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Thursday, February 8, 2007

Segregation and Racism in the Romance Community

I'm very opinionated. This is no secret. Have you read my rants posts here on SF? When something bothers me, or resonates with me, I'm very vocal about it.

Jane has a very interesting post up at Dear Author, regarding the reading of African-American romance.

First, let me clarify something before I go on: I still have no idea if we're talking about (by we, I mean Romancelandia) authors who are AA or characters who are AA. Maybe someone can help me out with that.

Basically, her post states that she hasn't actively searched out AA romances. And she admitted that she's a bit shamed by this. I haven't either..but I'm not ashamed.

Let me explain why.

I don't care if the author/characters are AA. Not one little bit. I don't look at the jacket picture of a book to see what the author looks like before I buy a book. I care about storyline, character development and the author's ability to draw me into her world. I have absolutely no idea what the ethnicity of the authors I read are. Well, some I do, because they have a picture on the jacket, or a blurb about themselves in the back of the book.

But for the most part? No idea.

Does that make me racist? I don't believe it does. I think it's more racist to actively seek out a book by an AA person than to just read what appeals to me.

Jane asks if we should institute a rule in Romancelandia, stating we read at least one different ethnic book at month. Maybe that would bring more AA (and others outside of our own ethnicities) authors/stories into the mainstream. But, well, the idea offends me.

I've read some novels featuring AA H/H's. Not many, no, but some. And it didn't bother me at all. Not one single bit. And I've seen some covers at my local bookstores (B&N and Borders) with African American's on the cover. I've picked them up and read the back blurb. If the story appeals to me, I buy it. If it doesn't, I put it back. Race has nothing to do with it.

Why should I buy a book solely based on the color of the characters in it, or the color of the author who wrote it? Shouldn't I buy a romance novel based solely on the storyline?

Which brings me to the point of my post.

We don't need to institute a policy in Romancelandia to get us to read different ethnic novels. What we need to do is write to our booksellers and publishing houses and ask them not to segregate a story by the color of it's characters/author. Would I read more AA novels if they were in the regular romance section? Absolutely. Why? Because it's there for me to pick up and browse through.

What I suppose I don't understand, however, is why they're separated in the first place. I admit that I don't know enough about the inner workings of a publishing house to even speculate on this. Is it because, as Ro suggested on Sybil's blog:

But there’s a double-edged sword in this entertainment industry: african-americans dearly want something to call “their own”. White america is the dominant “culture” and immigrant communities are bonded by their common languages and customs–but black people? We’re left out in the cold, a bit forlorn as we grasp for something that isn’t “tainted” by the past history of this country. Hence, institutions like HBCU, BET, or the imprints for african-american fiction,etc exist.

She goes on to say:

But they end up hurting everyone, and we’re left with explosive situations such as this one. The frustrations and fears of a mid-list/new author struggling to break into mainstream is tripled in the black writer who would like their work to be viewed outside of the “black niche market”. But their desire is ignored simply because they’re black, and they’re published under that imprint(Dafina, Kimani Press, etc) whose marketing plan is the same for every author simply because the aforementioned niche exists.

So, if I'm understanding correctly, publishing houses are forcing authors to publish their books based on their "niche", which in this case would be AA romance. That doesn't make sense to me.
You're telling me that because the characters of a certain novel have skin that isn't white, they're published under certain "lines" at publishing houses? Well, that's what we need to address.

If the "niche" Ro was referring to is, for an example, Urban romance, I can see that. Just as I can see the need for erotic lines and paranormal and etc. But if an author's work is being published in that specific line simply because her novels feature black h/h's, well, that's wrong. And we, as readers, should protest this.

But I have to wonder if it isn't the AA authors themselves who have brought this on. If you're an author, can you tell me, do you want to be known as a black author, or simply as an author? I don't think you can have it both ways.

If you want to be known as an AA author, if you feel that's your niche, and you're excited about being published by an all black publishing house, than great. But don't complain that you want entry into mainstream then. Because you can't have your cake and eat it, too.

If that's not the case, however, and your publisher won't let you break out of the "niche" area, then let us know. We, as readers, can be very powerful. And I, for one, have no problem writing letters to publishers and booksellers.

Now, what we all really want to know is:

Racism In Publishing, How Does It Affect You?

Are you an African American author who’s been published for at least one year? If so Karen Scott wants to hear from you.

She’s conducting a survey based on the racism within the publishing industry, and whether or not it’s as prevalent as some believe. She’s looking for black or African American authors who have been published for at least one year.

She would like to know about your specific experiences within the industry thus far. She wants to know how AA authors feel about the current shelving policies, and niche marketing. She wants to know who you feel is to blame for the problems that you face. She also wants your suggestions on how things can be improved upon.

In all, there are twenty questions in the survey, and all that she asks is that people be as honest as possible. Confidentiality is assured if requested, but for the findings to yield more weight, she would request that she be granted permission to directly quote from the answers given by the authors.

She’s hoping to poll at least 100 AA authors, in an effort to ensure that a fair representation is achieved.

If enough authors agree to participate, (and depending on the findings) the results may well be sent to representatives within media and press. No promises that Oprah will hear about it, but all efforts will be made to get the message out.

If there are AA authors out there interested in participating in this poll, please e-mail Karen at hairylemony @ gmail. com (without the spaces) with the subject header ‘Please send me the survey'.

The deadline for the survey to be completed and returned to Karen is March 1st 2007

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Blogger Chantal said...

I was waiting for someone to post about this hear. Almost every readers blog I visit is talking about it.

I have read some AA romances. Off the top of my head I can think of 4. Thats not a lot, I know. It's not that I don't want to read thm, I just don't ever see them out there.

So yeah. I agree with you.

February 8, 2007 at 1:57 PM  
Blogger Chantal said...

I meant type here. Not hear. Don't yell at me *ducking*

February 8, 2007 at 1:59 PM  
Blogger Holly said...

I'll forgive you this time because you caught it. lol

I was still debating about whether or not to post something here when I read a certain authors blog yesterday. Then I read what Dear Author had up and it made me think.

So there you have it..my take on the situation. I was even pretty nice about it. lol

February 8, 2007 at 2:46 PM  
Blogger nath said...

I am so tired to hear about racism and stuff like that. There's a real debate about that here in Quebec province, sigh. I'm of Asian descent, so sure, when I see an Asian heroine, I'll be more curious about it. Aside from that, I don't really care what about the author/character's background is. Why would i go and actively look for AA romance? I mean, it's not as if I go and actively look for American/Caucasian romance.

February 9, 2007 at 5:19 AM  
Blogger Chantal said...

Nath, thats a good point. My husband is Asian, but I don't seek out Asian heros.

February 9, 2007 at 9:25 AM  
Blogger Dylan aka Rowena said...

Hmmm, well you've said pretty much everything I would have said on this matter, so I guess I'll just say DITTO to everything you said.

Good post sweetie!

February 9, 2007 at 9:34 AM  
Blogger Daphne said...

Very intriguing post Holly. When I think about it, I don't recall seeing too many AA books in the romance section. I've never read one and it's probably b/c I don't see them, I didn't even know there was a separate section. I'll have to check this out next time I'm at the bookstore.

February 9, 2007 at 10:59 PM  
Blogger Rene Lyons said...

Great post, Holly. But you knew that already. We talked about this.

I've never actively sought out a AA book nor am I ashamed of that. I seek out any book I hear is good. Period. Don't care if the author is green with purple stripes.

I never knew Raine Weaver was AA until I saw her link up on another blog as a participating author in a AA author survey... and we share the same publishing house! She's simply a woman and author I admire. Her skin color was never something I thought about or cared about. I still don't. Raine is amazing... even if she was purple with green stripes. lol

February 10, 2007 at 12:35 PM  
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