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.
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.
Sadly, 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.
Derek 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.