While waiting to get into the room, a fellow next to me asked if I was here for the “Nazi punching.” Thankfully while it never came to physical blows, the panel, “Fighting Fascism in Fandom, aka We Really DO Care: Protecting Fandom from Bigotry” was a strong show of creators who resist toxicity. Ideology is more potent than violence anyway.
While some panels don’t exactly scratch the itch they promised, this was definitely not a problem here, as the guests not only answered how to protect fans from fascism, but went on to outline the origins of bigotry and more.
The first question was posed by the moderator, Diana Pho, who asked why fandom has been used as a conduit for bigotry?
Jay Edidin spoke first, pointing to Gamergate as the blueprint forming neo-fascism as we know it. Fandom is inherently an organizing force that brings people together under a banner, and that can be for good or ill.
Elsa Sjunneson-Henry said fandom should instead be “bringing everybody together as nerds.”
Alt-right groups “feel like they’re losing something,” Zin E. Rocklyn said. Diverse fans “are now demanding the spaces that were denied to us—denied to us by legacy and white supremacy…”
P. Djeli Clark wondered if the pervasive use of Nazi symbolism in light adventure stories like Star Wars and Indiana Jones has “maybe lessened the threat.”
Wesley Chu soberingly pointed out that by the time “fascism crept in on fandom and by the time we realized what was going on, it was a little too late.”
Mimi Mondal rounded off Pho’s first question by saying it’s hard to find bigots, even in things like rock, which she was into as a younger rebel. It can be “so hard to distinguish abuse from people who are rebellious.”
The next question asked how the panelists would define anti-fascism.
Sjunneson-Henry was quick to define it as “radical inclusion” where “you include everyone so it is impossible to shut people out.”
Rocklyn spoke about the larger issue of white silence, saying, “white people listen to white people.” White people need to speak out about abuse toward marginalized people that’s been “growing from white supremacy that’s always been there.
Djeli Clark said since alt-righters are gaslighting us, antifascism should expose their denials and bring light to their sinister co-opting — such as terms from The Matrix.
Trying to co-opt Matrix terminology (red pill, etc.) away from alt-righters, Edidin urged people to “see the code” since lots of sci-fi is coded cis, white, and male and anything else is seen as “political” (which got plenty of vocal agreement from the audience). “Our identities aren’t responses to theirs” and yet privileged white cis men can go a long time without having to identify with other peoples.
The last question specifically addressed protecting fans, asking how to handle any abusive people in a fandom space?
Mondal brought a level or urgency to the question, saying we can’t “rely on victims’ resilience.”
Several options from Sjunneson-Henry, speaking from personal experience, involved “training my community” which included her friends. The more people that speak up, the less victims will be viewed as the one to “rock the boat” because “able bodied people should pick up the slack.”
Edidin pointed to privilege, saying privileged people should teach others. Having done plenty of research, he warned us against “treating the abusers as protagonists.” Some people have learned from their mistakes, but victims that have been pushed away initially should reclaim the center.
Coded imperialism should be questioned within stories, said Mondal. Chu agreed with Sjunneson-Henry that friends and specifically organization should get involved. At a conference of over two-thousand people, Rocklyn was only one of four African American people at Necronomicon, so she sat down with white, middle aged guys to specifically ask for more diversity in the literary realm. But by speaking out and getting organizations involved, “the groundswell can help.” A talking point can turn into a deciding factor against fascism and patriarchy.
Lastly, Pho asked a very relevant question to our location at NYCC—what can social spaces like conventions do to keep people safe inside? Edidin and Sjunneson-Henry both asked that staff be trained to “enforce things from the ground up.”
At times, online and societal hate can feel overwhelming, especially within fandom. But the line to get into the panel was longer than several others I encountered. In line, people were discussing the merits of diversity and socialism. Upon entering, the room was filled. Conventions can be stressful, but this panel was a remarkable show of just how many people can gather together to fight fascism and protect fandom.