Not Just an OTP: Once More With Feeling

Welcome back! In the last article in this series, we talked about the standards foisted upon Iris but not the other (white) characters, thus leading to the conclusion that they’re punishing Iris based on stereotypes of Black female characters that are often not true. A lot of Black women in fiction are called sluts, too angry, manipulative, abusive, and many others pejoratives by members of fandom, stripping them – and therefore real Black women – of their humanity and right to be represented. Because, as we’re going to see, the way a lot of Snowbarry shippers treat Iris is racist.

At this point, we’re going to go over the sections we explored already with the additional knowledge that a lot of fans hate Iris because she’s Black. These sections include: Taylor’s Problematic Lyrics, Hot Nerds, The Importance of Seeing Subtext, and Canon, Chlois Theory, and Queen Takes Pawn.

Taylor’s Problematic Lyrics

Many fans feel a bizarre entitlement over Barry. You know, the “You Belong With Me” type. Except that unlike the song, Caitlin isn’t rewarded with Barry. Meaning shippers using her as their self-insert because they can’t relate to Iris for some reason aren’t rewarded with Barry, and they loathe Iris for it.

So, to make themselves feel better, they cast Iris as the raging harpy of a love interest that’s always mean to Barry and doesn’t support him enough. She’s also petty, vindictive, and jealous of every woman in Barry’s life (especially Caitlin. They can tell Iris is jealous of Caitlin because reasons).

Take Linda, for example. Now, I think that whole thing was dumb, since Barry, Iris, and Linda had to act like teenagers for it to work (but I do admit that’s continuity on the part of The CW, I suppose). Iris gets put in the middle of Barry and Linda’s relationship, because CW. Iris, as you could hopefully tell, was a little unbalanced from Barry’s confession and still coming to terms with it. Barry then confronts Iris about what she did, accusing her of deliberately trying to make sure that Linda knew he wasn’t available. I personally think Iris should have directed Linda back to Barry to avoid the misunderstanding, but objectively, nothing here made them look like horrible people.

Except Iris, of course, who was a jealous, petty bitch toying with Barry’s emotions for her own amusement. Part of it is fans being unable to relate to Iris or understand her feelings, and just assuming that the “popular girl” didn’t like it when the guy’s attention wasn’t on her. (Yes, I’m aware that none of these people are in high school. A lot of fans are still there, apparently). Since they could and still do conjure up entire declarations of love between Barry and Caitlin out of the fact that these two people are nice to each other, but can’t use context clues or even Iris’ actual words to figure out how she’s feeling, I’m going to go ahead and assume it’s because of her race.

Black women in media are few and far between, despite what angry racists on the internet will tell you, and when we are represented, it’s in an eye-rollingly stereotypical way. The most popular reality shows are filled with Black women arguing, fighting, and being two-faced. There are countless reaction gifs and memes of Black women wanting to fight, despite most non-Black Twitter users not knowing if it’s Tiffany Pollard, Cardi B, or Wendy Williams in the gif. Whenever young white musicians decide to shed their innocent images and go for a more “adult” audience, the music and especially the bodies of Black people are used to do it, and more often than not it is Black female bodies. In TV and film, very often, when we’re not the supportive best friend giving sage advice with a side of sass to the white heroine before dutifully going back to our rightful place as background noise, we’re the jealous villain, or the petty minion, or the two-faced friend.

Examples range from Chastity in 10 Things I Hate About You (as much as it pains me to say anything bad about this perfect, perfect film), Amber Addison in Hannah Montana, or Dr. Cassandra Kopelson in The CW’s very own Emily Owens, M. D.. All these characters get little development other than as bullying frenemies and precious little in the way of sympathy.

These stereotypes even plague lead characters. Cookie on Empire, Annalise on How to Get Away With Murder, Olivia on Scandal – these characters are revolutionary triumphs for Black women (and in Olivia’s case, also for anyone who likes nice coats), but they also sometimes play into negative stereotypes society reserves for Black women: vindictive, violent, selfish, petty, and disloyal. Now, the fact that Olivia is so multi-faceted is a major part of the praise of the character, as well as for Annalise and for Cookie, but what do you think people with ingrained and unconscious biases about Black women are taking away from this?

That they are aggressive, violent, petty, toxic, jealous, and abusive. And because they are comfortable with this assessment, it makes it easier for them to “love” these women, even if that love lacks sincerity behind it. Because it reinforces what they already think.

Even from childhood, Black women on television have mostly been background noise, comedic relief, or antagonists, until fairly recently. Think of how many Black characters you saw on shows that weren’t “Black,” like That’s So Raven, compared to kids’ shows now. How many do you actually remember?

All of this has bred a kind of disconnect between audiences and Black women. When you are used to seeing Black women as someone you aren’t supposed to like, it’s harder to sympathise with the ones you are. This is precisely why representation is at once so necessary and so difficult; everyone is so used to seeing Black women as stereotypes that people think that’s how Black women inherently are. You don’t have to empathise with them, and it’s hard for you to start now because you’ve had so little practice.

Now, I’m not saying that people thought Iris was the villain in this scenario because they’re racist. And even though I don’t agree with it – because I simply didn’t see it that way – I guess I can kind of see why people thought Iris was trying to make sure that Linda knew she was unavailable. But why did they reach for a petty and vindictive Iris rather than the confused and apologetic one the narrative presented? Why did Barry get no hate when he tried to break up a couple, but everyone assumed that was what Iris was doing without any evidence?

Fans often make Caitlin into the heroine of a movie where the guy she likes is being held hostage by the evil Alpha Bitch. However, Iris’ race adds another dimension to it and makes it very hard to accept that there isn’t any racism behind the ship. Black women – and really, any minority will tell you this – do not just represent themselves. They carry the sins of all the Black women that came before them. Be honest with yourself: when you see a white protagonist in a romcom and then her Black Best Friend turns up so the protagonist can vent about her love life, how often do to expect her to roll her neck or snap her fingers or pepper her speech with “girlfriend” and “sister”? When you see a Black woman on a reality show, you’re probably counting down the minutes until she says something petty or spiteful, or starts a mess or a fight, right? Hollywood hasn’t really given Black women space, and when audiences are asked to relate to them in a position they’re not used to they find it difficult. Iris’ skin colour and femaleness, in the minds of some viewers, has already reduced her to something destructive, and thus unworthy of the care given to other characters when it comes to her actions, her feelings, and her presence on the show.

Not allowing Iris the benefit of the doubt when, objectively, all she did was not mind her own business, to accuse her of being vindictive and petty when there’s no evidence of it, to say that she doesn’t care about Barry’s feelings when there’s evidence to the contrary, to reduce Iris to stereotypes that are based not only on a perceived Alpha Bitch personality but come from years of seeing Black women a certain way, is racist. It is the racism that doesn’t allow Black women to be anything more than stereotypes, that does not allow them to be jealous or unsure without being disregarded as people, that does not allow Black women to be represented as human. Which, you know, is the whole point of representation. It’s not the racism that causes Black people to be unjustly killed by the police, or that gathers crowds of white supremacists marching with tiki torches, and equating the two is dangerous.

But it’s still racism.

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