Not Just an OTP: An Ugly Truth and a Confession

But I’m not racist, you cry, missing the point entirely. Racism is not a part-time occupation that you grow out of just because you’ve watched all of Fresh Prince. If you grew up in a society where Black people are subject to harsher rules than their white counterparts, where most of the leads on network television are white with “diversity” roughly translating to one white woman and one Black man, where Black people on science fiction/fantasy shows are usually the first to be sacrificed – you are capable of racist behaviours.

But I’m a person of colour, you point out, naively assuming that there are get of jail free cards for being racist, I can’t be racist! While I do congratulate you on your status as a person of colour, that doesn’t mean that you can’t be racist. In fact, you can be just as racist as white people, you just lack their power. Because when you are a non-Black PoC, chances are that you recognise that Black people are at the bottom of hierarchy and you are somewhere in the middle. Thanks to white supremacy, you know that you can tear down Black people in order to elevate yourself. The attitude of white people to this – thanks to a mixture of the history of slavery, colourism, and classism – pretty much boils down to “at least they’re not Black.” It’s why some fans pretend to love Linda Park (played by Malese Jow, who is half Chinese American and part Cherokee) but never actually talk about her. They would prefer Barry to be with a white girl, but hey, at least she’s not Iris. It’s why much of the racism Iris receives is from the Latin American and Asian portions of the fandom, where anti-Black racism is rampant. The racism she receives is anti-Black, which means that it is, you guessed it, exclusive to Black people. And society is rather good at being racist to Black people.

But I’m a feminist, you cry, pointing to your pink pussy hat, I can’t be guilty of misogyny! Yes, dear, you can. Because like I said, misogynoir is the intersection of sexism and anti-Black racism. Black women are below both their male skinfolk and their white sisters, and are torn down in equal measure by both in order to maintain their position. Despite society’s attempts to paint racism as something perpetuated only by scary white men, there has never been a time when white women have not been complicit in the system of white supremacy that keeps other races subjugated. Susan B. Anthony, for example, advocated for women’s right to vote but was adamant that white women get that right before Black men. The Seneca Falls Conference didn’t address the racism faced by Black women, either, as these white women did not want to be placed on the same level as women of any other race. Unfortunately, the phrase “solidarity is for white women” predates Twitter.

And no, this is not something confined to the dated attitudes of the 1800s. You’re still going to see white women exclude and smack down members of other races to keep their own position in the hierarchy of white supremacy. They are the Mayella Ewells, who use the fragility their white womanhood represents to frame a Black man for murder so that she doesn’t have to admit she felt sexual attraction to him. The Lena Dunhams, who believe a white man over a Black woman who claims he sexually assaulted her. And they are the Taylor Swifts, hijacking a relevant conversation about racism in the music industry to victimise herself and dismiss Nicki Minaj’s message about Black women having to work twice as hard, all to maintain her position as enlightened feminist while painting Nicki as the Angry Black Woman who complains about things she doesn’t deserve.

So, yes feminists can be racist. A lot of the first feminists were. Misogynoir, unfortunately, is a normalised aspect of society. And in fandom, you’ll see how some white women will go to any lengths to demonise the Black woman in the story in order to tear her down.

Well, I’m a Black man, you say smugly, predictably centering racism on the plight of the (probably) straight Black man while ignoring the fact that you wouldn’t be here without a Black woman, I can’t be racist!

*counts to ten*

Fans of Iris are often stereotyped as Angry Black Women – as is Iris herself. And that second tweet? Written by a Black guy.

Not in the same way, no. Racism, first and foremost, is about power, and in a system of white supremacy, it’s impossible for Black men to have that power. You cannot oppress in a system where you are the oppressed. However? Black men are still fully capable of enacting misogynoir. Black women specifically are often characterised as ugly, unintelligent, greedy, hypersexual, demanding…by everyone. Black men are not characterised by a hatred of Black women, but again, the nature of white supremacy means that Black women can be degraded by the men in our own race with no cost to themselves.

Black women are the first to be shamed for even looking at men outside of our own race (especially white men), yet many Black men openly talk about not liking Black women and preferring white women. Who, thanks to that pesky white supremacy deal, have always been touted as the standard of beauty, intelligence, and status. For some men of colour, if you “land” a white woman, you’re trading up, because she’s always been what you’ve grown up seeing as the height of success. Or, as Kanye once put it “when you get on, he’ll leave ya ass for a white girl.”

The white woman is the standard. The white woman means you’ve won. It’s why you will see countless rappers saying that they don’t date Black women despite wearing their Blackness proudly, and Black athletes calling Black women ugly. Because the approval of a white woman is so desired, and degrading Black women is easy.

There are Black men who, unfortunately, think that they have the right to their women over anyone else. They can date outside of their race, but still expect Black women to be “there” should they need one. And thanks to sexism, there’s a desire to not see those women rise above them in power and status; for them to “know their place.” This way of thinking seeps into the way we watch television. It’s in the Black men who were a little too eager to see Rowan Pope, Olivia’s father on Scandal, verbally castigate her whenever he was onscreen. Or those who call Annalise Keating every name in the book. And yes, those who hate on Iris for ridiculous reasons while excusing Caitlin for everything she does.

I love Black men. Most Black women do. But Black men are also responsible for a lot of the misogynoir I’ve experienced in my life, whether it’s accusations of betraying my race when I dated a white man, or Black men telling me my attitude was too “off-putting” and I should try being less “aggressive.” The very fact that I had to preface this by saying that I don’t hate Black men tells you how pervasive this attitude is, and how guilty Black women feel when talking about it, since we’ve been raised to uplift our men, even at personal cost to ourselves. Do you know where the term “Strong Black Woman” comes from? It sure as hell wasn’t from us.

Gotcha! you say triumphantly, I’m a Black woman, so I can’t be guilty of misogynoir, right? Right?

This person is not a “black”, unless they’re saying that they’re a cigarette. Pretending to be Black to shit on Black characters is one of fandom’s favourite pastimes.

(Note: I’m assuming that you are, in fact, a Black woman, and not one of those tumblr users who says things like “as an African-American woman” so you can have an excuse to hate on Black women with your imaginary melanin as a shield. Stop it. We know you’re lying).

Again, yes. You won’t have the power that comes along with it, but when Black women speak about each other the way non-Black people do in order to diminish our humanity, they’re perpetuating a system of self-hatred that indicates they’re not comfortable with their Blackness. This means that they must take it out on other Black women who are more confident in themselves, because they resent the fact that those women are comfortable.

This is an unfortunate side-effect of white supremacy – when I mentioned the fact that white women have always been the standard of beauty, the “prize” (much as I hate the idea of characterising any woman as a prize, I didn’t make the rules), I talked about it in relation to men of colour thinking that they have reached the pinnacle of success in terms of romantic partners. But it also reinforces to women of colour (here, Black women specifically) that they’ll never be seen as that, so we internalise that message, see ourselves as lesser, and resent those Black women who don’t.

Or you could be one of those Black women who hold the unfortunate opinion that our Blackness is directly correlated to how attractive we find Black men.

They act in ways that suggest they feel white women are the standard. They’re overly critical of Black women, promote respectability politics, and believe the bullshit stereotypes that Black women are too loud, too aggressive, and lesser in every way. We have been conditioned to accept that whiteness is better than everything else, no matter what our own skin colour is. A lot of the time, they even promote these messages to other white women so they can be seen as the “good” Black woman. It’s another case of women throwing other women under the bus to get the approval of men, but in this case, it comes from self-hatred as well (Omarosa and Stacey Dash, I’m looking at you). They are, for want of a better term, in the sunken place.

Now, that isn’t to say that everyone who hates a Black woman in fandom – and certainly not everyone who hates Iris – fits into these categories. But simply saying that you aren’t racist or, more offensively, that you can’t be, is incorrect. Racism is more complicated than hating people of colour, but taking part in it is actually very simple. Anything that contributes to the erasure, marginalisation, and dehumanisation of people of colour while upholding a system that keeps white people at the top and everyone else subjugated, is racism. It doesn’t put you on the same level as the sitting US president – it doesn’t even make you a bad person, unless you’re refusing to unlearn it – but it does mean that your views are a product of the society in which you were brought up.

Racism, unfortunately, is one of the few things that actually is for everyone.

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