Nicole Abraham 2020 Q&A: Racism in the OTW and Its Projects

[Note: In total, there will be 6 Q&A posts to cover all of the topics brought up during the user-submitted Q&A period. The candidates were limited to 300 words to answer each question, but they were allowed to rearrange and combine questions within a single post to more clearly express their thoughts. Candidate answers represent only the views of the individual candidate and are not endorsed by the OTW.

Due to a high volume of similar questions this year, many questions were merged and duplicate questions were left out. Other than this, questions appear in the form they were submitted. Questions represent only the views of the individual questioner and are not endorsed by the OTW.]

Fans of color have long expressed concerns about the way racism (especially anti-Blackness) in fandom is reproduced by the design and structures of OTW spaces. If elected to the Board, how would you work to make OTW spaces more welcoming to fans of color?
Please discuss what can and should be done by OTW to make AO3 a more welcoming environment for fans of color and a less welcoming environment for racists. How will you prioritize these action items? Do any of the candidates have experience in address the racism that is systemic in fandom as a whole? How would you go about improving Ao3 for fans of Colour? [merged question]
What is your response to the three points in the Open Letter to the OTW on Racism in Fandom? As a Board member, how will you help make fandom a space where all fans, particularly Black, Indigenous, and ethnically marginalized fans from all over the globe, can thrive? (
How will you support your chairs and staff in addressing racism in the OTW’s culture and platforms as with the technical projects?

One of our foundational values has always been encouraging infinite diversity in infinite combinations, and to achieve this, we must work to ensure marginalised people have the tools they need to thrive. Creating the tools that will allow fans to have more control over curating their own fannish experiences is therefore an incredibly important step in decreasing the effect of racism in OTW spaces. The statement released by the current Board of Directors, Chairs, and Leads shared some of the ongoing work that would allow this, such as increasing creator control over comments, improving upon the filtering functionality of collections, and creating a feature to allow user blocking. These features will help users avoid racist comments in their works and avoid those they believe are creating a toxic environment for them. It will also allow fans to more easily create and curate a welcoming space by their own definitions. As a member of the Board of Directors, I plan to continue to ensure that the development of these tools remains a top priority for the involved committees, and that they have the resources they need to create and implement the proposed features.

Hiring an expert who can provide feedback on where we most need to improve is a potentially useful endeavor; however, due to the nature of the OTW, it would be a challenge to find someone who could fit our needs. Not only would they need to be familiar with fannish culture, they would also have to be knowledgeable of racism and discrimination against marginalised people as it is defined around the world, rather than just addressing it from an American (or other single) viewpoint. The Board of Directors should investigate the available options, and should there be someone who fits our needs, I believe that hiring that expert would be beneficial.

In relation to the third point made in the open letter, the statement linked above included an apology from the current Board on the behalf of the OTW to all of the fans that have suffered due to our inaction, as well as to the scholars that were cited out of context. I would like to reiterate that apology, and would like to help the OTW do better going forward. I have expanded upon some of the steps that the OTW should take, and/or is currently taking, to combat discrimination and create a more welcoming environment internally in my response to the questions below.

Will the candidates commit to the OTW publishing a volunteer diversity report, and an action plan for recruiting fans of colour? Will this action plan include disavowing well-known racist and early-AO3 architect franzeska?
Many fans of color have spoken out about racism and racist harassment in fandom. What *specific* steps do you propose that the OTW take to tackle racism on its platforms? (such as a diversity report of volunteers, an anti-harassment working group, etc) [merged question]

The OTW has never and will never ask for identifying information from its volunteers. First and foremost, there are likely current volunteers who live in areas where the work that the OTW does is less accepted. It’s important that we do not have access to identifying information so that we can not be put into a situation where we could put our volunteers in harm’s way. Additionally, the OTW has always supported allowing users to separate their fannish pseudonym from their real identity. While volunteers are certainly welcome to share any personally identifying information if they wish, the OTW should never demand answers from anyone for the sake of a diversity report. In fact, any attempt at such a report would have to be completely anonymous and voluntary, and as such would not necessarily be accurate or representative.

However, there are other ways that the OTW can work to increase its diversity. I believe the most important step is to ensure that the OTW, and particularly its volunteer space, is welcoming to fans of color and those in marginalised groups, even if we don’t know who they are. Encouraging diverse voices to speak up and making sure they are listened to will help create not only a more positive space internally, but will also improve the various projects the OTW supports. By creating a more welcoming environment, I hope to encourage more fans of color to volunteer. My response to the question below further explores some of the steps involved with implementing this.

What would you do to ensure that volunteers feel supported within the OTW, especially volunteers of color and other marginalized groups who may feel that their voices go unheard?
In your work as an OTW volunteer (including prior Board service, if applicable), do you feel that you have contributed to anti-racist organizational change? If so, how? If not, why not, and how will you do so as a Board member?

It is important for the OTW to take steps to foster an environment where all fans feel welcome, and diversity is celebrated. This may include informing a volunteer when they are behaving in a discriminatory fashion so that the volunteer is aware and can apologize and take steps to correct their behavior. If a volunteer takes no action to improve and learn, there is a corrective procedure in place so that volunteers understand that discrimination of any kind is not acceptable behavior. It is incredibly important that our leadership, in particular, is actively involved in discouraging racist behavior so that other volunteers may follow their example.

I believe that all volunteers have the responsibility to educate themselves about discrimination so that we can foster an inclusive environment. When not a member of a certain group of people, it isn’t always obvious what behaviors they would consider discriminatory – especially since the OTW is an international organization and different cultures have different implications behind words. Because of that, each person should take steps to better themselves and their knowledge of cultures and groups other than their own with a focus on minorities.

Finally, it is important that the OTW leadership listen to the volunteers we serve and take into account what they notice in volunteer spaces. The current Board recently created an anonymous feedback form so that volunteers can feel comfortable sharing issues they experience, and volunteers are always welcome to approach the Board directly with concerns. A continued focus should be placed on addressing those concerns and any new issues that may be uncovered. Although I personally have not done as much to combat racism as I should have in the past, I plan to make myself better informed through research and listening to my fellow volunteers so that I can implement anti-racist policies and encourage a more welcoming environment both within the OTW internally and throughout all of its projects going forward. I encourage all those in leadership positions to do the same.