Stanning For Characters of Color: No it’s not Reverse Racism
Running a blog dedicated to women of color in pop culture, I’ve gotten various questions/ accusations from “you only like her because of her skin color!” to “Why do you like her she’s so boring!”. In light of this, and considering many of my fellow bloggers of color get similar questions, I decided to type up a list of reasons why I stan for characters of color, and why stannage for POC is different than how white fandom understands it.
Note to white fans: before reading further, understand that media representation is over 90% white people, and that those who control/write/create/disseminate large scale media remain overwhelmingly white. Really think about what that means. Let it sink in.
Stanning for the ‘Traditional’ Character
This is a concern I field quite often as someone who stans for Angel Coulby’s ‘Guinevere’ in BBC’s ‘Merlin’. Many (usually white) folks can’t understand how we can stan for a character who’s ‘traditionally’ feminine, heterosexual, gets rescued, is nurturing etc. Leaving aside the fact that Guinevere is actually quite self-sufficient, the devaluing of her ‘traditional’ femininity comes from a place of historical ignorance and white privilege. The truth is, ‘traditional’ femininity is defined and circumscribed by whiteness, and the de-feminization of WOC bodies is explicitly linked to colonialism and the plantation economy of the Deep South. So when a WOC is allowed to embody a ‘traditionally’ feminine character, one who’s desired and loved and protected, THAT is pretty damn revolutionary, and as a WOC who enjoys girly things let me tell you that after growing up without ever seeing a woman like me in pretty dresses with flowers in her hair, Gwen’s character is a really, really big deal.
This is also applicable to the Teen Wolf fandom, where Scott stans are derided for liking a ‘stupid’ ‘boring’ ‘oblivious’ et al character. While white people might find Scott’s high-school shenanigans ‘boring’, for POC it’s refreshing not only to see a hero who’s Latino, but someone who’s not stereotyped as violent, thuggish etc. Believe it or not, POC like being ‘normal’ too! We like seeing ourselves dealing with regular high school drama like convincing a parent to let us take the car and asking that cute girl out on a second date.
Stanning for the ‘Background’ Character
In this instance the Teen Wolf fandom springs readily to mind. Many of us who stan for Boyd and Danny* and demand more screentime for these characters are mocked by the larger fandom. It’s simply incomprehensible to many white fans how anyone can identify with characters who’re allowed so little space in the narrative. Once again, this is symptomatic of white privilege. When you’ve lived your whole life able to racially identify with protagonists because all the protagonists look like you, it’s difficult to understand how someone can willingly empathize with background characters. Well, welcome to media consumption as a POC! Background characters is all we got for the most part, and I identify the hell outta them because my experience as a WOC in white society is constantly being shoved to
the background and having to demand space. With the advent of social media, we’re now in a unique position to speak back to media, and by stanning for these characters, writing fic about them, making fan videos, creating AUs, we’re finally able to take control ( to a small but precious degree) of our own representation.
*Danny’s character is also significant in that his queerness is virtually erased or ignored in a fandom that’s arguably defined by it’s collective fascination over two (white) men potentially fucking.
Stanning for the ‘Stereotype’ Characters, or Meta-Stanning
This is a bit more difficult to explain, because this type of stanning requires a meta-consciousness and awareness of context that’s hard to acquire if you aren’t a POC or if you’ve never thought critically about media. Basically, this is when I as a WOC stan for characters whom (white) writers have squeezed into racially specific tropes. For example: Tara Thornton in ‘Tru Blood’ is characterized as the ‘angry Black woman’. The very first time we’re introduced to her, she’s yelling at a white customer, and it’s framed to present Tara not as a working class Black woman who’s justifiably enraged by the isms she negotiates on a daily basis, but as an ‘irrationally angry’ Black woman who ‘flies off the handle’ with minimum provocation. Because many viewers aren’t taught to think critically about the history of Black women’s representation in white media, they readily accept the writer’s slant on the situation and regard Tara as an angry, irrational, hot-headed character who’s anger gets her in well-deserved trouble. This is where the meta-consciousness comes in. As a WOC who’s aware of racial tropes, I’m able to resist the white authorial intent her, and instead understand Tara’s character through the lens of my own experience and the experiences of my friends. When you realize that Tara’s anger is always framed to fit a white-centric racial narrative, you begin to understand her humanity without the deliberate distortions the writers impose upon it.
Other characters who fit this mold are: Bonnie Bennett from ‘The Vampire Diaries’, the stereotypical Black best friend who’s (narratively) forced to play Mammy to all the white characters.
Regina from ‘Once Upon a Time’: a ‘devious’ woman of color who (despite the show’s attempt at complex storytelling) is nevertheless contrasted negatively with the white heroic maternal figure of Snow White.
Note: stanning for these stereotypical/problematic characters doesn’t mean, nor does it condone, the nullification of their genuinely hurtful actions (Regina usurping the sheriff’s consent etc), BUT it behooves those white fans who cry foul when POC stan for these characters to remember, as I mentioned in the beginning of this post, that stannage for characters of color is inherently different than that for white characters because of the heavy power imbalance they exist within. White characters, even immoral ones like Killian Jones or Peter Hale, have no lack of fans, while characters of color can exemplify every virtue imaginable (hello Scott McCall and Gwen!) and still receive blatant fandom hate.
Note: this is by no means a complete or exhaustive list. I just wanted to get it out there and invite commentary/feedback as well as provide a guide for those white fans who continue to wax perplexed about the realities of POC fans.
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