The Intersection Between Race And Romance Writing
What the Romance Writers scandal should teach us all
Before I even touch on the drama that has unfolded over the past few days, I’d like to explain my own relationship with romance stories.
Romance wasn’t my cup of tea when I was a teen and that had very little to do with my sexuality.
There was only so many times that I could stare at some couple, on the front of a romance novel, who looked nothing like me and actually care about their story.
I read so many stories about long wavy hair and pale skin that I started doubting my own beauty. This was further compounded by the colourism in my community and by the time I got sick of measuring up to the impossible standard, I was a jaded young adult who was just itching to write some stories of my own.
I did write those stories but I never published any of them.
They sat there in that awful first draft stage that no one likes to talk about while I browsed publishers and books alike.
But just like before, there was no one who looked like me on the cover of those books or on the author’s page. Maybe if I had been older, if I’d been more motivated I would’ve tried to break into the market irrespective of that but as a young twenty-year old, that lack of representation felt like a sign that screamed that I didn’t belong here.
So I left the romance writing community behind but I kept an eye on it.
I watched as people of colour started setting down roots. I watched the models on the covers evolve from one specific beauty standard into a kaleidoscope of colours and styles and body shapes.
It was like watching a flower bloom.
It was beautiful.
Yet even with all these new books and authors, I didn’t see any of them winning awards.
I didn’t see them standing on stages and giving the speeches that tiny me had waited for years to hear.
I figured maybe it was a cultural thing.
Maybe the fast-talking, slick give and take that served as seduction in the black community didn’t translate well.
Maybe the family-oriented, honour bound traditions of the Japanese and Chinese communities felt too restrictive to the people who were judging these competitions.
I produced excuse after excuse to explain why we seemed to be stuck on the back pages of romance’s history.
Then the dumpster fire erupted on Twitter.
I’m not going to go into it because things are still coming to light but apparently calling someone out for racism is enough to lead to a suspension.
Now if the suspension had come from the supposed harsh words that were exchanged then it would be bad but it was actually in response to a complaint that sought to “explain why the racism should be accepted”
I could not believe my eyes but there it was, as plain as day.
A person of colour was being told that the racism they’d called out couldn’t possibly be racist because…
The explanation isn’t worth the time I’d take to type it.
I watched this unfold with bated breath.
I waited for it all to be brushed under the carpet but instead, something stunning happened.
The resignations rolled in, followed by a wave of complaints and demands for refunds that seemed to shock the entire romance writers’ community.
People weren’t just accepting it, they were calling it out.
The solidarity spread its wings and soared.
People came out of the woodwork with their own stories of racism, islamophobia and homophobia.
The dumpster fire was now a landfill that someone had tossed a Molotov cocktail at.
And at the edges of that destruction, in the wake of the ashes, stood tiny me, that twenty year old who wanted to be a romance author. She picked up her old drafts and dusted them off because that solidarity gave birth to hope.
It’s no longer a question.
There is a place in romance writing for people of colour.
There’s a place in romance writing for all religions.
There’s a place in romance writing for LGBTQ people.
There’s a place in romance writing for all of us and if there isn’t a place then don’t do what I did.
Don’t hide for a decade waiting for a sign.
Make that place for the young authors who don’t even know that they need it yet.