31 Jan The Black Elephant in the Room
I’m going to turn the comments off here.
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Not even a little.
I’ve been finding myself more and more frustrated lately, with all the talk of diversity going around. Every day, it seems, someone in publishing (reviewers, agents, editors, whatever) has done something racist, pushing exclusory practices, etc. These infractions range from (in my purview, at least) unremarkably minor to ugly and heinous. But no matter what, there always seems to be a group of people who are champions for diversity and inclusion, and they rally, they put up the banner, and they go in. They get their voices heard, they write blog posts, they get apologies, and at the very least… they get the illusion of change.
Last Thursday, one woman – who I won’t name, because I’m not naming anyone, because I’m not feeling quite that petty yet – tweeted out a link to a somewhat popular romance review blog. It got retweeted into my timeline on twitter, and her complaint was something that caught my eye. It was something along the lines of, “If you don’t want to read hood lit, that’s fine. But not all black romance is hood lit.”
It’s a post about this reviewer’s frustrations with contemporary romance.
So I read this post, and I’m rolling my eyes. Snark as a brand is typically not my thing, so it honestly reads as unnecessarily mean-spirited to me, but whatever. The woman who wrote the post had points that she was passionate about, and they were very, very clearly stated. So, whatever. Who cares if I think it’s mean?
And then, I come to a point, which I’m not going to paste verbatim. The gist of it though, is that she has no interest in reading diverse romance – specifically black romance – about gold-toothed men with nicknames (she compares them to Nazis), or black heroines who don’t have an education. She implies that if black women had educations, they would be soft-spoken, and not use slang. That’s what she wants to read – maybe. Black heroines who are soft-spoken and don’t use slang, because they’re educated. Because educated black women are soft spoken, and don’t use slang.
I got a little stuck right there.
She says some equally racially charged things about romance featuring other ethnicities. Ignorant, awful things honestly, but that’s not what I’m talking about right now. I’m talking about this reviewer – this biracial reviewer – feeling completely comfortable lobbing these disgusting stereotypes about black romance (right after she says she doesn’t want to read a book steeped in stereotypes) to the vastly white audience that the blog serves.
And hardly anyone noticed.
I read the comments. I saw their tweets. They were thanking this woman for saying what they were thinking, talking about how it was so beautifully stated, etc. Hardly anyone saw a problem with her saying those things. I even went back later, and saw that someone who runs a site dedicated to showcasing women of color loved the post. She didn’t see anything wrong.
So it makes me sit back and think, wait… is it just me?
This blog post was talked about – fussed about – on twitter. I ranted, and a few black romance authors were equally disgusted, and we talked. We tweeted. We hurt.
But who didn’t?
The very people who are always going up for diversity.
No traction was gained.
No banner was raised.
No one came through for the black women in romance who aren’t soft spoken, and aren’t opposed to using a little slang. No one came through and made a strong statement that hey – this is exactly the type of stuff that isn’t okay.
No one is fighting for us.
But I see so many of us fighting for everybody.
I said this already, but lately, I’ve been really frustrated.
Maybe it’s not okay – I’m not above reproach and don’t claim to be – but I feel a way when I see black women writing white romance. I feel a way when we write every ethnicity and skin tone and represent everybody except us. I’m just one person, whose opinion shouldn’t matter too much to you anyway, you should write what you want, because I certainly will.
But I feel a way.
Let me be clear, if you’re an author reading this – Don’t take what I’m about to say personal. This is my space, to reflect on my own feelings, and this is what it is. You should write whatever makes your heart sing. Write what feels good, what feels authentic, what enables you to feel like your gift is being put to use.
Back to what I was saying-
I felt like it was… damaging, almost. For black women to have this gift, and instead of using that to promote that we are beautiful, and varied, and worthy, in all our shades and degrees and differences of blackness, to write white characters. It bothered me for that talent to be used to simply push the status quo, and put more and more whiteness into the world when some of as are desperate to see ourselves in the books that we read.
I didn’t get it.
But today… I do.
As a romance author, I’m already at the edge of the fence of what gets respect in the literary arena. As a black romance author, just outside of it. As an indie author, I’m pushed even further out. As a black indie, I can just barely get to the edge of the crowd. And as a black indie writing black characters?
I get to hang on to the fringe, and hope that stupid ass blog posts don’t come along, trying to shake me off.
Because when they do… I’m going to be the last one offered a hand, if I get offered one at all. Because there are already black women at the table, you know? Look at them, right here, and here, and here. The traditionally published authors got a few, and then there were spaces left for indies, and we filled them up! Yay, black women! Yay, diversity!
Everybody is fighting for diversity, for everybody to be represented, which is wonderful. I want that, for all of us. But when it comes to “Romancelandia” it’s the like the elephant in the room that nobody but us sees. Black women writing black indie romance… were the hell are we?
Obviously, every black author who writes white characters isn’t doing it just to be able to make a living selling books. Plenty have multicultural families, are in interracial relationships, live in areas with huge amounts of diversity, and are just writing what they see, or what they want to see, or what they live every day. Some write white characters because that’s just what the hell the want to do. Those are the characters who come to them, and they leave them that way, and screw anybody who has a problem with it.
Again, write what makes you feel good.
But… let’s not pretend that’s why every black author who writes white characters does it.
Can we be honest here?
I’ve talked to, laughed with, cried with, authors who are established in their careers and authors who aren’t, who write white characters because it sells books. Books with black faces on them don’t sell as well as white faces. More people can relate to “ethnically ambiguous” characters. Agents can sell books based on white characters. Mainstream audiences don’t have to worry about having race shoved down their throat if that characters are white. White women are the consumers supposedly, so to be successful on a mainstream level, you write to their tastes.
It’s not just black indies writing black romance who get ignored. Traditionally published black romance isn’t exactly celebrated and embraced either. It’s like… the closer in proximity to whiteness you get, even as a black author, the more widely your work will be accepted.
So I get it.
Not that they need me to, I’m just saying.
I didn’t get it, but now I do.
It became very, very clear to me on Thursday, when I saw that the diversity battle flag wasn’t going to be raised for us, that I’m not fighting the same fight as everybody. I’m just not. Anti-blackness is so, so rampant, in every facet of our society. “Romancelandia” is no exception. And with that realization in my head, it would be completely silly of me to push black authors to not center whiteness in their work. We just simply aren’t there yet. When we’re hungry just to get a foot in the door, how can I can feel anything other than “Girl, do what you gotta do” when I see that the very people screaming about diversity don’t give a damn when it’s black romance under attack.
They giggle along in the comment section with it, because right on, girlfriend!
Girl, do what you gotta.
Sell those books, make your name.
What the fuck else can I say?
I don’t mean to make it sound hopeless – truly.
I’ve been at it two years.
I write black people.
I sell books.
I have no answers.
I don’t know the secrets.
All I know is that I get multiple emails a day, comments, reviews, thanking me for writing books where black women can see themselves, being loved by black men. Whole, and varied, and broken, and mended, and educated, and loud, and with some finger wagging and neck rolling and Ooooh, girls! People buy my books, but I… I can’t explain why.
I’m just writing what I feel.
I feel we need more black women, so I write that.
I hope other black romance authors feel the same.
I feel we need more black men, so I write that.
I hope other black romance authors feel the same.
I feel we need to see successful black communities, so I write that.
I hope other black romance authors feel the same.
And I knew it wasn’t just me, I wasn’t the only one writing these things, so a friend and I created Girl, Have You Read?
Because I thought there was a void.
I thought there was a void.
I hoped other black romance authors would feel the same.
We created a space to push black people, writing black characters to the forefront, and… well… to be quite frank, we are largely ignored by the people we created it for.
But we’ll push forward.
Because it’s important to Alex, and it’s important to me.
Anyway… this post is long enough, right?
I wish I could offer some grand point here – a TL;DR.
I don’t have one.
I’ll end by reminiscing on a post I wrote two years ago, right here on this blog, about the state of black romance. I was so young, so tender, lol. So frustrated by a post I’d found on goodreads, where people were saying they didn’t want to read black romance, because of the stereotypes and blah blah. They’d rather just read white romance, or interracial. I remember thinking NO! LET’S MAKE AN IMPACT LETS MAKE A CHANGE FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT. I remember thinking that maybe the tide was changing. The big diversity in publishing push happened, and I was so hopeful that it would make a difference.
But that didn’t happen. I could rewrite that very same post today, because black romance is still considered not worthy. Maybe in another two years, I’ll look back on this post and remember realizing that “diversity” wasn’t about us. It never was.
I already knew that.
“We all we got” has never, ever been so clear.