Readin’, Writin’, Racism, Romance ~ pt 1

A comment-laden post on Dear Author that started as a dissertation on opinion vs. actual defamation quickly became a discussion on race, veered closely to defamation on someone else’s blog (no, I’m not going to link to the blog, but saying that an author is breaking the law by exchanging sexual favors for money sounds a lot like defamation to me) then finally became a somewhat ordered discussion on racism in romance and racism in general.

So, I’d like to continue that discussion. And I’d like to thank Monica, because if she hadn’t come out guns blazing, and throwing herself on the grenade so to speak we wouldn’t even be having this discussion (and really, I can’t blame her for reacting/responding to the post, especially when a commenter called her out). And thanks to Dear Author for letting the post be hijacked and not closing the comments or moderating them. I learned a lot about a lot of people because of it, and not what many of them wanted to share, I’m sure.

Please note: I’m specifically dealing with romance. I may veer off from time to time, but I do want the focus to be on romance in general and blacks in romance in particular.

Some points of reference:

  • Karen Scott’s Great Racism in Romance Survey in which a number of non-white authors participated with varying opinions.
  • Gwynne Forster’s commentary on AA romance for Affaire de Coeur
  • Monica has had several blogs on the subject, but she made this one came after the Dear Author one, and she references great links you should click through
  • Even Romancing the Blog had a post on it back in May

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I think books should be shelved by genre. In some chains, this is not the case. In some chains, if the author is black and writing fiction, that book will be mixed in with all the other books written by black people. Romance, scifi, fantasy, horror, mystery, poetry, street lit, it’s all jumbled in there together. Sometimes AA romance isn’t represented at all, or it’s represented by one or two “name” authors.

The problem with this is many-fold. First of all, it assumes that black people only read books written by other black people. Second, it assumes that black people will pick up any book, no matter the genre, just because it’s written by a black person. Third, it assumes that only black people want to read books by black authors.

Note that I said authors, not characters. Because the segregation isn’t based on the race of the characters, but instead is determined by the race of the authors. Therefore, lots of fiction featuring black characters written by non black authors or even romances by non-black authors that feature a black heroine are not shelved in the AA section. (I think this kinda put holes in the niche marketing theory some mention.)
I’m sure there will be some people who will say, “See, she’s only doing this because she wants more readers.” Yes I want more readers. I want to be able to be a full-time fiction writer like so many of my counterparts. What is wrong with that? Woo in this business doesn’t want that? But more than that, I completely believe that shelving books based on the race of the author is not only wrong, but a disservice to the author.
Inspired by the comments in the Dear Author post and from other blogs, I’m going to make several other posts on this subject. Among other things I want to discuss/address are:

  • African-American imprints
  • Is black romance different?
  • Is niche marketing nice?
  • Next steps

I don’t know if I can do this, or even should. Maybe I’m killing my New York career as Seressia Glass before it can even start. Still, the important things aren’t easy, are they?
Now I’d like to hear from others. I truly think it is important to talk about this, to build awareness. But more than that, I think we need to reach consensus on what we should do next. If you know anyone, regardless of their color or affiliation, who is a reader or writer of romance, please ask them to stop by and give their two cents.

4 thoughts on “Readin’, Writin’, Racism, Romance ~ pt 1

  1. Laura Vivanco

    Seressia, I mentioned this over at Angela’s blog too but that thread’s a bit old now, so I thought it might be worth bringing up here too. Is the Romance Slam Jam a possible venue for discussion of some of these issues? It seems to me that one of the arguments that quite often comes up in favour of keeping AA romances segregated is that black people like having their own section. And yet, as you say:

    First of all, it assumes that black people only read books written by other black people. Second, it assumes that black people will pick up any book, no matter the genre, just because it’s written by a black person. Third, it assumes that only black people want to read books by black authors.

    So maybe this is something that would be appropriate to discuss at a conference which is aimed as much at readers of AA romances as at the authors of those same romances? I did notice when I looked at the list of attending authors that a lot of the authors who speak out on this issue online are already intending to be there.

  2. seressia

    Laura, I think it would be appropriate to discuss at ANY romance conference–which sorta goes back to my point, though I’m sure many do see it as an AA problem and not a romance problem. Some don’t see it as a problem at all.

    I’m not sure if the schedule is set for Slam Jam (they’ve been planning it since the last one in March) but it wouldn’t hurt to ask for a town hall slot if they still have slots open.

  3. Laura Vivanco

    It’s definitely a romance genre problem, in my opinion: it seems to affect reviewing (and thus the level of exposure the books get within the romance community) and some people’s buying patterns as well as shelving in bookshops and the way publishers market the novels.

    I was suggesting the Slam Jam because on the other thread some other people seemed to be suggesting that the RWA wouldn’t be particularly receptive to the idea of discussing the issue. I also suggested an academic venue (the PCA Conference) but that would be more academically orientated and some people might not feel comfortable with that and/or the dates might not suit them, whereas lots of the authors already involved in the online discussions about the segregation of AA romances are already planning to be at the Slam Jam.

    It was just an idea. I wish I could do more to help, but I’m in the UK, so although I can join in with online discussions, I’ll have to miss any which take place in the real world.

  4. seressia

    I’m not sure what it would take to get RWA to look into this. Enough authors emailing the office about it, I suppose. It’s certainly something that could be discussed at the Publisher/Bookseller summits that are held in New York every year.

    Of course, they (booksellers and publishers) would just say that it’s how the readers want it. So we do have to go to the readers, and see if that’s how they really want it. (I would counter that paranormal readers want paranormal separated out as well, but I doubt a survey like that will happen.)

    Laura, you’re doing more than many others are doing, and for that I thank you.

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