While writing my chapter description on fandom yesterday, along with the myriad of positive affects I experienced while engaging with a community I know and care for intimately, I was also uncomfortable. And I knew exactly why, but pressed on for the sake of getting the words down on paper.
But now I want to talk and think about the reason for that discomfort, and how I might go about producing a better and more ethical version of this chapter outline further down the road. Because the reason I was uncomfortable was the fact that, other than a mention in a footnote, I did not address the incredibly important role of race in fandom.
The article I cited in that footnote, Mel Stanfill’s “Doing Fandom, (Mis)doing Whiteness: Heteronormativity, Racialization, and the Discursive Construction of Fandom”, suggests that mainstream media representations of fans present them as ‘failed’ instances of white, heterosexual masculinity. Stanfill allows that this “construction of [white] fans lacking privilege is based on an assumption of whiteness as privileged”, and adds that privilege is “regainable” (4.6) for white male fans in ways that are not available to others.
Even as this argument is carefully constructed and acknowledges the perpetuation of white, male privilege within fandom and representations of it, the text still participates, like my own did yesterday as well, in the erasure of fans of colour and their labour. So what to do about it?
There are, at least to my knowledge, no academic sources that treat discussions of online fan labour with specific attention to race. (I would truly be thrilled to be proven wrong on this, so please comment if you do know of something I’ve missed.) So my sense is that I would have to come at this question in a roundabout sort of way, by raising discussions like RaceFail. I think what felt difficult about that when I was writing my first draft was the ability to directly tie critiques of race within fandom to the central claim I want to make about women, affect, and wage. But the indirectness also seems to be rather the point, upon reflection. That is, if fans are always already presumed to be white, and indeed disproportionately are white, then there is an urgency to addressing not only the products and circulation of racialized fan labour, but the ongoing struggle for raced bodies to be recognized as fans capable of fannish labour in the first place.
On a practical level, I’m still not sure how to structure this change in my chapter; the introduction of a sustained discussion of race, while ethically and politically essential, still represents a distinct (though obviously interlocking) set of issues. Short of adding a second chapter on fandom, which I don’t particularly wish to do, I’m not sure how to manage what would in some ways be different archives and distinct sets of questions. All I’m really certain of at the moment is that I don’t feel comfortable producing something that perpetuates the erasure of POC fan labour.