Saturday, March 14, 2015

Spilling Tea, Choking on Silence and Perhaps Burning Bridges

I'm not a bestselling author. I'm not a degree-holding academic feminist who purports to validate the romance genre by reading it. I'm an author and reader of color who grew up with a certain amount of upper middle class and model minority privilege — none of which holds any weight in the publishing industry. Because, you see, like most of my fellow writers of color, I am invisible.

The past few weeks saw Stephanie Dray, a white author of historical fiction, "joking" about writing Thomas Jefferson-Sally Hemings BDSM romance. Women of color expressed hurt on Twitter, and those issues were later outlined more extensively in the blogosphere here and here. Dray made sure to seek absolution from well-known authors like Courtney Milan, Mary Robinette Kowal and Jenny Trout, and Beverly Jenkins lauded her for her apology. Ultimately the fracas became centered on Trout, Anne Rice and Jaid Black. Slavery and rape were forgotten. The black women hurt by the comments were forgotten. White authors with a bigger followings were having some feelings, so that took precedence.


It always takes precedence.

Author Racheline Maltese noticed some offensive social media advice from the March issue of RWA's RWR magazine. It instantly spurred Twitter discussion amongst romance writers about neutrality, being "nice" and how having polarizing opinions on gay marriage and Ferguson is important. And then male SFF author Chuck Wendig weighed in, because apparently he was "asked" to and felt he should. The women — particularly minority women who are always marginalized — involved in the discussion may as well have vanished into thin air. And some of us couldn't even express that thought without it becoming about a white author with a bigger following.

Because it always takes precedence.

And, of course, within the romance publishing blogosphere, there were only tumbleweeds and crickets from the most popular corners. Perhaps the whisper of broom bristles as the ugliness of things like slavery and Ferguson were swept under the rug.

All we want to do is write and be read. How can we flourish at that when our own community won't read us?

Publishing is populated by gatekeepers and town criers...ones who, intentionally or no, decide who gets in and who gets heard. And, over and over, the same people are locked out and silenced. It's a pattern. It's been the pattern for decades. And hashtagging diversity and putting a bunch of diversity panels on your conference schedule is nice lip service, but doesn't do a damn thing to change what's actually been happening and what will continue to happen.

I can't speak for others, but I know what has stood out to me. Being called out as racist by a white woman for thinking Idris Elba is kinky.  Seeing a white woman say that my stories are misogynist and 'veer dangerously toward Orientalizing.' Watching every aspect of my story get nitpicked and analyzed when similar romances by white women are just taken at face value. As separate incidents, as book reviews, it all may seem like no big deal. I don't cry into my Cheerios because someone doesn't like my writing or what I have to say on social media. But taken together? Stacking it up? Seeing how my fellow authors of color go through the same things? All we want to do is write. All we want is to be read. Why are those simple desires so much like pounding on the door of a locked room, screaming to be let out?

Of course, most of us don't scream. Most stay quiet. Most don't want to rock the boat. Invisibility, in some ways, is more secure than being seen as a troublemaker, as someone who wants to upset the apple cart and change the industry status quo.

Because that status quo takes precedence. Make no mistake, it always takes precedence.

25 comments:

  1. Wow. This is so interesting and important. And it's something I don't see. I see what blows up in my feed, and like others, I only saw the white thoughts and white outrage on these various issues, because that is what was retweeted, etc.

    I will make an effort to check this precedent in my own reading. Thank you for bringing it to my attention.

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  2. Thank you for reading! For the most part, it is always the white thoughts and white outrage that gets RT'd.

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  3. Sharing on FB and twitter. Cherri, it might also help to friend/follow some authors of color. There were a few on Twitter commenting on this but it is very easy to get drowned out.

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    1. Yes! You're so right, Seressia. Oftentimes, WOC don't have nearly as much of a signal radius...which is just another form of erasure. The more we are followed and friended, the more we're actually heard.

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    2. Yes! Yesterday after I read this post I added a bunch of new folks to my feed. I tend to keep my feed small, but I need to be better at keeping my feed full of WOC.

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  4. Thank you for writing this post Sulekha. I'm going to share it everywhere I can. The silence suffered by WOC authors is nearly soul shattering. But we need to talk about it. The more we talk, the more people become aware. The more people become aware, change can happen. At least that is my hope.

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    1. Thanks, Dren. I keep hoping that talking about it will force some change -- even a little -- or at least start the ball rolling for the next generation of writers.

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  5. I've already touched base with you on Twitter, but I also wanted to leave a comment. This piece cuts right to the heart and expresses what many female authors of color are thinking. I too was enraged by the careless words of Stephanie Dray, but was more enraged how easily the storm passed. However, reading your words gave me solace in knowing that I am not alone in my feelings.

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    1. Thanks, Dahlia. We're far, far from alone. I think there's an ongoing frustration that the storm always passes.

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  6. Great insight that I wholeheartedly agree with...I saw how quickly "we" were expected to move on and get over it. Over and over and over again.

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    1. Thank you, Michelle. It's amazing, isn't it? When we look back at the pattern and how it constantly repeats? When is it ever going to change? When will we ever see real movement and growth?

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  7. Suleikha, I'm part of a Multicultural Romance group with Dahlia. She sent me here to your blog.

    We need voices like yours. WE NEED YOU.

    I am hosting an online, real-time panel about diversity in fiction. We will do a brief version on Sunday, March 29 (3-4 PM EDT) on Facebook, and then my publisher is going to help me set up an additional, bigger event at a later date.

    Would you like to join?

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    1. Thank you for saying voices like mine are needed! Unfortunately, I'm not active on Facebook at all. I check mine perhaps once every six months.

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  8. Suleikha Snyder~

    A poster linked your blog on Amazon in a discussion relating to Jenny Trout and a box set which included her story, as well as those of other authors, being pulled due to people calling her publisher (which I believe was instigated by Anne Rice's comments about Trout).

    I'm very glad I found your post. It made me think about the issues in a different way. I have read the thoughts of many women of color regarding the historical fiction book, so their voices aren't being completely lost.

    Thank you so much for helping me learn more.

    Here's where your blog was linked on Amazon.

    http://www.amazon.com/forum/top%20reviewers/ref=cm_cd_et_md_pl?_encoding=UTF8&cdForum=Fx2Z5LRXMSUDQH2&cdMsgID=Mx3EBVUQX0P0VCR&cdMsgNo=7811&cdPage=313&cdSort=oldest&cdThread=TxCFFAMA0L2YKU#Mx3EBVUQX0P0VCR

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    1. It's kind of adorable that somebody thinks I don't know where the attack on Jenny Trout came from. I'm fully aware of the goings-on. I just wanted to talk about the impact of it all on women of color!

      At any rate, I'm glad my post made you think about the issues differently.

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    2. Would you like to come on the thread and chat? I'd love to talk with you there.

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    3. On Amazon? No thank you. I stay out of that realm.

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  9. Will reblog on Wordpress, if you don't mind.

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    1. What do you mean by reblog? You can link to this, but I'd rather not have any content pasted wholesale. Thanks!

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  10. All I know is this ish is still rolling along like the Mississippi and no amount of hash tag activism is quelling it. The disingenuousness of the Big Five sickens me as much as their "determined effort to find" good manuscripts by WOC. After hearing of, and being exposed to the shell games they pull, this writer of color has zero fucks left to give. And as far as allies? Please. Do you mean the ones who hog the spotlight and in a show of solidarity mention "other" writers as an aside while plugging their latest "edgy multicultural" tome? Or the ones who really reach across this huge divide and cross-promote? Those, I can count on the fingers of one hand with two digits chopped off. I used to doubt myself but not anymore. I'm a good writer. A damned good writer. I've come to one conclusion: the chosen, the ones with LOW melanin, who write "multicultural" (hate that word with a vengeance) for an audience who are similarly melanated, are the ones that the Big Five WANT to write "multicultural." They will continue to get the contracts because they are a known quantity. They have a built in audience from their White oriented books They pen the "other" just the way their regular audience likes (not too ethnic, not too real, not too angry). I no longer care about NY's approval because NY has cultivated the reading public it has and KNOWS it can't change it anytime soon. Me. I'll keep writing for those who appreciate my stuff.

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    1. I think New York is going to eventually realize that sticking to their known quantities means stagnating. And by then it'll be too late, because self-publishing will be the norm instead of the outlier.

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