Not Just an OTP: A Place For Everything, And Everything In Its Place

A Place For Everything, And Everything In Its Place

TW: Mentions of the phrase “We Are The Flash.” Proceed with caution.

Welcome back! Today and tomorrow, we’re going to delve into the racial hierarchy that fans reveal themselves to support when they talk about how these characters should behave. Yes, even Cisco, the one that many of them use as their favourite “Get Out of Racism Free” card (Joe and Wally are used on occasion, but the former cares too much about Iris, and the latter steals too much spotlight from Barry). We’ll also circle back round to The Many Faces of Iris West. Today’s will focus on Iris herself.

One of the things you’ll notice is that as insignificant and unimportant a character as some fans think Iris is, they can’t stop talking about her. That’s not surprising – she is the female lead of the show, after all – but whenever they speak about her, her life, her relationships, or what they want her to do, they end up revealing what they really think about her. You know, outside of thinking that she’s stealing Caitlin’s man, spotlight, and accolades. And even though they pride themselves on avoiding any explicitly racist rhetoric (except for the ones that don’t), they also reveal that Snowbarry is about keeping the Black girl away from the white guy.

Caitlin, a white woman, should occupy the position held by Iris, which has been reinforced by a hundred years of Hollywood thinking that white women are the only women that exist. Women of colour were lucky to be included at all, and then had to watch as we were handed the same roles over and over. Iris West as a Black woman is important because it allows her to occupy an important position in the narrative and be treated as a whole person. Her emotions are validated, her contributions are praised. She is loved by a white man – the lead of the show – and placed above him by that man himself. Unlike Bonnie Bennett, her friends do not ignore her. Unlike Abbie Mills, she isn’t diminished in importance for a white woman. Many fans do not like this, and the way they react to Iris and her actions, as well as the other characters of colour, paints a very specific picture of what Iris’ “place” should be.

It’s fine for Caitlin to yell at Barry for causing her pain, but Iris doesn’t have that right, and must swallow the pain because whatever Barry’s feeling takes precedence. When Iris yelled at Cisco for going behind her back to get Barry out of the Speed Force after arguing that it was dangerous and they couldn’t predict the outcome, fans bristled. When Iris wanted to know where Caitlin had been for the past six months – especially since she knew Barry was in the Speed Force but didn’t bother to help until Cisco asked – they actually wished violence on her for daring to raise her voice at Caitlin. Which tells you that, in their minds, Iris ranks below both Caitlin and Cisco.

Cisco, however, can’t be too mad at Barry or take things away from Caitlin. This is evidenced by the people who got sick of him for being mad at Barry for Flashpoint, or those that were angry that Cisco made an alcoholic solution for Barry at his bachelor party – since that kind of science belongs to Caitlin and in doing so he was overstepping his bounds. So, Cisco’s ranking depends almost entirely on how subservient he is to the white characters, but he does rank higher than Iris.

Joe, when he’s supporting Barry and thus giving more fuel to asinine assertion that Barry and Iris are brother and sister, is fine. When he’s being nice to Caitlin, he’s her father figure and that dynamic needs to be explored. But when he’s reminding the audience that Iris is one of his three priorities, he’s suddenly a terrible character. This is exemplified by the reaction to Joe going after a villain who held the key to defeating Savitar and thus saving Iris. Joe makes a deal with him to let him out but he escapes, causing an explosion that injures Caitlin. Though Caitlin successfully coaches Julian through her surgery, she succumbs to her injuries, and Julian tears off her necklace and turns her into Killer Frost.

Of course, it’s Joe’s fault rather than Julian’s that this happened. Joe is now the villain because protecting his Black daughter makes him terrible (a little like Barry becoming terrible because he loves Iris). Fans said the same thing when Joe got angry at Harry for stealing Barry’s powers and almost getting his kids killed, but were fine with Harry committing murder and putting Iris in danger to save Jesse. So, Joe is fine as long as he’s Barry’s dad, but if he’s acting in service of his Black daughter or putting her above anyone else, he’s a bad person. Julian, who explicitly went against Caitlin’s wishes and actually turned her into Killer Frost, is curiously absolved of his actions.

Iris, who was going to be murdered at the end of season 3, didn’t deserve the focus and attention she got from the team, and just as much should have gone to Caitlin, who most definitely was not going to die and allied herself with Iris’ murderer. Caitlin can yell at Cisco for outing her to the team when she’s not ready; Iris can’t do the same when her instructions as team leader are disobeyed. Characters who care about Iris are selfish; characters who care about Caitlin are not. When the team wanted to help Caitlin with her powers, everyone was friends; when they helped Iris, Caitlin, Cisco, and H.R. were Barry’s “minions,” because helping Caitlin is a given but helping Iris is something that Barry should beg everyone else to do.

Fans don’t think that Iris has a right to her emotions, they tend to get upset whenever Iris expresses negativity to anyone, but most especially the white characters. They don’t like it when anyone acts in service of her. And they certainly don’t like it when she’s placed above the other characters in importance – even if being murdered by a speed god is pretty much the worst position one can be in. Barry and the show place Iris in the opposite position that we’re used to seeing her in – as someone worthy of being saved, loved, and listened to. She was comforted by her father, brother, boyfriend/fiancé, and friends, and her life was placed above everyone else’s, which doesn’t usually happen for Black women in these genres. When fans complain that people care about Iris too much, that the same care that went to Iris should have gone to Caitlin despite them being in different situations, they give away the fact that they think she’s rising above her station. That is, the station that is usually designated to Black women – the last to receive love, the first to be the sacrificial lamb, and often the only one everyone routinely forgets about when the world needs saving.

Iris is supposed to be at the bottom of the hierarchy but the show insists on putting her near the top – underneath Barry, the white male lead of the show. They are cementing her as the queen on the chessboard, so to speak, while doing very little to remove Caitlin from her position as pawn. And Snowbarry shippers, who we’ve already established are using Caitlin as their self-insert because they can’t relate to Iris’ skin colour, are not happy about that.

1 2 3 4