, will our White counterparts say that we’re looking for a handout or are getting too uppity?
- If we achieve better results with less work, will the White people in our lives call us lazy?
- If we speak our truth without apology, will White people call us mean?
- If we take care of ourselves, will we be called selfish?
- If we act, speak, or think without prior White approval, will we always be seen as stepping out of line?
What about you? When you see fandom talking about Black women characters in certain ways, how does that make you feel? How do you deal with it? What do you say (if anything)? What would you like to see change about this?