Commitment to diversity and to examining what it looks like to have more Black people at cons isn’t just a numbers game.This weekend, GeekGirlCon will convene in Seattle. Two days of women coming together to celebrate and revel in their geeky passions in STEM, gaming, comics, literature, film, arts, cosplay, and more. Many conventions like this exist, but this is one of the few that centers women. In spaces like these, racism can and often does rear its ugly head, making them into hostile spaces for people of color, especially Black participants. Leslie Mac, a self-described “activist, organizer, and dope Black woman,” and TaLynn Kel, a cosplayer of over thirteen years, plan to address this with their new workshop, “Allyship in Fandom”, calling for white people who consider themselves or aim to be “allies” to examine how they contribute to these harms, how to identify when they take place, and use their voice to stand up against them. I had the opportunity to have a conversation with these two talented women and get a sneak preview of what the workshop will entail and some insight on how it came to be. What is your relationship to geekiness and fandom communities? Leslie: I’ve been on the geeky, nerdy, Blerdy side of things my entire life. I spend a lot of time talking about movies, television shows, pop culture, generally speaking. I’m a huge Trekker, I love superhero movies, and I love comic books. I’m just a participant of fandom culture. TaLynn: I’ve been doing geek stuff for over a decade. I never really considered myself to be a geek, I just really liked dressing up and comic book stuff always had costumes! But it’s a great entry point to figuring out who you like and why you like them. Being in it for so long, you get used to some things, but you change with the fandom and then you also change on an individual level. So, the way that I interact with it has changed from just being a participant to being a content creator to also examining it and scoping in and out of the culture. Could you give me a snapshot of your workshop and what it will cover? T: It will be a Black-centered space in the middle of a geek event, which is usually a white-centered space, and it’s an opportunity for white people to interact in the space and not be the focus of it, not be the priority, not even have a voice in it. A lot of times what happen is—and this is a safety thing for Black people—we aren’t completely honest about what racism is like, about how it is to experience it, what it is to be immersed in it. We don’t tell them the truth because we know it’s dangerous for us. This is a chance for us to create a safe space for Black people to attend, to talk about the real shit that happens and not be penalized for it in the way they might be socially. So, it’s two-fold—it’s going to have a white audience and non-Black people of color who want to be more engaged, but we’re going to be showing them how to be more engaged without being the focus of that engagement. L: There’s this really strange thing in fandom spaces, because so much of it is positioned as ‘counter culture’, and so— T: But it’s not! L: No, it’s not, but I’m just talking about this idea, right? The idea behind being a nerd, a geek, all of those kinds of things, and so what you’ll find is that white people often retreat to fandom spaces because they feel safe there. So, part of what the goal of the workshop is would be to show them how this ‘safe space’ created for themselves is incredibly harmful to non-white people, and what they means, and what the responsibility of showing up differently in those spaces should look like.
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