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.