Literary criticism on the treatment of romance writers of color vs. the Romance Writers of America.
Iím wondering aloud if others share my opinion that Romance Writers of America (RWA) could do a better job of reaching across the lines of separateness to give sisters and brothers of color a chance at the same riches they share. Am I so wretched to believe that Iím wrong for voicing my angst at this situation? Iím trying to see what the benefits are of being part of this group, and why a few Black authors find it a must to be there. Please enlighten me, if you will. Iíve talked to a few of my friends that are members of this organization, and Iím amazed at the differing views. Moreover, I find to my chagrin that even those agreeing with me to some extent, still are immovable as to making the decision to bolt. They are quite comfortable at status quo, and feel that nothing is amiss! This is truly amazing to me! Iíve said to them, and to myself quite a number of times, that as a concerted group of people ambitious and impassioned with aspirations of eclectic accomplishment, there should be something we can call ours without having to prove that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. What about the Romance Slam Jam (RSJ)? Can we create much more synergy in that organization for it to become what we often seek by going outside of our Diaspora for acceptance? Stretching that point a bit, if we stay put we have our own grass, and if cultivated properly we can achieve the same amount of accolades and garner respect within our own boundaries for the same admirers Ė especially if they feel that the grass theyíre looking at is the same no matter what side itís grown on! This is the parity I seek. There are enough of us to make our own brand of success.
Inasmuch as readers make more sales that love a good love story than not, itís not lost on me how popular this genre is. Iíve had to research the romance industry for several freelance projects, and Iím a relative newcomer to the outstanding readership and muse of the romance industry. In my deep diggings, I was mildly surprised but not shocked to find two schools of thought when it comes to reading and writing romance. Segregation and biased opinions are not strange bedfellows in how perceptions are formed in the field of romance. Writers of a different persuasion than writers of color not only stick to their guns, but will not write across the board, or look across the table to embrace someone that donít look like them for all the good it would do to be amalgamated as one entity. Would this help the industry? I feel that it would, especially for the sole purpose of erasing ignorance of each otherís lack of initiative to delve in uncharted territory.
My opinions are mine, and I can only give testimony to that which Iíve seen, to conversations Iíve had with the authors who may feel maligned, and certainly from talking to more to other people who would like to see a change for the sake of parity and balance. It is my opinion too, that Black romance authors have been holding the short end of the stick for much too long. No one talks loud enough, or should I say that they are not being vociferous in their views relative to change. If thereís strength in numbers, why not take a stand and form coalitions to the powers that be for better representation? Representation of what, you say? Representative of a united front that will rally the cause that white folk are not the only people capable of writing good page-turning romance. We have a plethora of writers who are good at what they write; and that we donít like the fact that reviewers catering to the other side of that fence I alluded to earlier have not given just due to AA romance writers. Yet, RWA will gladly take our monies and clamor that we join their organization, be in attendance at their big award ceremony, while not openly embracing one of the most fluid subsidiary genres in all of literature. Yes, Black romance is hot! We are writing in all of the sub-categories to make it diverse. All you have to do is pick up a Gwyneth Bolden or a Rochelle Alers book to see what Iím talking about! Just endeavor to be in attendance at any Romance Slam Jam, or talk to the likes of Ms Emma Rodgers, Francis Ray, Brenda Jackson, et al.
We want to be recognized and given the same amenities as our white counterparts, but without fanfare and certainly sans consternation. We are unique, our stories are different in how they are portrayed, and our flair for the dramatic stems from emotions that yearn to be expressed. The gist of my diatribe is not why we are in this pickle, but HOW we have been treated, and what can we do to turn the tide. Everything systematically seems to be lumped in one subjective grouping. if and when they allude to us. I would like to see some degree of change for the better for first impressions to be taken at face value. The gall, if not a slap in the face, is RWA continuing sophisticated aloofness promoting exclusionary practices, and not doing nearly enough to invite more AA writers without the smug exterior of being superior. Ironically, one of the founders of RWA was Black woman who was shown the door much to early, which is much more than an affront to me! I speak of Vivian Stephens, but to tell her story would evoke much more time and space allotted here, and would be another story altogether.
I close my case, but Iím sure that there will be quite a few people that will disagree with me, and possibly a few that are not prone to be controversial to voice an opinion while still courting membership with RWA. Hopping on the bandwagon to acquiesce notions other than your cultural persuasion is nothing new in our Black history annals. Uncle Tom is still thriving in this new millennium, and will not succumb to any parallels or paradoxes to this cause. I will readily ask Ė what have you gained by being a member? Donít be reticent to share your opinion. To those that are willing to be part of the cornerstones to build anew by embracing and embellishing RSJ, I say Ė thanks for looking at the bigger picture. The mainstream of our literary presses will never see us other than a paradox to their flawed sense of accepted value. Until the scales are balanced, and they begin to see more than the color of your skin, things will remain status quo. Stand up, and while you are erect and erudite, DO keep the ink flowing!