#nazi mention cw, #rape mention cw, #abuse mention cw
We (collective we, as people raised in a white supremacist society) tend to find it easier to empathize and sympathize with white characters than with non-white characters, and with light-skinned characters than with dark-skinned characters. It takes actual self-examination and a willingness to unlearn that racism, to be able to read a narrative without any kind of racial bias, just like it takes self-examination and unlearning to live life without racism or any other kind of prejudice.
The issue is that we are not willing to look at ourselves and see why we prefer certain characters over others, and so we make excuses. We yell “it’s not about race!” and, to back that statement, we say “it’s because she’s a woman”, “it’s because they’re queer”, “it’s because they’re neurodivergent”. And I’ve already written about the “oh, it’s because they’re queer, not because they’re white” argument, but the mental illness/trauma argument is just as prevalent.
White characters who’ve experienced some sort of trauma (from their parents’ divorcing or moving towns as a child, to assault or a violent accident); who are canonically disabled or who are coded as neuroatypical (or sometimes not even coded, just have a few Quirky Character Traits™ that we, desperate to see ourselves represented positively in any kind of media, might cling to) can get away with being racist, misogynistic, ableist to other characters, abusive or just plain assholes.
And, of course, white characters who are in no way mentally ill or coded as such have mental illnesses and traumas invented for them by the fandom, just so they can become “tragic” enough for their misdeeds to be ignored.
If a white character is mentally ill/traumatized (or if White Fandom™ has decided they are, based on even the flimsiest canon evidence) they deserve all of the attention, all of the screentime, they can never do no wrong and anytime a character of color dares to disagree with them it’s ableism, just as it is ableist for fans of color to dislike this character.
- In Teen Wolf, Kira and Scott are just as patently coded as mentally ill and traumatized as Lydia, Derek or Stiles (whose “canon mental illness” is a joke about ADHD in the first season). Yet Scott is called whiny, has all of his trauma reduced to “obsessing over Allison” and is expected to bend over backwards to conform to every single one of Stiles’ or any other white character’s wishes; and Kira is forgotten or used as comic relief while fandom cries over the white characters.
- In the 100, Raven suffers from PTSD, chronic pain and physical disability; while Bellamy is obviously deeply traumatized. Yet only Clarke and Octavia’s trauma matter; and Raven “deserves” to be disabled for sleeping with “””Clarke’s man””” (?), just like Bellamy deserves to be violently abused by his sister.
- In The Flash, Cisco is expected to forgive Barry instantly after finding out that Barry is the reason his brother is dead, but Barry is allowed to try and save his mother as many times as he wants. Caitlin’s metahuman arc is taken more seriously and given more attention (both by fandom and by canon) than Cisco’s ever was. And Caitlin’s loss of Ronnie is never forgotten, but Iris can’t grieve for Eddie for more than five minutes.
- In HTGAWM; Wes, Annalise and Michaela have all had lives full of trauma and loss, and the three of them were suffering way before the plot of the show started, yet fandom only cares for Connor and, occasionally, Laurel. A mentally ill afro-latino was violently murdered when he was about to find happiness and White Fandom™ didn’t say a word, yet they were ready to start fires if Connor was the one under the sheet.
There are endless other examples (and feel free to add more):
- In Pacific Rim; Stacker Pentecost’s chronic terminal illness and PTSD, and Mako’s PTSD; vs. Hermann canon’s disability or Newt “neurodivergent coding”.
- In the MCU; Sam and Daisy’s PTSD vs. Tony and Bucky’s. Elektra’s, Luke’s or Malcolm’s trauma after being abused vs. Jessica Jones’. The fact that the Stand With Ward people still expect people to empathize with a literal murderer, rapist N*zi because he was abused as a child.
- In Scandal, Abbie and Mellie’s PTSD versus Olivia’s.
- In Star Wars, Finn’s trauma versus Rey and Kyle’s; or Cassian and Bodhi’s versus Jyn’s.
- In Person of Interest, Root’s neurodivergence versus Shaw’s.
- In FDTD, Kisa and Scott’s trauma versus Kate’s trauma and Richie’s neurodivergence.
Just imagine how many people would be hauling Rosewood as revolutionary for its portrayal of chronic illness and mental illness if the two leads weren’t a black man and a brown woman. Or how little fandom would actually care about Wendy Maximoff if she was actually played by a brown Rromani-Jewish actress.
Or don’t even image. Look at how fandom rushes to excuse Ward’s actions because of his childhood trauma and then they turn around and condemn Melinda May and Daisy Johnson for every single thing they do. Look at how fandom treats Winn vs. how they treat Cisco, despite the fact that they are the exact same type of character archetype.
Critical fandom can’t call Kyle Ron a fascist or Ward an abuser neo-nazi or Stiles a misogynistic racist or J*ssica J*nes an abuser because they Are Suffering™! Meanwhile, disabled characters of color don’t get to be in pain, don’t get to lash out, don’t get to have ugly symptoms. No matter how much unapologetic assholery white characters are guilty of, they can always be redeemed (re: the Peter Hale, Derek Hale and Theo Raeken* fandoms) but neuroatypical characters of color might suffer through ages-long arcs of growth, recovery and redemption and still they never deserve fandom’s forgiveness.
Nobody can police how you identify with characters or forbid that you project on a character that might behave like you, nobody is asking that you only identify with perfect, Morally Upstanding™ characters; but the simple fact is this:
Fandom only cares for disabled and/or neuroatypical characters if they are disabled/neuroatypical and white.
Any discourse about ableism in fandom that ignores this is flawed.
*A good time as any to remember that Cody Christian is Native American. Theo Raeken, however, is never acknowledged as such and the family we know of him in the show (biological sister, maybe-biological parents) is entirely played by white people. Acknowledging biracial actors’ identities is important, but recognizing the way canon and fandom white-washes them is also important.