I'd like to talk about what constitutes kindness and bravery, and what any of it has to do with writing romance. But there is so much, so many different threads, that I'm not sure how to pull them together — especially without citing hundreds of years of racial disparity, colonialism, colorism, segregation, privilege, etc. It's a lot.
You can read some brilliant thoughts on what's going on in Romancelandia right now — what HAS been going on for decades — by Courtney Milan, Melissa Blue, and Zoraida Córdova.
Now here are some of my thoughts.
•Someone asked me the other night, “What difference does it make if someone is profiting of off us, as long as the diversity message is spread? I thought spreading the message was important.” This is a legitimate question, and I understand why people are confused. Do we only want the “right” people supporting diverse causes and inclusive books? And here's my answer: It's not about the right people, it's about HOW the message is spread. If someone couches reading a book by a black author as a “have to,” is that really palatable? There's a reason many kids hate broccoli and Brussels sprouts. Do you really want to pick up a book if someone says you SHOULD read it because Diversity Is Important? That's like forcing cod liver oil down someone's throat! And it's even worse if you're trying to say Diversity is Important and Trendy. People of color aren't kale. I don't care how artisanal and hip you pretend inclusive romance is, no one's drinking your kale smoothie.
Similarly, if you have a high-profile reviewer creating a whole diversity awareness month and devoting Kirkus Reviews blog posts to diverse romance...only to say “I'm not actually reading these because they're not in audio/I don't have time/there are so many other books,” is that going to make you want to read a diverse title? If it sounds like these books are hard to find, not selling well, and not worth the effort to click a button on your Kindle, are you really going to bother? “Well, if this reviewer can't even make time to read a Beverly Jenkins or Alyssa Cole book, why should I?”
So, ultimately, the reviewer profits from page-clicks and greater visibility, but the books and authors DON'T.
•Kindness. Niceness. Courage. Bravery. Ultimately, romance publishing is a business — my friend Rebekah Weatherspoon loves reminding people of this and pointing out that we're all trying to make money, so calls for “civility” are actually getting in the way of one's livelihood. And she's right. Being “nice” is not a business strategy. It's a way to keep the playing field comfortable and safe as white, straight, cisgender women continue to dominate the market. When we're told to try being “nice” to get our message across, what we're really being told is to shut up, to not rock the boat.
Speaking of boats, I love how Tessa Dare addresses the issue of niceness in the romance community supposedly helping foster growth. “Does a lukewarm bath of general niceness lift ALL boats, really? Or just some boats?” she asks on Twitter. “What do we say to people sitting--nicely--in boats that...gosh, just don't seem to be rising? 'Hmm, have you tried being even NICER?' No.”
That's why you'll see authors of color, LGBTQ authors, authors who are a religious minority — and authors who fall under all of those umbrellas, because, hello, intersectionality — not being so damn NICE. We have to yell just to be heard. We have to rattle the cage just to be acknowledged. But, somehow, it's the women telling us to shut up who are lauded for their courage, who are told they are brave. Women who, oftentimes, have better publishing deals and shelf space than we can hope for. Their tears matter more than our livelihood. That's what we're constantly told. “You're broke? Well, I'm heartbroken because you think I might be racist or clueless or not listening to you.”
You are not brave or courageous when you try to pretend racism doesn't exist. You're deliberately ignoring your own privilege and the voices of people around you. And it's not kind or nice to close your eyes and pretend it will all go away — or to blame women of color when you started the fight. Throwing us under the bus, making us the “Mean Girls,” is, again, a way to profit off diversity without having to lift an actual finger to really help the cause.
Like I said, it's a lot. None of this is new, and I'm practically hoarse from talking about it. Here are some of my past posts about diversity issues in romance publishing:
RWA15 in NYC: A Tale of Two Conferences
On Writing Diverse Characters and Moving Past Passive-Aggression:
Spilling Tea, Choking on Silence and Perhaps Burning Bridges: