I’m no good at the Twitters. Whether logging on as me or my straight, Harlequin novel writing alter-ego, I’m woefully out of my depth (i.e. don’t know what the hell I’m doing). But the discussions on there are relevant and touch both of my writing selves, so I’ve been trying a little harder to be less of a Twitter twit.
A few of the discussions taking place primarily on Twitter have been the disruptions to business as usual in the romance writing world over the last few days/weeks. Riptide Publishing and its blatant racist practices – no black people on the covers of our gay books, guys! – plus more and then the whole Romance Writers of America (RWA) foolishness – in their entire thirty something year history they’ve never awarded a black woman a Rita award despite the fact that yes, we do indeed write and read romance. And many of us are amazing at it. This bias is no surprise. Yes, we write about love, but we’re humans living and operating in a racist world. Romancelandia (queer and otherwise) is a reflection of our world. I mean, why should black books, black authors, or black love matter when, to many, black lives don’t?
A few years ago, I asked for beta readers for a re-issue of one of my previously published books. The woman who agreed to read for me confessed that in her thirty plus years of reading lesbian fiction, this was her first time picking up a book with black lesbian characters. She went as far as saying that she actually enjoyed the book. Her surprise was evident even in text. I didn’t bother asking why she never read any books by non-white women, and I would hazard a guess to say she’s never picked up another book by/about lesbians of color since then. The characters didn’t look like her, so she wasn’t interested in reading about their lives. Or their loves.
To me, it’s the same attitude that led a woman in one of my writing groups to dismiss my protagonist (black, sexually aggressive, mourning the loss of her brother to gun violence) as unrelatable when I and everyone else in the group was supposed to connect with her white female protagonist (a scientist living in the 18th century and struggling for autonomy in a world where feminism doesn’t exist) and do the work agreed upon by the group – critique essential parts of the story being discussed. She couldn’t relate to my character and so couldn’t offer any useful critique of my novel.
I get it. We live in our bubbles and we deal with what we choose to. And unless it relates to us, we as humans often don’t want to address or even look at the different biases around us. This reminds me of a scene in Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water when the white, gay male character insists on changing the TV channel showing black civil rights activists being assaulted with water hoses. This is “depressing” he says. He’d rather watch tap-dancing Bill “Bojangles” Robinson and Shirley Temple on his television and lust after a straight boy at his neighborhood bakery than face other people’s unpleasant realities.
*Wouldn’t it be amazing to see women wearing pink hats at a Black Lives Matter rally?
More eloquent people than I have talked about the –isms in the publishing industry. Pushing for the diversity of editors, publishers, agents behind the scenes while normalizing black and other POC faces on the covers of books in supermarkets and other stores. Inviting/daring those who’ve only read books about people like them to be part of the solution and broaden their reading selections (without being guided to by Oprah). We’re a long way from that ideal place of true inclusion, but I want the conversation to keep on going. I want awareness to keep growing so people will try and challenge their own biases and patterns of behavior. Shouldn’t the playing field be even for us all?