We Need to Talk About #ElseworldsSoWhite

The Bold and the Butthurt

So, finally, we come to the reactions to #ElseworldsSoWhite. As I said, the reactions run the gamut from people who think that the hashtag is racist against white people, to those who think it’s about shipping, to those who think that the reason Iris and Felicity didn’t appear because the actresses asked for too much money per episode for the budget of the crossover. I think we can handily dismiss them all – though I do love the casual misogyny of assuming that the problem is women wanting to be paid what they’re owed in that last one – but there are a few that I would like to talk about, and what it means when certain fans are angry that people are bringing it up.

The first, people bringing up other Black and brown characters who weren’t a focus in the crossover, or that we should be happy with “race-swapped” characters instead of complaining about the calibre of representation. (A good hint that you’re dealing with someone who doesn’t give a damn about representation: they say things like “race-swapped”.) And what they mean by that is that since there are people with melanin on-screen, the complaints don’t have any merit.

The thing is, though, good representation and inclusion isn’t merely about having them onscreen, it’s about emphasising them as important parts of the story. Yes, James and Cisco were in the crossover – but when have they actually been a deep, meaningful part of it, as opposed to a person with the necessary skills to build a plot device or deliver exposition? When have they been given stories that deepened their characters, even in ways that don’t distract from the leads of the shows? Furthermore, why should we happy that the only woman of colour who is a female lead on one of these shows treated as an afterthought? Representation isn’t just for points, it’s to show that these characters are an important part of the fabric of the narrative of these shows, so that people who look like them can feel important as well.

What people actually mean when they say this is that since they can see that not everyone is white, we should be happy. Which shows that they have a fundamental misunderstanding of what representation is. There’s a sort of feeling of “what more do you want?” and them throwing their hands up, as if we should bow and scrape for meagre representation. And the fact that they think what people want when they talk about representation is that everyone’s a different colour as opposed to overwhelmingly white simply means that they don’t see us as more than diversity tokens. They don’t think that our stories are worth telling, because they think the most interesting thing about us is that we have melanin. This reaction to #ElseworldsSoWhite isn’t reasoned debate and it isn’t a plea for fans to appreciate what creators are doing, it’s a demand for us to shut up and be grateful because they can’t see the problem and aren’t willing to educate themselves enough to try.

The second is people bringing up that Iris appeared a lot in the Flash portion of the crossover, and there are other characters more important than her. Essentially acknowledging that, yes, Iris wasn’t in it a lot (this is a rather novel thing in itself, as the same people who like to complain about Iris always act like she’s in every frame of every episode), but since she isn’t important, we shouldn’t complain and we shouldn’t link it to issues of representation. And that things shouldn’t “revolve” around her anyway.

Except this is another festering crock of shit, and one that I’m quite tired of having shoved in my face. It bears repeating, since I know there are some people who have a rather hard time accepting it – Iris West is the most important woman in Barry Allen’s story, and Candice Patton is the leading lady of The Flash. Part of what made Black women excited about Patton’s casting wasn’t just that we’d see someone who looks like us on television, because otherwise we’d be happy being the Mammy to some white woman’s Scarlett O’Hara (AKA The Black Best Friend) for all eternity. It was that she was cast to be the leading lady. It was that she would be the hero’s inspiration, that would get seasons of development to help grow around her love interest-label – and therefore that she wouldn’t be unceremoniously killed off when the show needed cheap drama. I didn’t sign up to watch a Black woman sit obediently and wipe everyone else’s tears while everyone else got to kick ass, I signed up to watch her be the ass-kicker. #ElseworldsSoWhite, as I mentioned, was because people are (and have been, believe me) sick of Iris being treated as an afterthought when that’s the last thing she should be, especially when nobody ever forgets to make sure the white women get their shine.

Whether people like it or not, Iris is the romantic heroine of The Flash. Which means she should be allowed to be heroic.

And when people hear fans complaining about this, they’re really just showing that they’re upset about us recognising this. They don’t see the value in a Black leading lady and resent the fact that she is being elevated above their white favourites, because a cursory glance at the science fiction, fantasy and superhero genres tell us that this is not the natural order of things. The reaction to #ElseworldsSoWhite, with some fans berating Iris West fans for wanting her to be shown more, used more, and treated with respect throughout the whole Arrowverse, shows that they’re either obtuse about the importance of a Black leading lady, or they do not care. I’m not sure which is worse, but to be honest, it doesn’t matter. People whining that fans of colour are demanding better representation, hiding it under flimsy nonsense about us being greedy, are nothing more than selfish gatekeepers who have never been taught to share.

My last point is to do with fans who have thrown some of the most spectacular histrionics I have seen in my two decades on this planet in response to the hashtag, with a select few even devoting time to making videos about it. I’ve already covered that these fans are either ignorant, callous, or some winning combination of the two, so I won’t rehash it. My question is, though – why all this energy now?

Put simply, science fiction fandoms are garbage, and the Arrowverse is a shining example. Between Ruby Rose being bullied off the internet when she was announced as Batwoman, Candice Patton being told to stay off the internet after she was cast as Iris, and the general misogyny, racism, and homophobia that certain fans seem to be so good at, it’s hard to find a safe space to enjoy yourself without some turd of a human rolling up in your mentions to remind you that you aren’t welcome. And my problem with the juvenile whining about #ElseworldsSoWhite is that even as these people insist that they aren’t racist or sexist, they are the very same people to ignore the abuse that gets thrown around, or say that it isn’t that big of a deal, or that there are more important problems. Where was this energy when Snowbarry shippers – still upset that Barry Allen doesn’t love their favourite white woman – started a targeted campaign to reduce Iris’ screentime? Where was their contribution to #ABiggerWorldForIris, a hashtag that was dedicated to improving her storylines, when they insist that all the abuse and hatred her character and actress get would go away if she were “better-written”? And where in heaven’s name were all the fanboys who gleefully made memes and videos shaming Iris for the phrase “We Are The Flash,” when all that did was garner such vicious abuse that Patton herself implied she was tired of it?

Well, I can’t tell you where they were, but I can say what they were doing: ignoring it. Because despite all of their bleating to the contrary, they do not actually care about women, especially not women of colour, and they’re upset because we refuse to accept subpar representation. Quite simply I would be happier if they just said so.

Then, at least, I could pretend to respect them.

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