We need to talk about race in Homestuck.
Turn off your knee-jerk reactions, stop rolling your eyes at the people who are “over-reacting” and listen for just a moment.
I love Homestuck because it’s a safe space for me. As a queer reader, I’m surrounded in my day-to-day life by people who are homophobic, people who might make me feel unwelcome, people who might hurt me. It’s really, really nice to escape into a fantasy world where a whole bevy of queer characters explore themselves and grow and learn completely unhindered by homophobia. I appreciate Homestuck’s queer characters and storylines. I need them. I’m honestly tearing up right now, and I didn’t think I would get so emotional about this; having access to a story where teenage characters are free to explore relationships with one another without being condemned for who they are has been so, so important to me.
Andrew Hussie has explicitly said, both in correspondence with fans and in the text of his comic, that all the trolls are pansexual. Gender is no object for them when it comes to romance. When John explains heterosexuality to Karkat, he wonders “how it can even be a thing.”
And time and time again, throughout the comic, the message has been reiterated: it’s okay to be a girl with a girlfriend or a boy with a boyfriend. People in queer relationships have the same problems as people in straight relationships, and their stories get equal weight within the story.
Like I said before, I need Homestuck’s queer storylines. I think all of media needs to get on this level of queer representation. I think Hussie has done a good job in this area, with the exception of a few homophobic slurs dropped carelessly here and there throughout the text of the comic.
Now, let’s look at another area where Hussie hasn’t done such a good job: race representation.
The characters in Homestuck are “canonically aracial” - except they’re not. When Kanaya sees Rose for the first time, she remarks that her skin is “white as snow.” Bro Strider is described by John as “a lame white rapper.” John and Jane’s supposed great-grandfather - the one they think they are biologically descended from - is described as a racist Southern plantation owner. The trolls consistently describe the skin colour of the kids as “pink.”
And yet, despite all this, despite the text of the comic confirming that, yes, these characters are white, despite the total lack of any markers that would point to any of the characters being non-white, Hussie continued to insist that the characters had no race.
And then he said that anybody who said otherwise was a racist bigot.
Let’s get back to queer representation for just a moment. What if Hussie had said, “Yeah, all the trolls are pansexual,” but every romantic relationship that he wrote was about a boy and a girl? What if Karkat made some comment about how, say, in Alternian culture, “the bride and the groom” do x, y, z at troll weddings? What if Nepeta said, “Oh, I just wish a boy would notice me?”
As a queer reader, I might start to pick up on this. I’d say, “Hey, Hussie, I thought all the trolls were pansexual - it would sure be nice to see some queer relationships!”
Say the fandom responded to my criticism with, “Get over it, you’re overreacting, you’re a social justice warrior with too much time on your hands.”
Say Hussie responded to my criticism with, “You’re a bigot - pansexual people have straight relationships, too, and I’m representing pansexuality accurately.”
And then, a few months down the road, Jane goes trickster, corners Jake, and says, “I feel so heterosexual!”
Wouldn’t that feel like a punch in the stomach? How would you feel if you were promised queer representation and repeatedly denied it and then mocked in the text of the comic, mocked by the fandom - all because you wanted a character to identify with?
Essentially, Hussie created eight white characters in a row, described them as white, and then, when his readers demanded race representation, said that his characters had no race.
And then he went ahead and made Jane white anyway.
You have to understand that the people who are upset about this aren’t social justice warriors looking to fill a quota so that their favourite webcomic will be as politically correct as possible. These are your fellow readers, your friends, who just wanted to be able to think that maybe their favourite character’s skin was the same colour as theirs.
I just googled movie times in my city and pulled up a list of films playing at the theatre closest to me. Gangster Squad - four white people on the poster. Les Miserables - all-white cast. Zero Dark Thirty - white people torturing brown people. This is 40 - white. The Hobbit - white. Silver Linings Playbook - white. Skyfall - white. Django Unchained and Lincoln - movies where representation of people of colour is tied to stories of slavery.
Do you get it? People of colour don’t get to see themselves on the big screen except as slaves and terrorists. That’s a huge, huge problem.
Homestuck was supposed to be a solution to that problem.
Hussie promised aracial characters.
He promised safe space and something like representation for people who hardly ever get to see themselves represented in media the way white people are.
He promised that anyone, anywhere, could look at Jane and say, “Cool, my favourite character can be black/Hispanic/Asian/Native American/East Indian/Middle Eastern/biracial, just like me.”
And, after making that promise, he turned Jane’s skin white.