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

The Many Faces of Iris West, Reloaded

However, it’s not just what they hate about Iris that reveals their racist, stereotypical ways. It’s what they love about her, too. Because they “love” Iris when she remains in the place that they’re comfortable with for her. You see, Snowbarry shippers don’t always want Iris dead. Sometimes, they like her! Before you start getting your guitar ready to sing “Kumbaya” around the campfire and pass out marshmallows, though, I’ll point you to this post, which is an interesting way of looking at how fandom treats people of colour. I promised I didn’t want to give anyone homework, so I’ll summarise some of the points. What the author is saying, essentially, is that white fandom will do a lot to get characters of colour out of the way so that the white people are free to smush their bodies together. One of the methods, theorising that a character of colour is evil, has already been covered by making Iris the manipulative abuser in a toxic relationship, and wilful misinterpretation of a relationship (Westallen is incest) will be covered later on. But the two points we’ll be covering here are the tendency to say that X Black woman is a “Strong Independent Woman Who Don’t Need No Man” and to reduce the character of colour to an agony aunt so that the white characters can get together.

See, Snowbarry shippers didn’t always hate Iris. They tried so hard to love Iris but the writers made it so difficult in the beginning. And of course they don’t like her now, but they did, once upon a time. Either they’ll say that they loved her in earlier seasons because she was “badass” and “strong” and “independent” and we saw her doing her job more often, or they’ll say that they liked her during the first half of season 2. (N.B. Snowbarry shippers did not like Iris in earlier seasons for any of the things I just mentioned. In fact, on the SnowbarryTalk podcast – don’t ask – on an episode that has Iris’ journalism as the main plot, both the host and the guest expressed confusion as to why the writers were pursuing Iris as a journalist when only “fans” demanded it, called her nothing but a baby factory in the comics, and kept reiterating that she wasn’t a popular character and that her storylines were boring). Now, you may be hard pressed to remember what Iris did in the first half of the second season to have so many Snowbarry shippers desperately demanding that version of her character back.

Fans loved Iris when she was barely on the show. For some reason. And yes, we’ll be discussing the people who don’t know what siblings look like.

Because she was barely in it.

And when she was, it was in a very different position than she was in during the first season. Her pain and grief was either conveyed through her expression or not talked about at all. Instead, Barry talked about losing Eddie and Ronnie, and Caitlin talked, again, about losing Ronnie, again. Barry started dating Patty Spivot, and although he made it clear that she wouldn’t measure up to Iris, the show barely showcased the friendship between them. When Iris found out that her mother had given birth to a boy when she left and that she had a brother, she didn’t confide in anyone. When Barry asked her about how she was feeling, she deflected. When Barry asked Joe about whether Iris knew that her mother was dying, Joe said no, and they started talking about Patty.

The only people who seemed to care about Iris’ wellbeing were Barry and Joe during that period; even so, the one scene where Barry was going to comfort her about her mother was cut, so it was hard to prove. Neither Iris nor Joe were present when Barry woke up from having his back broken by Zoom, and she was side-lined to the point where she only had one line in The Flash’s portion of the crossover. It got to the point where fans started two hashtags – #DoYouHaveADaughterJoe and #DoYouHaveABestFriendBarry – to remind the writers that the two people who had spent an entire season lying to Iris because they cared that much about her safety were basically ignoring her now. When Gustin posted a photo to his Instagram promoting a scene between the two of them, he had to apologise because even he noticed what was happening and couldn’t promise that he was sure the scene wouldn’t get cut.

However, despite the fact that fans and critics alike noticed that Iris’ screen time had been drastically reduced, Snowbarry fans not only “loved” Iris during this period, but they now look upon that time with a kind of performative nostalgia. Performative because, of course, not only did they still dislike Iris during the times she was a “badass,” but because what they really liked was that she wasn’t the most important woman in Barry’s life anymore – a white woman was. We’ll discuss that particular white woman later, not to mention why she didn’t receive nearly the same amount of vitriol that Iris does for stealing a man that apparently belongs to Caitlin, but the fact that fans loved Iris when she didn’t discuss her feelings, put everyone above herself, and didn’t have Barry treating her as the most important woman in his life tells you that they thought Iris had finally learned her lesson. She wasn’t punching above her weight or rising above her station. She was behaving herself. She was supportive not just of her white best friend, but of the relationship he was pursuing with white woman. Because Iris was wearing two new “faces” – the Strong Black Woman, and the Mammy.

(N.B. – before we go on I do think I need to be honest: even though I’ll be referring to the podcast through the rest of this, that episode is the only one I listened to. I know I’m supposed to be a proponent for thorough research and all, and I wish I could say that I didn’t have time or it wasn’t relevant, but that would be a lie. I literally couldn’t force myself to sit through anymore).

Iris West, The Mammy

Hattie McDaniel, the Original Mammy

Now, these two tropes are inherently linked because the former is the descendant of the latter, but they’re still different enough that we can talk about them as two separate entities. First, we can talk about the Mammy, the older one. Google the term and you’ll likely find pictures of fat Black women dressed in maid outfits, pictures of Aunt Jemima’s pancakes, and minstrel posters showing Black maids. You’ll also likely find lots of pictures of the woman on the right, on a plantation preparing a young white woman for some sort of outing. That’s Hattie McDaniel playing the character of Mammy (no last name), and the young white woman is Scarlett O’Hara (Vivian Leigh). The Mammy archetype predates the film, but Gone With the Wind is probably the earliest example of it happening in visual media.

The Mammy archetype is the result of Black women being caregivers to the white children of slave owners rather than their own children. They were often overweight and dark-skinned, as well as friendly and loyal, but also stern and protective while also being obedient and submissive. Remember those last two, because they can make or break a Mammy. Mammy the character is probably the earliest example on film, and McDaniel’s portrayal is not only the first example of Hollywood being in love with giving Black people Oscars when we remind them that we used to be slaves, but the reason we have so many Black girls comforting white female protagonist in whatever romcom is out at the moment. In the same way that the Sassy Black Woman and the buffoonish Black guy are descended from the cartoonish characters in minstrel shows, the Black Best Friend can call the Mammy her great-great-great grandmother. Because, you see, the BBF may not have the Mammy’s apron, large bosom, dark skin, and perpetual plates of food, but they’re alike in all the ways that matter. Also, she’s asexual and aromantic. Not that she’s on the spectrum, but none of the other characters are interested in her sexually or romantically, and she’s not interested in them – LGTBQ+ representation is for shipping Tony and Steve, or Sherlock and Watson, or Kara and Lena. Black people? Fandom always makes them asexual. Can’t think why.

How many more can you think of?

Anyway, like the dutiful BFF doling out advice to White Female Protagonist, Iris spent most of the first half of season 2 advising Barry, and like the BBF, didn’t really ask for any advice for herself. She didn’t ever do anything to disrespect Barry’s relationship, and she remained supportive of the white woman in it. She didn’t really have a personal life and was shown doing her job, but it was more of a way to explain where Iris was when you couldn’t see her onscreen. She was a part of Team Flash, but being that this was back when the show cared about Barry, Iris, and Joe’s jobs, you didn’t always see her in S.T.A.R. Labs. That she was happy to give out this advice and cheerfully deflected any of Barry’s concern is just reminiscent of some white people saying that the slaves were “happy” to serve their masters, which is why it’s such a popular archetype. Because if Iris was happy not caring about herself, and didn’t have much of a life but always made time for Barry’s, then there couldn’t really be a problem.

Except, of course, when fans hate Iris when the other characters look after her but love her when she looks after other people, are upset when too much screen time is devoted to her story but are glad when her scenes are cut, and when they’re vitriolic at Barry declaring his love for her, they’re just clutching to another racist stereotype. Wanting to see Iris in the position of caregiver and friend who never talks about her own problems is a common refrain for Black women from white fandom, as it comfortably decentres them until they’re merely secondary characters. Snowbarry shippers didn’t “love” Iris because she was more badass, they loved her because you could barely see her, and when you could, she didn’t do anything to threaten the hierarchy of the show. The white man had stopped putting her above himself and the white women were getting all the spotlight, while the Black woman tended to be off in her corner.

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