Sexualized Saturdays: Pairings Between Black Women & White Men and the Lack of Acceptance in Fandom

Interracial marriages have been legal in the United States since 1967. You would think that since then things would have gotten better for interracial couples, but sadly that doesn’t seem to be the case. Just this past September Django Unchained actress Daniele Watts was arrested after a police officer suspected her of being a prostitute when he saw her kissing her white boyfriend. It still seems that many people have an aversion to interracial couples, and sadly that affects the representation we get in the media. In the world of geekdom it is hard enough to get a person of color in a TV show or movie, let alone see them in an interracial relationship. For the purposes of this post I will mostly be focusing on interracial relationships between Black women and white men. So let’s take a look at some of the interracial couples we do see in geek culture and how they are written and perceived by the fans.

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The reboot Star Trek movies, Teen Wolf, Arrow, Flash, The 100, X-Men/Storm comics, and Welcome to Night Vale are some of the only current geek works that have interracial couples. There might be some more here that I’m missing but by and large there are far fewer interracial couples in media, and when there are interracial couples, fans tend to not respond to those couples so well—particularly when it comes to Black women and white men.

First let’s talk about Star Trek—it’s a bastion of acceptance, especially when it comes to race, right? In Star Trek: The Original Series, Uhura and Spock were not in a relationship, but there was some indication that she could have been. Other than perhaps Kirk, Spock seems more at ease with Uhura than any of the other characters. And Nichelle Nichols has mentioned that originally the famous kiss she shared with Shatner (the first interracial kiss ever seen on TV) was actually meant to be between Uhura and Spock, but Shatner insisted that he get to be the one to kiss Nichols. I should point out that despite this being the first interracial kiss on TV, both Kirk and Uhura were being mind-controlled in that episode, so it does sour the whole thing pretty badly. Nevertheless, I saw J.J. Abrams’s decision to make Spock and Uhura’s romantic relationship canon in the new film series as a good move. The relationship between Spock and Uhura brought Uhura more to the forefront as a character, gave Spock an outlet for his human side, and humanized Kirk by having him not get the girl (for once). I’m not usually a fan of the things J.J. Abrams has done with the new Star Trek, but having Spock and Uhura in a relationship was good not only for representation, but characterization as well.

Uhura_and_Kirk_kissSadly, many fans didn’t feel this way. I was a part of a lot of Spock/Uhura Livejournal communities and more than once angry fans would burst in with insulting capslock comments, calling Uhura “U-Whore-a” and other awful names. It made the community distasteful enough that I stopped reading any Star Trek fanfiction or considering myself part of the Star Trek fandom for a while. There seemed to always be a reason about why Spock and Uhura shouldn’t be together, and yet a million reasons why Spock should be with Kirk or McCoy (or both). This seems to be a problem that many fandoms face. As Tumblr user spiderbucky put it:

[W]hite fandoms would rather ship their precious white males with a chair than with a woc[.]

It seems that slash ships between two white males always take first place in fandoms, and things can get especially heated between fans arguing for the need for racial representation and queer representation. At least when it comes to shipping stats, fans still seem more likely to ship two white heterosexual males. There are very few ships that feature any people of color, and women of color especially seem to get the shaft in fandom. It happens a lot more than you might realize.

tumblr_inline_nba6hjJcTp1rnrvmpDerek and Braeden, an interracial couple in Teen Wolf, also got a lot of shit from the fandom, particularly Braeden. This one is especially upsetting because fans seemed to have loved Braeden before she was with Derek, and many even seemed excited for her to return after she was seemingly killed by Deucalion. But the minute there was even a hint of romance between Derek and Braeden, fans, especially Sterek fans, started getting up in arms. Probably one of the biggest arguments was that Braeden didn’t need to be in a relationship and that she should just be a strong single female character. Some similar arguments were used by people who complained about the Spock/Uhura relationship, and again against fans who ship Sleepy Hollow’s Ichabod Crane and Abbie Mills. There seems to be something of a pattern here when it comes to Black female characters especially. It’s as if the assumption has been made that these women cannot be strong characters and in a relationship. We don’t hear similar arguments with white female characters (at least not as often). I have rarely heard people argue that Allison, from Teen Wolf, is less of a strong character because she dated Scott and then Isaac. Add to this the tendency to ship two heterosexual white male characters at the expense of female characters of color and we start to clearly see the intersection here between racism and sexism.

When we look at our media, it seems pretty clear that racist ideas are affecting the way we as fans view interracial couples. Interracial couples rarely exist in our geek media, and when they do, fans tend to tear them down, especially if there is a Black woman in the pairing. We need to think more critically about why we feel the way we do about these pairings. And we as fans need to be aware of these prejudices and try to break ourselves of these racist perceptions.


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17 thoughts on “Sexualized Saturdays: Pairings Between Black Women & White Men and the Lack of Acceptance in Fandom

    • In the universe of trek, vulcans are either black (tuvok) or white there are no asian vulcans. Spock would be a white vulcan so it counts as interracial. Neverthless, it’s obvious that to those who are against interracial couple Spock is white because the actor is white and Uhura is black because the actress is and it wouldn’t matter to them if in trek poc and white ppl are all considered human race only abd racism dies’t exist (because they have aliens to discriminate). Either way, Spock is a white SUPER iconic character for nowadays audiences.

    • In the universe of trek, vulcans are either black (tuvok) or white there are no asian vulcans. Spock would be a white vulcan so it counts as interracial. Neverthless, it’s obvious that to those who are against interracial couple Spock is white because the actor is white and Uhura is black because the actress is and it wouldn’t matter to them if in trek poc and white ppl are all considered human race only and racism doesn’t exist (because they have aliens to discriminate). Either way, Spock is a white SUPER iconic character for nowadays audiences.

  1. It’s important to point out the Racial problems we still have. To single out Mixed relationships and TV that the Fans don’t like as Racist is absurd.

    The Relationship the writers are actually want the fans root for is frequently the least popular one. And this extends beyond the kinds of fans who write Fan Fiction. More often then not I feel this is because writers for him Romance is their main area o expertise simply suck at writing it.

    So I think it’s a poor cop out to exonerate the writers of failing to get their fans behind a pairing by simply says “Fans are Racist”. If they do a Mixed pairing for no other reason to says “hey look we have a mixed couple” then that couple won’t be written well.

    On TVD I hated Jeremy and Bonnie, it felt completely forced and out of nowhere. I liked Jeremy with Anna (the actress is Mixed but the character I think was just Asian), and felt he had potential with Tyler (Hispanic if I recall correctly).

    As far as Abram’s Star Trek films go, everything about that Romance felt stupid like everything else in it. The films were simply horribly written, and the romance between Kirk and his white love interest in Into Darkness was also poorly written.

    • “the romance between Kirk and his white love interest in Into Darkness was also poorly written.”
      Was about to ask if you actually watched the movie but this phrase answered that already
      (clearly there was NO romance between Kirk and Carol)

        • They get a bit of ship tease in that Kirk gets an eyeful of her when she’s not fully dressed, but nothing much past that. You’d have a better case arguing a Kirk/Spock/Uhura poly triad. Maybe they’ll play a few more cards with Marcus in the next film.

  2. I think a lot of fans would have preferred Star Trek have no romantics relationships between the crew remember at all. That whole scene of Uhura forcing a relationship talk with Spoke, with their Captain caught in the middle. Makes the whole crew look really unprofessional.

    People’s Misogyny often comes out in shipping complaints, as shown by calling Uhura a whore. But I see no evidence that her skin color was in any way a factor.

  3. Hmm, I’m not sure why you are picking out the Black Woman/White Man pairing specifically. I’ve generally figured the White Woman/Black Man pairing to be much worse accepted, to the extent that it’s generally absent in media. Which is not to say the treatment of black woman interracial pairings aren’t generally problematic.

    • In terms of television fandoms, there’s a particular amount of hate/negativity among many fandoms, esp. genre and teen shows, towards Black female characters in general and their pairings w/ non-black men. When they even hint or chem test a Black woman w/ one of the beloved white guys/heartthrobs the claws often come out. There’s a few current exceptions I can think of (Michonne on Walking Dead seems well liked and I’ve seen people rooting for Rick/Michonne) but that’s an exception to the rule.This same pattern just doesn’t really exist with Black male characters or their interracial pairings.

      I’m confused when people say they don’t show Black men in interracial pairings because there’s really no shortage of shows that have shown Black men in interracial pairings. Off the top of my head, Power, Mistresses, The Game, Grey’s Anatomy, How To Get Away With Murder, Empire, House, Scrubs, 90210 have all featured Black men in interracial relationships, some of them affairs without the same angry reaction or over-evaluation that the opposite pairing gets. If there’s a pairing you can name where they got what you felt was excessive or inexplicable hate towards the Black male character or the pairing based on race I’d like to hear it as I honestly can’t think of one/haven’t seen one.

  4. This essay feels disappointingly incomplete. What about how Martha’s crush on Doctor #10 was handled was handled like a bad rebound, or an even more interesting example (curse you again, Joss) in Wash and Zoe of Firefly? How would those play into the theory? I’d also like to see some more detail on the arguments against the ships. If the thesis here is that racism is the only reason these mixed-race ships aren’t popular, I’d like to see more examples, as well as a rebuttal to the counterargument that you can dislike the particular ship for reasons other than institutional racism.

    The backlash against the Spock/Uhura pairing has racism as one factor, but other factors to present in a counterargument are the backlash of old guard Trek fans against anything and everything in the Abrams reboot, and the 40+ year tradition of Kirk/Spock shipping (hell, those two are where we get the TERM “slash” and most of the modern features of the genre), of which it can be argued that the Spock/Uhura ship is an attempt to force heteronormativity on bisexual characters in a form of bisexual erasure. If it were Spock/Chapel, for example, why would or wouldn’t the backlash be any greater?

    Another counterargument is that female characters of any ethnicity get treated poorly in fanfic, since a heterosexual ship of any kind is “in the way” of fandom-preferred male/male pairings; and the perception that M/M slash pairings and fanfic is “higher-grade” while het ships (even canonical ones) are denigrated due to some bizarre cross of internalized misogyny and/or collective sexual kink, since (let’s be honest) M/M slash is written and consumed for the same reasons (and has the accuracy quotient of) “lesbian” porn written by and for straight dudes.

  5. I agree with Allronix when they said “This essay feels disappointingly incomplete.”

    Personally, I think this is too complicated of an issue and your blog post here only really focusing on the two fandoms of Star Trek and Teen Wolf is a problem, because those are two of the most insane fandoms with a really strong bias toward just 1 main male/male slash ship.

    A lot of fandoms aren’t like that.

    You could’ve brought up some of the other ones you mentioned. You could’ve discussed how the writing of Arrow doesn’t let Diggle have as much of his personal life or his romances shown, so it leads to fans being less invested in writing fic about him, even if he is generally well accepted?? or how people were outraged at the casting of Iris West in The Flash before the show even premiered, just because she was black, and how some of the Snowbarry vs. Westallen shipping debates have gotten racist.

    mithrandirolorin brought up Bonnie on TVD, and she would’ve been a fascinating black female character for someone on this site to talk about, as racism either in the TVD writers room or in the fandom has been discussed at length, and slash isn’t really overly prominent in that fandom. Her main two ships on the show have been with Jeremy, or with Damon, both white men.

    I don’t know… I feel like there is just a lot missing from this discussion.

  6. Some Black Women/White Men relationships on TV that overall have been quite well received by fandom are Veronica “V” & Kevin “Kev” on the US version of Shameless, and Jasmine/Crosby on Parenthood. However, they still are less popular to write fanfiction about – Shameless is overun by support for actual members of the Gallagher (and Milkovich) families, so Kev & V, who are just the Gallaghers’ friends/neighbors get forgotten about a lot of the time. On Parenthood, there barely is a fandom but I’ve never seen much hate against Jasmine.

  7. Judging from many of the comments, it seems television viewers are making excuses for their reaction.

    Look at the reaction between the love triangle that manifested on ABC’s “AGENT CARTER”. Many fans were upset over the idea of white female Peggy Carter having a romance with black male Dr. Jason Wilkes. Instead, they FERVENTLY pushed for Peggy to settle with the white male Daniel Sousa. And when the latter happened, they cheered. Literally. The whole situation was disgusting.

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