The rare characters that become love interests for a white male protagonist are often sidelined for a white woman. It’s inexplicably rare for the black women character to be the one to whom the white protagonist declares his devotion to and stays with in the end. Black women characters are often forced into the “Mammy” caricature: a workhorse forced to care for white characters, carry their burdens, and assist in cleaning up their messes. Characters who fall into the “Mammy” trope often martyr themselves for the sake of white characters.
Fans want a character that is just as three dimensional as the others on her show. We want characters who won’t be neglected and sidelined. We do not want characters who will be abused for the sake of furthering a white character’s story. Any adversity or pain she experiences should further her own character growth foremost.
Any black female fan of a show that isn’t considered “a black show” by the industry, learns quickly that when a character exists that’s intended to represent “our demographic”, the fandom will find any reason they can to hate her. They’ll write long screeds about how her mere presence ruins the show, and they’ll call for her to be killed off. If this character is a lead, the abuse intensifies. White, usually female fans, will send online abuse to the actress and harass her fans, often using racial slurs.
As a black women who are fans of black female characters, we are constantly reminded how much hate there is for black women and how voraciously people in fandoms dig for reasons to justify it. Oftentimes white female characters are lauded for doing the same things that white fan bases hate black female characters for.
But the hate that black women characters receives isn’t only blatant, with death threats and tirades of racial slurs there are often fans of the show who loathe her, but swear up and down they don’t know why. Here’s some anonymous quotes from white fans of The Flash regarding the show’s black leading lady, Iris West and her relationship with the white male protagonist, Barry Allen:
“She just rubs me the wrong way.”
“She hasn’t done anything. I just don’t like her.”
“There’s nothing wrong with her, I just don’t want her marrying Barry.”
“They just don’t look right together”
If you’re black, it’s easy to see the truth in their coded statements: “I don’t like her because she is black. I don’t want Iris to be with Barry because she is black.”
Their statements and feelings actually say nothing about Iris as a character. What they do reveal is a window on how a society that stereotypes, mistreats, and often dehumanizes black women is so deeply ingrained into their subconscious that it even clouds their opinions of fictional characters.
Despite the treatment from racist fans of their favorite shows, black female fans fight hard for their favorite shows. We continue to promote, publicize, campaign, and interact more than any other demographic, and are still overlooked. If executives and writers could embrace their black female fan bases, listen to us, write black female characters well and take pride in them, they’d discover a loyal and passionate group who will fight for their show through thick and thin, and more than that, they’ll see their ratings skyrocket. Why? Because there are plenty of black women who have given up on fandom after seeing their favorite character sidelined or done wrong. But fandom is a network. When black female fans laud a show for the treatment of its black leading lady, word gets around. And there are plenty of black women who have left other fandoms, looking for the right show. The one that will take it’s black leading lady seriously. The one that will treat her character with respect. The character that’s truly human, not a stereotype or caricature. The writers who understand that not only is representation important, but that what you do with that representation that matters.