Racism is very often carried out through micro-aggressions which, on the surface, seem like no big deal but add up to people of color being systemically excluded (which is at its source racism).
Not shipping Steve and Sam doesn’t really matter, though I’d say if you don’t ship it, you should probably delve into why. Steve and Sam inarguably have an immediate intimate connection which is carried through not only CATWS, but also in Age of Ultron (where Steve and Natasha’s friendship gets almost completely sidelined but Steve still has that scene at the party with Sam, indicating how close they are and how they’ve kept that closeness through the time since CATWS) and also in Ant-Man (”I’d rather Cap not find out about this.”) We know that Sam will continue to remain Steve’s most stalwart supporter and closest friend as we move into CACW, which is incredibly important. So if you want shipping fodder, it’s there, and if you can’t see it, that might be because of some underlying racism that causes you to negate POC as possible romantic interests.
But that’s not really the issue here. The issue is that creators of fan work for ships that include POC are constantly being bombarded with passive aggressive (or just aggressive) reminders that their ships are not as valuable as white ships. When I write sciles fic, I almost always get someone saying to me “I don’t really ship this but I enjoyed this story.” Pretty much every single time. And every time I have to say, “Thanks….?” because not only is this not a compliment (”I liked this despite the fact that it is all about a thing I don’t like”) but also because most of the time, the people saying those things are coming from a place of a) homophobia, b) racism, or c) all of the above. This is a continual invalidation of ships featuring POC and it happens most especially in ships involving black people, due to anti-black racism. The Sam/Steve fandom has talked about this extensively, and these tags are representative of the ways Steve/Bucky fandom and Steve/Tony fandom aggress onto Sam/Steve posts and demean them.
When you reblog fan worker’s art / fic / headcanons with these sorts of passive aggressive comments, you are dismissing the hard work that those writers put into their creations, but you are also revaluing other ships – generally white ships – over ships that feature POC. That is in fact a micro aggressive act of racism which helps to keep POC ships from being popular, and results in things like this happening at media events.
Honestly if you don’t ship something don’t reblog the ship content. If you do reblog ship content, don’t comment about how you don’t ship it. If you don’t ship ships with POC in them think about how that reflects on you as a person. If you don’t value characters of color and raising them up then probably just… don’t talk.
There’s a very troubling mindset I’ve found in all my years of both being a part of fandom, observing fandoms, and writing about fandom and fandom related media. That is, fandom as a collective mindset, seems to hold the majority belief that the culture itself is without the various isms, and prejudices that exist within our “real world” context.
In recent weeks there’s been a brewing conversation in fandom – specifically MCU but this trend exists far and wide – on how fandom treats characters of color. The opposing side, the side that claims there’s nothing questionable or inherently wrong with the majority popular ships being two white men, seem to believe that either 1. there’s no racism that exists within fandom or 2. there is, but slash culture is a healthy way for women to express their own sexuality.
I’m not addressing argument two – I haven’t done enough observation or research – but I will address argument one. In that, it’s completely ludicrous.
To deny that racism doesn’t exist within fandom is to deny that people themselves don’t suffer from internalized racist attitudes. We do, and to begin unlearning them and making fandom culture an overall safe place for everyone, we need to discuss them.
We should discuss why Stiles and Derek, who shared minimum amounts of time together, where one is an adult and the other a teenager unable to give legitimate consent, where most of their interactions are violent, is the most popular ship within the Teen Wolf fandom where then are other ships or character relationships that have far more “shipping fodder” to them. I’m not even speaking solely of Scott and Stiles, though given their near co-dependent in-sync, relationship that’s reminiscent of Kirk and Spock, or Dean and Castiel, there’s some surprise there as to why they aren’t more popular. But there’s also Allison and Lydia, or Stiles and Danny, and many other either female/female or interracial ships that have more “shipping fodder” than Stiles/Derek do or did.
This, again, is a far reaching trend. In the much smaller fandom of Young Avengers, the pairing of David Allyene and Tommy Shepherd should be ripe for fandom to latch on with fervor. They have an entire issue dedicated to them meeting, bonding, and then the following issues have David coming out as bisexual, desperately seeking Tommy, and the two have shared two kisses in canon. And yet, it is the ship of Tommy (who is white) and Noh-varr (who is also white) that has near three times the fanfiction as oppose to David (who is black) and Tommy. Dispute the canon supporting the former pair and not the latter (Tommy and Noh-varr haven’t even spoken to each other in comic canon).
In the case of MCU, you see the worst of slash culture come out in how it treats Sam Wilson, Rhodey, Pepper, and Sharon Carter. With most fan media either shoving Pepper aside or ignoring Rhodey’s existence (typically inserting Bruce as Tony’s best friend), to make “Stony” happen. Dispute the fact that Tony and Rhodey (and Pepper) have had more positive and emotionally resonant moments within MCU canon than Steve and Tony have.
In the case of the ship “Stucky” I’ve seen fans vilifying Sharon Carter, make Peggy Carter out to be a martyr or ship matchmaker, and use or ignore Sam to make their ship work. It all reeks of misogyny and racism.
You can ship a white male pairing without resorting to misogynistic or racist tropes.
There is nothing inherently wrong with shipping a white male pairing, but there is something wrong with the shutting down the conversation on why fandom does so frequently.
Fandom culture isn’t free or racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. Simply because white male pairings might be the most popular doesn’t mean fandom culture isn’t without fault or prejudice.