Trouble in #Romancelandia

 

no_racism“no_racism” by kenjacobsen35 is licensed under CC PDM 1.0

 

This may be a little disjointed, so I hope you’ll bear with me. I literally had trouble sleeping last night as I thought about this situation.

Things to know up-front:

  1. I am a member of the Romance Writers of America (RWA), paid up until mid-2020. I belong to the national organization and three chapters (two on-line, and one local). I am part of the RWA’s Professional Author Network (PAN), which has an on-line communication “loop.” The RWA was founded by a woman of color, Vivian Stephens. After the 2019 RITA finalists were announced, it was apparent that (again) no authors of color had made the list. There were many articles written about the matter (including this one). No author of color has ever won a RITA. We had lengthy discussions about this in my local chapter, in which authors of color who were present talked about how they didn’t necessarily feel like the RWA supported them. The PAN loop erupted with horrible statements like “Well, maybe authors of color don’t know how to tell good stories” (I really ripped that person a new one), and the RWA promised to increase diversity and do better. I, along with many others, was optimistic.
  2. I am so far down the mid-list that you can hardly find me without a magnifying glass, when it comes to sales. I write because the stories won’t be quiet until I tell them. I’m not in this for the money, obviously. I also recognize that expressing my views on this matter may cost me some of the small readership I have.
  3. I am anti-racist. In order to understand the difference between this and merely being not racist, I had to examine my own white fragility and be willing to listen to people of color so that I can grow and do better. This is going to be important to what I’m about to talk about.
  4. In 2018, a paltry 9 percent of my reading was books by or about people of color. I was really disgusted with myself over that.  This year, I’m on track to double that percentage … and in 2020 I plan to do even better. Maybe you can add that to your list of resolutions, too.

So, here’s why I’m telling you all of this.

Yesterday, Beverly Jenkins made a post on Twitter that included the tag #IStandWithCourtney. I decided to see what it was all about, and I was furious with what I discovered. Award-winning romance author of color Courtney Milan was being censured by the RWA after an ethics investigation. I am in wholehearted opposition to that decision, and I’m about to explain why.

Two authors (whom I have met in professional situations, but cannot in honesty call anything more than casual acquaintances) filed complaints with the RWA claiming that Milan was damaging their reputations and earnings for pointing out racist practices in a business model and racist tropes in a book. Milan is an outspoken advocate for increased diversity in the romance industry, and for all of us being accountable. Both of the authors are white women. You can see the formal complaints at the links above. Both of them are long on opinion and short on actual evidence other than some screen shots in which Milan is critiquing a video wherein one of the authors defends one of the practices being called out.

And here’s the kicker: the RWA’s ethics committee sided with the complainants. Having read the complaints and the response from the RWA, I’m appalled. What this looks like, from where I sit, is that calling out racist practices and behaviors is a worse problem in their eyes than the racist practices and behaviors themselves.

I’m not okay with this, needless to say. Neither are a lot of other people.

It took me a long time to admit to myself and others that I wrote romance; the genre doesn’t enjoy a fabulous reputation, to be honest. I don’t like the implications of behavior that seems to indicate that only straight, white, rich, neurotypical/able people are deserving of “happily ever after” and that holding one another accountable for doing better at diversity is a problem.

I told you at the start that this might be disjointed and ramble a bit. I got less than five hours of sleep as I thought about this entire situation. I have some decisions to make.

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