Gabrielle Foster had been a fan of One Direction since she was 11 years old.
“We all have different backgrounds. We all have a bond about Harry, but we personally don’t know what’s going on in each other’s lives,” she told me. “I just want there to be more representation for everyone.” Now in her early twenties, Foster is one of the more famous “Black Harries” on Twitter, as she was one of the first Black Harry Styles fans to stage efforts to win his public alliance with the Black Lives Matter movement.
This took longer than many people seem to remember. In late 2017, a fan threw a Black Lives Matter flag on stage at a Styles concert in London, and Styles ignored it. His fan base was used to him accepting pride flags and dancing with them on stage, as well as an opening monologue about how much he valued the support of women. It seemed no accident that he had left the flag untouched on the ground, even as parts of the crowd held up Black Lives Matter signs. He was known for noticing things like that – he often read the signs in the audience and joked a bit with the people who had written strange ones. Many fans reacted furiously. “Use your damn platform,” someone tweeted afterwards. “You enable hypocrisy.” Others were deeply hurt. “I love Harry, he’s my safest place but I feel so disconnected, so unsupported,” wrote another. Some taunted him with a play on his own lyrics, from the (terrible) song “Woman”: “You flower, you meal” became “You flower, you white feminist.”
Young people raised to understand network effects reflexively speak of the power that comes with having many followers and a central cultural position, or platform, which is not so much a stable object or feature, but a privilege conferred by interconnected groups of real people and should therefore be used judiciously. Black fans of Harry Styles didn’t claim he should support Black Lives Matter just because it personally affirms; they saw it as his moral responsibility as a person of high public profile. But many white fans joined the conversation to suggest that black fans were asking too much, that Harry couldn’t support every political cause, and that a concert wasn’t a protest. After the initial uproar, Styles posted a black and white photo of some of the characters to his Instagram, captioned “Love.” For white fans, that gesture would be enough. In June 2018, when Gabrielle staged a massive display of mass-printed paper plates at a show in Hershey, Pennsylvania, white fans tweeted her about it in gross confusion. Wasn’t this already resolved?
“The projects we were doing throughout the tour started to feel hopeless at some point,” she told me. “It was a constant attack on black fans; we’re being attacked and we don’t get Harry’s acknowledgment.” Gabrielle went to a second concert, in Washington, DC, and donated money to a ticket in the standing area at the edge of the stage. She was carrying a Black Lives Matter flag and planned to throw it at Styles to see if he would pick it up. “I was very hopeful,” she told me. “He was standing right in front of me and he was talking to someone close to me. I threw it at his feet, and he looked at it, accidentally stepped on it, and walked away. So that crushed me.” Her mood took a turn for the worse when a few girls in the crowd around her insisted she had only herself to blame for the disappointment. She had crumpled up the flag so he couldn’t see it for the entire show, they told. her, and then she got mad at him for not having noticed in that one moment? She shot back that she’d held the flag open over the edge of the barricade for hours. The night was ruined and she went home furious.” I was really upset at the time,” she said. “I had a picture of him standing on the flag and I was so angry. I’d even thought of just going all out because it was so awful. the rails.”
After a long drive back to Virginia, she cooled off a bit and checked her Twitter posts. Many of her friends in Styles fandom had sent her clips of another Black Lives Matter flag on the Jumbotron on another show, or of Styles holding the flag up in Boston, and one of them yelled, “I love you guys.” all. If you’re black, if you’re white. † † Whoever you are . † † I support you.” In the end, she decided Styles did care. But she never completely forgot that moment of despair. “I wish he’d done something sooner,” she told me. still thrown in the faces of Black fans by other fandoms. Well your favorite wouldn’t even hold the flagor something.”
There is a term for the type of fan who will never criticize their favorite, never hold them accountable for anything, and coddle them forever as if every day was fresh the day they were born. It’s “cupcake”, and the Harry Styles fandom has a lot of it. It also has what black fans call “KKK Harries” – white fans who refuse to relinquish any ground in the fandom and prefer to pretend they are the only people.