June was a good month for discussions of race and ethnicity in the romance genre. Here are some links:
June 6: Requires Only That You Hate posts Heterosexuality’s Just a Phase: The damage of romance:
Feminism is intersectional or it’s bullshit: this saying meant nothing to me once upon a time, because I thought we were all united by the desire to smash the patriarchy. But because any movement that’s gained traction will always be dominated by those with the most power, being inclusive to all is never a natural, default thing. It’s always going to prioritize the needs and wants of the dominant, and in this case that tends to be straight white women from the first world. It’s going to make everyone else wait forever–and there’s a reason many women of color have abandoned the “feminist” identity outright in favor of womanism. I haven’t yet, but I’m not going to bloody well put up with people telling me romance is feminist because it makes certain groups of women happy, and I should just wait my turn.
This isn’t feminism I recognize.
Comment from Karen Scott:
I think you consider yourself a bastion of feminism, but actually I think that your rant is the opposite of feminist. To me, feminism is really about choice. It’s about being allowed to read and write whatever genre you want to, without recrimination and finger wagging from people screeching about how your mind should be more open.
You say that romance books have helped otherise you, because they basically told you that in order to live a happy life, you had to be white and straight. I have to call bullshit on that I’m afraid. At eleven years old, I read romance books, and recognised them for what they were, enjoyable works of fiction that helped me escape into other worlds for brief periods of time. I don’t hold them responsible for the way I think, or the way I see myself.
The majority of books that I read as an eleven year old featured people with a different skin colour to myself, but that didn’t mean that I considered myself unlovable because I was black. Luckily for me, my life education came from my parents, rather than my Mills & Boon books.
Just as reading Flowers In The Attic didn’t make me look at my brother in a sexual way, reading romance books didn’t make me hate the fact that I was black.
June 16: At Karen Knows Best, a post by Karen, On J. R. Ward’s Use of the Hip Hop Culture, sans the Blacks:
Comment by author Roslyn Holcomb:
Ward is giving white women access to the fantasy of big black cock without them having to deal with the loss of privilege that comes with actual, you know, blackness. And yes, it’s so fucking racist it should be wearing a sheet. Next!
In the “Walking the Talk department,” KKB has a new reviewer, Michelle, who is going to be “reviewing multicultural books”. Her first post was on Stranded, by Eve Vaughn.
June 19: Dear Author posts Cultivating Tolerance, A Multicultural Solution”
For mainstream reconditioning to occur, however, more books that challenge the status quo have to be published, and they have to be published within the Romance mainstream. That authors like Suzanne Brockmann can sell non-white protagonists also suggests to me that popular, seasoned authors need to be leading the charge to write more books that challenge the status quo, because those authors’ fans are legion, and their inclination will most likely be to read those books. And publishers need to stand behind these books, as well – to market them as Romance, plain and simple, and to market them along with books that already have mainstream acceptance. And most important, these efforts cannot be a one-off; there must be a long-term, dedicated campaign to recondition the mainstream genre readership to regard multicultural Romance as normal, just as it is in our real life world beyond the books. There will always be books that don’t live up to reader expectations, that generate criticisms that they’re stereotyped or unrealistic. However, that issue is much more likely to sideline multicultural Romances when their representation in the genre is scarce.
A comment from Las:
I tend to believe authors when they say that books featuring POC characters don’t sell as well. The online community likes to talk a lot about multiculturalism and production values, but all the talk doesn’t seem to translate into sales. POC characters don’t seem to sell outside of specific subgenres (like paranormals, and I have a particularly cynical theory as to why that is); and shitty production values don’t seem to negatively impact sales, in fact I think they might help (Hello, 50 Shades!). So while I, as a reader, am entirely frustrated with the state books and won’t tolerate certain things, I can well imagine that if I were an author or publisher/editor I might not do things all that differently.
And another from Holcomb:
As for well-known or established authors breaking the stained glass ceiling so to speak? That’s already been done, and continues to be done, however, it doesn’t seem to broaden the readership of multi-cultural romance in general. Brockmann did it and continues to do so, but it doesn’t seem to have translated to greater popularity of the genre. We just have people defensively clinging to their love of Sam and Alyssa as demonstrative of their ability to embrace “the other.” Besides, readers seem to have no problem embracing multicultural romance as long as it’s written by white authors. It’s not the characters they’re rejecting, it’s the authors. So what we’ll wind up with is a cultural appropriation situation whereby the only authors who profit from the genre willbe white.
June 20: Jill Sorenson, Romantic Suspense author, on Multiculturalism and Romance
I can’t speak for other authors, but that is my feeling about my audience. Readers have said that they don’t look for authentic depictions of culture in romance. Too often, they are disappointed by stereotypes.
Two personal examples. My husband has a lot of female cousins in their teens and twenties. They read exactly what other girls their age read: Twilight. The Hunger Games. Harry Potter. If they’re looking for better representation, I don’t know about it. They do tease me about the sexual content in my books, which they approve of. 😉
When I was at the RT Convention last year, I signed books next to Kerrelyn Sparks. She had so many fans, many of them young Latinas. I sat there, unnoticed, with my gritty romantic suspense featuring a twenty-something Latina heroine. What could I do? Those girls wanted fun paranormals. They didn’t even glance at me. *weeps*
I didn’t know how to reach that demographic. I still don’t.
What I do know is that my readers have begged for stories featuring Eric Hernandez from The Edge of Night and Maria Santos from Caught in the Act. But those books haven’t sold like hotcakes, so I’m on the fence about writing sequels. I feel like I need a breakout hit first.
June 22, Does The Romance Genre Owe Society, a thread at the All About Romance forums started by dick. I’ll quote in full one of my favorite comments in that thread, by noirfemme:
I don’t think the issue has anything to do with the romance genre “owing” society, but the fact that a great majority of us live, interact, love, like, hate, see, work, play with people of different ethnicity, religion, cultures and cultural values, etc on a daily basis, but when we crack open the spine of a romance novel, the default–normalized, I should say–image of Romance (passion, sex, love, marriage) is that of a white couple.
Throw in the mania for small town romances that nine times out of ten, are completely homogenous, and the exoticness or Otherization of non-whites (usually Greek, Italian, Hispanic–basically ethnic groups who’ve been brushed with the dark, passionate, hot-tempered lover stereotype), and I have to hold a mirror up to what this means for and to readers, writers, and the cogs of the publishing industry.
It’s arrogant to claim that what’s being published is what sells and you should look around or look outside the genre for a particular element–if that’s the case, then stop complaining about Regencies or vampires or erotica taking over the genre. It’s erroneous as well since there are romance novels featuring non-white protagonists–you just don’t see them promoted or placed in the same venues as Linda Howard or Eloisa James because TPTB in publishing automatically assume the average romance reader (white, middle-aged, suburban) has absolutely zero interest in romantic suspense or contemporary romance or even historical romance with non-white protagonists. Or worse, those books aren’t even acquired (and even worse, not even written) because romances with white protagonists (aka default) are easier to market and promote since it’s “normal”.
The question asked is why can we send white characters to the moon, see them mate with all sorts of mythological creatures, overpopulate Regency England as dukes and earls, watch them battle it over a lawsuit, etc etc, but:
a) POC are absolutely erased from the picture
b) the thought of including people of color makes people’s knees knock in fear
c) people get angry whenever the lack of POC is pointed out–and why the knee-jerk response is to accuse others of trying to “force” them to read books with POC
This topic also, in a roundabout way, exposes the troublesome aspects of the genre’s racial hegemony: white authors dominate, ergo white characters dominate, ergo POC feel marginalized, ergo POC remove themselves from the romance genre and/or mainstream romance areas, ergo the genre remains dominate by white authors and white characters. It also denies the presence and history of authors of color in the romance genre–the RWA was founded by a powerful black editor, Vivien Stephens, black authors were there in the 80s, and there are black authors whose backlists are just as long and varied as Nora Roberts and Susan Elizabeth Phillips–and I would say the dismissal of this topic also denies and silences the voice of the romance readers who might not be white behind their internet handles and blogs.
Also, this from Eliza, which warms the cockles of this educator’s heart:
After reading and thinking about this thread I have a different perspective, I think: Yes, the the seemingly dreaded “thought-provoking” has occurred.
First, I want to avoid the terms “owe,” “tolerance” or “acceptance” for the purposes of just this particular post.
Next, most everyone is using either the term “escape” or “entertainment” for why they like romance.
My first question is why does it seem that hardly anyone is hearing that this is exactly what NoirFemme and Not Quite Nicole WANT TOO? Seems reasonable to me.
My second question is why diversity within romance entertainment isn’t possible? Seems entirely reasonable to me.
My third question is why a homogenized community is necessarily any more entertaining than a diverse one? (Comfortableness? Puh-lease. Some of those small town books seem like something out of “1984” or a Stepford community to me–unbelievable boring, not to mention intrusive of any personal privacy. Obviously this last statement is JMO.)
Next, even for fun, why would a reader not WANT to read about all kinds of people, especially when quite a few have complained vociferously about the unrelenting sameness of recent romances?
WHO SAYS a romance with a diverse cast has to have any more of an agenda than any other romantic comedy, a romantic suspense, a paranormal, a historical, or anything else? Why can’t there be diversity AND genre choice–as light or as serious as any of the other romances?
June 28: Defense of Interracial Romance: A Call to Action, by Roslyn Holcomb
we’re going to need our fans now more so than ever. I remember when MM romance first started. People who loved that genre set up blogs to review their books because mainstream blogs wouldn’t. Now MM is huge. Their goodreads group has thousands of members. There’s no reason we cn’t do the same. We’ve got to stop begging them to include us and get out there and get our own. You don’t want to start a blog there are other things you can do. If you read a book and like it at the very least post it on Facebook and/ or Twitter. We have absolutely no excuse for not promoting and supporting our own genre. Buzz is what it’s about these days. They’ve got hashtags and whole sites for their books. There’s no reason we can’t do the same.
Finally, this is from a 2010 discussion at Romance University, featuring several folks, including the late great L. A. Banks, but I couldn’t help but throw it in, because I have read a few Kimanis, and I have a hard time understanding what make a Kimani a Kimani romance. Here are two different answers, in a comment by Patricia Markham Woodside (quoting a divergent view from Glenda Howard):
[Kimani Executive Editor Glenda] Howard said, “The key differences are the ethnicities of the hero and/or heroine.” I disagree, and I think this statement contributes to a misperception in the minds of readers. It’s in part why readers don’t read in this sub-genre as much as we would like.
If ethnicity were truly the only difference, then it makes sense that a reader might ask herself the importance of buying multicultural romance. Same stories, different faces, right?
But multicultural romance is much more than different faces. It’s romance painted with different hues. Instead of primary red, yellow, and blue, perhaps it’s crimson, gold, and navy. What makes the difference? Not just the ethnicity of the characters, but their worldview which is steeped in their culture and environment. I find that romances featuring African-American protagonists, like Kimani Romance for example, tend to have more urban settings and different types of professions–athletes and business executives vs. ranchers and small town sheriffs–than what I find in say, the Love Inspired or the American Romance lines. Beyond the superficial though, multicultural stories that are well-told give a glimpse into the characters’ culture by way of their dialogue, their thoughts, their actions and responses that may differ as well.
On the flipside, I rarely see the type of faith-infused stories like I find in Love Inspired in multicultural romances. The closest one I’ve seen in a while was Jacquelin Thomas’ Chocolate Goodies release earlier this year. They are few and far between. Are writers not offering them or do they not fit with the guidelines for what we believe multicultural romance, at least in category romance, to be about?
If readers think they might get something more than white faces filled in with darker crayons, i.e. a different type of story, they might be more inclined to buy. Of course, the book buying issue is more complex than this, but I just think this is one factor.
Patricia W.’s comment generated some good discussion.
What threads/posts have I missed? Please let me know in the comments.
I’ll conclude with an Adrienne Rich quote: “Until we know the assumptions in which we are drenched, we cannot know ourselves.”