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A Special Guest Post on Cultural Appropriation By Handy Hunter

Cultural Appropriation in Romance

Earlier in this year of 2009, there was a Great Cultural Appropriation Debate, dubbed racefail09, that centred mainly around the SF/F genres. If you clicked on that link, it leads to a set of many, many, many links about race, racism, cultural appropriation and white privilege. (If you’ve never heard of these terms before – or your knee jerk reaction is to say “I don’t have white privilege!” – this is a good place to start reading.)

Romance suffers from the same problem SF/F does. It’s very, very white. It would also seem that readers are far more okay with reading about vampires and werewolves and demons and angels than characters of colour. That is not okay. Think about what this means for a second. And imagine, if you will, being erased in stories or always in the background, a victim, evil, maybe the best friend or sidekick. . .but never the hero of your own story. This is what appropriation does to people of colour. It is not diversity to have white people running around in foreign lands without much thought to the people who are native to those lands. I can’t say I find it romantic when they’re in the middle of colonizing another country either; I’m not sure how I’m supposed to root for our heroes when they’re killing or enslaving other people, or condoning/profiting from it, even if they aren’t actively participating (this is an issue even when white characters don’t visit foreign lands, but it’s a bit harder to ignore, I think, when they’re in the middle of taking over another country).

Is it possible to write white people in foreign lands without it being appropriative? I don’t think I’ve seen this done in a historical. I hesitate to say never (it’s not like I’ve read every book in the romance genre), but at the same time, there’s also the issue of creating yet another story about white people. Even if this story were remarkably absent of exoticism and respectful of the other culture, it still features white people, which means the characters of colour are in the background somewhere; this is a problem in contemporary (and fantasy) settings, as well. The stories of white people are being privileged over the stories of people of colour. If you truly mean to be diverse, write and read about people of colour. Make them the main characters of your stories. Even – or especially – in a historical romance.

I admit to reading less and less romance novels as I’ve grown more aware of these issues. I’ve also fallen out of the fandom quite a bit because there seems to be an overwhelming pressure to keep things “nice” and “polite”; I can understand the need for civil discourse, but not when tone is used as a silencing tactic so these things don’t get discussed. So I read other genres, like YA, which is still mainly white, but seems to be a bit more open to diversity. There’s this YA book I read the other day, Justina Chen Headley’s Girl Overboard, that I fell in love with. It’s everything I mean and want to see in a book when I say there ought to be people of colour in the leading roles.

Girl Overboard is about a Chinese-American teenage girl, Syrah Cheng, whose story is one of growing up, finding herself, dealing with her parents, making friends, thinking about boys, thinking about her future… And snowboarding and drawing manga. I like to think some of Syrah’s emotions and experiences are universal enough that white people would be willing to read about them and perhaps even see themselves in this character; after all, it’s what many people of colour often (have to) do. I appreciate that this isn’t a book about race or racism; they are mentioned, but are not the main focus of the story (there’s a place for those books too, but not what I always want to read). For the most part, being Chinese simply is. And it’s integrated with the American culture of the Pacific Northwest because Syrah is a first generation citizen living in Seattle. This book stands out to me not only as a fabulous story, but also as a story about people of colour by a person of colour. [/plugging]

One way to combat appropriation is to let and encourage people (writers) of colour tell their own stories. I don’t see a reason why this couldn’t apply to romance as well. It already exists, though I’ve only read it in a contemporary setting with Marjorie Liu’s books (her supernatural people don’t bother me because she has actual characters of colour in her books. I mean, I like the X-Men. I see value in metaphors, but the metaphor of alienation, being different, being treated as sub-human, etc, only goes so far when there aren’t any characters of colour in your stories, which ends up perpetuating the problems the metaphors are attempting to address.)

As a romance reader, I’ve grown increasingly wary of books set in “exotic” locations. I never know, if I read that story, if it’s going to offend or hurt me in some way. It’s easier, for me, to suspend disbelief – pretend it’s a kind of fantasy or alternate history – if the story is about rich, upper-class white people doing rich, upper-class white people things. Although this is not to say it’s a good thing to have “wallpaper history” as the setting, or that writers should aim for such a low standard or write alternate histories in which people of colour are erased. I am saying, when writing people of colour or another person’s culture, take the time to know what you’re writing about. If I never see another non-white person described as “exotic” or with “almond shaped eyes“, it won’t be soon enough. If nothing else, I think these are very lazy terms to use to describe someone who isn’t white — it’s an extremely vague description and rather insulting to be lumped together in one or two tired phrases, like all people of colour (POC) look alike (and, for some reason, we always get compared to food. What’s up with that?). I would like to think it’s possible for historical romances about characters of colour, set somewhere that isn’t England or America, and that’s respectful of the culture to exist. And that white people could write these stories alongside writers of colour telling their own stories. I’m just not sure that I’ve seen it, or, actually, looked for it.

I’m not saying writing is easy to do. I’m not saying writers will get writing other people and their culture(s) right all the time. And it’s hard, as a reader, to come across beloved books or authors and find out their writing contains racist or white privileged ideas. I’m not saying you will cure racism. I’m not saying I want authors to defend their work; I’d like them not to continue to further get stuff wrong, though. I’m not even saying you’ll be praised for your efforts (especially if you get stuff wrong — your intentions are only as good as the outcome). I am saying you should try, regardless. And I think supporting or reading books by and about people of colour is one way to do this; as is being more aware of when cultural appropriation, racism and white privilege are occurring in your fiction and perhaps even talking and educating others about it.

Janine adds: Handy Hunter, our guest blogger, has requested that we add this video of a speech given by Nigerian author Chimamanda Adichie, titled “The Danger of a Single Story,” to the bottom of this opinion piece. You won’t regret watching it. It’s truly excellent!

Guest Reviewer

338 Comments

  1. Edie
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 04:53:12

    I love romance novels, but they are extremely white bread and conservative. Is that part of their success?

    As well as being pretty much wholly white, they are nearly wholly Christian – even if not overtly, pro life (?) and while we now have some token gay characters, (or a sub-fetish category) where are the Lesbians? I think I have come across two or three and they were all the evil whore ex-wife.

    Sorry that is slightly off topic, but it is something that I have been thinking a lot about lately, and it kind of burst out.

  2. Ros
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 06:54:38

    Great post.

    When HQ had a series of free ebooks available earlier this year (possibly they still do) I think I worked my way through almost all of them, which meant that I read one book from their African-American line. I am not African-American, and actually I’m not American at all, so this really is a different culture for me. I didn’t enjoy the book that much (mainly because there was a lot more graphic sex than I normally prefer) but I really did like the way that the race stuff was handled – i.e., it was just there. It was normal. I can’t even remember that there were any white people in the book at all – why would there be? I liked the way that the author didn’t import standard, white-centric cliches to describe the attractiveness of her characters, but instead used compliments and descriptions that were appropriate.

    I’m white and British and I couldn’t have written that book. But I’m glad that there are African-American authors out there who can and have.

    I’m sort-of sad that there has to be a special line for this, though. It seems that the assumption is that the ‘normal’ reader will want to read about white heroes and heroines (not just Americans, but Italians and Greeks and other ‘exotic’ billionaires), but that black characters have to be specially warned for.

  3. Alisa Neil
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 06:56:56

    I’ll stick my neck out and point out the X-men’s age. Within the time frame it originated, I’d say it tried. No matter how many revamps of continuity there have been, you’ve still got to date the original. And while admittedly few- Storm, Jubilee, Rictor off the top of my head. Far, far, far from perfect. Bad/failed attempt? Maybe, probably, even originally, but dating the first appearance of the X-men is a point. They’re older than I am, and I have a kid a year from driving. Been so long since I’ve followed Xmen to any extent beyond Hugh Jackman pretty, storyline wtf but Hugh Jackman Pretty that I can’t speak as to how the comic continuity has improved or failed in the last 15-20 years. DC’s Static Shock is the only one off the top of my head that had their own title.

    Food? Well chocolate, caramel, coffee, toffee, even honey are at least more varied than “milky” or “creamy”. People of color get food/dessert, white people get dairy? I think partly it’s fear factor, going to get your head ripped off if you accidentally phrase something wrong so stick with the generic, safe, connection to something appealing? Wanting to get a description but then get stuck in the okay now “how do I say/describe this…” that won’t get me lynched for racist/evil/horrible/stupid that inevitibley translates to the generic status quo of descriptions. Failure of just wanting “exotic” and truly half-assed looks the same as the failure of intimidation, fear, genuine wish not to offend and back around to not offending by avoiding inclusion all together.

    Personally, would I write a main character who is African American or Asian? Probably not, secondary, *there* yes, absolutely and as “real” as I could get them without pushing to totally screwing up. MC probably not. As you said, intentions are only as good as results, which is a stopping factor right there. Latino/Hispanic main character, yes I would, far sooner than African American or Asian. Still quite likely could get metaphorically lynched for how I write a Latino/Hispanic character but I would at least be able to write a character I believed was “true”.

    Even at that, it would be Latino/Hispanic that are several generations in US for the sake of comfort level getting it right, or at least “right and true” to what I know. Which might very well read right and honest to those I know, who live in the same region and would rip me one if I got it wrong, and still read “WTF BS!!!!” to someone from either coast or the South.

    For the record, yes I’m pale as a ghost, the only color to me is freckles. My extended family, however, is far from purely caucasian, and there have been a few dramatic incidents driving home how much difference a *surname* makes even over complexion when the one with the Latino surname is paler and more English & German, than the one with the German surname. (Latino/Hispanic, African American, Native American in my family. The Latino the majority and several generations but not only.) While the only dubious privelege I’ve ever had in my life might be my complexion combined with an Austrian maiden name, it’s not the case for many I care deeply about. And it would make me that much more hesitant to write beyond what I’m entirely comfortable with getting “true” enough not to hurt.

  4. Estara
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 07:32:30

    How cool that this subject has reached a site like Dear Author. I think a lot of people who followed or took part in racefail 09 are trying to fall back on the safe side of “if I’m not of that culture, I won’t feature it in my writing at all” (we’re of course not talking about Cassie Edwards here). I think that’s the easy way out. PoC still won’t find themselves represented in genre fiction in any adequate number then. I’m so happy the discourse is taking place in more than one fiction genre, as well.

    I had it easy growing up in that only my brother looks recognisably Arabian while I grew up the daughter of a German woman and a Syrian man – people never hassled me on the street (we’re talking Germany here, where Turkish = unwanted foreign labourer for a long time…. though we were happy to have them after World War 2, but that’s too much detail on a tangent). I’ve often felt vaguely guilty about my luck there. I’m also never sure about what is politically correct in naming skin colours.

    Justine Larbastier’s YA Liar has a black girl protagonist and the author is a white Australian. Mercedes Lackey’s Sacred Ground had a Native American female private eye protagonist and that came out in the 80s (and a real Native American LJ commenter didn’t object to much in the portrayal of Native Americans there).

    Kathleen Eagle is married to a Native American (and I think has some NA ancestry?). She has NA heros often, but often white heroines, too.

    Nalini Singh is of Indian descent but lives in New Zealand, I haven’t seen Indian heroes in her work, maybe in some of the category romances?

    Meljean Brook has an awesome Half-Indian heroine in Savitri of Demon Moon. And the guardians seem to be a mixed lot anyway.

    I don’t have any real solutions either, but I was happy to be made aware of the problem and to explore the indications more and read my own books more closely with regards to this topic – and iwhen they’re guilty pleasures (like Kylie Chan’s appropriation of Chinese myths and Hong Kong – though she’s married to a Hong Kong Chinese man) at least I know they’re guilty.

    I still think Ender’s Game was a powerful book and I can’t stand Orson Scott Card’s politics, either.

    re: the link list in the text about white privilege – I always thought this text on it was very accessible, especially the privilege list included there (for everyone to check off in their minds):
    White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh

  5. Barbara B.
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 07:33:10

    Wow! It’s as if Handy Hunter read my mind. This issue has been strongly on my mind these past few weeks. I’m always aware of this issue, but over the past month or so I’ve just reached a point where I’m done with reading romances set in White Land. No matter where the story’s set somehow EVERYBODY is white. I’m talking mainly about contemporaries set in the U.S. I often wondered if white authors even realized that not all of their readers were white. Then again why would they know or care if they did. White people think that only their experiences are universal and thus relateable to everyone.

    My club membership at Fictionwise was due to expire last week and for the first time in years I didn’t renew. There was a time when I was conflicted; I knew my favorite authors ignored the very existence of someone like me but I loved the stories too much to let them go. Actually most of the white authors whose books I loved have either moved to other genres, sub genres, or quite frankly suck now. There were a few authors left like Megan Hart, whose writing I adore. She literally filled the void for me that Judith Ivory left when she stopped writing. As much as I love Dirty and have re-read it dozens of times, I’m struck by how everybody in the city, Harrrisburgh, PA. I think, is white. I doubt if this is the case but what it means is that to the white writer everybody who matters is white. The rest simply don’t exist for her. I also used to love Joey W. Hills books. Of course her characters are all white too, with the exceptions of some of the pyschos or criminals.

    I wonder what goes through these authors minds when they create these white worlds, particularly in the cities, where many people aren’t white at all. I can only assume that a creator of a fictional world makes that world the way she WISHES the real world could be. A world with no pesky brown or black people taint.

    As far as historicals go, many readers clamor for exotic locales. I do not. There’s a thread on the Amazon romance board lamenting the death of romance set in the times before, during and after the Civil War. Those readers fucking disgust me. They are quite able to gloss over the human misery that was slavery to get to the crinolines, mint juleps, and gallantry that supposedly was the south. Historicals set in other locales equally disgust me. Why the hell would I want to read about the whitewashing of colonialism and imperialism. It’s all human debasement, misery, and dehumanization that apparently doesn’t bother the mainstream reader at all.

    As someone not of European descent I don’t at all mind reading about Europeans in Europe because that’s where they effing belong! Even that becomes problematic when the author carelessly mentions those extremely lucrative plantations in the West Indies or the returning Nabob who joined the East India Company and become rich beyond his wildest dreams. There’s a subtext there that the author almost never explores. Those riches come from slavery, and/or exploiting the natural resources of non-European countries.

    What gets me about both the readers and the writers who wants the exotic locale is that it seemingly never occurs to them that there are already people in those locales worthy of having their stories told. Why the hell would you need a European in India, or Egypt to come up with a fascinating romance. Do non-white people not fall in love? I hesitate to even mention Africa. Africa the desecrated;where as far as the Europeans were/are concerned, no real humans existed in the sub-Saharan countries anyway.

    Back when Karen Scott and others were addressing the issue of racial segregation among publishers and bookstores, I had my eyes opened and have never been able to see romance writers and readers the same. Just like the country(U.S.) as a whole, romance readers for the most part are open or subconscious racists. There’s just no other way to explain why so many readers said either that they never noticed that there were no black romances in the romance section or said that they just can’t relate to stories about black people because of the cultural differences. It’s all in the open now. I’ve pretty much have had to bid a bittersweet farewell to mainstream romance after over 35 years. There’s just no place for people like me in mainstream romance and I’ve finally faced it.

  6. eilisflynn
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 07:34:38

    For years I tried to sell a book about an Asian-American. At one point someone pointed out to me (either an editor or an agent, I don’t remember any more) that Asians didn’t read. What? Really? Finally sold it to an e-publisher … to favorable reviews. But after that, I’ll stick to writing about white people. Because that’s what seems to sell.

  7. Jill Sorenson
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 07:38:01

    Nice article. Thanks so much for bringing up the subject! I was toying with the idea of a Filipino hero, and had struggled with his description. I had no idea that “almond shaped” was offensive, but I had a weird feeling about using it. Thanks for the link.

    Recently, my best friend used the word “exotic” to describe my daughter. “She’s going to be an exotic beauty.” I wasn’t offended, exactly, but the word sounded odd to me. Like she was placing my child in an “other” category. It’s another word I might hesitate to use again.

    It’s difficult to find a replacement for these description shortcuts! I don’t like giving too many details about physical appearance; I’d rather be vague. Will have to figure something else out.

    FWIW, I thought Meredith Duran did a FANTASTIC job with her bicultural hero in The Duke of Shadows. There are some historical authors getting it right.

  8. RStewie
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 07:38:59

    I’ve read a couple Romances recently (last month or so) with non-white heroines, which worked well for me, in both cases. One was an Urban Fantasy/Rom, with Gargoyles (the title escapes me, but it’s a trilogy) and the heroine was mixed, with a White father and a Black mother. Her race was not really an issue, except that she did acknowledge how it effected her life sometimes.

    The other was a Contemp. with a Black heroine, who fell in love with a younger White man, and honestly, I didn’t know she was not white until about halfway through the book. But I actually liked that aspect of it, because she reminded me of a lot of Black women I work with, in that her race is not the focus, but instead is just a fact of life, and her life and career and relationships didn’t revolve around it.

    But I don’t read a lot of novels with non-white protags. I don’t SEE a lot of them, either, though. But when I do, I am turned off if Race is the main character of the story, and not the people themselves. That might be MY white privilege showing, but I don’t like when a character is subverted into their “Race”, instead of being who they are.

    No one completely fits the “norms” of their race/culture, that’s why we’re not all stereotypes and why so much different culture is spread across so many different peoples (esp. in America, although I’ve seen it in Kuwait, where there are large populations of Indian, Polynesian, and Middle Eastern peoples; and in Panama, where there are Native American, Hispanic, European and American populations), so I really dislike seeing a “stereotype” character instead of a real character, whether they’re Black, White, Asian, or whatever flavor (there’s the food again) of race.

  9. joannef
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 08:00:49

    This is an interesting and important topic, and I’ve been enjoying reading the comments. But all I can say about Barbara B’s rather passionate post is – WOW! From “White people think that only their experiences are universal and thus relateable to everyone” on, it’s quite apparent there’s a lot of rage there. Complaining about racism and stereotypes with more racism and stereotypes. And no, I’m not a fan of Limbaugh or Hannity. Some things are universal.

  10. Travis
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 08:09:49

    @Alisa Neil: Really?? Really???? You felt the need to compare possibly getting some critical comments about your writing to GETTING LYNCHED? You really thought that was appropriate?

  11. handyhunter
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 08:21:42

    “White people think that only their experiences are universal and thus relateable to everyone”

    Is pretty much the definition of white privilege. It’s not “Complaining about racism and stereotypes with more racism and stereotypes,” because of the great imbalance of power (for lack of a better word) between white people and non-white people. It’s why, for example, blackface or yellowface happens or why “(you’re really a) white person with a tan” is an acceptable reason for a white person to play an Asian person, or way to refer to Obama.

  12. Kalen Hughes
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 08:25:57

    What gets me about both the readers and the writers who wants the exotic locale is that it seemingly never occurs to them that there are already people in those locales worthy of having their stories told

    Why is it that I suddenly hear Eddie Izzard: Do you have a flag?

    Personally, I specifically choose NOT to write characters or stories that reflect my own personal cultural/racial heritage (which happens to be majority Native American). There's just a little too much reality there for me to be able to indulge the fantasy aspects of romance and the HEA. Though I have thought about writing a contemp with NA protags . . . maybe someday I'll actually get around to doing it.

    I'm not there is a right answer here; you're damned if you do and damned if you don't (like Mattel and their new line of AA Barbies).

  13. S. W. Vaughn
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 08:33:54

    This is an amazingly sticky topic. It’s all but impossible to carry on a civilized discussion about race in an internet forum. It is a subject that requires thought, particularly when you’re going to leave a permanent comment about it, because anyone on any side may (and probably will) misconstrue or read something into anything you may or may not say. Misunderstandings will abound. Apologies will be sneered at. Tempers will rise. There is no escaping this inevitable conclusion.

    Having said that, I’ll try to compose an opinion that will be misinterpreted, misunderstood, misconstrued, and a variety of other mis- words.

    Most white people write about white people because … well, they’re white. They know how to be white, they understand what it’s like to be white, and they can write convincing, believable white people who seem real on paper. Most white people don’t set out to ignore the existence of other races and cultures in their writing. It’s not deliberate segregation. It’s working with your own knowledge base as a person. There are no conspiracies to exclude any group of people from fiction.

    Now. Can a white person write a convincing black, Asian, Indian, Native American, African, Arabian, Egyptian, insert-your-preferred-race-or-nationality-here protagonist? Most likely. A lot of people compare this to writing a vampire-werewolf-fae-other-nonexistent-creature. Obviously, those who write vampire fiction are not in fact vampires, but they still seem to manage the occasional convincing vamp. This comparison isn’t great, though, because no one really knows what it’s like to be a vampire.

    A better comparison would be a woman writing a man and vice versa. Can female writers create convincing male characters? Sure they can. Does every man believe that? Absolutely not. And how many women believe there’s no way in hell a man can write a believable female character? Plenty.

    (Brief note here: yes, I’m going into generalizations. There is no other way to discuss this issue.)

    So. How many black people believe that white people can’t write a convincing black character? And how many white people believe that black people can’t write a convincing white character?

    The race issue in fiction is entirely up to the perceptions of the individual reader. The vast majority of writers are not setting out to keep any culture or race down. They’re just trying to tell a good story. I’d love to see a solution to this huge dichotomy, but honestly the only way I can see the problem being solved is a few centuries down the road, when (hopefully) the entire world is mingled so thoroughly that everyone is the same shade of brown, and no one remembers whose ancestors were white or black or red or yellow.

    Of course, then we’ll have other differences to fight about, and people will get all up in arms about the exclusion of left-handed characters in fiction or something.

    Now let’s all have a group hug. I love you guys.

  14. handyhunter
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 08:49:50

    I think you’re damned if you do it badly – appropriatively, without respect to the people or culture you’re writing about*. And if you don’t…well, you can still tell a good story, it just adds to the overall whiteness of the genre. That said, I think it’s a little different with regards to authors of colour not wanting to write about their own culture or experiences if it’s too close to write about or turn into fiction.

    *I’m not very fond of the saying that goes “write what you know”. I much prefer the inverse: “know what you write”, so write about anything, just take the time to get to know what you’re writing about first, so you don’t fall into the “damned if you do” category.

    You felt the need to compare possibly getting some critical comments about your writing to GETTING LYNCHED? You really thought that was appropriate?

    No kidding. Speaking of being appropriative and making light of other people’s histories.

  15. Janet W
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 08:52:38

    Mad props for Suz Brockmann here — her world is always populated by the crazy quilt of all the different people that make up America. And she did it back when she was writing categories too. You take it for granted when you read her — it’s just in contrast to other authors that you realize her world is so richly diverse.

  16. Chloe Harris (Noelle)
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 08:53:25

    Thank you for this discussion. I was very interested in reading this article. I am part of the writing team of Chloe Harris and we have a historical erotic romance coming out at the end of January set in the Caribbean with an interracial heroine. It was a very hard sell and we thank Kensington for taking a chance that no one else would.

    The heroine physically is based on my daughter's very beautiful mixed race 10th grade science teacher. And historically she is the daughter of real historical figure, John Julian, an Aphro-indian pirate that was the pilot for Black Sam Bellamy. In reality John Julian was ship wrecked then rescued and sold as a slave. In our world he sunk the ship on purpose and retired with his riches and his noble French wife to the private island of Rhonde, which is an actual place near Grenada.

    I was very aware from the beginning that I could be trending on sensitive and uncomfortable ground. When developing the story, I sat down with a fellow historical writer who is a Caribbean native to discuss some of my ideas. I didn't want it to be set on a sugar cane estate with all that that implies. I went to her to brainstorm other options but she said no, it must be sugar cane. She said history is what it is and anything else would be inaccurate. So the heroine has inherited the island and the sugar cane plantation. The residents and workers on the island are free people. It's never said directly but it is implied in several places.

    It wasn't that I was avoiding the issues but this is the story of two people with a past and them coming back together after years apart. It's a romance and that's where the focus is, on the H/H and not the politics and hard facts of the time. Every historical romance printed leaves out or skirts some unromantic facts. But that doesn't mean I wasn't conscious of the negative issues.

    I am white and I am southern. Issues of race and racism are part of my cultural history. The guilt of generations is part of my everyday life. But I am proud that my children are colorblind and I am proud of this story. I wasn't going to let what other people might not understand about where I'm coming from keep me from trying to tell this story.

    Am I worried that people will have issues with the time period (1745), the location and how it was handled or not handled? You bet I am. But I hope readers will focus on the romance, see these two people as just people and enjoy the story.

  17. S. W. Vaughn
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 08:56:51

    RE Write what you know: not fond of that little gem, myself, either. Personally, I find it rather boring to write what you know. I’ve always made it my goal to write what I *love* – but I like the inverse saying you have there (know what you write).

    It’s absolutely possible to create great not-you characters in the hands of a good writer. Unfortunately, the perception that it’s not possible is always going to be there. Too many people believe that if you haven’t experienced it, you can’t know what it’s like. Empathy has become something of a mythical concept.

    Basically, there is this idea that you can’t have suffered if you haven’t actually been to Hell. If you’re only thinking about what it might be like, it’s not “authentic” or “genuine” and you have no business writing about it.

    This idea is thankfully not shared by everyone. So it leaves some room for writers to work with characters who aren’t just like them. Otherwise, the world of fiction would be a very boring place indeed.

    But there’s the rub: write what you love, what you’re interested in, and be criticized for not being able to understand – or write what you know, and be criticized for not broadening your horizons?

    ETA: This should’ve been a reply to Handy Hunter’s comment. :)

  18. Alisa Neil
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 09:03:13

    @Travis: *sighs* well shall I request deletion of the comment and try again? Or simply just not even attempt to make the effort to join in the conversation? The verbal dogpiling and rage, can turn to viciousness of harassment far beyond critical comments over handling of a story but no I did not mean literal lynching.

    Though some of the utter vileness and cruelty that went on with racefail might be the internet comparison. attempted ruining/outing of internet identities etc. With that in the back of my head *sighs*

    Accidentally proving my own point of what I’d like to avoid, or rather doing what I don’t, I suppose, a badly used phrase unthinking causing trouble. And my own difficulty in discussions getting a coherent point without royally sticking my foot in my mouth and white priviledge as well. With phrase of speech I am used to/grew up with and the area I am from with the connotation of being attacked for accidentally saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, being in the wrong place at the wrong time…

    Also possibly accidentally proving just the way of speaking, intent and meaning are so easily screwed up, using what the people you speak with every day would understand your meaning does not work on a discussion thread.

    Wrong choice of words. I admittedly suck at discussion. I apologize for the choice of wording, falling into the habits of speech that I grew up with. I attempted to comment merely from the perspective I have in attempting to write.

  19. Laura Vivanco
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 09:20:03

    @joannef:

    all I can say about Barbara B's rather passionate post is – WOW! From “White people think that only their experiences are universal and thus relateable to everyone” on, it's quite apparent there's a lot of rage there. Complaining about racism and stereotypes with more racism and stereotypes.

    I don’t think Barbara’s responding with “racism and stereotypes.” On the other hand, there does exist a racist stereotype of the “angry black woman.” I’m sure you didn’t mean to invoke it, but I doubt that attempting to refute Barbara’s alleged racism and stereotypes by making a statement which could itself be interpreted as using yet another racist stereotype will help the discussion to develop in a calm and objective manner.

    If we look at the facts, it seems to me that there are plenty of quotes around to back up what Barbara’s saying. A quick Google on the words “romance,” “heroine” and “relatable” results in a lot of hits. And no, it’s not just white authors and readers who are looking for “relatable” heroines. Genesis Press also states that the “Heroine must be proud and be relatable.” There certainly isn’t anything wrong in wanting to “relate” to the heroine.

    The trouble is that if almost all romance heroines are white, it does begin to look as though there’s a pattern which, implicitly, suggests that non-white heroines are not deemed “relatable” primarily because they’re non-white. Furthermore, since romance heroines are also often described as being “placeholders” for the reader, it does begin to look, as though white readers don’t want to put themselves in the place of a black woman.

    Of course, it could be argued that if the authors are white women, they’ll tend to write what they know because it’s easier that way to avoid making potentially offensive mistakes. That possibility would be more convincing were it not for the fact that it’s quite noticeable that although there are loads of Spanish, Italian, Greek and sheik (nationality often invented) heroes in the genre, there are far, far fewer of their female counterparts. This gender imbalance gives some support to the idea that it’s the relatability/placeholder nature of the heroine which makes her more likely to be white-of-Northern-European-origin-and-not-Jewish.

    As Barbara has said, she read romances containing white heroines for a long, long time. Black readers who’ve read romances with white heroines have often had a lot of practice in relating to white heroines. But it seems that, on the whole, white readers aren’t expected to want to do the same in reverse.

    Perhaps it’s the case that publishers underestimate their readership. Perhaps white readers would love to be given the opportunity to relate to heroines of a number of different races. But the evidence so far seems to suggest that this isn’t the case. For example, (as I mentioned in elsewhere, a while ago)

    Sandra Kitt of New York had written her first Harlequin with black characters in 1984, but after Adam and Eva, “I couldn’t get them to accept the other black novels. They said they didn’t know anything about the market,” she told the Boston Globe. In fact, Harlequin got scads of letters complaining about the book, including one from a Philadelphia woman who said, “Those people should have their own series.” (Grescoe 279)

    Every so often Harlequin do include non-white protagonists in lines which are not specifically segregated by race. I don’t know if they’ve had more success with this recently. I assume Brenda Jackson’s books have sold well in the Silhouette Desire line, for example, because she’s written a lot of books for the line. But Jane commented here, at Dear Author, that

    I urged people to buy The Husband She Couldn't Forget by Carmen Green because it was an AA couple in the SSE line. The more that people buy these books, the more that Harlequin and other publishers will see that separating out books by race (or gender or sexuality) isn't necessary for a book to find its audience. I did hear that Jade Lee's The Concubine didn't sell well so we might not see more historical Asian set books in the Harlequin Blaze historicals.

    So, the situation seems to be that

    (a) the “mainstream” of publishing is not aimed at non-white readers. The existence of specific AA sections supports this supposition.
    (b) publishers have made the attempt to sell books which contain non-white heroines in their “mainstream” lines, but they have tended to find discover that there’s a pattern of these books not selling well
    (b) most readers seem to want “relatable” heroines.

    It therefore seems reasonable to draw the conclusion that for the majority of the “mainstream” romance readership, non-white heroines are not deemed “relatable.”

  20. Lisa Paitz Spindler
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 09:21:33

    Please keep the book recommendations coming for authors who handle diverse characters well. I’m white and bored reading/writing solely about white characters, but I feel the only way I’m ever going to create multidimensional characters of color is to read how others have handled the issue and handled it well.

    I write Science Fiction Romance, so many of my characters are not from Earth and therefore I can’t use common terms we’re all familiar with like Black, Asian, etc. On Earth many of my characters would be considered Indian, Black, Latina/o, and Asian. I recently wrote an SFR novella with a Latina heroine and Asian hero. My novel has what on Earth would be considered an Indian hero and the second book in that series has four main characters: Asian, Black, Indian, and White. The heroine in my paranormal WIP is mixed with a Japanese and a White parent. I’ve done my best, but am always looking to improve no matter what ethnicity my characters are.

    Regarding food metaphors, some people seem fine with it and others are offended by it. Me, I’m just plain bored with “peaches and cream” as I am with “toffee” or “caramel.” If those metaphors are short-hand for lazy writing, then it doesn’t matter what ethnicity your characters are, it’s still lazy writing.

    Also on this topic, SF writer Tobias Buckell has some helpful discussion: http://www.tobiasbuckell.com/2006/01/13/douglas-blaine-on-shame/

  21. N. K. Jemisin
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 09:22:21

    Great post, and it’s great to see RaceFail 2009 continuing to have positive effects, even in other genres. I’m mostly in the SF/F field (though I write fantasies with embedded romance, so I dip a toe in this field too), and there’s a lingering tendency there for people — mostly white — to still dismiss RaceFail 09 as a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing. On the contrary; it represented the awakening (albeit with some hard slaps to the face to bring the groggy patient around) of a genre to the ways in which it’s perpetuated racism into the 21st century. This awakening is necessary and was long overdue, and while a lot of work remains to be done — the patient keeps trying to go back to sleep; we gotta keep slapping — the effects have been almost entirely positive, IMO. As a black woman who writes genre, I’m finding the field more welcoming these days, less painful to read, and significantly more comfortable to navigate at the professional level.

    I agree a lot with Handy Hunter’s OP and with commenter Barbara B.; I would love to see the same awakening happen in romance. I’ve always been an “almost-romance-reader” — I read a few books, then hit something that disgusts me and run away. I never get far — and I never, ever, touch historicals anymore — because they’re too much of a minefield for me. I never know when I’m going to step in some bit of unexamined privilege or appropriation and discover that the heroine I’m trying to empathize with is wealthy and glamorous because she traffics in human lives, or the hero I find so hot is responsible for the annihilation of some American Indian (or South Asian Indian, or Pacific Islander, or whatever) village. Even the contemporaries are risky; there are stereotypes and cliches running around all over the place, like the black BFF. And yes, I could always turn to the “African American Interest” section of the bookstore, and buy one of those, but there’s something really revolting about this kind of segregation. I don’t like supporting it.

    So I buy only romances that have been read and recc’d by friends, because they aren’t likely to blow up in my face. Lately that’s included Marjorie Liu and some other writers who’ve been fairly clueful, but there aren’t nearly enough to sustain my interest in romance. So I write my own — but that’s not enough either. I really would like to see this genre remember that 80% of the world doesn’t look like what it’s been depicting. And wake up.

  22. Tatiana Caldwell
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 09:24:42

    This subject fascinates me. I’m a black reader and writer, and I enjoy reading and writing about characters of all races. I can usually find something I can relate to no matter what the race or cultural background of the character. I also have not thought twice about whether or not I could “accurately” portray or relate to a non-black character. I live in a diverse world, I relate to people of all colors, and so my stories reflect that.

    People are people.

    In my experiences, everyone is an individual uniquely shaped and defined more-so by their economic, educational, religious and regional environments than by their ethnicity or skin color. For those who are afraid of inaccurately portraying someone of color, I would implore you not to think of it that way. What is the character’s background, and class? Where did they grow up, and who raised them? Were they poor, middle-class or rich? Attractive or plain? If you create a full character whose background you understand because YOU created it for them, I honestly don’t see how you could ever get it “wrong”, regardless of what ethnicity you give them.

    Sure, there may be SOME people who will be offended or criticize you, but as an author I think you should be prepared for that to happen regardless of what race you make your characters or what you write.

    I really wish we wouldn’t let fear stifle progression.

  23. Jess Granger
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 09:37:13

    This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot.

    As a Science Fiction Romance Author, I’ve been aware from the beginning that my universe has to be very diverse, but that diversity doesn’t translate to our current Earth diversity.

    It’s strange. Since I don’t write about people from Earth so much, and haven’t set a story there, everyone in my story is an alien. The races in my stories run from pretty pale to pretty dark, but all of them have a biological reason why their skin tone is the way it is according to their survival needs on their planet, and is a function of the need to protect their bodies from light radiation. Those that need light radiation to survive, or have dark-sky cultures are pale, those on sun-drenched planets have more melanin to protect them.

    My challenge as a writer is to make each alien species true to its culture and their planet without trying to say, these dark complexion people= Pacific Islanders, to choose a random example.

    I’m trying very hard not to equate people on my made up planets with real cultures. I don’t know if I succeed or fail. But I try. I try really hard. The majority of races in my book will be somewhere in the middle of pale and dark. Not all the dark ones will be bad, not all the pale ones will be good. There will be good and evil, light and dark on all sides, because that’s the way life is.

    If I comment on society, I’ll do it through people’s actions. Not what they look like.

    I know I’m going to hear it at some point, someone is going to take offense and not want to read one of my stories again, but I’ll keep trying to make it real. That’s all I can do.

  24. Caligi
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 09:44:43

    I hesitate to call it racism in fiction. People write what they know and the majority of romance authors and editors are middle-class white people. I can’t get upset about people writing about what they’re comfortable with. Writing’s hard enough without trying to get into the head of someone from a different background than you’re from.

    Truthfully, I don’t think it’s strictly a race issue. I wish the white experience wasn’t always told as being universally middle-class and suburban. As I’m sure many non-white readers have little in common with your average romance heroine, so do those of us from the working-class. Anytime someone comes from a blue-collar background, it’s treated as a negative situation to overcome. Good, loving families back home who happen to live in a trailer or triple-decker are as rare as a Republican in Cambridge. If a hero or heroine’s family happened to be working class it was because dad was a boozer or mom didn’t know what birth control was. They’re rarely happy, well-adjusted Mr. Plumber and Mrs. Receptionist.

    Think about gentrification. Most people seem to think it’s great. And by most people I mean middle-class whites. However, the next person who gushes to me about how my hometown is so much nicer now is getting popped in the nose. If it was bad before, what are they saying about me, my friends and everyone else who lived there 20-30 years ago before the artists moved in and made it cool? Were we bad then? Were our homes in various states of disrepair distasteful to them? Do they assume that people who live in rundown neighborhoods are dangerous people not worth knowing?

    Diversity is about more than skin color. While I’d love more non-white characters written by non-white authors, I’d be over the moon if someone gave the ok to some positively portrayed working-class characters.

  25. MD
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 09:48:03

    Rob Thurman’s books. Urban fantasy with not only creepy otherworldly creatures, but human beings in a good diversity of ethnicities. All her Nightlife series and also her new series with heroine Trixa. Really fun reads.

  26. eva_baby
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 09:50:04

    I don’t think anyone wants or even expects white writers to all of a sudden start writing books featuring non-white main characters if they are uncomfortable with doing that or can’t convincingly write a non-white character. But rather give non-white authors or even white authors who wish to write non-white characters, opportunities to write them. I’ve heard some real horror stories from Black authors about what compromises they are expected to make in their writing in order to get published and it smacks of, if not outright racism, then at least an appalling amount of shortsightedness and insult.

    Ideally I would like to go into my local bookstore and peruse the romance shelves and find books that are written by authors of whatever color, featuring main characters of whatever color they choose to write, shelved in the same area, next to each other, given equal chance to find whatever market they can.

    Ideally, I would like to open a book that is set in a big city and see that the writer is capable and comfortable with showing the variety and diversity of people that might exist in said big city. I can accept this as easily as I can accept that a small town in a part of the country may have been bypassed by immigration and migration patterns and would not necessarily have a lot of racial diversity. I don’t care that there are books with all white characters in them. If the story is good I will read them, however I’d like parity in books that show that the world is not all white.

    Frankly the romance industry has all but alienated me. I have a handful of writers I read and a smaller number of writers I will buy. One thing I summarily reject is the constant “these books will not sell” trope when referring to anything that isn’t westernized, christian and overwhelmingly white. How do they know when they don’t give fair chance for other types of books to even find an audience? They stop them from even getting the opportunity to be seen, much less bought. This is why I love the smaller presses and ebook retailers that have come online recently. They give chances to authors that big pubs reject out of hand. These are the people who get my money. And I continue to support writers like Suz Brockmann, Nalini Singh, Marjoriu Liu and even Nora Roberts.

  27. Lisa Paitz Spindler
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 09:54:30

    Jess Granger said:

    “It's strange. Since I don't write about people from Earth so much, and haven't set a story there, everyone in my story is an alien. The races in my stories run from pretty pale to pretty dark, but all of them have a biological reason why their skin tone is the way it is according to their survival needs on their planet, and is a function of the need to protect their bodies from light radiation. Those that need light radiation to survive, or have dark-sky cultures are pale, those on sun-drenched planets have more melanin to protect them.”

    This was my point, though I did in my comment above describe my characters as someone from Earth might interpret their appearances. In my novel, due to the changing radiation levels of an orbiting flare star, my hero’s (as well as all of the indigenous people of that planet) skin tone darkens as the story moves forward.

  28. Sherry Thomas
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 09:55:00

    It is not diversity to have white people running around in foreign lands without much thought to the people who are native to those lands.

    I agree that it is not diversity to have white people running around in foreign lands, but I would like to point out that it really isn’t a particularly white characteristic to run around in foreign lands without much thought to the native population.

    Most people who go abroad, for whatever reason–peace, war, profit, job, studies, sightseeing–do so for their own reasons, not to pay particular attention to the people and culture of the place they are going, except culture as in easily identified cultural symbols.

    When I came to the United States as a child–quite unwillingly, I might add, because my grandmother passed away and my mother, the only other person who could take responsibility for me, was in the U.S.–I took one look at American kids and promptly did not speak to anyone at school for about five years.

    I had no interest in the rituals and rites of passage of the American teenager and pretty much lived among a circle of Chinese grad students who were much, much older than me.

    When I was a junior in college, I went abroad again, this time to France, at my own initiative, as an exchange student. The friends I made that year were from Mauritius, Madagascar, Czech Republic, UK, Luxembourg, China & the U.S. (What no French friends at all? Actually, one, an extraordinarily wonderful woman. But I was living in the Cite Universitaire, and all around me were international students. With no car and no money, guess who I ended up socializing with?)

    Sticking with people of similar background and experience–and language, often– is a very natural thing to do, especially when you are in a foreign country. The Chinese do it for centuries in places like Indonesia and Malaysia. [I'm not saying it's right or wrong, but it's what they do.] So do the Indians who settle in East Africa.

    I do understand the significant difference when there is colonization involved–trust me, Chinese history in the 19th century was very blood pressure-raising to learn because of the British-led opium wars and all the Europeans countries wanting a piece of the country. But you do realize that America today is what the British Empire was a hundred years ago? That with every dollar you pay in taxes you are supporting its wars and its hundreds and hundreds of military bases and all the clandestine activities that may or may not be going on in those secret CIA locations all over the world–whatever your personal opinion is regarding American foreign policy through the decades?

    I am an American now. I pay my taxes. Whatever America’s action in the world, I bear some responsibilities, no matter how I might rend my hair at how my tax dollars have been spent. Have I become less worthy of happiness as a result? I should hope not.

    This is why I don’t begrudge a story like the Painted Veil, a love story set in war-torn China of the 1920s featuring English protagonists. (Granted, I haven’t read the book, which according to Wikipedia has a yucky ending, but only seen the 2007 movie.) As much as a country’s action can be odious, individuals who might be from that country, who might be running around in foreign lands and not paying attention to the native population, are still just people.

    They can’t renounce their heritage and stop being what color or race they are. And if they are preoccupied with their own pressing affairs, if they do not diligently study the local language and culture during their limited time in those foreign lands, that’s not necessarily a particularly western sin.

    That’s not even a sin, really. It’s just kind of normal.

  29. Lisa
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 09:57:53

    What an annoying post. The only point of it that I can see is to try to make me feel guilty because I like to to read about white people in love. I’m sorry but I don’t have the energy to read with all my great sense of “white guilt” for the racial sins of the past, present and future. And I don’t think Handy is going to succeed in her mission, which is what, exactly? To convice the majority of romance readers (most of whom are not Ph.D’s in English and are unschooled in all this subtext) to feel pangs of conscience in their reading pleasure because the presumably white writer does not write with all the multicultural senistivity, talent, and skill of the typical English professor?! If you know anything about English professors and their “writing skills” you’ll recognize the sarcasm in my previous sentence. So what is your solution Ms Handy? Should romance writers all be required to take a class in “Diversity” or “Multicultural Sensitivity” before putting pen to paper?! Should I as a reader attend such wonderful inspiring classes as well so I to can read with your righteous sense of rage and white guilt?

    I don’t know who Handy is and I don’t care but if I was a betting woman I’d say she a) either works in a college b) is a college professor or c) is a graduate student in English of Cultural Studies or some such nonsense. I recognize the academic gobbledygook.

    Ms Handy, I am glad you are a sensitive reader and have taken the pains to publish a post detailing how racially sensitive and aware you are (and thus better than the majority of us unenlightened Neanderthals who make up the vast majority of romance readership), but I really really hope you and your ilk do not succed in destroying a genre I love with your politcal correctness at all costs.

    All I want from romance is a good romance. If it’s white people in Africa, I don’t care. If it’s black people in Chicago I don’t care. If its Asians in London -I don’t care. Make the hero hot, the woman sexy and the maid or best friend, purple with peanut shaped eyes. As long as its good, I’ll read it.

  30. Kalen Hughes
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 10:06:27

    Black readers who've read romances with white heroines have often had a lot of practice in relating to white heroines. But it seems that, on the whole, white readers aren't expected to want to do the same in reverse.

    Just as girls will books with a male protag, but boys will not normally read books with a girl front and center. If the Harry Potter books had instead been centered around Hermione Granger they'd still be obscure children's lit.

    I did hear that Jade Lee's The Concubine didn't sell well so we might not see more historical Asian set books in the Harlequin Blaze historicals.

    DAMN IT!!! This is about the only book they've put out in the last few years that's tempted me to part with my $. And it was a great book! I was really hoping for more. *sigh*

  31. handyhunter
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 10:11:56

    I would like to point out that it really isn't a particularly white characteristic to run around in foreign lands without much thought to the native population.

    I get that. And I’m not advocating for anachronistic characters either, just shifting some of the focus, so the main characters are not all white people.

    I'd say she a) either works in a college b) is a college professor or c) is a graduate student in English of Cultural Studies or some such nonsense.

    Nope. None of the above.

    purple with peanut shaped eyes.

    Wow. POC ≠ purple or made up creatures.

    I don’t want your guilt. Your guilt is useless to me. A little understanding would be nice, though.

  32. Caligi
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 10:18:07

    @Lisa:
    If she were a graduate student or professor of English she wouldn’t have written:

    “I admit to reading less and less romance novels as I've grown more aware of these issues.”

    I agree that I don’t see the point of her post. It’s an interesting topic, but it could have been much better without the spluttering rage at white people. There is no universal white culture or identity. Many white people who read romance are on the outside looking in as well.

  33. Jia
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 10:18:48

    @Kalen Hughes: Join the club. Jane and I were so saddened when we heard that about Jade Lee’s book. It’s completely depressing to think that no one wants to buy books featuring characters that look like Jane and me.

  34. joannef
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 10:23:04

    I’m sure that what I’m trying to say will be misconstrued once again as “white privilege,” but I’ll try to explain anyhow. I’m in full agreement with this article, and – believe it or not – with most of Barb B’s post that I commented on. I share her dislike of Native American and Antebellum romances for the exact same reasons she states. I loathed the fad of Civil War and NA romances, knowing the truth about the situations involved. Reality was far from romantic, and I can’t disregard my knowledge of history. Same goes for silly harem and Viking romances. Those women were slaves. Not romantic! That’s probably why a lot of people can handle paranormals more easily. Paranormals are not based in reality, so the realistic baggage or our shared experiences do not apply. These are things that don’t and will not touch our lives, so we can be entertained by them without the discomfort of knowing the reality of the situations involved. No one will be insulted by the way their culture is portrayed because the culture is nonexistent.

    My point was, and is, that not ALL white people believe that their lives and their experiences are the only ones that matter. That’s putting all white people in one category, which can be just as insulting as putting all people of African, Asian, or Hispanic descent into little categories. People are people. It really sux that the romance industry wants to pigeon-hole us all into categories and give short-shrift to some of those inane categories. Doing it to each other doesn’t help.

  35. Caligi
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 10:24:02

    @Jia: Why do you assume that’s why it didn’t sell well? I didn’t buy it because I didn’t like the premise. I didn’t even notice they were Asian (somehow.)

  36. L
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 10:25:09

    Why are mixed race/biracial (black/white) black women always seen as the ideal alternative to writing a white character? Instead of writing a black woman with darker skin and more African features? I see it all the time with white writers (Cassandra Clare, Sarah Rees Brennan and scores others) who like to pat themselves on the back for writing a character of colour. She’s always light skinned, her hair is elegantly frizzy or possibly even straight somehow, she’s always ‘exotic’ and of course beautiful. And these are the type of black girls you’ll see on covers – not us full blooded Africans. After all, it’s always better when they’re black…but not TOO black. I’m sure the fact that mixed race black girls (where the mixture is white/black) have a lighter skin tone (closer to white) and European features (seen as the ideal) has nothing to do with it.

    Well, at least they’re characters of colour…except when they’re not the heroine, they’re almost always protrayed as less desirable than the white heroine. If she’s in a love triangle between a white girl and the white hero, the hero will always pick the white girl even if he may flirt with the biraical girl (because she’s just an exotic alternative but not the right choice). If a white side character, ends up with the biracial girl, she’ll always be just a consolation prize since he really wanted the white heroine. Oh and don’t forget, the biracial/black girls will ALWAYS be a victim of some form of abuse. Because there’s nothing we black girls do better than get beat up by our black men.

    Anyway, I think this all goes to show that there are definitely some grave problems even in books where authors think they’re doing a good thing putting in non-white characters. It’s all about how you frame and form these characters. None of us will give you white writers a cookie for throwing a token in your story.

  37. L
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 10:32:05

    Also: @ Lisa. Wow, way to completely miss the point. Yet another example of a white person reading a post about race (that dares to draw attention to the fact that non-white people could and maybe even SHOULD be in books too I KNOW NO WAI OMG) and making it all about her and her whiteness and how hard it is for white people to have to wake up and smell their own privaledge like maybe once a year.

    Ugh. I’m going to need brain bleach to wash your stupid comments out of my memory.

  38. Lisa Paitz Spindler
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 10:38:07

    Why are mixed race/biracial black women always seen as the ideal alternative to writing a white character? Instead of writing a black woman with darker skin and more African features?

    Was this directed at a specific commenter or are you commenting on the general state of diversity in Romance heroines? I mentioned that one of my heroines was mixed Asian and White, which is why I ask. I talked about the first and second parts of my SF Romance trilogy, but did not mention that the third installment has what on Earth would be considered a Black heroine.

    I have noticed, though, that without employing a trope or stereotype many of my beta readers miss entirely the ethnicity of some characters and assume the default is white. The only thing I can do is keep trying to become a better writer and improve my skills. I can’t change the assumptions people make.

  39. GrowlyCub
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 10:39:03

    @Jia:

    I’m not sure you can infer this from the fact that it didn’t sell as well as expected/hoped.

    I think it had much more to do with reader expectation. Blaze didn’t have Historicals before the Lee, consequently that was something Blaze readers didn’t expect in ‘their’ line. So, if you are in the store to buy sexy books with contemporary h/h, chances are you won’t pick up a historical, because that’s not what you wanted or expected; the ethnicity of the heroine or the locale probably had very little do with that decision.

    Also, didn’t it have some paranormal elements, too? I might be misremembering, but that would have been an additional reason why some readers (me for ex) might not have been interested.

    As to the black couple in the SSE title. I saw it, picked it up and put it back on the shelf. Not because the h/h were black, but because the story summary didn’t interested me. The same as I picked up 4 or 5 other books with white people or no people on the cover which I put back on the shelves unbought after reading their summaries that day.

    I enjoy different locales and diverse people in my reading, but I won’t buy a book just because it has one or the other, the story itself has to appeal to me, first and foremost.

  40. Phyllis
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 10:40:07

    I’ve never been able to figure out exactly what shape “almond-shaped” is supposed to be. I know what almonds look like and have seen eyes in so many shapes and sizes, but have never been able to quite reconcile the two.

    I will read almost anything one. And if I were to write an African-American character I’d probably get it wrong, so instead I try to read books by different colors and sizes and nationalities. Does that count?

    And I think it’s an excellent post. (Says the white egghead-class American)

  41. Lisa Paitz Spindler
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 10:43:29

    Also: @ Lisa. Wow, way to completely miss the point.

    I just want to point out that there are two Lisas in this thread and that from here on out I’ll post as “LisaPS” for clarity.

  42. Kate R
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 10:43:35

    I have a mixed-race heroine in my second book, Somebody To Love, and I got some grief–a couple of letters–because I didn’t write enough about the reality of being black in the 1880s. When I replied that, yes, I thought the letter-writers were absolutely correct, but that the book was an escapist romance (actually I didn’t mention it, but I was told to delete some of the harsher stuff– and I agreed with the editor) one of my correspondents told me that I shouldn’t pick up a subject unless I’m willing to be totally honest. Otherwise I’m trivializing a whole group of women I can’t begin to understand.

    I tried the “two of my sisters are of mixed race and they loved the book” defense, but that didn’t fly. Neither did my “I’m writing about one unique character and her experiences could never represent any race” defense.

    edited to add: It was a civilized, interesting correspondence even though neither one of us convinced the other she was right.

  43. Caligi
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 10:45:56

    @L:

    Why are mixed race/biracial black women always seen as the ideal alternative to writing a white character? Instead of writing a black woman with darker skin and more African features?

    Maybe because the writer is white and figures she’d share at least half of a common background that way?

    Do you know of any black authors who generally write white characters? If so, please share. I’d like to read one.

    Do you want to read books about black characters written by white authors? I’m not sure I do, but with pseudonymns and all, maybe I have been.

    FWIW, I assumed the post author was white. She reminded me of a Harvard-educated friend of mine, who is whiter than white, who sees bias and racism everywhere.

  44. MB
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 10:46:18

    This discussion reminded me of a book I read recently–Sharon Shinn’s “Colonel Winston’s Daughter”. Has anyone else read it? What did you think of the way Shinn addressed this issue?

  45. Jia
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 10:49:55

    @Caligi: Because the author herself has said her publishers want her to stop writing multicultural romances because they don’t sell well.

  46. Ros
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 10:50:13

    @Lisa. Did you click on any of the links in the article? Especially those which explain the problem of white privilege?

    Because while you may be able to say:

    All I want from romance is a good romance. If it's white people in Africa, I don't care. If it's black people in Chicago I don't care. If its Asians in London -I don't care. Make the hero hot, the woman sexy and the maid or best friend, purple with peanut shaped eyes. As long as its good, I'll read it.

    (Although you also say ‘I like to to read about white people in love. ‘, which frankly, seems to me much more likely to be honest), the point of the article is that not everyone is in a position to say either of those things.

    So no, you don’t have to feel guilty when you read what you enjoy. But you have no right to shut up those who are calling to be allowed to read what they enjoy. Your white privilege shows in every word you wrote, I am afraid, and it ain’t pretty.

  47. Sally
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 10:54:02

    Whoa ladies! Let’s take a time out here.

  48. Sabrina
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 10:54:14

    I think this post has lots of merit. We need more diversity in our books!

    As a Caucasion, I have no issues reading books with Asian, Hispanic or African heros and heroines. I’m reading for a good story and the romance. In fact, I consider us “Caucasions’ the mutts of the world as there are so many different nationalities. In fact people forget that white people conquered/enslaved/slaughtered other white people all over the world.

    What does sadden me is this backlash against romances if they happen to feature Caucasion characters and written by a Caucasion. We wouldn’t be upset to see an Asain writing about Asian characters, so why is there so much offense to these authors writing what they know?

    Likewise, I’ve been to book signings (the last RT convention for one) where when I approched a table the author would say “You won’t like this, I write Black romances.” Why are they discouraging me from reading the book?

    On a side note, I’ve had the same thing happen with older authors who tell me I won’t relate to their more “mature” heroines.

    I would say that every conference I’ve attended has mentioned to not write outside of your race. New writers are being told that they won’t be taken seriously if say, they are a Caucasion person writing an African-American heronine. In some part I can understand this. It seems that this calls out directly for support of writers from all backgrounds to add the diversity.

  49. Caligi
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 10:55:12

    @Jia: I’d like to know how they came up with that conclusion. I’m not necessarily saying it’s not the case, but I’d like to know if they’re assuming so or basing it off market research or somesuch.

    It seems so improbable to me, but there’s that whole Wal-Mart demographic to contend with, I suppose.

  50. Chloe Harris (Noelle)
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 10:56:44

    Why are mixed race/biracial black women always seen as the ideal alternative to writing a white character? Instead of writing a black woman with darker skin and more African features?

    I can only say that the reason I chose to write a biracial heroine is because I was sitting in a classroom listening to this crazy science teacher going on about what a bad kid my older daughter was when really the teacher just didn't know how to teach to her disability. (There is more to the story that doesn't really matter here) At some point I stopping really listening and began to think about how exceptional attractive she was, what beautiful turquoise eyes she had and wouldn't she physically make a great character.

    Cut to a year or so later my younger daughter had to do a report on a pirate and didn't want to do the same ones every one else was doing. That’s when we found an article on John Julian. After reading his tragic story I of course started to rewrite it in my head with a happy-romantic-opposites-attract-against-all-odds ending. Then I thought hey if they had a daughter I bet she might look like that science teacher…

    What I don't want to happen is to be made to feel like I have to constantly explain my whole thought process to people to keep them from misunderstanding where I'm coming from. But I will if I have to.

  51. Jia
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 11:05:20

    @Caligi: To be honest, I think it’s a cycle that feeds on itself. Publishers don’t think multicultural romances will sell so they won’t buy them. Publishers won’t buy multicultural romances so writers don’t write them. Writers don’t write multicultural romances so publishers can’t buy them. Publishers don’t have multicultural romances in their catalog so readers can’t buy them. Readers don’t buy multicultural romances so publishers think multicultural romances don’t sell and thus… they won’t buy them.

    These are broad generalizations, of course — there will always be writers and publishers who will take that “risk” (from a publishing point of view) — but I would be surprised if some of those thought processes weren’t going on here.

  52. Courtney Milan
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 11:09:15

    @Caligi:

    Do you know of any black authors who generally write white characters? If so, please share. I'd like to read one.

    Beverley Kendall‘s debut novel, SINFUL SURRENDER, coming in January of 2010, features white people. I haven’t read it yet, but I’m really looking forward to it. My guess is there are plenty of black people who have written books about white people–it’s just that most of their readers assume the authors themselves are white.

    Just as people used to (and still do) assume that an ambiguous name writing anything other than romance belongs to a man.

  53. GrowlyCub
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 11:10:03

    @Jia:

    Yes, exactly. I liken it to the chicken or the egg question. Can’t buy what’s not being published; publisher releases one title that’s different, but no promo, no effort to let readers know it’s there, it tanks or doesn’t sell all the way through; publisher ‘readers don’t *want* different’.

    We can’t win for losing.

  54. Caligi
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 11:25:54

    @Courtney Milan:
    I don’t know if that counts. I almost consider regencies and victorians to be magic-free paranormals. No one can say for sure how any of the characters in those compare to reality, not like in a contemporary, so people are freer to write what they don’t know.

    I just think authors are likely to write what they are. A minor case of author avatar, if you will. I can’t fault them for it at all.

    I can fault publishers for not buying a wider variety of stories, but not authors for not writing them.

    I’d really like to know if there are any market studies out there, and there must be, on readers and how cultural content affects their buying habits. Be nice to know for sure.

  55. Barbara B.
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 11:33:30

    @Caligi
    I don’t know if she’s still writing, but author Laura Parker is black and she wrote romances with white protags. I saw a listing of 30 books from her spanning 1981 thru 2003. She wrote both contemporaries and historicals. I’ve read a lot of her books in the past but it was only a year or two ago that I discovered that she was black.

  56. Bonnie L.
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 11:33:41

    So I fully acknowledge that as a white woman, there are assumed privileges that I enjoy. What now? What is my course of action? If the phenomenon of white privilege is institutional and not individual, what is my response? I can change how I and my children see our world, but that is only a drop in the bucket compared to the whole system. What am I supposed to do with this knowledge?

    Note: This is an honest question and is asked with all seriousness.

  57. Laura Vivanco
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 11:39:07

    publisher releases one title that's different, but no promo, no effort to let readers know it's there, it tanks or doesn't sell all the way through; publisher ‘readers don't *want* different'.

    It seems to me that if the publishers give the new book with non-white characters just as little promo as is given to all the other books from that line/imprint then they make sure that the book is getting the same audience as the books in that line, since the book isn’t particularly being promoted to people who wouldn’t usually buy from that line/imprint/publisher. If the book doesn’t sell to regular readers of the line/imprint/publisher, then it does indeed suggest that readers of that line/imprint/publisher “don't *want* different” (assuming that the main difference is the race of the characters).

  58. roslynholcomb
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 11:45:03

    @Sabrina

    You won't like this, I write Black romances.” Why are they discouraging me from reading the book?

    This is just a guess, but black authors get told all the time that white readers won’t read our books. I was told that my book had to have a black woman on the cover, even though the hero was white and I wanted a beefcake cover, because whites would accidentally buy it and then get angry for being “tricked” and return it to the store. I was told this by a major publisher so I have to take them at their word.

    I’ve gotten several emails over the years from whites who’ve said they “accidentally” bought my book, but didn’t know the heroine was black. (No, I don’t know how this happens. I’m assuming they had some vision impairment.) They said they enjoyed the story, but were “shocked” to find out she was black, but wouldn’t buy any more of my books because they didn’t read “black books”. Okkkaayyyy.

    Further, and this hasn’t happened to me, but I have friends who’ve been to book conferences, RT, RWA and the like and are literally ignored by the readers at book signings and such. To the point that they don’t bother to attend anymore. I’ve never been to a conference so I have no idea how widespread this is.

    I can’t get involved with this conversation in general terms. I think everyone knows how I feel about it, but frankly it’s too wearying for me to discuss anymore. I have my readers and I feel very fortunate for them, but I don’t think I’ll ever have more than a few non-black readers and that’s okay with me. I don’t ever want anyone to buy my book out of anything other than desire to read a good book.

  59. Jayne
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 11:46:19

    @Barbara B.: I did a review on one of her books which is set in 19th century Australia.

  60. N. K. Jemisin
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 11:48:47

    @Caligi,

    Do you know of any black authors who generally write white characters? If so, please share. I'd like to read one.

    There are too many to list. But many black authors who’ve written white characters have run into serious problems doing so. A great example is Zora Neale Hurston, who wrote a number of stories and books about white characters in addition to her “black novels”, and the black novels got lots of critical attention and reprintings while the “white novels” (or those not mentioning race) did not, even though the critics agreed that her white novels were just as good. Basically, she was typecast (or stereotypecast) — it was simply assumed that a black woman could only write black people effectively, and even when she proved this assumption wrong, she kept getting shoved back into that box.

    This continues to happen in the modern day. In the romance field, author Millennia Black had a well-publicized row with her publisher when she wanted to write a series of romances featuring white characters, and the publisher essentially tried to force her back into the ghetto. She can’t even talk about it anymore. (But others can, and do.)

    And it’s not just black authors. Tess Gerritsen, an Asian American thriller author, has been very public about the fact that she can’t write books centered around Asian characters without taking a serious hit in the pocketbook — whether because her publishers wouldn’t market the books to the whole audience, or because the white members of the audience actually wouldn’t read a book starring Asians is unclear. (Though she seems to think the problem is marketing, since she mentions some non-white authors who’ve managed to succeed by being widely marketed.) She wanted to write about Asian Americans, but was told not to by folks in the business.

    So not surprisingly, there are a lot of PoC writers out there who are hiding or downplaying their ethnicity in order to enjoy the same privileges of access, marketing, etc., that white authors enjoy. So I suspect you’ve already read some books by PoC authors about white characters… you just didn’t know the author’s race.

  61. Sherry Thomas
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 11:51:45

    @Jia,

    I look like you and Jane–I actually don’t know what you look like but if you look like Jane and I look like Jane… :-)

    But I didn’t read the concubine book because the imperial harem freaks the @#$% out of me, from all the historical drama TV series I watched when I was little. And I just can’t believe anyone closely connected with an emperor is safe–history is full of emperor’s friends and advisors losing heads.

  62. Janine
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 12:02:15

    @Estara:

    Nalini Singh is of Indian descent but lives in New Zealand, I haven't seen Indian heroes in her work, maybe in some of the category romances?

    Isn’t Sascha in Slave to Sensation part Indian? And I think maybe Ashaya and her twin in Hostage to Pleasure are mixed race as well. I could be wrong about that.

    In any case, I’m sure that Singh’s secondary characters are diverse in their backgrounds. For example Elena’s close friend and boss in Angels’ Blood, Sara. Her last name is Haziz, so I assumed that either she or her husband has a Middle Eastern background, at least in part. And Singh has said that some of the secondary characters in the angel books will eventually get their own books, so it’s quite possible that we’ll learn more about Sara.

    I haven’t read the categories but I have always appreciated that the alternate universes in Singh’s paranormals are diverse.

  63. Angelia Sparrow
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 12:20:27

    Why is it easier to write vampires and werewolves than PoC?
    One simple reason: There are all sorts of people who act in all sorts of ways.

    With a werewolf, he can be anything for 25 days a month. But when the full moon comes up, I know the rules of how he behaves, what he wants, what hurts him and how he got that way.

    With aliens, it’s even easier because we can make crap up and there is no one to say “hey, that’s not how they act!”

    With a character of color, there are no set rules, because people are people. He might be a lawyer who quit the bar to take a job at a university library. She might be a single mom of two who works in a casino and plans to marry her current boyfriend because she’s pregnant again. She might be an over-the-road trucker. He might be a clerk in the local gay bookstore. And any one of those–all of whom are real people–will get an author slammed for Doing It Wrong and playing to stereotypes.

    There are sexual stereotypes of various ethnicities as well and we have to be aware of those too.

    I was called out by a friend who was upset I was going to make the giant in a mysterious carnival black. It was the giant or the magician, and I was more worried that neither actually had enough character time, since the romance is between the Pain-King and the Talker. The idea that the giant would be seen as product of slave breeding or a stereotype never crossed my mind. Neither had the “over-endowed black male” stereotype. (The giant is proportional and there is a late night Adult Show) The “magical negro” idea had crossed it. The magician ended up being black anyway.

    My horror tends to be more multiethnic than my romance. After all, we all bleed red.

  64. XandraG
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 12:22:58

    I don’t know if this is an indicator of change, or what, but I live in small-town “whitetopia” and the grocery store here has recently started carrying AA romances and urban fiction in with the other romances. The HQ series are called out, but the single title romances, the AA romances, and the urban fiction (many of which might not be considered “romances” because of the lack of HEA or HFN and may be closer to either women’s fiction w/romantic elements or simply general fiction) are all mixed up together according to author’s last name.

    I can’t tell if the AA romances are selling any better or worse than the romances featuring white people on the covers, or if the urban fiction are selling better or worse than the romances of any type, but the fact that they’re there at all, especially in my boonies town might be an indicator of increased diversity being driven by profit. My grocery store’s books are stocked by whatever large distributor does chain grocery stores in the midwest (and I used to know the name, but I’m having memory fail right now and can’t for the life of me think of it).

    As an author, all I can do is find the best main characters for my stories, and put them into the stories as best as I can. I watch people as much as I can, observe them behaving, find little features about them, whether it’s a gesture or a visual feature, or the sound of their voice, and try to find the unique bits that make someone a memorable individual no matter what their background.

  65. Mahayana
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 12:33:35

    @Sabrina:

    “In fact, I consider us “Caucasions' the mutts of the world as there are so many different nationalities.”

    You know…when we say black or Asian, we’re using blanket terms. Which means clearly white people aren’t the only people who exist in different nationalities…just thought I’d point it out

  66. Amber
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 12:35:38

    I must not be reading the same types of romances many on this thread are.

    Personally, I enjoy the books where race is NOT an issue. Where I can read about a character, identify with that character, and not have the color of their skin or their cultural heritage made more important than their hopes, dreams, motivations, desires… If racial identity is an important part of a character, that’s fine, too. But it shouldn’t hijack a story to the point that plot and character development become secondary. I don’t see romance as any less diverse than fiction in general.

    As for historical romances, the more modern ones (those in the last 10 years or so), have tried to be more sensitive to those kinds of stereotypical descriptions. The problem lies in trying to be historically accurate while contending with 21st century attitudes. As for the whole sensitivity while colonizing argument, that is too flawed to really address right now. Let’s just say that I am able to set aside my history degree and realize while reading that fiction is fantasy. Otherwise…read a history book. I know about man’s inhumanity to man. I don’t need that stuck in an escapist genre that I read to get away from the ugliness that exists in this world. Ugliness, I might add, that is perpetrated by all peoples of the world. By all races, nationalities and genders.

    Do I wish there was more diversity in romance? Yes! But do I think romance writers and their readers are somehow white-centric and racist? No. Should more be done to encourage people of different races to write romance? Absolutely. But to say that an entire genre is somehow anti-diversity is a bit ridiculous. I think romance readers are overwhelmingly open minded and far more willing to read about a wide range of characters than either this author or publishers in general give them credit for.

  67. XandraG
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 12:40:01

    Forgot to add…

    I enjoyed reading Crystal Wilson Harris’s books from Kensington Arabesque–especially “Masquerade,” but it’s been awhile since she’s published anything. I lost track of her after “Good Intentions.”

  68. Jade Lee
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 12:42:42

    Coming up for air from a tight deadline. Thanks to those who mentioned todays blog to me and encouraged me to check it out.

    I just want to make a few things clear. Harlequin recruited me into the Blaze line specifically to add a dimension of multi-culturalism to it. I’ve written 3 books for them, one historical, two contemporary, all with Asian characters. No paranormal elements. Harlequin promoted me well, especially The Concubine which was the second historical Blaze ever, not the first. I think I write good books, but The Concubine was especially good and fit perfectly with senior editor Brenda Chin’s vision for the Blaze line.

    After 3 books, Harlequin considers the experiement over. The sales were extremely poor. It was not the fault of promotion or marketing. I got a TON of promotion. It was also (according to senior editor Brenda Chin and the few who read the books) not the fault of the writing. The books were excellent. The problem? Her exact words were the “Jade Lee name is tainted as Asian.”

    So, as of my April book, I will be writing for Harlequin as Kathy Lyons. Look for Under His Spell with a very caucasian cover then.

    My opinion? Social changes come…eventually. Harlequin is to be commended for working with me, giving me this shot, and doing an excellent market test. BTW, I believe Historical Blazes with traditional settings are doing very well, so we can’t blame the historical setting for the lack of sales. Dorchester Books also did the societal experiment with my tigress books set in historical China.

    The conclusion? Both publishers have decided (and I agree) that the audience is not there yet to support Asian-set romances. An odd one here and there may do okay, but in general, there is not wide-spread support of that setting or ethnicity. Not as a primary element in the book.

    The sad truth is that I cannot continue to write for societal change. I write to support myself and my family. I can tell Caucasian stories. I can tell Chinese stories. As of the moment, I am telling Caucasian stories because that is what sells.

    So…for now, Jade Lee will write historials set in Regency England with completely white people. And Kathy Lyons will write Caucasian stories for Harlequin. I am now deciding whether or not to put up my picture on my Kathy Lyons website. Is it even worth letting people know that I look and am half Chinese?

  69. Fredericka
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 12:46:08

    @roslynholcomb:

    I've gotten several emails over the years from whites who've said they “accidentally” bought my book, but didn't know the heroine was black. (No, I don't know how this happens. I'm assuming they had some vision impairment.) They said they enjoyed the story, but were “shocked” to find out she was black, but wouldn't buy any more of my books because they didn't read “black books”. Okkkaayyyy.

    Further, and this hasn't happened to me, but I have friends who've been to book conferences, RT, RWA and the like and are literally ignored by the readers at book signings and such. To the point that they don't bother to attend anymore. I've never been to a conference so I have no idea how widespread this is.

    I can't get involved with this conversation in general terms. I think everyone knows how I feel about it, but frankly it's too wearying for me to discuss anymore. I have my readers and I feel very fortunate for them, but I don't think I'll ever have more than a few non-black readers and that's okay with me. I don't ever want anyone to buy my book out of anything other than desire to read a good book.

    This really makes me hate people. It also makes me want to give up writing. What’s the point? A black girl writing a YA fantasy about a black girl, who is a GOOD writing with GOOD ideas can’t ever be as successful as a white author whose stories may not even be all that great. Because who wants to read about a black girl, even if it’s not really about her blackness?

    It just sucks so much. I actually feel like crying.

  70. Lisa Paitz Spindler
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 12:50:34

    @Fredericka :

    Because who wants to read about a black girl, even if it’s not really about her blackness?

    I do, I do! Please keep writing. Please don’t give up.

    -LisaPS

  71. GrowlyCub
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 13:01:10

    @Jade Lee:

    Thanks for adding your perspective. It’s very interesting if a bit depressing!

    I judge promo from the viewpoint of a reader, who did not know until this book was on the shelves that Blazes now had historicals. I apologize for claiming yours was the first when it wasn’t and that it had PN elements when it didn’t. I just remembered it had something in it that made it unattractive to me (and since I don’t do PN that was what came to mind, sorry again).

    As a reader of the Blaze line, I had no idea that there would be historicals or specifically multi-cultural books coming out, so naturally to me that meant not enough promo was done.

    I’m interested to hear that the more traditional historical Blazes are doing well, because, quite honestly, I think putting them into the Blaze line was a major mistake. Harlequin very successfully branded Blaze as hip, young, sexy and contemporary and then to suddenly say, now we are also historical… those two things just don’t fit as far as I’m concerned and I’m in my late 30s and read predominantly historical, so you’d think I ought to be the target audience for this move.

    But then I’m just a reader, so what do I know. :)

  72. Courtney Milan
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 13:01:58

    Jade Lee will write historials set in Regency England with completely white people. And Kathy Lyons will write Caucasian stories for Harlequin. I am now deciding whether or not to put up my picture on my Kathy Lyons website.

    This gives me such a big sad.

  73. Gina
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 13:04:33

    Discussions like this are important, no matter where one’s opinion lies. So thanks for the post.

    I didn’t know what white privilege was until I was in college and got a figurative slap upside the head. I didn’t realize that race effected me at all because it was never an obstacle. (I’m hesitant to use that word, but I can’t think of a better one right now.) I know better now, though it’s a learning process.

    I think that it can be difficult for white readers to relate to non-white characters because it’s not something the white reader is forced to do in real life. As a white girl in Idaho, it’s very easy for me to find someone who looks like me in the media at large – tv, magazines, books, advertisements, etc. It’s easy for a white person to bury oneself in the hegemony. To go outside that box can raise a lot of uncomfortable questions, and a lot of white people would just rather not deal with it. And many don’t, because they can. It’s a cycle of suck.

    I’m not sure how to resolve this. As a reader I can (and do) purchase books by non-white authors and stories about non-white characters. But the root of the problem isn’t necessarily individual publishers, readers, and authors, but the society of which those publishers are a part. I wish I had a solution.

  74. MaryK
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 13:07:02

    @Jia: and @Caligi: I bought that book, but haven’t read it yet. My impression of the plot is that it will take considerable skill on Lee’s part to come up with an HEA. It seems to be a “heavy” topic for a Blaze. If I hadn’t read a good review at DA, I probably wouldn’t have bought it. So, I can see how readers would’ve been turned off lacking outside encouragement.

    In thinking about this, I realized what the plot reminds me of – the doomed love of Tuptim in “The King and I.” I think there’s a subconscious “this can’t end well” associated with that type of plot. Possibly, publishers are being over simplistic about why it didn’t sell well.

    [You know, if it had been advertised as Tuptim with an HEA, I'd've snapped it up without any encouragement. :) Apparently, I need blatant assurances of "heavy topic" + "HEA."]

  75. GrowlyCub
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 13:13:52

    @Laura Vivanco:

    I’m a bit baffled by your assertion. If I want to read different, but I know that, say, Superromance puts out white, middle-class, mid-America, baby-abounding books, I won’t even be looking for that different book there. If I then don’t buy a book I would have loved to read in that line because I didn’t know it was there and it was different, how can you or the publisher say I didn’t want it?

    The same with the Historical Blazes, how can publishers who brand these lines in very specific ways, expect readers to find these ‘different’ books, if they don’t make a special effort to tell us about them? Obviously, Lee says there was lots of promo. I didn’t see any of it. Does that mean *I* am not looking in the right places?

    There are 400+ romances published every month. I know I’m missing great books because I don’t know about them. I stand by my assertion that publishers are not doing enough and I’m a reader who actively visits review sites to find out about what’s new and what’s different.

  76. Amber
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 13:14:50

    @Jade Lee:

    I’m very sorry to hear that.

    I think Harlequin’s readership is far more conservative than the romance genre as a whole. I’d be curious to learn which parts of the world (and what regions of the US) sell the most books for that publisher. Or if they bother to track that kind of thing at all.

    “Jade Lee name is tainted as Asian.”

    That is disturbing to me. I guess I must be the lone reader who never really looks at the author of a Harlequin book, but rather at the story synopsis. I don’t see Jade Lee as in any way ‘tainted,’ btw. I think it’s a gorgeous name. And being the oblivious person that I am, would likely think “cool pseudonym” before I thought “Wow that’s an Asian name.” I honestly give zero attention to the perceived ethnicity of an author’s name. It just doesn’t register with me.

    On a side note, I will admit that even if I routinely read Harlequin books, I’d have skipped the Concubine because of the setting. I’m just not fond of historical stories set in China. But, again, I’ll skip a Western Historical due to the setting as well. And an American Civil War one. Even Georgian books set in England.

    It’s a personal preference.

    I would, however, pick up a contemporary regardless of setting as long as the story and characters appealed to me.

    Best wishes for your new endeavor.

  77. Chloe Harris (Noelle)
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 13:16:13

    I think that it can be difficult for white readers to relate to non-white characters because it’s not something the white reader is forced to do in real life. As a white girl in Idaho, it’s very easy for me to find someone who looks like me in the media at large – tv, magazines, books, advertisements, etc. It’s easy for a white person to bury oneself in the hegemony

    I just wanted to point out that I can completely understand how this is true for people from Idaho and other parts of the country but it is not so with white people in the south. All people here white, black, etc all deal with inter-race relations in real life all day every day. Which is a good thing.

  78. Heather (errantdreams)
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 13:18:07

    So, so sad. I will read any good-looking book I come across regardless of the ethnicity/culture of the protagonist. If anything I find such books wonderful because they offer me a peek into real worlds that I don’t know a lot about. (Speaking of SF/F, Tobias Buckell’s trilogy (Crystal Rain; Ragamuffin; Sly Mongoose) is a fantastic example of a multi-cultural set of books that are absolutely superb, and I recommend them highly.) I can only hope that someday people will pull their heads out of their behinds and read for a good story and good writing rather than skin color. Every time I think we’ve taken a step forward in civilization and tolerance, I look around and find out that somewhere along the line we also seem to have taken a step backward…

  79. Diana Peterfreund
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 13:18:27

    Jade, I’m sorry to hear that, because I would love more romances with Asian heroes. It’s my ginormous crush on John Cho talking, here, though he’s Korean, and I was actually picturing Jet Li in the tantric Blaze.

  80. Kayla
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 13:19:28

    @joannef: You’re right when you noted that what said could be categorized under white privilege. The fact that you even made that statement highlights how very unaware of your own white privilege you are.

    “My point was, and is, that not ALL white people believe that their lives and their experiences are the only ones that matter. That's putting all white people in one category, which can be just as insulting as putting all people of African, Asian, or Hispanic descent into little categories. People are people. ”

    Not ALL white people consciously believe that their lives and experiences are the only ones that matter. However, by the very nature of white privilege, a white person is going to unconsciously believe their life and experiences are the default.

    People are not people. There are people that have unearned advantages and there are people who are disadvantaged and are made to be so by the people who have the advantages. Saying that everyone is exactly the same is a privileged white notion that ignores the fact that some people are impacted by skin color more than others.

    @handyhunter: Yes. Exactly.

    (Edit to clarify: By saying that people are not people, I do not meant to contradict Tatiana Caldwell. All people are certainly people, but I wanted to point out that not all people are treated the same.)

  81. Janine
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 13:19:37

    @Barbara B.:

    There were a few authors left like Megan Hart, whose writing I adore. She literally filled the void for me that Judith Ivory left when she stopped writing. As much as I love Dirty and have re-read it dozens of times, I'm struck by how everybody in the city, Harrrisburgh, PA. I think, is white.

    The point is well taken but I think Hart deserves some credit for making the hero of Dirty Jewish. Jewish heroes as rare as Asian ones IMO — and there are even fewer romances with Jewish protagonists than with African American ones. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever come across a single romance where both hero and heroine were Jewish. So what you’re feeling — the absence of characters who share your background — is an issue for Jewish readers (like myself) as well.

    As someone not of European descent I don't at all mind reading about Europeans in Europe because that's where they effing belong!

    Except… do you ever see Jewish characters in all those books set in 19th century Europe?

    I have to say that I don’t a good answer to these problems. I’m Jewish and originally from Israel. My husband is WASP. I have a black South African sister-in-law. Her and my brother-in-law’s daughters, my nieces, are black (biracial) as well. They live in Beijing, though, so we don’t see them as often as we’d like. My other sister-in-law is married to a Japanese man and they have a daughter who is half-Japanese. They live in Osaka, so we don’t see as much of them as we’d like to, either. My friends are or have been of European, Asian, African, and Middle Eastern descent.

    Still, even with all this diversity in my life, I have been afraid to write minority characters because I’m afraid I’ll be insensitive in my portrayal — not intentionally, but it isn’t always easy, even with a lot of research, to know what others will find insensitive. It is easier for me to write a WASPy character, even though I’m not a WASP, because I don’t feel the same degree of worry about unintentionally hurting the feelings of readers of European descent.

    A discussion I had with Handy Hunter in another thread got me thinking about this, and about my works in progress. I am drawn to European historicals as a reader (despite the lack of Jewish characters) and so it’s also what I gravitate toward writing.

    Anyway, my conversation with Handy Hunter coincided some research I was doing into the East End of London at the end of the 19th century. I came across a mention of the Rothschild buildings, which were these tenements where very poor Jewish immigrants lived at that time. I also came across the information that many Jewish immigrants worked in sweatshops in the East End and were seen as being to blame for the general unemployment and low wages, in a similar same way to that in which Mexican immigrants are viewed by some here in the U.S. today.

    Even though I’m not drawn to writing about my own minority experience, partly as a result of the discussion with Handy Hunter, I started thinking about the possibility of writing a historical romance set at that time with a Jewish hero, perhaps someone who tries to improve conditions for immigrants, or some such thing. I started wondering whether that was something I could tackle, at least.

    Having thought about it more, I can’t say with certainty that I will never write it, but I will say that the more I thought about it, the more I saw what a herculean task it would be.

    Even being Jewish myself, and being sensitive to the issue, I would find it very hard to write about Jewish characters in Europe at that time because they faced a lot of discrimination.

    One choice would be to deal with that head on. Those Jewish immigrants were fleeing pogroms in Eastern Europe. So then what would my Jewish hero see as the solution? Well, the main solution that was being advocated at that time was Zionism. And that would be very hard to write about without bringing into the reader’s consciousness the current debate about the aftereffects of Zionism. I have my opinions on the issue, but I’m doubtful that its complexity is something that I could do justice to in a romance, where the focus is on the romantic relationship, especially within the standard length limits.

    Alternatively, I could avoid that issue altogether, just have the issue be Jewish without being concerned about discrimination and bigotry that he and other Jews face. But then I am not only giving short shrift to a very real historical problem, I am also making the character a kind of head-in-the-sand person, someone who is in deep denial about the storm coming across the horizon. And that kind of indifference to suffering is something I can’t find heroic.

    So the more I think about this, the more I understand how thorny it is and why more people don’t write about Jewish characters in historical romances. I wish I knew what the answer is.

  82. katiebabs
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 13:23:19

    Jade Lee name is tainted as Asian?

    That is beyond insulting. I am so sorry Jade.

    I wish I could find the words to express what I am feeling at this moment. I just can’t.

    As a Caucasian reader, I try to pick books by the stories and not by the color or race of the people in the cover or the author themselves. It depresses me that readers don’t keep an open mind.

    An example where I was upset that a minority character didn’t get his own book was after reading Tessa Dare’s Lady of Persuasion. Her one character of Joss, half black, half white didn’t get his own book and was so very worthy of his own story just as the other caucasian heroes of Tessa. I was exciting because I thought he would get his own book and not just secondary story status. It sickened me to think this but because Joss was a minority character, the publisher wouldn’t release a full length book with him, especially in the setting of a regency historical romance. Perhaps Tessa never planned for Joss to have his own book, but if she wanted to give Joss his own book and the publisher nixed it, that is so sad.

    This is not along the lines of race, but I also was upset because I really thought with JR Ward’s BDB series, she would have given two of her main male characters, who almost had a MM relationship a full length novel. But again, they never acted on their attraction and now that Ward is giving the fans a MM romance, I bet that will be only a secondary story and not a full length novel.

  83. Jade Lee
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 13:23:45

    @growlycub

    No need to apologize. not a problem. And, to be honest, I assume the more traditional-set historical Blazes are doing well because they keep being scheduled. Harlequin is very good at trying something, then killing it quickly if it doesn’t work. Since Blaze is still scheduling one historical a quarter (1 per 24 books) I assume they’re doing well enough.

    @amber

    Thank you for looking at the story and not the name! I appreciate that!

  84. Gina
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 13:26:12

    @Chloe Harris (Noelle): Agreed, I have only lived in the Pacific Northwest, so my opinions reflect the environment in which I was raised.

  85. Estara
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 13:29:31

    @Tatiana Caldwell @Caligi: While I can understand the points you raise there, I think they lead away from the discussion that this post wanted to work on namely the way race is used in romance heros and heroines.

    I’d be very interested in reading a post on the way class-structure works in romance and is perceived by disadvantaged readers as well (and what possible solutions might be, considering that romances usually include a HEA and need to appeal to a wide readership to sell). I would prefer this discussion staying on the subject.

    It bothers enough people that it’s not an imaginary problem, after all.

  86. jmc
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 13:29:50

    @Janine: I think Judith Arnold’s Love in Bloom’s features a Jewish hero and heroine. Maybe. And the follow up, Blooming All Over.

  87. roslynholcomb
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 13:34:25

    Because who wants to read about a black girl, even if it's not really about her blackness?

    It just sucks so much. I actually feel like crying.

    Believe me, I’ve shed many tears, but you know what? Being 45 years old I can remember when there was no black genre fiction AT ALL. According to TPTB, “black people don’t read.” Terry McMillian put that myth to rest, and it’s been less than 20 years. I STILL buy all the black romances I can find because I can remember when they didn’t exist at all.

    Obviously there’s been progress, but progress is always slow. I write because I love to write and because I have fans who tell me they love my books. Of course, I also write for the money. Would it be great if folks simply judged my book by the content? Most assuredly, but that hasn’t happened, and it might not happen in my lifetime. Then again, I didn’t think there would be a black president in my lifetime, so who knows? I’m a damned good writer and I know this. I produce a good product, if people choose not to read my books because they fear being tainted by the horror of “Negro sex” there’s nothing I can do about that. As far as I’m concerned they’re the ones who are missing out. Sure, I’m missing the money, but they’re missing the humanity and are the poorer for it.

  88. Estara
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 13:35:18

    @Lisa:

    I don't know who Handy is and I don't care but if I was a betting woman I'd say she a) either works in a college b) is a college professor or c) is a graduate student in English of Cultural Studies or some such nonsense. I recognize the academic gobbledygook.

    Okay, now what did this remark actually bring to the rest of your opinions? Can’t people who are not academics be sensitive to racism as well? Very strange.

    The whole comment does read like white privilege to me, which we do have no matter which status we otherwise come with. Again I recommend checking the link to the list of Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack in the fourth comment here.

  89. Maili
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 13:35:36

    Good post. I get frustrated with the ‘half-something, half-something’ trope because it’s usually done by an author wants to portray her hero/ine as “exotic”.

    OK, I admit it seriously drives me – excuse my language – bat-shit crazy. I loathe these words “exotic” and “exotic-looking” with every skin cell of my body. I’d have to be honest that after having these attributed to me almost all my life, it gives me some kind of a complex because it doesn’t allow us to feel at home and it’s a constant reminder we look foreign. Not quite white, but not quite [whatnot], either.

    It’s also frustrating that there is a general feel that mixed race (I’m using this to cover the whole half-whatnot and quarter-whatnot range, rather than the correct technical definition) people are compromises.

    A compromise for authors and readers who want something different, but not too different. I think U.S. President Obama is a good example: “He’s black, but I guess that’s OK because he’s half-white.” I felt that vibe from books that feature mixed race characters sometimes and I’m not keen on this.

    Relating to the Obama example, it’s rather frustrating when people look to mixed race people as mediators of the world. As if they were the answer to race problems within a society because they have the means to look into both worlds. Some authors sang this song in their books and I felt this was a terrible message. In reality, both worlds frequently reject mixed race people because they aren’t [whatnot] enough, not culturally aware enough, and so on. How about sorting out the problems at your end rather than leaving it to mixed race people to sort out the societal mess?

    It’s equally frustrating when people say, “You look different but that’s OK, you’re Hero/ine to me. I’m not seeing races in you. You’re you.” I do realise this is supposed to be an assurance, but it actually can be offensive. Especially when we bear it in mind that mixed race people – those who don’t have the stereotypical appearance of a single race – are constantly asked, almost every day, what they are; where were they or their parents born (in spite of my painfully obvious accent, I get asked this every bloody day), and so on.

    I don’t know if people including authors have already noticed this, but whenever there is a mixed race person, there is a tendency to focus on the ‘foreign’ side of the mixed race person. If the heroine is half-Chinese and half-white, I’m willing to bet that people will focus heavily on the Chinese side of her, along with expectations of her. If she’s half-Chinese, they feel she should have a Chinese name, some knowledge of Chinese culture, history, language, and so on. There is rarely a mention and expectations of her about the “white” side of her. Equally, some authors can go overboard by going the other way with the “she’s half-Chinese but so what?! She’s 100% American/British/Australian, just like us!” stance.

    It’s heavily tied to the terrible ‘pick a side!’ choice that almost all mixed race people in real life are constantly forced to make. As if there is a societal memo that they can’t have or be both.

    So yeah, when an author opts for a mixed race heroine or hero, I’d appreciate it if the author doesn’t do it to exoticise the hero/heroine; as a compromise, or hold him/her up as a symbol of the shiny happy future.

    There is nothing wrong with wanting to have mixed race characters, but please do explore reasons why there is a need for one.

    That said, Michele Jerrot/Albert couldn’t get her publisher to publish a spin-off for Chloe, a Japanese woman who appears as a side character in one of her books (Off Limits, I think?). If I remember correctly, MJ/A said her publisher or editor felt readers wouldn’t be interested in having Chloe as the heroine. I remember being shocked by this comment because I assumed her story wouldn’t sell because of the story, not because of Chloe’s race. It’s such a shame because Chloe is one of most interesting female characters around.

    (Sorry for being so long-winded.)

  90. Janine
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 13:36:02

    @jmc:

    @Janine: I think Judith Arnold's Love in Bloom's features a Jewish hero and heroine. Maybe. And the follow up, Blooming All Over.

    Thanks. I had heard of these books but I had the impression they were women’s fiction rather than romance. At least, that’s how the AAR reviews categorize them.

  91. Janine
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 13:41:12

    @Courtney Milan:

    Jade Lee will write historials set in Regency England with completely white people. And Kathy Lyons will write Caucasian stories for Harlequin. I am now deciding whether or not to put up my picture on my Kathy Lyons website.

    This gives me such a big sad.

    Me too.

  92. Anah Crow
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 13:42:20

    @Bonnie L.:

    What you’re asking for is called Racism 101. So I don’t derail the conversation over here, I’m going to post a response to you (and anyone else) in my LJ, where you’re free to comment. (I’ll check my settings.)

    http://anahcrow.livejournal.com/159455.html

  93. kate r
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 13:44:06

    After reading Jade’s post I want to drink a lot of wine.

  94. Janine
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 13:46:02

    @MB:

    This discussion reminded me of a book I read recently-Sharon Shinn's “Colonel Winston's Daughter”. Has anyone else read it? What did you think of the way Shinn addressed this issue?

    MB, I reviewed the book here. I thought Shinn’s portrayal of a young woman’s awakening to the issue of colonialism was pretty thoughtful, but IIRC, not everyone agreed.

    ETA: Shinn has a new YA fantasy book out, Gateway, whose heroine is a Chinese adoptee. I haven’t read it yet.

  95. Estara
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 13:47:02

    @Janine: I may have misremembered that. If so good for her ^^. When I read them – which I love – I tend to concentrate more on the paranormal characteristics of the characters which plays into my love of fantasy and science fiction.

  96. Laura Vivanco
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 13:56:12

    I'm a bit baffled by your assertion. If I want to read different, but I know that, say, Superromance puts out white, middle-class, mid-America, baby-abounding books, I won't even be looking for that different book there. If I then don't buy a book I would have loved to read in that line because I didn't know it was there and it was different, how can you or the publisher say I didn't want it?

    Growly, what I was trying to say was is that if it were true that romance readers, in general and in large numbers, really are unconcerned about race and would be happy to read stories with Chinese, Black, or other ethnicities of heroes and heroines, then one would expect regular readers of a particular line/publisher to pick up a book about such characters in pretty much the same quantities as they usually do when they buy their usual books from that line/publisher about White heroes and heroines. [I say "pretty much" the same, to allow for particular preferences which are not related to ethnicity.]

    On the other hand, if a lot of people are specifically reading lines because they want them to be “white, middle-class, mid-America,” and/or if a lot of white people don’t consciously think “I want to read only about white, middle-class mid-America[n] characters” but subconsciously have prejudices which make them disinclined to pick up a book about other sorts of characters, then yes, you would expect the experiment to be a failure. Which, judging by Jade Lee’s comment, it was.

    My point about the marketing was that perhaps extra marketing for the book could have drawn in a wider audience for that particular book, including people who didn’t usually buy in that particular line but who did want to try something that wasn’t about white etc characters. If that group of new readers had been large, it might have offset the number of readers I described in my second paragraph. As it happens, though, it seems that even with extra publicity to draw in readers looking for something different, that wasn’t enough to offset the lack of sales to the kind of readers I described in paragraph 2.

    So, the conclusions to be drawn from the experiment seem to be that a significant number of romance readers are prejudiced against authors and characters of particular ethnicities, and therefore, if publishers want to sell large numbers of books about characters who are anything other than “white, middle-class, mid-America[n],” they’re going to have to market them differently, possibly in special lines like the various Kimani lines, so that people who “want to read different” will be able to find them.

  97. Caligi
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 14:01:40

    @Estara: It is on topic, imo. My point is that these “white” romances don’t even represent white culture all that well either.

    I don’t totally accept the term “white privilege.” You think white people are really that different?

    White people are as diverse a group as Asians and black Americans. Some of us play the game and succeed in politics or business, and the rest of us are shut out. The upper levels of business and politics are as closed to me as anyone from the hood. A friend from a temp agency once told me that companies specifically ask her not to send people that have the “Boston” accent. Since that’s a working class accent, for the most part, we’ve got it twice as hard as your average middle-class person. Not only are we going through school with less help from less educated parents, but our accents mark us as “other” as well. Just being white doesn’t provide a slew of society contacts to propel you through the system. You need to be born well-off and learn golf early.

    I can only speak for my experiences, and what I’ve seen is that your tax bracket, and not your race/ethnicity, at birth is what determines success around here, with a few exceptions. Maybe it’s different in other parts of the country.

    Maybe one day someone will convince me of it, but people have been trying since college and I still don’t find race that much of a factor.

  98. Maili
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 14:02:24

    @Jade Lee

    After 3 books, Harlequin considers the experiement over. The sales were extremely poor. It was not the fault of promotion or marketing. I got a TON of promotion. It was also (according to senior editor Brenda Chin and the few who read the books) not the fault of the writing. The books were excellent. The problem? Her exact words were the “Jade Lee name is tainted as Asian.”

    Your report is [very] depressing yet not surprising. I do hold mainstream publishers responsible for this, because they tend to publish Chinese novels or memoirs to portray the struggles characters or authors experienced.

    For example, I once recommended a novel written by a Chinese author to a friend and she didn’t want to read it because she wasn’t in the mood for a ‘depressing’ read.

    And when I recommended a novel written by a Japanese author, she was all over it because she expected it to be cool, quirky and eccentric, like the works of Haruki Murakami or Ryu Murakami.

  99. Ros
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 14:03:36

    @Janine: Possibly not technically a romance, though there is a romance within it and even a HEA of a sort, have you read The Queen’s Fool by Philippa Gregory? It’s about a Jewish girl at the court of Mary I – having to hide her Jewishness, then fleeing to Calais to an openly Jewish community where she is married. I really, really liked it – I think of all Gregory’s Tudor books, this is my favourite. I thought she handled the religious and cultural aspects of living as a Jew at that time very well indeed.

  100. joanne
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 14:05:24

    My first post on this thread — just sayin’.

    Huge hugs to you Jade Lee and the old trite but true saw: A rose by any other name etc., — and under any pen name you will still be a good writer. I’m wishing that your own name will be back in print quickly.
    Put your picture up on your website, please.

    @Janine:

    In any case, I'm sure that Singh's secondary characters are diverse in their backgrounds. For example Elena's close friend and boss in Angels' Blood, Sara. Her last name is Haziz, so I assumed that either she or her husband has a Middle Eastern background, at least in part. And Singh has said that some of the secondary characters in the angel books will eventually get their own books, so it's quite possible that we'll learn more about Sara.

    Haziz is Sara’s maiden name and her story has been told in Angel’s Judgement which was in the Must Love Hellhound’s antho. Great story, as ususal but with references by the hero to coffee and cream.
    Again, just sayin’ for those that want to avoid food references.

  101. Kwana
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 14:06:08

    After reading this post, all the comments, Jade Lee’s honest and heartbreaking, at least to me, post I want to drink a lot of wine right about now too.
    Thanks for opening up the discussion Jane and Handy.
    Will take me a day or two to get back to my multi-cultural romance. Feeling shell shocked right about now.

  102. Barbara B.
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 14:06:10

    No Janine, I’ve rarely read about Jewish protags in European historicals or any other kind of romance. I remember one from the ’70s by Janet Louise Roberts/Janette Radcliffe and in Liz Carlyle’s No True Gentleman I think Max was Jewish. A few years ago I read a short erotic romance by Suz deMello called First and Last. It was a futuristic and the couple and the entire colony was Jewish. I actually look for romances with Jewish protags because I’m always looking for something I haven’t read to the point of boredom. I’d like to be able to read the full spectrum of humanity that is America, but that’s virtually impossible.

  103. Karen
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 14:10:39

    Can I ask why is it wrong if a reader (of any race/religion) decides they don’t want to read books about other races/religion. Why is that reader considered racist or a bigot?

    The reason I say this is that I was born in the UK and lived there for 32 years. At my schools there were no issues about race/color/religion – everyone just got along. There were kids in school from all over the world but as kids it didn’t matter. I’ve lived the last 5 years in the US and cannot believe how race/color/religion is used in every news story. Why does it even matter if a person is black/white/Asian/Mexican/ etc. I know that the US has a history relating to race and I don’t devalue that. But maybe if race etc isn’t used in every news story we will finally be able to move on. If a woman is raped (in the news) or a man is shot and killed what does it matter about the color of their skin – a crime was committed and that is what should be the focus.

    I buy my romances because the synopsis looks good. I read to escape from the crap of the world we live in :)

    Why is it wrong that I like my heroes Tall, Dark and Handsome, very cliche but hey ho, it floats my boat. I don’t particularly care for heroes with blond hair or bald or fat – in real life my husband is not very tall and his lost his hair but I love him all the same.

  104. Estara
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 14:11:58

    @Caligi:

    I don't totally accept the term “white privilege.” You think white people are really that different?

    I am sorry, this reply will be very long. I had hoped you’d check the one link I referred to because when *I* read it, it opened my eyes to my own white privilege. You still may not agree or not have the same reaction, but since I can’t find the right words for what I’m trying to say myself I will excerpt a big part of the essay by Peggy McIntosh here. If you have time and inclination please think about the points and whether they apply to you in your own situation.

    I decided to try to work on myself at least by identifying some of the daily effects of white privilege in my life. I have chosen those conditions that I think in my case attach somewhat more to skin-color privilege than to class, religion, ethnic status, or geographic location, though of course all these other factors are intricately intertwined. As far as I can tell, my African American coworkers, friends, and acquaintances with whom I come into daily or frequent contact in this particular time, place and time of work cannot count on most of these conditions.

    1. I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.

    2. I can avoid spending time with people whom I was trained to mistrust and who have learned to mistrust my kind or me.

    3. If I should need to move, I can be pretty sure of renting or purchasing housing in an area which I can afford and in which I would want to live.

    4. I can be pretty sure that my neighbors in such a location will be neutral or pleasant to me.

    5. I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.

    6. I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.

    7. When I am told about our national heritage or about “civilization,” I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.

    8. I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race.

    9. If I want to, I can be pretty sure of finding a publisher for this piece on white privilege.

    10. I can be pretty sure of having my voice heard in a group in which I am the only member of my race.

    11. I can be casual about whether or not to listen to another person’s voice in a group in which s/he is the only member of his/her race.

    12. I can go into a music shop and count on finding the music of my race represented, into a supermarket and find the staple foods which fit with my cultural traditions, into a hairdresser’s shop and find someone who can cut my hair.

    13. Whether I use checks, credit cards or cash, I can count on my skin color not to work against the appearance of financial reliability.

    14. I can arrange to protect my children most of the time from people who might not like them.

    15. I do not have to educate my children to be aware of systemic racism for their own daily physical protection.

    16. I can be pretty sure that my children’s teachers and employers will tolerate them if they fit school and workplace norms; my chief worries about them do not concern others’ attitudes toward their race.

    17. I can talk with my mouth full and not have people put this down to my color.

    18. I can swear, or dress in second hand clothes, or not answer letters, without having people attribute these choices to the bad morals, the poverty or the illiteracy of my race.

    19. I can speak in public to a powerful male group without putting my race on trial.

    20. I can do well in a challenging situation without being called a credit to my race.

    21. I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.

    22. I can remain oblivious of the language and customs of persons of color who constitute the world’s majority without feeling in my culture any penalty for such oblivion.

    23. I can criticize our government and talk about how much I fear its policies and behavior without being seen as a cultural outsider.

    24. I can be pretty sure that if I ask to talk to the “person in charge”, I will be facing a person of my race.

    25. If a traffic cop pulls me over or if the IRS audits my tax return, I can be sure I haven’t been singled out because of my race.

    26. I can easily buy posters, post-cards, picture books, greeting cards, dolls, toys and children’s magazines featuring people of my race.

    27. I can go home from most meetings of organizations I belong to feeling somewhat tied in, rather than isolated, out-of-place, outnumbered, unheard, held at a distance or feared.

    28. I can be pretty sure that an argument with a colleague of another race is more likely to jeopardize her/his chances for advancement than to jeopardize mine.

    29. I can be pretty sure that if I argue for the promotion of a person of another race, or a program centering on race, this is not likely to cost me heavily within my present setting, even if my colleagues disagree with me.

    30. If I declare there is a racial issue at hand, or there isn’t a racial issue at hand, my race will lend me more credibility for either position than a person of color will have.

    31. I can choose to ignore developments in minority writing and minority activist programs, or disparage them, or learn from them, but in any case, I can find ways to be more or less protected from negative consequences of any of these choices.

    32. My culture gives me little fear about ignoring the perspectives and powers of people of other races.

    33. I am not made acutely aware that my shape, bearing or body odor will be taken as a reflection on my race.

    34. I can worry about racism without being seen as self-interested or self-seeking.

    35. I can take a job with an affirmative action employer without having my co-workers on the job suspect that I got it because of my race.

    36. If my day, week or year is going badly, I need not ask of each negative episode or situation whether it had racial overtones.

    37. I can be pretty sure of finding people who would be willing to talk with me and advise me about my next steps, professionally.

    38. I can think over many options, social, political, imaginative or professional, without asking whether a person of my race would be accepted or allowed to do what I want to do.

    39. I can be late to a meeting without having the lateness reflect on my race.

    40. I can choose public accommodation without fearing that people of my race cannot get in or will be mistreated in the places I have chosen.

    41. I can be sure that if I need legal or medical help, my race will not work against me.

    42. I can arrange my activities so that I will never have to experience feelings of rejection owing to my race.

    43. If I have low credibility as a leader I can be sure that my race is not the problem.

    44. I can easily find academic courses and institutions which give attention only to people of my race.

    45. I can expect figurative language and imagery in all of the arts to testify to experiences of my race.

    46. I can chose blemish cover or bandages in “flesh” color and have them more or less match my skin.

    47. I can travel alone or with my spouse without expecting embarrassment or hostility in those who deal with us.

    48. I have no difficulty finding neighborhoods where people approve of our household.

    49. My children are given texts and classes which implicitly support our kind of family unit and do not turn them against my choice of domestic partnership.

    50. I will feel welcomed and “normal” in the usual walks of public life, institutional and social.

    I found that not all the points applied to me, but enough did that I definitely have white privilege.

    P.S. I repeat that I’d be interested in a post on the reactions in people who feel their social status isn’t represented well in romances.

  105. Janine
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 14:12:15

    @Ros:

    No, I haven’t read The Queen’s Fool (mainly because I’m not as keen on historical fiction as I am on historical romance), but I may read it someday. It is good to know there is a HEA of sorts — that makes me more interested in reading it than I was before.

  106. GrowlyCub
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 14:15:10

    @Laura Vivanco:

    I see your point. But that’s exactly the point I was trying to make with regards to the Blaze historicals. I don’t understand why Harlequin took the time and effort to brand that line one way and then after they had successfully done so decided to add something totally different and totally unrelated to it. That just doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense in terms of advertising and creating customer expectations.

    Maybe the category lines are especially badly suited to ‘different’ because they so heavily rely on brand recognition and same-ness hence all those asinine billionaire virgin titles.

    From my point as reader I don’t see any advertising in my daily life that’s not author-generated and I think that’s deplorable.

  107. MaryK
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 14:18:02

    @Jade Lee:

    the “Jade Lee name is tainted as Asian.” … I am now deciding whether or not to put up my picture on my Kathy Lyons website. Is it even worth letting people know that I look and am half Chinese?

    Okay, maybe I’m being super naive, but I question whether the experiments’ failure is really about Jade Lee’s ethnicity or about the fact that Jade Lee writes very different books.

    Publishers define success by big numbers so romance novels have become very homogenous and divergence from “the norm” is rare. Can an unusual romance get big numbers in a market that’s been groomed to expect specific types of books? A divergence by its very nature is going to have fewer numbers because it has a narrower appeal.

    I think it has a lot to do with the difficulty of marketing art. Do you homogenize and bland things down to appeal to the widest possible audience and get the big numbers or do you stick with the artist’s vision and have fewer sales?

    Anyway, these are just my thoughts. I’ll be on the lookout for Kathy Lyons.

  108. Fran
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 14:19:24

    @Karen:

    So where you lived everyone was just one big happy family regardless of race. And yet. You don’t want to read books about other races/religion.

    Can you even explain why?

  109. Courtney Milan
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 14:30:54

    @Caligi:

    I don't totally accept the term “white privilege.” You think white people are really that different?

    White people are as diverse a group as Asians and black Americans. Some of us play the game and succeed in politics or business, and the rest of us are shut out. The upper levels of business and politics are as closed to me as anyone from the hood.

    I don’t think this gets at what “white privilege” is about. “White privilege” doesn’t mean “you automatically get to run all the companies and make a ton of money.”

    White privilege does not mean that you never experience any kind of discrimination for any reason. It does mean that you sometimes get advantages, and if you sat down and tallied them up, they would be more extensive than you might imagine.

    And it certainly doesn’t mean that all white people have equal privilege. It does mean that there are some privileges you have that you may not be aware of. The page linked in comment #4, Unpacking the Knapsack of White Privilege, is really, really good at mentioning many of the aspects of white privilege that people take for granted.

    I’m hapa (in my case, half Chinese/half white). If I’m living in an area where people see a lot of Asians, I tend to get counted as more “white” than not; when I moved to an area of the South for a few years, where there were almost no Asians around, it was shocking to me how differently people treated me. This is not to say that I experienced a ton of racism–I am well aware of how lucky I am.

    If you’re white, people generally aren’t going to speak loudly and slowly to you because they assume you don’t know any English. Moving from a place where I was considered fairly “normal” to one where I was “different” made a huge difference in how I observed race, and how I understood the effect of race on everyday life.

    I assume, when I drive by a cop, that I’m not going to get pulled over so long as my headlights work and I’m sticking to the speed limit. Nobody assumes I’m about to commit a crime or engage in theft, because of my skin color. People assume that I can handle mathematics and complex arguments; my professors have never dumbed things down for me, believing I needed additional help and tutelage. Nobody ever balked at putting me in the highest reading group, or hesitated to let me take the challenge class to skip pre-Algebra, or tried to talk my mother out of getting me tested for the Gifted program.

    Have I experienced some minor side-effects of racism? Yes, but just barely enough to learn that I’ve been very, very lucky, and that by virtue of looking mostly-white to most people, I have enormous, unspoken and unearned privileges. And just as you note that a lack of an accent can confer privilege (and it can), skin color can confer privilege, too.

    I’ve gotten far in life, and I wish I could say it’s all because I’ve worked hard (and I have). But I also know that it’s because people believed in me, because I haven’t had to constantly fight the assumption that my race makes me lesser. Take 20% of that “work hard” and apply it to “fighting to make people take you seriously,” and you end up with a massive, unfair differential.

    That’s privilege.

    This is not to say that people who are white all have equal privilege–they don’t–but there are some privileges that are inherent in being white, independent of other inequities out there.

  110. Laura Vivanco
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 14:32:55

    But that's exactly the point I was trying to make with regards to the Blaze historicals. I don't understand why Harlequin took the time and effort to brand that line one way and then after they had successfully done so decided to add something totally different and totally unrelated to it.

    It’s true that Blaze has tended to feature contemporary romances, so a shift to include a few historicals in the line was a significant change. What the ongoing success of Blaze historicals with characters who are white tends to suggest, though, is that readers weren’t having a problem with the historical aspect of Jade Lee’s book for that line.

    Re Harlequin’s marketing in general, I really don’t understand why they’re marketing as Presents not only all the UK “Modern” romances but also all the “Modern Heat” romances which in the UK are sold with similar, but still distinct, covers, from the “Modern” romances. I’m sure they must have their reasons.

  111. XandraG
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 14:33:54

    @Laura Vivanco I would also wonder if Harlequin was the best test-case scenario. HQ has had oodles of time to build up a customer base with very specific expectations for lines they put out (and like Ms. Lee said, they’re very good at trying things and shutting them down quickly if they don’t work as anticipated). One wonders how much “HQ Reader” and “Romance Reader” intersect on the Venn diagram. And given the short shelf-lives of category stories as opposed to single-titles, did “The Concubine” fail because it suffered a perfect storm of “didn’t appeal to HQ’s core readership” and “failed to have a sustainable enough shelf life to attract the attention of new-to-HQ readers looking for just that kind of story”?

    Did the numbers fail because people don’t want to read stories with Asian H/h, or because people expect white people in HQ Blazes–did the failure come because the book was different in general, or specifically different with Asian characters?

    A big part of this question speaks to sheer targeted marketing ideas. Romance readers tend to gravitate towards the expected in general–hence the required HEA/HFNs and verboten character deaths. Are attempts at multiculturalism by publishers being met with resistance because they are different from the established model, or because there’s a race-oriented reason?

    Also, Jade Lee (and others) should have been allowed to write five or seven Blaze historicals with Asian characters before the experiment was deemed a failure and shut down. No one ever does a serious test-market with just a single case.

  112. Sally
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 14:35:27

    I have perhaps a silly question. Why is this a problem in romance when people like Amy Tan and Toni Morrison don’t seem to have when they write fiction?

  113. Lanning
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 14:35:33

    @Caligi:

    FYI

    I highly recommend the entire site.

  114. jmc
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 14:36:22

    @Janine: I haven’t read the second one, but I recall the first book as being more contemporary/chicklit-ish than women’s fiction.

  115. Barbara B.
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 14:39:58

    @Caligi
    “Since that's a working class accent, for the most part, we've got it twice as hard as your average middle-class person. Not only are we going through school with less help from less educated parents, but our accents mark us as “other” as well. Just being white doesn't provide a slew of society contacts to propel you through the system. You need to be born well-off and learn golf early.”

    All of what you say is true and yet…you’re still white. You’re working twice as hard as that middle-classed white person, not middle-classed people of color. You actually have an option that non-white people don’t. You can work to rid yourself of that accent, go to college, emulate the manners and dress of the white middle-class, et voila! You’re ready to ascend that ladder of opportunity with very little drag. You’re now a white middle-classed person.

    I’ve done all of those things and yet I don’t have the camouflage that you would. My skin color gives the game away. I’m not one of ‘them” and never can be. I hope you’re not disingenuous enough to believe that a white working class person’s ascent to the middle class is as difficult as that of a non-white person. Perhaps you should do a guest editorial on classism because right now this discussion is about racism. In America classism is NEVER going to trump racism. There’s intersection but only a fool would believe that race doesn’t count. Class is fluid, race is immutable. I totally get that for you Caligi that it’s all about class because you’re white. If you weren’t white and were still working class you’d know without a doubt that it’s both race and class that hold people back in the U.S. with a strong emphasis on race.

  116. Jinni
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 14:40:52

    The guest writer is right, but they need to also acknowledge that a majority of the agents/editors are also white. Books I’ve written (I’m black) with white protagonists have had little reception problem. The books of my heart with black protagonists always get the same response – love your writing – couldn’t ‘connect’ with the characters.

    Filters are a problem. I think the readership is more receptive than the people who choose what we read.

  117. GrowlyCub
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 14:44:23

    @Laura Vivanco:

    I’m sure they have their reasons too. :)

    I guess I’m looking at this too much from my own perspective. I pretty much gave up on Blaze after they started with the paranormal and when they added Historical I totally went ‘huh’?

    I picked up the Krahn because of the reviews here and because it was 50 cents used, and started reading it, but didn’t get very far.

    The majority of the authors I originally enjoyed in the Blaze line now write books (even within Blaze) that do not appeal to me. So, as far as I’m concerned, Harlequin’s rebranding of Blaze was a complete failure, but I guess it must not be for the majority of the readers.

    One would assume that they’d know what they are doing since they’ve been at it for so long, but I cannot help but think that expecting 1 or 2 books that are different to gain traction before an experiment is deemed failed, is really a short-sighted business strategy.

  118. Tatiana Caldwell
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 14:44:44

    @Estara:

    I believe my comments are indeed on topic. My point is that I think that the reason you don’t see as many non-white leading protagonists is because many authors are afraid of “getting it wrong”, and the reason why some non-white readers may not be inclined to read books with non-white characters is because they *think* they can’t relate to women of other races. It has been my experience that people are a sum of their personality, background and environment. Skin color alone is a very small factor. A factor yes, but not by far the biggest. I just want more people to realize that we are all a lot more similar than we are different, and to stop falling into this “I can’t relate to them because of their race” trap because I do believe it is a fallacy.

    It bothers enough people that it's not an imaginary problem, after all.

    If I’ve suggested in any way at all that I think this is an imaginary problem, then I must clarify. I believe the lack of diversity in all genres is a problem. The segregation of books with ethnic characters by section in bookstores is also a problem. White-breading stories that even take place in exotic locations is an issue.

    What I wanted to do here was offer a potential solution, however. Get more diverse characters, especially heroines, into good books and get more readers willing to try them. I believe that accomplishing both will require more people to acknowledge that what makes people unique and what makes people “relatable” goes a heck of a lot further than skin deep.

  119. Caligi
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 14:45:05

    @Estara:

    I guess my point is that so what if white people are everywhere if they’re not like me in any way but skin tone. I am saying that I, and my friends from home, tend to be more comfortable in the presence of people from similar economic backgrounds, not ethnicities. I’d want to jump through a window if I were in a room with a bunch of blue blood Yankees that look just like me, but I’d feel right at home in a room full of second-gen southeast Asians.

    My city councilman growing up was a Cambodian, my favorite soccer coach a black guy of no other particular ethnicity, and my co-star, and husband, in my high school play a Vietnamese kid who I’m sure must be out of the closet by now. We all knew we were a little different from each other, but no more than the French Canadian and Greek kids were.

    I know racism exists. My latino neighbors like to call me the stupid white bitch every time they see me (long story, very much the neighbors from hell.) I read the comments on newspaper articles, I know bigots are out there, conscious and unconscious.

    What I’m saying is that it’s nothing compared to economic status. A clean cut black guy in a suit is as respected as a clean cut white guy in a suit (but probably better looking, imo.) Po’ white trash are as picked on as ghetto trash by the cops. I’m so white I sunburn in minutes, and I’ve been harassed by the cops more times than I can count.

    I have read plenty about what white privilege is, but I still don’t think it trumps class. All my friends who don’t look like me, but did things the same way, came out with the same results. Maybe it is different elsewhere, I’m only working from my own experience.

  120. Janine
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 14:46:46

    @jmc:

    I haven't read the second one, but I recall the first book as being more contemporary/chicklit-ish than women's fiction.

    Thanks. Maybe it was just labeled women’s fiction. I may try it sometime. I think there are probably a higher percentage of Jewish characters in women’s fiction, chick lit, and historical fiction than in romance.

  121. Anah Crow
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 14:53:19

    @Sally:

    I have perhaps a silly question. Why is this a problem in romance when people like Amy Tan and Toni Morrison don't seem to have when they write fiction?

    Can you name more than two writers of colour to whom that applies in the mainstream, top-selling markets? How about even 1 for every 10 white writers? What about writers of colour who write about just plain ol’ people who might be white or brown or any other colour and don’t even go into race issues? How many writers of colour ARE you reading, and you don’t even know it, because their picture isn’t on the cover? The fact that a handful of names crop up over and over as writers of colour who ‘don’t have any trouble’ (that’s called tokenism, and it doesn’t disprove the point), the fact that those writers write primarily about their race and culture instead of just about anything else, and the fact that people struggle to come up with any more writers of other races and cultures means that it IS a problem.

    It is a problem in fiction, in general. (It’s a problem in general, in general.) It’s just being discussed here, today, in the context of romance. Several months ago, it was all over the SF/F community. I’m sure the horror community has processed this. And we’ll all process it again until the problem gets addressed, in full, at last. If writers of colour and allies seem tired and short-tempered, it’s because right now it could be a full-time job to convince white folks that maybe — just maybe — the balance is off and it’s off in the direction of race to a degree that is truly unethical to ignore.

  122. Janine
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 14:55:45

    @Karen:

    Can I ask why is it wrong if a reader (of any race/religion) decides they don't want to read books about other races/religion. Why is that reader considered racist or a bigot?

    I understand that some readers don’t enjoy reading about injustice and hardship in their romances, and at least in historicals, it would be completely anachronistic to have minority characters who don’t face injustices and hardships.

    To me, this is not about whether those readers are racists or bigots, but rather about how the current state of the genre affects readers who aren’t white or Christian. Reading almost exclusively about white and Christian characters can make a person who isn’t white or isn’t Christian feel like their experience of love and romance isn’t being represented. It’s almost like there is an unintended message that they aren’t worthy of love or romance.

    I feel somewhat similarly (to a lesser degree) about childless or infertile couples in romances. There are so few of them. As a childless person, I ask myself “Why? Don’t we deserve love and happiness, too?”

  123. Xica
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 14:57:47

    “It would also seem that readers are far more okay with reading about vampires and werewolves and demons and angels than characters of colour.”

    So true, and I’ve been saying that very thing to anyone who’d listen. But point blank, some readers would rather read stories of women who look like them, being romantically/sexually involved with a werewolf or a demon or a vampire who once again, read like men of their racial group.

    You know what the message from the majority of the paranormal books say to me? Hot white vampires must be paired with hot white women. Hot white werewolves shall be paired with hot white women, because romance heroes can only take the form or hot white men, hot Native Americans, but for paranormal hotties, the default race is white. That to me, is the holy grail of a paranormal romance and the romance genre. I don’t like it, but I still buy the books, even if the covers don’t resemble me.

    What I want to know is, who made up these rules? And how can they be changed, because this thread is sapping my enthusiam to write and create a paranormal web comic with diverse characters.

    It kinda feels as though many of the authors who write books about only one culture don’t realize that women of color are some of their biggest fans, sitting on the outside hoping the author will throw out some crumbs. I’ve seen thoughts like these on different threads; “Oh look, the author said all her vampire’s have golden skin so they can’t be all white!” and “Look how much slang this author uses, surely someone in this popular series is mixed or hangs around a brotha.” I just read the transcript of a chat that a top paranomal author, who was basically giving away plots on her soon to be published books, and yet when a reader asked when one of her uber popular characters would meet a black woman, the author got so coy, you could hear a pin drop. SHEEESH…what is the big deal with being inclusive? (and not just having a minority character carrying tea or food or be a confidant for the main character, that’s not being inclusive in my mind, because this is 2009- but then in all fairness, the author did say the character who has basically, at least in my mind been used as a man-servant would get his own book) Listen, I’m not mad…I’m just pissed. There’s a difference.

    The other side of the coin is that it goes both ways. I’ve been on threads were readers of color lament the mixing of races, longing for more books that tell of their romantic aspirations. I think there is one thing most would agree on, and that is there isn’t enough diversity not on in the books, but in the publishing industry in general. and if and until that gets fixed, perhaps a hope lies the changes happening in the industry. At least, that’s my dream.

  124. Amber
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 15:02:24

    The whole comment does read like white privilege to me

    I’m already sick of reading this. Anything that doesn’t agree with the original post is labeled “white privilege” now? That’s a bit of false logic.

    As for that nice long list of indicators, I find most of them extremely loaded. Not to mention inaccurate. They are written with a specific result in mind.

    And as a “white” person living in rural America, most of them DON’T apply to me.

    *********

    The mixed race question, Maili, is more complicated to me. For me, it’s not a question of being exotic. It’s simply a result of the people I know and the place I live that most people who aren’t white are of mixed race. Most couples I know who are Black or Asian are in interracial relationships. Of the 5-10 young children at my son’s school who are black (we live in a very small town) only 2 children have parents who are both black. It’s just the particular demographics here. So in that case, it is far more “normal” for someone to be either in an interracial relationship or to be of mixed race.

    I 100% agree with this, though: “here is a tendency to focus on the ‘foreign' side of the mixed race person.” Not quite sure what the solution to that one is.

    As for this: “It's heavily tied to the terrible ‘pick a side!' choice that almost all mixed race people in real life are constantly forced to make. As if there is a societal memo that they can't have or be both.” Again, I’d have to say that I don’t see this as an either/or situation in most romances I’ve read.

    Maybe it’s where I live or how I grew up…but interracial relationships and mixed race people are common here in California. It’s not unusual. It’s not exotic. It’s a barely noticeable blip for most. One of my husband’s best friends is black, married to a white woman, and has 3 “mixed race” children. A friend from high school is ethnically Portuguese, lives in the Bay Area, and is married to a Chinese gentleman. My sister in law is half Italian, half Navajo. None of which raises eyebrows here. And I don’t think it’s a case of “hey they’re part white so that’s okay.” I think it’s more “Isn’t that cool their kid will have so much rich culture to choose from?”

  125. Gina
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 15:05:48

    @Xica:

    What I want to know is, who made up these rules? And how can they be changed, because this thread is sapping my enthusiam to write and create a paranormal web comic with diverse characters.

    I would LOVE to read a web comic like that, just sayin’.

  126. Karen
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 15:06:58

    @Fran:

    Of course people didn’t get on where I lived but that happens everywhere. The reasons, back when I was growing up, were not to do with race/color/religion. I didn’t get on with the Jocks or Prom queen types (to use American terms) at school because I didn’t “fit in” due to being too skinny, wore glasses and shy and I didn’t like school sports :) I tended to hang around with the “nerdy” types. I had a “foreign” sounding last name and did get some teasing but nothing that effected me now as an adult. It was just part of growing up.

    You have assumed that I am white and don’t want to read about other races. I never took that stand in my post – perhaps I didn’t write it well.

    What I was trying to say is that; ANY person of ANY race/religion should be able to read what THEY want to read and not being made to feel bad if they don’t want to read about another race/religion to what they are themselves.

    What if a black person doesn’t want to read romances with Asian characters?

    What if a Jewish person doesn’t want to read a romance with a Muslim or Catholic character/overtones?

    I think a lot of people read what they feel they have in common with the characters, or can understand, or imagine themselves in that role as the heroine or hero.

    I don’t look at anyone and see their color/religion as a reason for not liking them – I CARE about the character of that person not the color of their skin – to me, how a person behaves and lives their life is more important.

    I have a work colleague who was Catholic but is now Jewish and in one of her conversations to me (and believe me I didn’t ask) she spoke quite vitriolic about how she hates Muslims and them wanting to turn everyone Muslim (her words not mine). I had real trouble with this and its a memory that will stay with me forever – and yes it did change my opinion about her. By the way she is NOT white.

    Back to what Fran asked me: I have NEVER liked to read romances that have lots of religious overtones in them. I like my romance sexy and dirty (LOL) and don’t want to feel guilty afterwards :) As to the race question. I’ve read romances with Native Americans, Russians, Italians, Spanish, Brazilians, Australians, British, French, and more. What color skin did they have? Whatever the author

    I didn’t want my post to be turned into a race/religion issue – I’m more about people’s FREEDOM to like what they want, read what they want, watch what they want, and not be vilified (sp?) for their choices.

  127. Janine
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 15:09:02

    @Barbara B.:

    I hear you. I was just (in my earlier comment to you) making the point that historicals set in Europe also exclude minorities that lived in Europe at the time. But even though the issue of race and religion in romance bothers me, I still love historical romances because I love to read about characters falling in love and attaining happiness. I’m not saying it is okay, just explaining why I keep reading.

    Maybe this will not change until the demographics of readers change. How sad if that’s what it takes to change things.

  128. TJ Michaels, Author
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 15:11:45

    @Karen: I’ve got to go with Karen here. I’m a black writer and I honestly think race is an issue because we focus on it SO much. I don’t care if a person is white or black in a book as long as the book is good.

    Two of my books that both feature black heroines (and I mean black, not half or a quarter, which I have no problem with either) were nominated for the CAPA award, which was a great honor. These books are both paranormal and race was not a factor. They weren’t nominated because of the heroine’s color but because they were considered great reads.

    I read all kinds of books with people of all kinds of colors. Does that mean everyone else has too? Nope. But if I didn’t like reading about all kinds of races would that make me a bigot? Hell no. Why? Because people like what they like. I don’t care for chest hair. Does that mean I’m a chest hair bigot? I prefer Japanese men to white men. Does that mean I don’t like white men? Nope, considering I’m dating one. But because I’m dating a white guy does that mean I don’t like black men? Nope. I was married to one.

    I’m tired of people telling others that they’re wrong for not liking the same things.

    I am tired of people pulling out the race card or throwing around the Hannity and Limbaugh names (which have NOTHING to do with this) when they want to make a point about differences. You’d think we’d learn by now that what you spend your time concentrating on is exactly what you get more of. As a result, because we obsess about race and being politically correct, the issue never goes away.

    And for the record, I happen to have almond shaped eyes. For real. So if you write interracial or AA romance and describe a black woman’s eyes as ‘almond shaped’, this black woman won’t get mad.

    Happy reading!

    TJ Michaels
    http://www.tjmichaels.com

  129. Barbara B.
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 15:12:06

    @Xica

    Are you Brazilian? In college back in the Dark Ages (the ’80s), I saw this great movie about a slave named Xica. Have you seen it?

    Great comment BTW. It’s very odd how the the author of the BDB has appropriated the hip-hop culture but balks at actually having black protags. I guess she doesn’t want to alienate her core audience who couldn’t relate to a real black person.

  130. Janine
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 15:17:56

    @Karen:

    What if a Jewish person doesn't want to read a romance with a Muslim or Catholic character/overtones?

    I can’t speak for other Jewish people but personally, as long as these books weren’t inspies (Personally I wouldn’t even want to read a Jewish inspy), I would welcome books about Catholic and Muslim characters. I really enjoyed romances like Gaffney’s To Love and to Cherish, with its minister hero, Kinsale’s Flowers from the Storm, with its devout Quaker heroine, or Catherine Asaro’s The Veiled Web, a romantic SF with a Muslim hero. I think it is sad that there aren’t more Muslim characters in the genre, with the exception of stereotypical sheiks.

  131. Xica
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 15:19:13

    @Gina: I would LOVE to read a web comic like that, just sayin'.

    Gina,

    You know what? after reading about what happened with Jade, I’m thinking, go all out. The time has come, and my characters are HAWT, cuz if a vampire has to live on blood, why wouldn’t he want to nip on a hot latina or asian or black woman in addition to white? And since wolves come in all colors, a nice ebony werewolf who looks like Tyrese, or an asian Gorgon who looks like Takeshi Kaneshiro (my heart be still!)
    Sigh…
    If these authors would quit with all this “Fated mate” stuff, they could see all the other flavas of womanhood out there.

  132. Estara
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 15:25:30

    @Caligi:

    A clean cut black guy in a suit is as respected as a clean cut white guy in a suit (but probably better looking, imo.) Po' white trash are as picked on as ghetto trash by the cops.

    I guess that’s simply where we must agree to disagree. I am not black myself, but I’ve read enough and seen enough on tv that a clean cut black guy in a suit is not as respected as a clean cut white guy. Otherwise what happened with that black professor and the cop who thought he was breaking into his own house wouldn’t have happened.

    Poor white trash are still more respected than poor black trash, I believe. Even as a poor white person I would imagine that the following points apply to you.

    11. I can be casual about whether or not to listen to another person's voice in a group in which s/he is the only member of his/her race.

    12. I can go into a music shop and count on finding the music of my race represented, into a supermarket and find the staple foods which fit with my cultural traditions, into a hairdresser's shop and find someone who can cut my hair. (edit: of course you have to have money for that, too, but so would the person of colour have to have money)

    13. Whether I use checks, credit cards or cash, I can count on my skin color not to work against the appearance of financial reliability. (she’s not talking about the financial situation here, only about people with the same amount of money and different skin colours).

    14. I can arrange to protect my children most of the time from people who might not like them.

    15. I do not have to educate my children to be aware of systemic racism for their own daily physical protection.

    16. I can be pretty sure that my children's teachers and employers will tolerate them if they fit school and workplace norms; my chief worries about them do not concern others' attitudes toward their race.

    17. I can talk with my mouth full and not have people put this down to my color.

    18. I can swear, or dress in second hand clothes, or not answer letters, without having people attribute these choices to the bad morals, the poverty or the illiteracy of my race.

    But – as with my skin colour – I can not claim to be poor. I come from a middle class background. That’s a reason why I would be interested in the purely class viewpoint as well.

  133. Lynne Connolly
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 15:27:30

    I wasn’t going to post on this thread but – Jade Lee. Tainted? I look for your books, I gave your contemporary Blaze an A over at The Good, The Bad and The Unread because it was so different and exciting. And your characters really lived. Perhaps it’s just the wrong audience at Harlequin, I don’t have access to their figures, so I don’t really know.
    But I read every Tigress book and followed you into the new ones – loved them. Want more.

    I have a book coming out shortly with a Chinese-American hero. One of my favorites, as it happens, but I can see I’ll have to keep my fingers well crossed.

    Sometimes I think I’m missing a gene or something because race isn’t the first thing I notice about a person. I was brought up in a multicultural society (Leicester, in the UK). We celebrated Diwali as well as Christmas, and I think I got color blind. I loved visiting my friends’ houses for tea, and they loved coming to mine, because at theirs we’d get chicken curry and Basmati rice, and at mine we’d get egg and chips. Exotic is as exotic does, you might say. I write what I write. In my personal experience, people are more likely to be part of two or more cultures so I write a lot of those, because I know how that goes.

    I’m part gypsy Romany, and we’ve had our share of prejudice, but you can’t always tell by looking at us. I also know a fair number of Jewish people, but since not all of them are Orthodox, again you can’t tell by looking.

    I tried to write a historical about the origins of anti-slavery, which has its roots in the mid eighteenth century, but I found it difficult because of the attitutudes the people of the time had. It was different, that’s for sure. And they used the ‘n’ word without prejudice but of course I can’t use that now. I still want to write it, though.

    And prejudice? Have you seen what happens to peace-loving Muslims in some communities?

  134. Gina
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 15:28:47

    @Xica:

    And since wolves come in all colors, a nice ebony werewolf who looks like Tyrese, or an asian Gorgon who looks like Takeshi Kaneshiro (my heart be still!)

    Excuse me while I wipe drool off my chin. :D

  135. Estara
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 15:31:22

    @Tatiana Caldwell: Thank you for your explanation, I definitely misunderstood your point the first time then.

    @Amber:

    I'm already sick of reading this. Anything that doesn't agree with the original post is labeled “white privilege” now? That's a bit of false logic.

    The comment I referred reads as an acceptable reaction to you? We’re definitely talking about completely different discussion levels then. Fair enough.

    quoting Lisa: What an annoying post. The only point of it that I can see is to try to make me feel guilty because I like to to read about white people in love. I'm sorry but I don't have the energy to read with all my great sense of “white guilt” for the racial sins of the past, present and future. And I don't think Handy is going to succeed in her mission, which is what, exactly? To convice the majority of romance readers (most of whom are not Ph.D's in English and are unschooled in all this subtext) to feel pangs of conscience in their reading pleasure because the presumably white writer does not write with all the multicultural senistivity, talent, and skill of the typical English professor?!

  136. LJ
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 15:35:04

    I have perhaps a silly question. Why is this a problem in romance when people like Amy Tan and Toni Morrison don't seem to have when they write fiction?

    They aren’t writing genre/commercial fiction. I don’t think we can compare the likes of Toni Morrison, Colson Whitehead, Zadie Smith, Amy Tan, Chang-Rae Lee, Haruki Murakami, etc. to Black and Asian genre/romance/commercial writers because literary fiction is a very different world.

    Author Mat Johnson (biracial) once wrote a blog post about the types of African American books that win awards – they are almost always about slavery or some kind of struggle in the AA community. He made an excellent point that I can’t remember now (and can’t find online since the post is very old), but think was closely related to a point I’ve tried to express in the past – readers/critics/publishers are comfortable reading about what they know/believe-to-be-true about the AA experience.

    I believe literary novels by AA authors are taken seriously by white readers/academics, but mainstream/genre fiction written by black people is dismissed as only written for black readers. Toni Morrison and Amy Tan (to some extent) write literary fiction that deals with African American and Asian Issues respectively. If they were writing mainstream fiction that didn’t deal with Issues, I can assure you they would be on a different path in this strange world of publishing. I think the overall feeling is that when one wants to learn something from fiction, she will read an “ethnic” book.

  137. Xica
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 15:37:01

    @Barbara B

    Yeah, that’s how I got the name. It’s part of a first name that I never use (why do people do such things, adding to a perfectly good name to make it more unique) I guess its culturally appropriated LOL

  138. Ros
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 15:40:43

    @Janine:

    I think there are probably a higher percentage of Jewish characters in women's fiction, chick lit, and historical fiction than in romance.

    I think you are probably right, and also that the same is true of people of colour. Which is why it is a really good thing that you are having this discussion here on a romance review site, because it needs to be heard by readers, writers, agents and publishers of romance novels. Not all of us can take the same kind of action – an agent is in a different position from a reader, for example – but all of us can think about the status quo, our role in perpetuating it, and how we want it to change. So, thank you, Dear Author.

    Reading almost exclusively about white and Christian characters can make a person who isn't white or isn't Christian feel like their experience of love and romance isn't being represented. It's almost like there is an unintended message that they aren't worthy of love or romance.

    Yes, this. This is why it matters.

  139. Laura Vivanco
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 15:42:02

    One wonders how much “HQ Reader” and “Romance Reader” intersect on the Venn diagram. And given the short shelf-lives of category stories as opposed to single-titles, did “The Concubine” fail because it suffered a perfect storm of “didn't appeal to HQ's core readership” and “failed to have a sustainable enough shelf life to attract the attention of new-to-HQ readers looking for just that kind of story”?

    I really doubt that this is a problem limited to Harlequin’s readership. In fact,

    [Brenda] Jackson reigns as the top-selling black romance author, according to Nielsen Bookscan. She was the first African-American writer to make the New York Times best-seller list with a romance.

    Brenda Jackson writes for Harlequin’s Silhouette Desire line. I’m not sure if she’s actually the first AA NYT bestselling romance author, or the first AA NYT bestselling category romance author, but the fact that she’s the top-selling AA romance author, and she writes categories, mainly in a non-AA line, does suggest to me that there must be a lot of Harlequin readers buying her books.

    I’d have thought that Beverly Jenkins, who writes for Avon, should have hit the New York Times list by now, given how many other Avon authors have, but it seems that she hasn’t. I have the feeling she’s one of the most popular AA single-title romance authors around.

  140. Ros
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 15:49:14

    @Karen:

    What I was trying to say is that; ANY person of ANY race/religion should be able to read what THEY want to read and not being made to feel bad if they don't want to read about another race/religion to what they are themselves.

    Right. And this is precisely what you don’t seem to be getting. White Christian women (like me) have that freedom all the time. But women (and indeed men, I suppose) of different religions and different ethnic backgrounds do not currently have that kind of freedom, at least not to anything like the same extent. That is one example of white privilege – and the fact that so many people in this thread seem to be denying it/displaying it shows just how insidious it can be.

  141. Oyce
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 15:58:30

    Thank you so much for this. I love romances and have been reading them for a long time, despite the many race and gender issues in them, and I’m so frustrated when I read a great romance like Meredith Duran’s Written on Your Skin or Sherry Thomas’ Not Quite a Husband and get thrown out by further reminders of colonialism (I do know Thomas is POC, but NQH is almost a textbook example of White People in Foreign Exotic Lands). I’m not only disheartened by the content in what I read, but also the lack of discussion of it on it online.

    I’ve seen some talk of getting more “exotic” settings in romance, but I wish many more of those discussions would acknowledge the problems inherent in having exotic settings and white heroes and heroines when there is no look at colony and empire.

  142. Sally
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 16:03:57

    @LJ:
    Thanks for taking the time to reply to my question. Forgive me for reducing this to a sound bite, but it is a question of entertainment vs. education.

  143. Jane
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 16:04:39

    I want to thank HandyHunter for writing this post and allowing us to post it at Dear Author. I appreciate the willingness for people to talk about this subject. I certainly did not read anything about the post spewing white hate.

    Further, I hope Harlequin does try to give more space to multicultural romances. 3 books does not a failed experiment make.

    Finally, I would love, love, love to have 399 books published each month featuring Asian characters and Asian culture. Alas, I am lucky to find 39 titles a year with those types of protagonists. So for all of those who say that we can read whatever we want, you are not correct. We have to read about white people, even in paranormals, because 99.9% of the books out there are written featuring white characters. If that is not emblematic of white privilege, not sure what is.

  144. GrowlyCub
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 16:06:39

    @Oyce:

    Sherry Thomas' Not Quite a Husband and get thrown out by further reminders of colonialism

    Would you please explain to us how one can write a historically accurate romance novel set in a country that was a colony during the time period in which the novel takes place without showing the attitudes of the society at the time?

    A romance novel taking place in India will show British colonialism and attitudes as the pervasive and accepted social structure even though we recognize these as false and racist now. Portraying such a society in a politically correct manner would be totally historically inaccurate and be whitewashing the past.

    Maybe I don’t understand what the complaint really is. I’d be grateful if somebody could explain it to me, because I’m totally baffled.

  145. Jane
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 16:09:04

    @GrowlyCub: It’s because the only time you see India in historical romances is when it is featuring white people in colonial India. There are no romances featuring Indian people in India even though, I am sure, that there are Indian people who fell in love and married and had happy ever after stories. Further, there is nothing romantic about white people in colonial India because white people in colonial India where there because they were oppressing and colonizing people of color.

  146. Fran
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 16:10:13

    @Sally:

    lol I don’t see why a book can’t be educating and entertaining at the same time? Sometimes it’s about subtly. Like handing a kid some freshly squeezed orange juice when he refuses to drink oranges because oranges are yucky and EW FRUITS. But kids luv them some OJ! lol Just gotta find ways to get the education across without scaring the metaphorical kiddies away.

  147. Jackie Barbosa
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 16:12:19

    My only input to this very long, very fascinating, and very discouraging thread is simply that homogenization based on race is hardly the only sort of homogenization going on in romance publishing. Didn’t we all just have this discussion regarding time periods and locations in historical romance, and how it just seems to be Regency all the time (albeit with some shifts backwards into the Georgian era or forward into the Victorian)?

    The reality is that publishers want to buy books they know are marketable and have a good chance of selling. They’re in the business of making money, not “fixing” the culture.

    This is really, truly a case of “Physician, heal thyself.” Until romance readers show they’re interested in buying books that don’t fit the established parameters (and in large numbers, not just niche markets), the homogenization is only going to get more pronounced.

  148. GrowlyCub
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 16:13:24

    @Jane:

    So, since publishers will not buy romance novels with protags that aren’t white, the solution then is not to write any settings that are not white aka British or American? That doesn’t seem to be the call I’ve seen you or other readers voice on DA in the past.

    Seems like it’s a lose-lose for all involved at this point.

  149. Jane
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 16:20:58

    @GrowlyCub First, are you acknowledging that readers are justified in being frustrated about reading romances set in colonial India or do you think that they can’t feel that way? Do you know understand why that is an issue for some readers?

    Second, no and that is not the point of handyhunter’s post, either, in my opinion. She, as a romance, reader doesn’t want to read just about white people and she does not want to read just about white people in non exotic locations. So we bring this topic up so we can encourage readers that there is a problem and that if we care about it, then we need to do something about it. We want authors to be more sensitive to these issues and we want publishers to know this matters.

    Of course, we actually have to buy the books in order to represent ourselves to publishers which is why I have been advocating for people to buy the Brenda Jackson and the Gail (can’t remember her last name right now) book that had African Americans on the cover but were placed in the Blaze and Silh Desire lines. Cultural integration has to be helped along by the buying public. For me, that means buying books, even if I don’t like them, to support the messaging to the publisher that these books are desirable. Or sending a note to the publisher that “while this book did not work for me, I want to see others like it.”

  150. Elyssa Papa
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 16:27:45

    @jadelee Words cannot express how sad and angry I am that this happened. I’m very sorry.

  151. Zealot
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 16:34:21

    I think it is worth noting that “culture” is not based solely on the color of your skin. Just taking your heroine and saying she is a “proud African American woman” then writing her like Barbie’s younger sister is hardly the same as taking time to research, get to know or live in her culture (and yes, there are thousands of different “black cultures” as there are for every possibly race, color and creed). You can say your hero is a fiery Latin lover, but any Latino will then ask you if they are Cuban, or Dominican, or Spanish, or….the list is as diverse as our species is. Writing a culture is like using a language…it requires fluency. You can be able to mumble a few words or be technically proficient, but without fluency it feels stilted and artificial. That doesn’t mean you must BELONG to the culture you are writing, simply that you take the time to be attuned to it and fully versed in it before presenting it….or you ask the help of someone who is.

    As a Jew I know I cringe when someone writes a Jewish character and makes them yet another stereotype, or have them butcher their Yiddish or knowledge of Judaism. That has nothing to do with race, it has to do with a lack of cultural fluency. Any writer can say their leading man says “Oy vey”, calls his Mom every Friday and won’t eat Pork Chops…does that make him a credible Jew any more then saying he plays Basketball and comes from “the Hood” makes him a credible Black man?

    An example of cultural fluency is the late Tony Hillerman, who wrote mysteries based in the Navajo culture that were deeply honored and treasured by the Navajo though he was not native American. He studied and researched and lived on the Rez and took the time to become fluent in the culture of the southwestern tribes…and was therefore able to write it in such a way that not only ws he true to it and gave Navajo traditions the respect they deserved, but he did so in such a way that outsiders were able to see “the Navajo way” through his eyes and learn from him.

    If we allow our minds to be closed to reading or writing accurate and honest stories of other cultures and races as well as our own, or don’t seek to understand them beyond the popular stereotypes then we are like the people who say that the Holocaust should not be taught to gentile children, or the Trail of Tears to white children. To deny the importance, relevance, resonance and approachability of ANY human culture is to negate ALL human culture. Ideally, we would all be culturally fluent in ALL the ways of mankind….sharing stories and characters is a way closer to that goal.

    On a slightly different topic, it was asked why so many more romances have vampires or werewolves than non-white or ethnic characters. That’s easy….you can’t offend vampires or werewolves with your portrayal of them. Not many vampires to charge you with racism or insensitivity or inaccuracy. It’s like being a mortician rather than a doctor…no malpractice suits if you get lazy.

  152. GrowlyCub
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 16:36:30

    @Jane:

    I understand the frustration at not being represented, although I do not think that telling readers they ought to read or buy things they aren’t interested in is a viable solution to that problem (and not just for romances with PoC, but for any (sub)genre).

    I was reacting specifically to Oyce’s post which seemed to imply that foreign settings are desired but only if the authors change historical fact and portray the situation in a historically inaccurate manner. That’s why I asked. I may have misunderstood their point.

    Because I’m still not clear on what is really desired here I ask again, what would be a ‘good’ romance set in India? I’m not being facetious, I really want to know what you would like to see in particular beyond the characters not being white.

  153. Kalen Hughes
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 16:39:05

    Takeshi Kaneshiro (my heart be still!)

    OMG, may I second that?

  154. MB
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 16:44:58

    Off topic, I know…but if you want reading featuring a Jewish heroine, try Ariana Franklin’s “Mistress of the Art of Death”. It’s not entirely romance…more historical suspense, but it is a blast of a read. And there are two more books in the series, (so far). I am hooked!

    Kage Baker’s SF series starting with “In The Garden of Iden” features a Jewish protagonist. Romance gets complicated but it is definitely there, woven throughout and driving the plot of the whole series.

    And while I’m on this topic, as a reader, may I suggest how interesting it would be to find a series featuring vampires with Jewish and/or Muslim characters? How could the author handle the fact that consuming blood is not allowed? Do they starve? That would be a nice complicated world to build. I’d try it just to see the author’s creativity at work.

  155. Amber
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 16:48:55

    @Estara:

    “The comment I referred reads as an acceptable reaction to you? We're definitely talking about completely different discussion levels then. Fair enough.”

    That’s not the comment you were referring to. The one you also slapped with that brush was this one:

    don't know who Handy is and I don't care but if I was a betting woman I'd say she a) either works in a college b) is a college professor or c) is a graduate student in English of Cultural Studies or some such nonsense. I recognize the academic gobbledygook.

    I happen to agree. Not only is “white privilege” poorly named, it sounds like it comes straight from the esoteric halls of white academia.

    There is no doubt that being a person of color here or elsewhere has inherent disadvantages and obstacles that being white does not have. That’s not the real issue here.

    (And thanks for the condescension, btw)

    What’s at issue is whether readers are too racist (lets stop with the euphemisms) to read a romance that feature heroes and heroines of color. I don’t happen to think so. Because here’s something a lot of people are forgetting: romance readers do not just read romance. Most of us are multi-genre readers. I read romance, mystery, fantasy, historical fiction, mainstream fiction, history, sociology… You can’t claim that just romance readers (or buyers) are a distinct demographic from the rest of the reading world because most of us are not exclusive to the genre.

    I think that minority populations in all countries feel disenfranchised. They want a representation of their particular life experience available to them through the arts. There’s nothing surprising or wrong with that. The first step is to encourage writers within those minority groups to produce that art. Then you need the consumers within that demographic to actively support that art. Finally, you need to generate demand outside that narrow demographic to make sure that art is shared with a wider audience.

    The main problem seems to be the publishers–not the readers. Sure there are a few small minded bigots who won’t read a work because of an author’s name or a character’s race, but most pass on a story because the plot or setting doesn’t appeal to their personal preferences. And that doesn’t make them racist. It makes them readers.

  156. Angela
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 16:58:32

    I wasn’t going to comment but while on twitter I had a massive reaction to this thread. I’ve used the paranormal romance vs romance w/ person of color argument, but it wasn’t until just now that I realized that PR is relatable because it’s a symbol of white privilege. After all, as I said on twitter:

    1. If vampires have lived so long, if one was turned during the Civil War, would he still be racist?

    2. What if a vampire was a former slave? What would they think about what’s happened since the 1860s?

    3. Why don’t we have any friction in werewolf packs w/ wolves of different races?

    4. Wouldn’t a white male werewolf have _some_ hang-up if a black male werewolf was Alpha in the pack?

    5. Does being a werewolf override your human cultural ties?

    And so on.

    In paranormal romance/urban fantasy some authors may say their books represent the injustices of today, but are they truly doing so when everything racial within the ranks of the paranormal is pretty hunky dory? I know that in Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson series Darryl is black and Chinese, and she does touch a bit on this, but more time is spent on discussing Warren’s conflict with being a werewolf and being gay. I would think that Darryl would have some sort of disconnect living in a place with no other people of his background (both black and Chinese)–ever. Some of this has to do with Adam and his military background but even then, Adam was turned in Vietnam–can we say that he never harbored any racism or prejudices against blacks and Asians in his pre-werewolf lifetime? The same question can be raised when thinking about Bill from the Southern Vampire Mysteries–he’s a southerner. His family owned slaves. When and how did his opinion change regarding black people? Or did it ever? Circling back to the Mercy Thompson series, Mercy harps on being half-Native American but has there ever been any evidence of discrimination due to her heritage? I can’t help but think of how many ostensibly multicultural paranormal landscapes I can count on one hand, and I only think L.A. Banks–a black woman, fyi–has integrated every cultural and ethnic perspective within a supernatural world in all its hairyness. ven paranormal writers are not exempt from writing from a position of privilege.

    I must also add that the writers of color (half, full, whatever) who have mentioned their reluctance to write characters of their culture/ethnicity or include non-whites in their fiction due to its “depressing” nature–what a cop out. Just admit, like Tess Gerriston, that it’s more lucrative careerwise and financially to write white characters. It just irritates me to read comments from people who use their non-Anglo/non-WASP to give their responses some gravitas (I’m on the side of the oppressed!), but turn around and use the excuse of history being depressing or negative as to why they would rather use white characters.

    Seems to me that excuse unconsciously echoes the notion of whiteness being the default or much more relatable than “other” since you don’t have to deal with the pesky notion of actually giving your characters more background and characterization outside of the typical ~angst~ ridden backgrounds white characters are typically given in romance. It makes it look like HEA’s with white characters are easier to write because you believe that only whites can ride off into the sunset with nary a speedbump on their horizon. That the sole story of a person of color or a non-WASP person is misery, racism, depression, and destruction. That history, colonialism, the Holocaust, etc makes people unfit and unlikely to fall deeply in love with the only one for them, marry, and raise a wonderful family. I don’t buy that and I never will, and if anyone has that view of history–whether it be their own or another’s–you aren’t doing enough research.

  157. MB
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 16:59:53

    I seem to remember that one of Christine Feehan’s latest Carpathian novels featured a black heroine. (She never felt ‘real’ to me, but that’s me.) I give Feehan props for including her.

    And as someone above has already mentioned, Suzanne Brockmann is the best I’ve found so far out there with including a full rainbow of colors in her series.

  158. handyhunter
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 17:08:12

    there is no doubt that being a person of color here or elsewhere has inherent disadvantages and obstacles that being white does not have. That's not the real issue here.
    [...]
    What's at issue is whether readers are too racist (lets stop with the euphemisms) to read a romance that feature heroes and heroines of color.

    It’s both… I don’t think white privilege and racism are the same thing, though the two are related. You can be anti-racist and still have or benefit from white privilege.

    Not only is “white privilege” poorly named, it sounds like it comes straight from the esoteric halls of white academia.

    What does it matter what its named?

  159. Angelia Sparrow
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 17:09:02

    @Barbara B and @Janine

    I do write Jewish characters now and again. One of the leads in my ongoing political thriller series is an observant (not orthodox) Jew. That series features a black Buddhist, an open atheist and an atheist anti-hero with an Irish Catholic name and whackadoo fundamentalist upbringing. I also have an erotic Hanukkah story.

    For what it’s worth, romances with a heavy dose of religion CAN be sexy and even dirty-sexy. It helps if they’re pagan inspys where sex is part of the worship. Interesting that neo-pagans outnumber Muslims in this country, making up almost the same population percentage as Jews (1.2%), yet I’m not hearing a clamor for more accurate Wiccans and Druids and Asatruar.

    My answer to lack of diversity is the same as it was when I was in fandom and writing fanfiction. “If you don’t see what you want to read, write it.” That’s what most of us do.

    The publishing side is trickier, but I remind myself that Dr. Seuss went through more than twenty publishers before anyone wanted “And to think that I saw it on Mulberry Street.” “Jonathan Livingston Seagull”=18 rejections. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance? 121. SOMEONE wants to read your book. You wanted to, so you wrote it. If all else fails, start your own e-pub (but do it right).

  160. Darlynne
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 17:12:23

    Mystery and crime fiction doesn’t suffer the same lack of other-than-white characters as romance does and I’m not exactly sure why. There are many white writers whose main characters, heroes/heroines are not white; there is an entire world of mystery writers whose characters reflect their own country and ethnicity. I love reading them all and am perplexed that romance has not just stumbled but failed in this regard.

    I have no way of knowing if these white writers correctly portray the people or society about whom they write. I do know that their stories speak to, enlighten and engage me, exactly as do the books by and about non-white people and cultures. The mystery field would be sorely lacking without this wonderful and exuberant diversity.

    Perhaps it is because readers identify so closely with characters in a romance–I am the heroine, after all, in every BDB novel–that race becomes an issue. Maybe we need to step back a little in order to connect in a different way. I will never be a private investigator like Kris Nelscott’s Smokey Dalton or a police officer like Qiu Xiaolong’s Inspector Chen, but my admiration, respect and affection for these characters transcends everything else.

    ETA: Without question, writers must write what they see or hear in their heads. My point about the failure of romance novels to be about/reach beyond more than a white audience is more about why the same thing is so successful in another genre.

  161. Estara
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 17:27:27

    @Amber: Hmm, maybe I should simply have quoted all of it again instead of picking out first one and then a second example.

    Let me try it again and take out the content parts and just leave you with the tone, which is what I’m objecting to.

    Same with the discussion levels: please tell me how you would bring across that I can’t agree with your reading of her comment nor can you seem to agree to mine, which is fair enough – so that *you* don’t feel condescended to.

    3rd try and then I’m taking the easy way out – which I do see as my white privilege – and am going to bed here in Germany

    What an annoying post. The only point of it that I can see is to try to make me feel guilty []. I'm sorry but I don't have the energy to read []. And I don't think []is going to succeed in her mission, which is what, exactly? To convice [] to feel pangs of conscience in their reading pleasure because the presumably [] does not write with all the multicultural senistivity, talent, and skill of the typical []?! If you know anything about []you'll recognize the sarcasm in my previous sentence.

    So what is your solution Ms []? Should [] all be required to take a class in [] before putting pen to paper?! Should [] attend such wonderful inspiring classes as well so I to can read with your righteous []?

    I don't know who []is and I don't care but if I was a betting woman I'd say she a) either [] b) is []or c) is a [] or some such nonsense. I recognize the [].

    Ms Handy, I am glad you are a []and have taken the pains to publish a post detailing how [] you are (and thus better than the majority of us unenlightened Neanderthals who make up the vast majority of []), but I really really hope you and your ilk do not succed in destroying a genre I love with your [].

    All I want from []is a good []. If it's [], I don't care. If it's [] I don't care. If its [] -I don't care. Make the []. As long as its good, I'll read it.

    I have no idea if this will make my problem with this post clearer, but I definitely don’t have the energy to try to explain more than three times. You are entitled to your own reading of any comment, of course, just as I am entitled to my own reading of it.

    We’re both free to comment which we did.

  162. LisaPS
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 17:35:05

    Takeshi Kaneshiro (my heart be still!)

    OMG, may I second that?

    Third!

  163. joannef
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 17:44:31

    People are not people. There are people that have unearned advantages and there are people who are disadvantaged and are made to be so by the people who have the advantages. Saying that everyone is exactly the same is a privileged white notion that ignores the fact that some people are impacted by skin color more than others.

    Holy cow! I’d love to know what “unearned advantages” I’ve had, since I was born poor and still am poor – and have been for my entire life, even though I’ve worked outside the home since age 12. None of my ancestors were even in North America until half a century after slavery was abolished. They were among those who came to keep from starving across the pond, not so they could take advantage or others in ways that were “unearned.”

    I am pretty sick of being told that, by virtue of the color of my skin, I believe that I am more privileged, important, better, etc., etc., etc. Who are you, or anyone else, to tell me how I feel about myself or
    those around me? How do you know how or even if my life has been impacted by the color of my skin? How do you even know what kind of world I live in or what kind of diversity my life, neighborhood, friends and family encompass? You don’t. All you know is a stereotype you’ve picked out for me. All white people have “unearned privileges?” All white people are the same? Personally, I do not, and never have believed that all black people are the same, or all Asian people, or any people of any category you’d like to pigeon-hole them in. If I were to make such an insulting blanket generalization about any ethnic group other than my own, I’d immediately be called a racist, and rightly so. Some people do have had more advantages than others. Unfortunately, I’m not one of them; even though I’m white. We’re not all in a big club, you know. I stand by what I said previously. People are people. If you choose to believe that those of different skin colors all think they’re better than you, that belief is your choice. It is not mine.

  164. Maili
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 17:51:18

    @Amber

    The main problem seems to be the publishers–not the readers. Sure there are a few small minded bigots who won’t read a work because of an author’s name or a character’s race, but most pass on a story because the plot or setting doesn’t appeal to their personal preferences. And that doesn’t make them racist. It makes them readers.

    I agree that not wanting to read romances that feature a non-white or any-but-white hero or heroine doesn’t necessarily make a reader racist.

    However, I do feel that readers do take lead characters’ race into account when shopping for new books. And I think publishers know this. Jade Lee’s example illustrates it, too. If an English white duke travels to China where he, I don’t know, falls in love with an English white daughter of an archaeologist, do we believe readers generally wouldn’t pick this up because it’s set in China?

    Excuse me for introducing a topic that may not have a place in this discussion, but I think it’s worth it. There were the recent castings of new films that completely pissed me off. I’m referring to Avatar: The Last Airbender, 21, The Weapon, Dragonball, Speed Racer, King of Fighters, Prince of Persia and Akira.

    (*I really blew up at the casting news of The Weapon because Chinese American Tommy Zhou’s internal struggle is finding a place in between being Chinese and being American. By casting a non-Asian actor, they’re destroying the core of the story.)

    All those lead characters are Asian and yet, film producers chose to cast non-Asian actors in those lead roles. Why?

    They believe Asian actors wouldn’t sell these films well on this side of the world and they are right. I could argue it’s because the general audience isn’t used to seeing Asians as lead characters in the first place, not enough to accept them as the norm.

    Producers know only white and few-but-extremely popular black actors can sell non-comedy films. Anyone else? Fat chance. This is what producers know from ticket sales, so they need to have a stronger message from audience through ticket sales. But it’s a vicious circle, though – they can’t get an audience watch it so they won’t invest in Asian actors as leads, and the audience won’t watch it because they’re not used to it. Until then, producers will keep whitewashing Asian-led films.

    It’s similar with romance novels – publishers should encourage more (instead of making short-lived experiments out of it) to include minority characters. I believe that if this happens, readers will get used to it enough not to look at the possible implications of a non-white character. You said it yourself in an earlier post that because of the constant familiarity around you, it doesn’t make you blink twice at POC (and mixed race people). If publishers (and producers) treat books as a whole like your state California, there wouldn’t be any BS experiments and crazy expectations.

    Naive? Probably, but to use “three books that didn’t sell well” as a reason why the whole thing doesn’t or wouldn’t work just doesn’t wash with me. It’s akin to a person assuming that, after meeting a rude Taiwanese person, ALL Taiwanese people are rude. It’s a gross generalisation and unfair.

    Since money talks – yes, film goers and ultimately readers are responsible for the current state of this affair, but you’re right – it has to start with publishers, but social responsibility can be too expensive, so what to do?

  165. Xica
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 17:54:25

    You know what some of the conversations on this thread remind me of? When revisions were taking place in school textbooks to include the contributions of other cultures. Some parents in different school districts were concerned because everything was changing. Some thought the curriculum was too liberal, and slanting to one viewpoint. Yet for decades, US history and European history were loving taught, so much so that I can personally attest to developing an appreciation for the English Monarchs, and many other countries and their famous citizens of France, Italy and Russia. Their history became my history.

    The problem is, its not reciprocal. Whether its scifi, romance, paranormal, etc. I still maintain that the default position is, and probably always will be a non-minority held up as “THE CHOSEN ONE”, not because that’s all readers what to see, but that’s all publishers want to sell.

    It’s like rap music. The music labels will say that only hard core rap sells, while musicians and rappers argue that hard core is what the labels are putting forth to the public, and kids who come from middle class homes, in order to get a contract, pretend to have street cred because the labels say that’s the only form of rap that makes the big dollars.

    So what do the publishers do? Something eerily similar. After reading what happened with the book LIAR, where on the author’s blog she posted that a higher up from her publishing company stated that putting a black protag on the cover would cause the book not to sell, I’ve come to believe this mindset is a industry wide, and those that don’t think like this are in no position to change it. It took the outcry of people of good will from all colors to get the publisher to reverse course (though of course, in subsequent interviews they claimed to have made the change on their own- yeah right, the covers with the lovely white model on them had already been printed – but it was an inaccurate depiction of the protag, though there were readers and even the publisher wondering at first what all the outcry was about. Hey, she’s a liar they said, so because you can’t believe anything she says, maybe she is white- never mind the book’s author stated the protag had short kinky hair and was brown)

    So if people wonder why so many reader and writers of color may be a tad pissed, its not just one thing, but a culmination of many things, unfortunately.

    I want to thank Dear Author for this thread. No, it won’t solve the problem, but at least its been brought up and we’re talking about this hot topic. It’s not being shut down, or censured, but its being openly discussed, whether we all agree or not.

  166. Ros
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 17:55:06

    @joannef:

    I am pretty sick of being told that, by virtue of the color of my skin, I believe that I am more privileged, important, better, etc., etc., etc.

    The point of ‘white privilege’ is not that white people believe themselves more privileged but that by virtue of the way our society is, we are privileged in a whole host of ways we often do not even notice. Of course you are right to say that not all white people are the same and we do not all enjoy the same privileges. And yes, being poor will mean that there are many privileges you don’t have.

    But – and this is the point of having the debate here – you do have, by virtue simply of your colour, the privilege of being able to pick up almost any romance novel and find a heroine who has the same skin tone as you, without need for any discussion or defence of that fact. You may not regard that as a privilege, but for those women who cannot do the same, you are unquestionably in a privileged position in this respect.

  167. bossymarmalade
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 17:56:25

    @GrowlyCub:

    Because I'm still not clear on what is really desired here I ask again, what would be a ‘good' romance set in India? I'm not being facetious, I really want to know what you would like to see in particular beyond the characters not being white.

    This is a very peculiar question, especially since Jane already explained that it’s focusing on *white* characters in the British Raj that’s the problem.

    Apart from the characters not being white, I would like to see the things I enjoy in any other romance novels. I’d like to see them written with as much respect for the history and culture as I’ve seen in books set in Ireland and Scotland. I’d like to see engaging main characters and lots of food and fun side characters and witty dialogue and some action and some art and a little bit of sharpness to keep it from getting too treacly.

    But you know, to be honest? I am so desperate to read books that have characters who look like me, I’d read crappy ones *just because* they have Indian protagonists. (And I really hope people don’t respond to this with “oh it’s so sad that you can only relate to people just like you”, because it’s not like that; I’ve had to relate to white characters for my entire life, because they were mostly what was available, and I am tired of being invisible.)

  168. joannef
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 18:10:53

    @Estara:
    The distinctions in the “white privilege” list appear more attached to class or environment than race to me. There many are areas of the world, even many right here in the USA, where white people are not the majority. In those areas, whichever is the majority race could pretty much have those same “privileges.” I don’t even like the way that word fits there, since I don’t think that some of those so-called “privileges” are that. I think “majority privilege” is would be a much more accurate term.

    In any case, just because someone coined that term, it doesn’t make it universally true. Yes, I’m sure it’s true for many people. But I am also sure that it us untrue for just as many others.

  169. Caligi
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 18:11:41

    @Estara:

    Ugh, you would bring up the Gates incident. I don’t think anything racist went down there. If a cop comes to your house, you butter his ego, you do not argue. When you argue, you get booked, no matter your race. I kiss cops’ asses routinely, and I’ve been followed home by cops for no reason other than being out after midnight as an adult.

    As for your silly list, I can’t get French Canadian grub around here, I’ve never seen indie rock in the grocery store, I bet my white kids would get picked on around here for being different had I any, I go to a specific salon that knows what to do with my curly hair so why can’t anyone else and the only reason I don’t worry about representing my race is because I don’t care. Because people are paranoid does not make their concerns true.

    I’ve never seen myself or my life in any novel, and I don’t expect to, ever. There’s no market for white, crippled, working-class, unemployed forum trolls living in a lousy neighborhood in the best house she could afford and the web programmers who love them.

    Every book I read involves characters that don’t resemble me. If good stories are getting turned down, though, I guess I have to admit that’s bad. But if the issue is only that white romances grossly outnumber non-white protagonists, I don’t know what to say. I’ve never seen a black woman on the T reading a romance not a black romance, so I can’t fault people for not reading outside of what they’re comfortable with and I can’t fault publishers for being bound by trends.

    I guess that’s what I’ve spent too many words and posts getting to. So romance is overwhelmingly pasty, what’s to be done? Why bring it up if not to condemn people for not wanting to read characters that don’t look like them? Obviously you don’t want to either, or you wouldn’t have mentioned it.

  170. Kate Pearce
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 18:13:32

    As another person who grew up in the UK, (in London, actually, with neighbors of every color, religion and nationality around me,) this whole debate is both fascinating and perplexing. I’ve never thought about race in these terms before, and its certainly made me think.

    And, having lived in the Bay Area in Nor Cal for the past 11 years and seen kids of every color, religion and race in my kids classes and in my home, I still haven’t experienced first hand a lot of overt racism, but, I’m equally sure that it exists from watching the media and reading these impassioned posts here.

    Surely the real question is, how can we change this? What needs to be done to allow every author and reader of every color, religion and race the opportunity to read/write about people they can relate to?

  171. TJ Michaels, Author
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 18:18:50

    @Amber: Now THIS is a good post. ‘Nuff said!

    TJ
    http://www.tjmichaels.com

  172. Elly
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 18:44:54

    @joannef:

    I'd love to know what “unearned advantages” I've had, since I was born poor and still am poor – and have been for my entire life, even though I've worked outside the home since age 12.

    This is the problem with discussions about race – everyone wants to make it personal. I personally believe that most racism we are dealing with today is not personal, but institutional, sub-conscious, and unconscious. Maybe it doesn’t affect you, or your family, or your neighbors, or the others in your kids’ schools. But does that mean you need to deny it exists? That you can’t admit that the virtue of a lighter skin tone privileges some otherwise equal people over others? That you have to deny the truth of what other people are telling you happens to them? Sure, when you hear for the first or second or third time that a person of color was mistaken for a takeout delivery worker, or a waiter, or a chauffeur, it’s instinctive to want to deny that it could have anything to do with race. But surely you can admit that when something happens all that often, it’s probably not a coincidence and might be more indicative of a societal bias? A bias that might privilege those of us with lighter skin tones? If you didn’t get called for an interview for a position you apply for, do you ever have to wonder if its because your name “sounds black” or “looks foreign”? Have you ever been asked in a job interview when you learned to speak English? No? That’s white privilege. I don’t work in HR but I have personally seen an employer disregard resumes for this very reason – and a girl I recommended to hire because of her great (English-language!) writing abilities questioned on when she learned to speak English because she had a Korean name — and it didn’t end the debate when we learned she had been here since she was 6 months old and gone through English schools (K through college, graduating with a degree) with excellent marks! Whether it affects you personally or not, you should be able to admit that such institutionalized prejudice is still around and negatively affecting our society.

  173. GrowlyCub
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 18:54:28

    @bossymarmalade:

    I wanted more detail beyond it’s supposed to be fun.

    We have a setting: India, and protagonists: Indian, but who are they? Are they a prince and his favorite concubine/wife, a street vendor and his beloved, a high caste male and a low caste female or vice versa or same caste; are they Muslim, Hindu, Christian? What are the expectations for such a story, where would the conflict be, what kind of story development would we have? I’m sorry you find my question peculiar, because I really want to know, never having read a romance novel with Indian protagonists taking place in India or one with a Japanese couple taking place in Japan.

    I know what to expect from a historical romance novel between white people whether it takes place in England or in another location, I do not know what folks expect of books that have non-white protagonists in their respective cultures. In this thread, people have said they’d like to see these stories and I would like to know what their expectations are for them beyond setting and h/h skin color.

    While I look more or less ‘Western European’ and lived in Germany until I was 27, I encountered quite a bit of stereotyping when people found out my mother was not German and my grandmother had rather ‘interesting’ things to say about my mother’s culture and family. I straddle two cultures by heritage and I live in yet another one by choice.

    Just like several others mentioned, I had never been exposed to the kind of racial discourse common in the U.S. before I moved here from Germany. It came as quite a surprise to be told that because I look ‘white’ to Americans I was automatically assumed to have issues with black people and that I could also never have experienced racism or negative stereotypes myself because I’m not black.

  174. Heather (errantdreams)
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 18:59:53

    Bear with me for a sec…

    I grew up in Vermont, where the population was almost entirely Caucasian. I was blissfully unaware of most race issues for the simple reason that they didn’t come to my attention.

    I then moved to Boston for college, where it was largely a non-issue because the college I went to, and in large part the area as a whole, was cosmopolitan enough (both faculty & students) that racism wasn’t particularly visible.

    Another stint in almost-entirely-white New England and then…

    My husband and I moved to the suburban Mid-Atlantic. When we were house-hunting someone in the real estate business actually said to us, in a horrified voice, “oh, you don’t want to live THERE. Mexicans live THERE.” I came to find out that while this wasn’t an everyday sort of occurrence for the area, it wasn’t nearly as unusual as I’d like, either. People who I view as otherwise intelligent human beings make derogatory comments about how one ethnic group or another are poor drivers, or bad neighbors, or inherently lazy.

    Anyway, I guess I just want to say to folks who judge the presence or absence of racism or the concept of “white privilege” as a whole based on their individual experiences or the place where they grew up: it isn’t that simple. Just because there’s a level or almost-level playing field in one community doesn’t mean it isn’t a real problem for a lot of other people.

  175. Angela
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 19:01:06

    @Barbara B.:

    There were a few authors left like Megan Hart, whose writing I adore. She literally filled the void for me that Judith Ivory left when she stopped writing. As much as I love Dirty and have re-read it dozens of times, I'm struck by how everybody in the city, Harrrisburgh, PA.

    Hmm, you could be on to something. I just googled this city and according to wikipedia, the demographic breakdown is 31.72% White, 54.83% Black or African American, 0.37% Native American, 2.83% Asian, 0.07% Pacific Islander, 6.54% from other races, and 3.64% from two or more races. 11.69% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race. Harrisburg is the 6th most populous city in eastern Pennsylvania and 47th in the nation of Vietnamese population with 2,649 residents.

    @Kate Pearce:

    Surely the real question is, how can we change this? What needs to be done to allow every author and reader of every color, religion and race the opportunity to read/write about people they can relate to?

    I honestly have no idea. I initially eschewed replying to this post because it’s gone around and around for the last two years on DA, on my old blog, on Monica’s old blog, on Rosyln’s blog, etc etc. I believe it was even mentioned, fairly recently, that there was not an incentive to review AA romances because the posts are pretty devoid of comments. One can posit that the dearth of responses is b/c most haven’t read the book, but after visiting this site since 2006 or so, I can add that not reading a book certainly doesn’t stop many review posts from being filled with comments made by people who haven’t read the book or have no desire to read it (I point to the review for Jewel’s Indiscreet, which segued into a discussion on white Europeans cavorting against a non-Western backdrop).

    I also don’t see e-publishing as the ultimate solution. Oh I believe it does level the playing field a bit more than being an NY-published author, but who are these multicultural writers publishing (I know Samhain released a menage romance with an Indian heroine a few months ago)? I’ve heard more about the m/m niche in e-publishing than about e-published authors of color (and that’s another issue of privilege, IMO).

    However, one thing that DA’s platform can do is to reach out to Kimani Press, Genesis Press, Parker Publishing and Kensington Dafina. Surely those imprints can promote and drum up excitement for their upcoming releases the way Berkley or Bantam or any other non-multicultural imprint does in this setting.

  176. anon111
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 19:06:57

    Interesting conversation but where’s the conversation where we talk about why the minority populations aren’t supporting stories that some of you have indicated they want? One can argue all they want that most stories are white privilege. Okay, I can buy that argument, however, most books don’t sell that many copies to begin with. I read somewhere that the average novel sells less than 5,000 copies. (Actually I think I read 1,500 copies.)

    Even so, what are talking about here for romance midlist print author: 10,000, 20,000, 50,000 or a 100,000? That should be easily done with a minority population that is around 100 million in the US. That’s what I don’t understand. I get the distribution issues and getting through the gatekeepers as well as marketing dollars. But where’s the market for the books you claim you want and why must white privileged readership actively support you in getting it?

    For the record, I like to have diverse characters in the stories I read and I’m very much aware of the white privilege in both my reading and viewing choices but even so where is the minority readership? Is it that they don’t read? don’t buy enough books? or that they are buying other types of books?

    The target is wrong. It shouldn’t be how do you get the white readership that used to reading about white privilege to read non-white characters. It’s how do you develop a new readership that actively seeks out non-white characters to make it into a market force. Cuz let’s face it, a lot of books purchased have more to do with “everybody’s reading it” rather than it’s some literary masterpiece.

    Oprah did it, Target & Wal-Mart are doing it. (Yes, I understand that I made that simplistic but if Target can take a book that only sold 1,500 copies originally and spotlight it to sell over 250,000 copies then that tells me that publishers aren’t really reaching target readerships or that they don’t even know how to reach them.)

    Figure out how to harness that readership and you’ll get the stories some of you claim are missing. Of course, the other option is that there is already a harnessed readership out there that is reading stories about non-white characters but that they aren’t reading romances.

    BTW: I hope that all of you who posted here also wrote to J. K. Rowling. She’s sold the most books ever and quite frankly her characters aren’t very diverse in any area of their lives. Just sayin.

  177. Marsha
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 19:17:52

    @Jane:For me, that means buying books, even if I don't like them, to support the messaging to the publisher that these books are desirable. Or sending a note to the publisher that “while this book did not work for me, I want to see others like it.”

    And right here you lose me. Applying this thought to myself, a white, upper-middle class woman, it reads as if am expected/encouraged to swoop in and “save” such books and authors, allowing a maternalistic impulse to excuse authors’ poor performance because “those poor folks need to be helped along…”. The notion isn’t an agreeable one.

    I’d rather buy more good books. We’ve got a (regrettably small) list of Romance titles on this thread written by non-white authors and/or including H/Hs that are non-white. We don’t all agree with every aspect of each suggestion but I do believe that the readers who come to Dear Author do share a certain overlapping Romance aesthetic, if you will, and I’ve found that what’s recommended here is generally very reliable. With that in mind, if we all went out and bought copies of these suggested books (that are still in print/available) we will send the message. I’m in for buying more GOOD books (consistent with DA’s overall message) in a more mindful way, not just more books.

  178. Xica
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 19:37:25

    @anon111:
    For the record, I like to have diverse characters in the stories I read and I'm very much aware of the white privilege in both my reading and viewing choices but even so where is the minority readership? Is it that they don't read? don't buy enough books? or that they are buying other types of books?

    Why would you ever ask a question that assumes minorities don’t read?

    We’re reading the same books you are. One of the issues brought up is how many popular authors are being supported by minority readership, even though their books don’t contain minorities, or if they have them, many times they aren’t written with a love interest or connection in the book other than to be the friend, or the sidekick, or in the case of the BDB, a psuedo-man servant who’s now also a pimp (Trez’s full pimpness was on display in Covet. The pimp with a heart of gold. Priceless)

    What’s with all the “they’s?”
    It’s WE. We’re all in this together, reading romance, or paranormal romance, identifying with the heroine and captivated by the hero. I don’t think it’s too much to ask a writer, or a publisher to acknowledge the fact that they have a diverse readership. Many of them have no qualms taking from those same cultures when they want to spice up their books or to show how “down” their characters are.
    Somehow I had my TV on 90210 and they had a party scene. What do I see but males behind females and the females trying to…well, I don’t know what they were trying to do, but with the rap music playing and many of the couples trying to get low, I wonder where they got the idea.

    For the record, we’re not “claiming” anything. The proof is the number of books being published featuring protags of one race, versus books and writers who want to be inclusive. Did you not read Jade Lee’s post? It’s number 68.

  179. Elly
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 19:39:55

    @Marsha:

    I'd rather buy more good books.

    Maybe we need a “If You Like… Multiculturalism/Diversity in your Romances” thread!

    Btw, I absolutely loved Tamara Sneed’s At First Sight – and the sequel At First Touch wasn’t bad either! These are both Kimani Romances that I tried for the first time ever when Harlequin had a Kimani sale last year. (Does anyone know what happened to the third sister’s story?) Just want to mention that just because we all agreed romances featuring people of color shouldn’t be ghettoized into these “other” lines instead of being featured by the mainstream imprints doesn’t mean we can’t support the diverse romances that are being published by these “otherized” imprints! If Kimani romances for instance started having skyrocketing sales, I think Harlequin would certainly investigate and be excited to find that people of all types are interested in purchasing these stories. The ghettoization of these books is all about marketing – just like other products (speaking of which, I was astonished to see a line of “black” greeting cards at the Kroger the other day!). They’ve been segregated into this other line to try to clearly market them to black-identifying people because that’s the only group the publisher thinks is interested in.

    It would be great if Dear Author could start featuring reviews of books from Kimani and other “black” imprints the way we are getting more and more of other non-traditional books, like books from e-book only publishers or male-male romances or even those Love Inspireds. Do you all just not receive many for review?

  180. handyhunter
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 19:41:37

    @bossymarmalade,

    But you know, to be honest? I am so desperate to read books that have characters who look like me, I'd read crappy ones *just because* they have Indian protagonists.

    Yes. And then cry and/or be all gleeful when you come across one that IS good. Or that’s what I did anyway. And then recommended it to everyone.

    @anon111

    I can add that not reading a book certainly doesn't stop many review posts from being filled with comments made by people who haven't read the book or have no desire to read it (I point to the review for Jewel's Indiscreet, which segued into a discussion on white Europeans cavorting against a non-Western backdrop).

    From what I recall the Indiscreet posts had one person who didn’t want to read the book, and one person who had read the book and thought it was problematic (me). But even if it had more posters who didn’t like the book or premise, I’m not sure why discussion is a bad thing?

  181. CD
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 19:42:04

    Just a few points from a very interesting discussion [bravo Dear Author!] – apologies for how disjointed it is.

    1. “Writing what you know”
    I can well understand that writers are fearful of unintentionally offending people and I do think romance writers seem to be more fearful of this than writers in other genres. Just my impression as SFF/comic writers in my experience don’t seem to worry as much about being offensive – even going out of their way to be so ;-).

    However, I think we’re talking about two different things here. If you have a “person of colour” who essentially grew up in the US or Britain for example, then I can’t think it’ll be that difficult to write a pretty mainstream contemporary romance featuring them. Yes, there will be cultural differences, but rarely so great or all-pervasive that you could really risk offending anyone as long as you can write well-rounded characters. And if anyone who also grew up from a similar culture feels that they can’t relate to those characters simply due to the colour or their skin, they’re just talking out of their arse and should just be ignored.

    When it comes to writing historicals and/or books set in different countries (or within very enclosed communities within a country like the Amish in the US), then it can become problematic. One day in the distant future perhaps, we’ll be able to read a romance written by a white American featuring two Haitians in Haiti where both the h/h and the setting are as unbelievably as the average feisty virgin/Duke of Slut Avon romance, and not care. However, that day is not today or tomorrow. There’s too much pain and blood and history there for any responsible writer to not do the research, and do it well. So I don't think you can just focus on the romance between two people in that setting – it's ignoring the huge elephant that is not only in the room but defines the room. It's like setting a romance in Germany in the late 1930s and ignoring the whole lead up to WW2.

    But it can be done. I’ve lived in a number of countries due to work and I wouldn't’ say anything as stupid as differences being merely superficial. They are not and, as anyone who has been in a cross-cultural romance can attest, there are real and often pretty difficult to overcome or even half-way understand. However, people still obviously flirt and have sex and fall in love in Haiti, in Vietnam, in Algeria, in Lebanon – even in the war-torn DRC or Liberia or Sudan. Everywhere you go in the world, all the most popular songs are always love songs, and people get married and get jealous and bicker and make up etc etc. So there is a common human experience there and I for one, if I had any creative talent whatsoever, think that it would be absolutely fascinating to explore. And love to read. But I can understand if this would give some writers pause for doubt.

  182. joannef
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 19:42:59

    @Ros:
    Ros, that statement was in direct answer to Barbara B’s post where she wrote:

    I often wondered if white authors even realized that not all of their readers were white. Then again why would they know or care if they did. White people think that only their experiences are universal and thus relateable to everyone.

    I’m in agreement with the main gist of this blog. It was some of the more heated and unfair remarks, like the one quoted, that I objected to. I also stated above that I agree that more diversity in romance novels is long overdue and the current situation, quite frankly, sux. That’s quite different than someone saying “White people think that only their experiences are universal and thus relateable to everyone” as Barbara B did in the post I was responding to. I apologize for the confusion.

  183. CD
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 19:46:04

    2. Awareness/marketing
    I think it’s an awareness issue – especially with books actually set in the US or the West generally.

    I read a great review a few years ago for ROCK STAR by Roslyn Holcomb (who I thought I saw further up the posts) on Mrs Giggles and I bought it on the strength of that review and enjoyed it. I had to pay for shipping from the US to the UK but it was worth it. I did like the way race was treated – not a non-issue but nothing compared to the fact that the hero was a bloody huge rock star and the heroine was a small-town businesswoman. I had no idea at the time that Holcomb was a black writer writing for a black market. Having been in inter-racial relationships, I did think that the way race was treated was more realistic than in Brockmann’s books say, but I thought that was just the mark of a good writer. As it should be.

    So, I think it’s just that most of the romances that I read reviews about or by my favourite authors feature white characters – it’s not an intentional bias at all. And I think that’s probably true of most readers. If we see a great review for a plotline that we like (like small town girl dating rock stars ;-)), then I can’t imagine that the race of the character would really make a difference. Thinking about the success of Nalini Singh’s books, who bloody cares what race these characters are?

  184. CD
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 19:46:37

    3. “Exotic” settings
    As I mentioned, when you do a book in an “exotic” setting, the stakes are higher in terms of the research and believability – and the potential for offense is much higher.

    All respect to Jade Lee, but I personally steered clear of her Tigress books because the descriptions sounded too “exotic East orientalism” with a white heroine and tantric sex to boot. As someone who was originally from that region, it sounded frankly awful. Also, being from Britain, no Far East Asian person would call their child “Jade” – I thought the author was actually white but trying to “exoticise” herself with that name, and was actually doing a Cassie Edwards on my country of origin. No thanks!

    However, it was only once I read the review for THE CONCUBINE that I thought I’d give it a go and then realised that this writer knows what’s she’s doing. Even so, I'm still a bit wary of starting of the tantric sex ;-). Even without my knee-jerk reactions to tigresses, I would never have stumbled on the book by myself despite often haunting the Harlequin website. I associate Blaze with sexy contemporaries – not with unusual historic settings. I think the book would have done a lot better on the Harlequin Historic line but that’s just my opinion there.

  185. Jane
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 19:48:25

    @Marsha I am not white and this is what I do to send the message (amongst other things) that I want more multicultural books. I’m not saying you should do it. Every reader has to make up her own mind as to what works for her.

  186. Jane
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 19:49:07

    @handyhunter We have access to the Harlequin lines but no others. I did write to both Genesis and Parker at one time but it never panned out.

  187. CD
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 19:49:23

    4. “White people running around in foreign lands”
    Just wanted to agree with the poster here that if there's enough respect being paid to the setting and the history, it's not necessarily a deal breaker in itself to feature a white h/h in a historical former colony. And I too can attest that it's all too easy as a foreigner to stick to the familiar and/or other expats – it's a human thing. That said, I don't have a huge amount of respect for the many expats who are not even interested in exploring or getting to know the country they are in, and then start complaining about the differences they experience. Yes, it is human to bury yourself in the sand – I've certainly done it. But there should be awareness that you are doing it at the very least and that it is more a reflection of yourself than the country you are in.

    I think the annoyance is there because there's too many of these books around. Off-hand, I can only think of one mainstream romance – THE CONCUBINE, where both the h/h were non-white. This is not just a problem with romance or even books – films are pretty bad at this as well. Witness the many many films set in a developing country with a white man or woman as the protagonist. When you see that so many times, it starts to send pretty bad messages. It is pretty ridiculous – just see the popularity of Bollywood for example to show that people of all races and nationalities can enjoy watching “foreign” people running around (and singing and dancing) in “foreign” lands.

  188. joannef
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 19:53:33

    @Elly:

    I personally believe that most racism we are dealing with today is not personal, but institutional, sub-conscious, and unconscious. Maybe it doesn't affect you, or your family, or your neighbors, or the others in your kids' schools. But does that mean you need to deny it exists? That you can't admit that the virtue of a lighter skin tone privileges some otherwise equal people over others? That you have to deny the truth of what other people are telling you happens to them?

    Who’s denying anything? If you read my above post, I said that I agree – up to a point. Please read the words I actually wrote. I also wrote that much of what is listed in that loaded “white privilege” list can be twisted in many ways. It appears more “classist” than “racist” to me. Please refer back to the post I was originally responding to, which I quoted in my last post, to see where this is coming from. Thank you.

  189. Fran
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 20:00:20

    For those of you who are interested, make sure you check out Verbe Noire (http://community.livejournal.com/verb_noire/), a new, growing publishing press for writers that write about characters of colour and LGBT characters.

    I was really happy to hear that this existed. It’s good that some of us are willing to support different kinds of books.

  190. handyhunter
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 20:05:27

    @CD

    who bloody cares what race these characters are?

    Well, I care. Stories featuring white characters can be awesome. I think it would be awesome to have stories with people like me as the main character too. There’s room on my bookshelves for both. Or, I’ll make room.

    I just… I never knew Asian people could be in stories, growing up. They (we) weren’t in any books I read (or tv shows I watched). All my Mary Sues were white*. I kinda think there’s something wrong with that.

    *For school writing assignments or when you get asked “which actress would play you in a movie?” or even projecting myself into stories I read, I was always white. It wasn’t a conscious decision. It was just the way things were.

  191. marga
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 20:06:33

    @Jinni:
    “Filters are a problem. I think the readership is more receptive than the people who choose what we read”
    Your last sentence completly summed up the problem!
    However i must say i am african and cant stand how in the US they have separate sections for ‘white’ or AA/ PoC romance.
    In europe as elsewhere books of a specific genre are all place together irrespective of the protagonists ethinicity.
    I dont read much AA romances because i dont really read contemporaries and many of them are alien to me, however i really enjoyed ‘Milk in my coffee’ by Eric Jerome Dickey.
    Also i prefer to watch asian dramas/ anime or read manga than read Asian romances because i dont really know which writers to pick, i just feel that there is not much promo for their works.
    But having read this post i’ll try to make a more concerted effort to diversify my reading material.
    It would be interesting to have a post about great ‘minority’ romance writers…

  192. brooksse
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 20:22:29

    @Jane:

    It's because the only time you see India in historical romances is when it is featuring white people in colonial India. There are no romances featuring Indian people in India even though, I am sure, that there are Indian people who fell in love and married and had happy ever after stories.

    I’m pretty sure if you were to travel to India and browse bookstores there you would find stories written by Indians featuring Indian characters falling in love in India. They have a very successful film industry featuring Indian romances, so I’m guessing there are also romance books being published. The same thing could probably be said of China, Japan, Norway, and Timbuktu featuring main characters from those countries. So you can’t really say they are not being written or published. And some of those non-English speaking authors might even occasionally write a story about non-American characters traveling to America, featuring non-American characters who view America and Americans through the prism of their own cultural experiences. Because that’s what those authors know and what they are familiar with. And yes, they might even display some cultural bias against Americans and other people not of their own culture.

    So the main problem here seems to be that these types of romances are not being written in English for English-speaking audiences. But instead of lecturing authors and readers of the current romance genre, shouldn’t this be addressed to the publishers? Because it’s probably a safe bet to say the stories are being written–or waiting to be written–but they are unable to find an agent or a publisher.

    And if that’s the case, why be limited by existing publishers? If the guest poster and others feel so passionately about this, why not do something about it beyond lecturing? Like launching–or at the very least supporting–a publishing company that sells only multicultural romances? Wasn’t that the motivation behind some of the e-pubs being established? Because the types of stories they were interested in writing and reading were not finding a home at traditional publishing houses?

    Or better yet, why not encourage publishers to translate the stories written in India (or China, or Japan, or Norway) into English so English-speaking audiences can read diverse love stories written by people who actually understand what it means to live and fall in love in those countries.

    And you can include me with the people who take offense at the term “white privilege.” As if it only applies to whites when I know for a fact that there are places in this world where I am not welcome and/or safe, or in the very least looked down upon, precisely because I am a white American woman. (I say this because I used to work for a global European corporation that sends expats of all nationalities to various places around the world, including some who were kiilled in those locations because they were “foreigners.” I also knew of German and Russian colleagues who felt discriminated against living in The Netherlands, even though both they and the Dutch are white. An Indian colleague who felt discriminated against as both a non-Saudi in Saudi Arabia and a Muslim in India. And Christian colleagues advised to not take bibles or other Christian symbols into a Muslim country.) So I’m pretty sure the same sort of thing exists, to some extent or another, in other cultures beyond just white cultures against non-white cultures. I’m not saying it’s right–here or anywhere else in the world–just acknowledging that it exists. So to my way of thinking, a more accurate term would be “majority privilege” or “predominant culture privilege.” The use of the term “white” just strikes me as stereotypical as I don’t believe it’s unique to white cultures. (Although I’m sure there will be some who would respond that this is just “proof” of another white person’s “white privilege.”)

  193. Janine
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 20:30:06

    @Angela:

    I must also add that the writers of color (half, full, whatever) who have mentioned their reluctance to write characters of their culture/ethnicity or include non-whites in their fiction due to its “depressing” nature-what a cop out. Just admit, like Tess Gerriston, that it's more lucrative careerwise and financially to write white characters. It just irritates me to read comments from people who use their non-Anglo/non-WASP to give their responses some gravitas (I'm on the side of the oppressed!), but turn around and use the excuse of history being depressing or negative as to why they would rather use white characters.

    Seems to me that excuse unconsciously echoes the notion of whiteness being the default or much more relatable than “other” since you don't have to deal with the pesky notion of actually giving your characters more background and characterization outside of the typical ~angst~ ridden backgrounds white characters are typically given in romance. It makes it look like HEA's with white characters are easier to write because you believe that only whites can ride off into the sunset with nary a speedbump on their horizon. That the sole story of a person of color or a non-WASP person is misery, racism, depression, and destruction. That history, colonialism, the Holocaust, etc makes people unfit and unlikely to fall deeply in love with the only one for them, marry, and raise a wonderful family. I don't buy that and I never will, and if anyone has that view of history-whether it be their own or another's-you aren't doing enough research.

    I won’t deny that I want to get published and ultimately, to make a living from writing, and I won’t deny that that’s something I take into a consideration.

    However…

    I can’t speak for anyone else, but, as someone whose grandmother lost most of her immediate family in the Holocaust I can say definitively that I don’t want to write or even to read Holocaust romances. Yes, I would love to see more Jewish characters in romances, both historicals and contemporaries. Yes, I would happily read those books, if set in most other eras. But romances with the Holocaust as the background — no. I simply can’t see how one could be written without trivializing genocide. The history is simply too painful.

    And no, it’s not because I haven’t done my research — I know many graphic and horrifying details, I have heard so many devastating personal accounts, I have spoken with a fair number of survivors and read a fair amount of nonfiction on the subject. I wrote a short story (not a romance) with the Holocaust as a backdrop that I did not try to publish because in the end, even so, I didn’t feel that it was sensitive and responsible enough.

    And no, it’s also not because I don’t think there are romantic stories to be told about the Holocaust, nor because I think that there aren’t people who came out of the experience able to love and have families.

    I just believe that a romance’s job is that however dark the journey gets, it must ultimately be uplifting. That’s why I turn to romances when I choose to read them.

    And at the same time I also believe that a work of fiction dealing with the Holocaust (or any other genocide) must ultimately be true to that reality, which IMO means that it ought to be completely devastating. If we read about the Holocaust and close the book feeling uplifted — if we read about it and we close the book feeling anything other than heartbroken and devastated — then that book has not been truthful, and has not done its job. Just IMO.

  194. kaigou
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 20:58:50

    @Courtney Milan:

    This popped out at me:

    People assume that I can handle mathematics and complex arguments; my professors have never dumbed things down for me, believing I needed additional help and tutelage. Nobody ever balked at putting me in the highest reading group, or hesitated to let me take the challenge class to skip pre-Algebra, or tried to talk my mother out of getting me tested for the Gifted program.

    Same here, growing up — and then I moved from Small Town, Virginia to New England. With about a decades’ worth of IT industry on my resume, I went for a job interview outside of Boston. All I did was walk in, say hello, tell the receptionist I was there for an interview, and before I could tell her my name, she said, “oh, you’re here for the secretarial position?”

    I thought it a strange fluke, laughed it off, but variations on that theme kept happening. More than a dozen times in just my first three months, actually — at the grocery store, the library, job interviews, on the phone, at the DMV… If I opened my mouth and let out my Southern (Georgia, actually) accent, the person who’d been respectful a minute ago would suddenly start patronizing me. I even had people suggest that I’d need “extra time” to make a decision, and if I got huffy, they actually thought it was funny to repeat the old not-even-close-to-funny thing about talking slow equals thinking slow. *steam comes out of ears*

    I spent three years destroying my Southern accent, because it was either that or continue to be treated like an idiotic doormat for no reason other than the way I spoke. It was incredibly demeaning every single time, but it gave me a lot of sympathy for folks who get that kind of pre-judgment treatment right off the bat, every day, their entire life. And hell yeah, it made me angry (even if Angry Southern Woman is kinda a contradiction in stereotypical terms!).

    Now, when anyone starts talking about “angry [insert group here] woman”, I know full well that person has every damn right to be angry. I won’t trivialize that anger by using that “Angry ___ woman” phrase, because that feels like I’m one step away from telling a woman she’s cute when she’s so upset. The problem isn’t that she’s angry. The problem is that I’m not angry with her — and if I pulled my head out of my tookus and paid attention, I would be.

    What is that old expression? “If you’re not angry, you haven’t been paying attention”?

  195. Janine
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 21:00:03

    @Angela:

    However, one thing that DA's platform can do is to reach out to Kimani Press, Genesis Press, Parker Publishing and Kensington Dafina.

    That’s a fair criticism; I think we do need to do more. I know I started out after the last big discussion of race in romance with good intentions to make my review selections more diverse and did make an effort but then I got stuck in the middle of a six story F/F anthology (which includes multicultural stories and minority authors), having forgotten that anthologies take me forever to review. I need to get back to this review and other reviews of books by minority authors.

    I want to add that we at DA would love it if more of those publishers and minority authors reached out to us, as well. We hardly ever get review requests from them, while we have many white authors knocking on our doors.

  196. Barbara B.
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 21:06:42

    “And at the same time I also believe that a work of fiction dealing with the Holocaust (or any other genocide) must ultimately be true to that reality, which IMO means that it ought to be completely devastating. If we read about the Holocaust and close the book feeling uplifted -’ if we read about it and we close the book feeling anything other than heartbroken and devastated -’ then that book has not been truthful, and has not done its job. Just IMO. ”

    This is exactly the reason why I despise the writers as well as the readers of Native American/Noble Savage romances, romances set during slavery, and the fans of that awful novel and movie, Gone With The Wind. To me there’s not a goddamned thing romantic about any of that. I doubt the humanity of anyone who can get past genocide and chattel slavery to enjoy a romance. That’s just bizarre.

  197. Kathleen MacIver
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 21:10:08

    I’d like to say that, as a white person who grew up in Maryland, in an area where the mix of races was more like 30/30/20/10/10 being white(different types)/African American(different types)/Asian/Latino/other… So white wasn’t really the majority. English wasn’t either, for that matter, and I always thought those from other races who grew up speaking two languages were far more lucky than I was.

    I always loved the diversity and interest of other cultures. Maybe it also has to do with my family. My Scotch/Irish/English family has married German, Phillipino, Indian, American Indian, Arab, and Egyptian. In fact, a minority married white. I love having an aunt who wears a sari, another aunt whose maiden name was Raamses, cousins who are clearly Arab, more cousins clearly Asian…and we all get along great! And I’ve shared a home with Mexican and African American.

    So it’s not empty words when I say that I would LOVE to read romances set in other cultures. I’m more attracted to movies set in other cultures. I’ve read regency romance set in India about whites…I’d love to read a romance set in the world of the Indians there. Someone in the first few comments mentioned a romance set in Africa. That fascinates me, and I’d love to read some…in DEEP Africa. Same with South America, China, etc. Come to think of it, I’m tired of all the regency romances being about the lords and ladies…give the poor maids and footmen some romance, please! Let’s not be prejudiced against class.

    But will I write other races? I don’t know. I’d love the diversity of being able to, but I hesitate for the same reasons #151 mentioned. I honestly don’t know how to write other races without inadvertently offending people of those races. I can make up people and races for my fantasy novels and offend no one. But if I try to mirror a minority race to honor them in my story, I run a huge risk of offending them instead. But then, I could also offend some by not trying. Which side of the risk to take?

    I know others didn’t grow up much differently than I did. BUT…as this post makes clear, even the simple task of describing what they look like can offend readers. Then there’s the fact that different races often have different slang, different terms of endearment, and different names for Mom and Dad, etc. Heck, different races in different areas of the country do! Southern whites even get upset if you write a story set in the South wrong, too. If I try to reflect those and get them wrong, will I be forgiven because I tried, or will I be blasted for stereotyping them? Yet, if I let them use the same names I do, will I be accused of saying they have to live like me?

    Basically, the rule has pretty much become this: if you don’t want to offend people, then either write what you know and have lived, or make up something that doesn’t exist anywhere on earth.

    I guess I’m simply saying that I’d like readers to know that not all books without other races are because the authors don’t care or aren’t aware. I think there are plenty of us who DO care, and because we care, we don’t want to hurt and offend…and we can’t find any good way out of the situation…so we write what we know. And offend anyway. Please forgive us.

  198. Tili
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 21:28:08

    Harlequin is running a kind of promotion-cum-focus-group thing, in which they set up a website where teens can talk about books, and also send surveys and occasional free books to those who have registered. I’m signed up for this and the book I just got in the mail is Gettin’ Hooked, from the Kimani TRU line (which seems to be the YA version of Kimani). My gut reaction, and shame on me for it, was “I’m not the audience for this book. Why did they send it to me?” Then I realized what I’d just thought and decided to read it. (For the record, though you probably could have guessed, I’m a white female high school student.) I’m not really enjoying it, but I can’t tell if it’s because:
    a. it’s not a great book
    b. some aspects of the high school culture it portrays are unpleasant to me, and would be no matter the race of the characters
    c. I’m not used to black romance and the unfamiliarity is making me uncomfortable.
    (There follows an elaboration on which specific concerns were borderline for me. If you don’t particularly care, skip the next paragraph.)

    There’s the premise of the story, that a girl and her cousin set up a website to set people up for prom dates. I’m not a fan of the typical high school obsession with prom, and I don’t think there’s anything racial in my dislike of it. On the other hand, I really don’t like the slang that pervades the book; do I object to it as a teenager thing, a black thing, or a combination? At one point, some characters get into physical fights, and when the main character is questioned by the principal, she lies about it. I thought fighting like that was irresponsible, and it seemed like the character did too, but then I assumed the result of such an opinion would be to tell an authority figure. I’m pretty sure that’s partly me being a weird teenager. But I bet black teens are less likely to trust authority than white teens. But hey, maybe it’s also just the character being somewhat irresponsible, which appears in other ways – the website she creates spirals out of control, hooking up people across the country instead of local teens the way she’d imagined, and if she’d thought it through she would have realized this could happen. I know some of the things I dislike are racial; for a mild example, the book keeps name-dropping brands of clothing like Fubu jeans, and that gets on my nerves because I don’t wear those jeans and I don’t know very well the kids (mostly black, though not all) at my school who do. So when I start thinking about the brands as something I dislike, I remind myself that’s not a legitimate criticism.

    Reading this thread and racefail (which I hadn’t really looked at at the time) has made me want to go buy some AA romance and read it. I’m just trying to get a bead on which parts of this particular book I should avoid when getting others, and which parts I may not enjoy right now, but should learn to deal with?

    PS: I’ve noticed that sometimes white folks asking questions in the comments all over racefail ended up asking people of color to educate them, and then tended to get harshly called out on it. I tried to avoid that, but if I did it anyway, I’m sorry.

  199. Anne Douglas
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 21:29:44

    Even though I don’t much like reading women’s lit, many stories about India / the crossover into western (such as American) life/ generational gap of old to new etc are in that section.

    I picked the Hindi Bindi Club up from the library and loved it.

    http://www.amazon.com/Hindi-Bindi-Club-Monica-Pradhan/dp/055338452X/ref=sr_1_16?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1256700381&sr=1-16

    It’s not romance, but there was much to like anyway.

  200. Seressia Glass
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 21:38:18

    I just sent an email to Parker Publishing’s publisher, asking them to send you review copies. I hope they will.

    And when I get the ARCs of Shadow Blade, my February UF with a black heroine, Nubian hero, Egyptian goddesses and a rainbow of friends, I’ll grow a pair and send you a copy.

  201. Jane
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 21:51:47

    @Seressia Glass: I’m actually very excited about your book. I think I mentioned it either here or on Twitter. I hope that there is romance in it (that’s my biggest fear).

  202. Sunita
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 21:58:45

    @GrowlyCub:

    We have a setting: India, and protagonists: Indian, but who are they? Are they a prince and his favorite concubine/wife, a street vendor and his beloved, a high caste male and a low caste female or vice versa or same caste; are they Muslim, Hindu, Christian? What are the expectations for such a story, where would the conflict be, what kind of story development would we have?

    To start with, let’s *not* set the romance novel during the uprising of 1857. Yes, it’s a hugely important event, but not really romantic, especially for north Indians. Duran barely made it work, and then only because the uprising was something the (half-white aristocratic) hero survived rather than something he was transformed by (at least that’s my recollection).

    There are any number of settings that will work: (1) how about between a Brahmin hero and heroine, where the Brahmin hero has risked his caste status to go across the ocean and study law in England? The heroine has to decide whether she’ll accept him given that he could turn into a pariah. Of course, then he turns out to be one of the first Indian lawyers on a par with the Brits. This would be 1860s, complete with interlude in England.

    (2) The independence movement era is great for romance. Anywhere from the early 1900s through to 1947. 1920s: the hero and heroine meet when the hero comes to the heroine’s town with a Gandhi visit. Or the heroine joins the Gandhian movement, against her family’s wishes, and meets a different-caste Indian.

    (3) The hero and heroine risk their lives during the Quit India movement in the 1940s.

    (4) Pretty much any Brahmin heroine and high-but-not-Brahmin hero. The family hates it, but it’s okay by the Laws of Manu (Hindu rulebook). Time period can be between the 1890s and at least the 1960s.

    (5) Rich merchant-caste Indian meets either (a) Brahmin but not rich heroine, or (b) rich non-Indian heroine while on a business trip outside India (white or not, take your pick). The ethnicity of the heroine you would choose would depend on your time period, but you’ve got any number of settings and times to choose from.

    (6) High-caste Gandhian hero meets rich but low-caste Hindu heroine during the 1930s Harijan Uplift movement to allow Dalit (untouchable) Hindus into temples where they were forbidden.

    You’ve got forbidden love, lots of historical context, conflict of every variety, and people who fought social odds to live HEA. And not a Maharajah (half-white or not) in sight.
    @brooksse:

    I'm pretty sure if you were to travel to India and browse bookstores there you would find stories written by Indians featuring Indian characters falling in love in India. They have a very successful film industry featuring Indian romances, so I'm guessing there are also romance books being published.

    Um, no. Yes, people in India fall in love just like anyone else, but there is no romance novel tradition. Indians who can read English read Mills & Boon when they want romance, historically, and now you can read Nora and other such single-title authors. I know of nothing in the vernacular languages (as they are quaintly called) that would parallel our romances. Until recently, the low level of literacy meant that written materials were less common than oral stories, which partly explains Bollywood (and other Indian film traditions). Even today, books are extremely expensive.

  203. Sick
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 22:01:31

    I can’t agree with everything the author said in this post. But what I do know is there are two types of racism and prejudice. Intentional and unintentional. The intentional is so much easier to spot. People who have intentional racism or prejudice don’t make a mystery of it. After a few, maybe even one, conversation with them you can ask in a sarcastic manner “Tell me what you are really thinking?”

    Intentional is harder to spot therefore harder to cure because on a conscious level the person would be appalled they hold such prejudice. To me I think this is what the poster was trying to get at, though it came across in a much harsher way because it accused of racism along with a solution. And unintentional racism and prejudice is everything the “white privilege” speaks to. That white is somehow superior, more trustworthy.

    Before anyone jumps down my throat understand that the idea of “white privilege” crosses barriers. I’ve met non-white people who buy into this theory without truly knowing they do. You hear a story on the news about a robbery, deep down even if you don’t intend to, you MIGHT attribute a race to the crime. Same if you hear someone has blown up a building or shot all their co-workers.

    One might have two individuals, both qualified to do the job, but 9 times out of 10 the non-white person is hired. You hear the name Kendra, Jessica, Li what is the knee-jerk reaction–the one you have to kick in the teeth because it’s not PC or even close to accurate now and days–you get? Did you attribute White or Black or Asian to that name?

    IMHO, that’s what the post was getting. Sometimes you HAVE to make the effort to break down this racial barrier. (Though while I read this post I was completely offended. Chalk it up to bad writing) But the issue, the solution–sometimes going out of your way to read or write the non-white characters, breaking a preference–is completely valid.

    I’ve said all this to say, I’m tired, just bone tired of being asked why my characters don’t sound black. This being asked from the nicest people. People who might have an inkling what they are asking is implied (and unintentional) prejudice, but not sure, because society–books, magazines, t.v–keeps reassuring the misguided notion color makes a person 100 percent different. I’m tired of having to explain why I was upset Justine’s cover had a white girl on the cover. How can I really explain that this prejudice, this racism is more likely to happen to me because of my color? It’s a fear and it’s not unfounded. It’s not something in my head that I’ve made up to explain poor sales, lack of marketing, rejections veiled in “not sure how to market”?

    I think the bottom line is don’t buy an author out of guilt, but because the story sounds right up your alley. But if your alley is a certain ‘color’ try for someone outside your preference.

  204. Seressia Glass
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 22:17:17

    @Jane:

    I hope that there is romance in it (that's my biggest fear).

    There’s romance but it’s downplayed. So you’re probably gonna hate it.

    I think my pair just shriveled up. :-)

  205. Xica
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 22:59:35

    It’s late, and time for me to retire, but I jotted down the possible reasons given for the exclusion or underuse of minority characters so far:

    Didn’t know they were doing it, hadn’t really been something of concern but will now, since its been debatedly on here.

    Okay, sometimes unless its brought up, people just don’t know. It’s like when I would see reruns of the old show Mayberry and it was set in the south but I never saw anyone of color and when I’d ask I was told that’s just how things are. Or more recently Friends, because I really thought NYC was a pretty diverse place, especially when you hang out in a coffee shop.

    Fear of getting it wrong.

    Okay, Though many authors can and do research complex subjects like the military, medicine, ancient cultures for plotlines, different dialects, the customs of different timeperiods, contemporary YA slang and norms, religious rites, mythology, animal breeds, etc.

    Free will, or I should be able to write and create characters that I want without undue influence or feeling pressure. And the same goes for being able to read characters that I gravitate to, who happen to look like me.

    Okay. But does every heroine who looks like you have to be drop dead gorgeous, have great hair, a small waistline, perfect teeth, creamy flawless skin, long legs, and every male in the book wants her, even aliens who’ve never seen a female before and small animals?

  206. Sherry Thomas
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 23:01:45

    @brooksse:

    So the main problem here seems to be that these types of romances are not being written in English for English-speaking audiences.

    I think you are right about that. Because I know Jane and Jia are always enthused about Asian characters, I’ve at times wondered why I don’t give a hoot whether there are Asian characters in the books I read.

    Is because I read and speak Chinese, there is a whole world of entertainment choices out there, should I seek it, wherein every last single person in it–from hero to villain to best friend to comedy relief–is Chinese? [No diversity there, that's for sure.]

    Or is because I’m an immigrant, and did not expect to see Asians in American media because America–to me at the time of my arrival–was a country of whites and blacks?

  207. Sherry Thomas
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 23:05:39

    @Oyce:

    My comment is #28.

  208. Alisha Rai
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 23:35:31

    I’ve been trying not to post all day, since these kinds of discussions take up more time than I have right now, but Sunita, holy moly, you wrote my heart’s wish list.

    Um, no. Yes, people in India fall in love just like anyone else, but there is no romance novel tradition.

    Once again, you’re right. When I was in India, romances weren’t something I could waltz into a market and pick up. The ones we did get were usually written by British authors, with white characters. I believe Mills and Boon actually had a bit of to-do recently because they had signed an Indian author (or had a novel with Indian protags? A line with Indian authors? Something like that. Correct me if I’m wrong). Even if India had a mass amount of romances written about Indian characters, I was born and raised primarily in America.

    I wrote my debut novel because I was a voracious romance reader who rarely saw anyone who looked like me in romance, unless we were the token cabbie or hotel desk clerk or half Indian “exotic” secondary character. Even then, I almost didn’t bother submitting it when a (white) critique partner, who traditionally loved to read menages, told me she couldn’t get past my heroine’s race to actually read the story–that in her view, since Indians “prized purity,” an Indian-American female would NEVER consider a little kinkiness.

    White people have cornered the market on being freaky? Didn’t get that memo.

    I know I’m luckier than other authors, because my readers seem to be extremely diverse (or so it seems). I don’t know if it’s because I started with a menage, which is traditionally a hot seller, because India is a trendy topic for Westerners, or because I went e-pub, where readers might be more willing to take a chance. In any case, I’m grateful, since I know that’s not usually the case. I hope they read me no matter what color my hero or heroine’s skin might be.

    Oh, and Jade Lee, not tainted at all. Put your picture up! I’ll keep an eye out for your next books.

  209. Zealot
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 00:11:06

    For a counterpoint to this discussion, consider the internet storm raging over Disney’s upcoming animated film “The Frog and the Princess”.

    The film is featuring Disney’s first Black princess in a story filled with politically correct multiracial characters in perhaps the most fascinatingly diverse and schizophrenic place and period in US history, turn of the century New Orleans.

    There are endless protests that Disney is racist due to tokenism, due to the fact that the princess is turned into a toad, due to the fact that the cast is not all black, due to the fact many have french accents, due to the fact Disney has yet to include Pocahantas in their “Princess” line even though she is the only real princess amongst them, due to the fact this is Disney’s first major Black character since Song of the South (never seeing the direct to DVD sequel to that one are we…What would it be? “Song of the South II: Uncle Remus an’ the Night Riders”?) due to the fact that the film does not directly relate to racial relations at the turn of the century, or the infamous “paper bag tests” of New Orleans, or….it is endless.

    Whatever the medium, saying “race” in America is still like yelling FIRE at a Firing Squad reunion dinner…someone, likely everyone, is going to get their ass blown off.

  210. Zealot
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 00:30:52

    @Janine:

    And at the same time I also believe that a work of fiction dealing with the Holocaust (or any other genocide) must ultimately be true to that reality, which IMO means that it ought to be completely devastating. If we read about the Holocaust and close the book feeling uplifted -’ if we read about it and we close the book feeling anything other than heartbroken and devastated -’ then that book has not been truthful, and has not done its job. Just IMO.

    I understand completely. There was a period around 2000 when the acclaim for the Italian comedy “Life is Beautiful” started a wave of books and films with descriptions like “A heartwarming story set against the horrific backdrop of the Nazi deathcamps…” or “A zany celebration of the unquenchability of life in Dachau”. These included many “Jewish girl/guilt stricken Nazi” romances which even now piss me off.

    While people did indeed fall in love in the camps (I know several who did) and there were stories that could be called “heartwarming” (I have heard them from the actual survivors), most of these stories that were being published revolved around trying to focus on the little bits of goodness, or human compassion that were seen even at the worst moments. While such things can be applauded, sometimes focusing so desperately on them tends to mitigate or lessen the impact of the horror going on around the one merciful act, which in normal life would be quite insignificant.

    Does one glorify a small incident because it shows that not everything is ever totally black, at the risk of distracting people from the darker truths of the story? A hard balance, and no easy answer.

  211. Angela
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 00:58:50

    @Janine: I get the Holocaust thing, as I don’t feel even Roots is as accurate a portrayal of slavery as it could be. However, Anglo-Jews abound in English history and the 19th century was a pretty interesting time for them–and Zionism doesn’t have to be this 400 lb gorilla hovering in the background. Nita Abrams wrote a really great trilogy with Jewish characters, and Carola Dunn–I don’t know if she’s Jewish–wrote one of my favorite traditional Regencies.

    @Sunita: I LOVE this. Granted, brainstorming these ideas does require intimate knowledge of India outside of the aspects of British colonialism, but those suggestions listed could be the starting point of a myriad of plots.

    Ultimately, I want my romances to reflect the real world–past or present or future. The bane of my existence is the tried and true contemporary romance plot of the hero or heroine returning to a small town from the big city–and not noticing how whitebread his/her town is! I mean, after living in a place like NYC or Chicago for a decade, how can someone fail to experience culture shock despite growing up in the town? /endrant

  212. Karen Scott
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 01:12:01

    What's at issue is whether readers are too racist (lets stop with the euphemisms) to read a romance that feature heroes and heroines of color. I don't happen to think so.

    I think most white romance readers would be offended at being labelled racist, but I definitely think that there’s a subconscious aversion to romance books with black protags. It would be interesting to note how many of the denyers on here have read one or more romance books with black people as the principle characters. Actually, it would be interesting to note how many of the white people on here have read more than three books featuring a black/mixed race couple.

    I’m willing to stake my house that if there were 5 romance books with a white couple on the front, and another 5 books with a black couple on the front, and all the readers in the store were white, 98% of those readers would subconsciously dismiss the books with the black protags on the cover. I would love to be proved otherwise, but I fear that deep down this would be the case with Average Jane Reader. Whereas those numbers would probably level out more if all the readers in the shop were black, purely because we’ve been reading and supporting authors who only ever write white protags for the longest time.

    I can't imagine that the race of the character would really make a difference. Thinking about the success of Nalini Singh's books, who bloody cares what race these characters are?

    To all the white people who either deny that there’s really a problem in the first place, or feel that they shouldn’t be made to feel guilty about reading books that they’re comfortable with, how would you feel if 95% of all published romance books featured black couples? JoanneF? Caligi?

  213. Karen Scott
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 01:22:38

    @Alisha Rai

    I know I'm luckier than other authors, because my readers seem to be extremely diverse (or so it seems). I don't know if it's because I started with a menage, which is traditionally a hot seller, because India is a trendy topic for Westerners, or because I went e-pub, where readers might be more willing to take a chance.

    First and foremost, you went to an e-pub, where readers are more willing to take a chance I believe, then the book was menage which seems to sell amazingly well, and lastly, the two males were white. Had they been Indian and the heroine white, I’m willing to bet that the books wouldn’t have sold as well.

  214. Janine
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 01:49:59

    @Angela:

    I have been wanting to read the Nita Abrams books, so thanks for the reminder.

    and Zionism doesn't have to be this 400 lb gorilla hovering in the background.

    I wasn’t referencing the entire 19th century but rather the era I was researching — around the time of the Dreyfus Affair in France. From what I’ve explored of European Jewish history, the Dreyfus Affair, and the pogroms in Eastern Europe, and the resultant arrival of refugees in Britain, raised the consciousness of a lot of Jews. In Britain, I think they lobbied hard for years before 1917 for something like the first Balfour Declaration.

    Now you are perfectly right that there were also many Jews who didn’t focus on these injustices, and who were busy doing other things, trying to integrate and make a good living and to avoid making waves so they would not be on the receiving end of anti-Semitism.

    But I personally don’t think I could make this second type of character a satisfying (to myself) protagonist. I would not want to write from the POV of a Jew in 1890s Europe and ignore the pogroms, the refugees, and the Dreyfus Affair. I think a character with a Jewish background who was perceptive and bright would care about these issues and would have them on his mind. And therefore would want to do something about them.

    Now if you want to write about a different type of Jewish character in the 1890s by all means go for it. I respect that you feel differently than I do. It may come down to the types of characters that attract each of us. I’m not, however, just using this is an excuse because I want to make a lot of money in romance writing.

  215. Karen Scott
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 01:52:40

    @Marga

    however i really enjoyed ‘Milk in my coffee' by Eric Jerome Dickey.

    Hmm, me too, but I couldn’t love it because I felt he copped out at the end, and thus made the whole story seem somewhat pointless.

  216. Janine
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 01:56:05

    @Karen Scott:

    I can't imagine that the race of the character would really make a difference. Thinking about the success of Nalini Singh's books, who bloody cares what race these characters are?

    To all the white people who either deny that there's really a problem in the first place, or feel that they shouldn't be made to feel guilty about reading books that they're comfortable with, how would you feel if 95% of all published romance books featured black couples? JoanneF? Caligi?

    It’s crazy late and I must go to bed, but Karen, while I agree that there is a real problem, I just wanted to point out that CD, whose comment you quoted, isn’t white.

  217. Ros
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 02:07:51

    @joannef:

    Fair enough. Thanks for clarifying.

  218. Zealot
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 02:14:07

    @Janine:

    I think a character with a Jewish background who was perceptive and bright would care about these issues and would have them on his mind. And therefore would want to do something about them.

    I completely agree any fictional Jewish character living in the 1890s would be aware of the Dreyfus affair and the surrounding situation and anti-semitism. However, not all real people chose to do anything about it, so it follows that neither would all fictional characters. That choice (to hide, to deny, to assimilate deeper, what have you) would certainly be a part of their character and be relevant to their story.

    At least the awareness of his ethnicity never leaves a Jew, or perhaps that is the work of society. We never stop being Jews, even when we choose to be inactive in the community. Groucho Marx (a great personal hero) used to relate an anecdote that went…

    ‘In the 1920s two friends of mine were walking along 5th Avenue. The first was Otto Kahn, a patron of the Metropolitan Opera. The second was Marshall B. Wilder, a hunch-backed script writer. As they walked past a synagogue Kahn turned to Wilder and said, “You know I used to be a Jew”. And Wilder said, “Yeah and I used to be a hunchback”

  219. Alisha Rai
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 02:16:53

    @Karen Scott:

    As I wrote in my initial post, I completely agree with the first two, but I’m not sure why flipping the races would result in lower sales or less white readers. There are gobs of romance novels that include the “other” hero, whether he be authentic or not (usually not), the exotic sheik/native american/hispanic man whisking the white heroine away. I figured this was because, in general, the majority like to read a heroine who is white and identifiable, while the hero might have more leeway.

    Personally, I like to discover brown heroines because I am one (er, a brown woman, not a heroine). The hero, nice, but meh.

    Let me also add, I’m not saying that novel is selling the same as if I had just made all the characters white: I’m sure it’s not. I knew that going in. My expectations were so low, I’m pleasantly surprised with how diverse the readership seems to be.

  220. Janine
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 02:23:15

    @Zealot:

    However, that choice (to hide, to deny, to assimilate deeper, what have you) would certainly be a part of their character and be relevant to their story.

    Exactly. And I personally would not be drawn to writing about someone who chose to hide, deny, or assimilate deeper (at least, not with the Holocaust only fifty years away) unless that was the beginning of an arc and the character emerged with a very different position and outlook on the other end. So for me, it would be very hard to avoid giving Zionism a presence in the story.

    Okay, really going to sleep now. I have really enjoyed today’s discussion and the food for thought it has given me. See you guys tomorrow.

  221. Sylvia
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 03:43:09

    Wow, this was quite read. Well I have read AA romance and a lot I did not like, not because they were African American but the simple fact that I came across the term sister and brother when referring to the opposite sex. For me it is that simple I think this slang term for someone your sexually attracted to is disgusting and will immediately put me off. Whoops, guess I’m an awful person for that, huh. I don’t care if a lot use that slang I still think it’s nasty as heck. I recently watched Something New and while it was a wonderful movie the main character states that she wants a… brother, its a big pet peeve of mine. The two AA books that I loved where written by a black woman the first had a AA heroine and a Asian hero. Loved it. It was a story about two people falling in love and not so much about… your African American- I’m Asian stated over and over again. While the other was about a fantasy creature and a dark skinned woman, he had horns and was blue it was wonderful romance/fantasy.

    I never got why the AA have their own little section, I mean if you doing it for one then shouldn’t you do it for all I mean its a fact that they are getting a book about people who are AA and all marketing towards a certain group. HEY WHAT ABOUT ME I WANT A LITTLE SECTION FOR ME! HECK YEAH, IF YOU CAN FIND SOMETHING FOR MY MONGRUL SELF. O f course you could argue, and rightly so that romance is mostly white, but still you have other races mixed in there. Nothing is ever going to be fair.

    As for that “white privilege” I answered a lot of NO’S! Clearly we don’t see eye to eye on what it means to be white. I don’t deny that in many places being white is an instant advantage. But because I look white I can be harassed publicly and not be able to complain about racism. Since I am a “cracker” I’m not allowed to complain I must pay for people who are long dead and many who where nothing more than a product of their time. On my mothers side almost all my cousin are darker skinned, and one even thought it was funny to call me cracker. I put up with so much crap from them because I was white skinned I felt unwanted in that family circle. Because of this attitude I grew up identifying myself as white since it was what I look like. Yet once again since I look white a world culture teacher thought it was okay while talking about Native Americans to point to me in the middle of class with. ” Look at Sylvia, she’s white but if you really look at her you’ll notice she’s a little bit darker than the rest of you and you can see the Native American in her.” There were other students in that class who she knew for a fact were Native American but she didn’t want to stir the pot but it was okay with me since I was mostly white like her. It didn’t matter that she made me feel like a sideshow exhibit. That isn’t a privilege to me. I never felt safe in school or on the bus. Because I was the white girl I had to repeatedly physically fight back just to protect myself from attacks and gang jumping while being called white b&^*#!

    I know all about discrimination I grew up with my whiteness shoved in my face like it was something nasty. Yes, clearly I don’t agree about “white privilege.”

    When it comes to books I most likely won’t read if she a concubine, courtesan, harem girl, or mistress, and I won’t expect people to attack me if I won’t and clearly if some prefer NOT to read a romance with a African American h/h then it’s their choice. It doesn’t make them racist same goes if they prefer to write about white people. Though I do think it is awful that publishers prefer white characters and that their color is the reason there turned down. I’ve picked up books written by Asian, Indian, African American, and White. Write in a way that appeals to me and with character that I like along with a plot that I don’t have on my s*&# list and I’ll pay attention to your work. I don’t give a fart what you look like I’m not buying your book for your looks.

    I think that everyone has or will be racially discriminated against in their life. But you know what, just because someone has been more so than an other it doesn’t give them the right to look down their nose at the other with an attitude of you can never understand my position. Being white doesn’t mean my understanding of the world is lesser than yours because I refuse to accept that I am lesser than any other race or that any other race is lesser than me.

    PS This was a lot longer than I intended and probably has mistakes that I missed. It’s late, I rambled, and ranted a bit… oops. Read something good. Have fun with the comment sparring (I mean discussion) lol! I’m going to go snooze.

  222. Shalanna Collins
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 04:28:12

    One of my books is an urban fantasy/romance (not category-style romance where there’s a happily-ever-after, but it has romance) in which my white (Irish) heroine’s boss is an African American woman. I don’t know whether I portray her sensitively, wrongly, or what. I just “saw” her the way I do all my characters and went with that. She often wears costumes and is kind of flamboyant. (She’s like a teacher I once had.) I would love to know whether what I wrote offends African Americans or is appropriation or anything . . . the character is also a Wiccan, and I would like to know if I have appropriated or whatnot. But of course when I get rejections or critiques, no one ever tells me this or broaches this topic. I never know whether I might do better writing all white people (who are German/English/Irish/1-16th Choctaw like me, Southern only and no Yankees, no Jews, no Catholics, no Pagans, only Baptists/Church of Christ members, nothing that’s not MY CULTURE Y’ALL) and nothing else. It’s tough when the topic is so taboo! I just don’t know if I am offending anyone, and I certainly don’t intend it that way.

  223. Jayne
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 04:45:24

    There have been several comments asking about AA reviews at DA. Here are some links to the ones we’ve done.

    http://dearauthor.com/wordpress/tag/aa-romance/

    http://dearauthor.com/wordpress/tag/aa/

  224. Jia
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 04:47:36

    @Seressia Glass: I’m excited for your book as well. It’s being published by Juno, right? If so, I think we’ll be getting a copy because I’m on their reviewer list.

  225. Laura Vivanco
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 05:33:47

    I believe Mills and Boon actually had a bit of to-do recently because they had signed an Indian author (or had a novel with Indian protags? A line with Indian authors? Something like that. Correct me if I'm wrong).

    Mills & Boon India had a competition to find new writers:

    Mills & Boon launched the Passions Writing Contest, exclusive to India, in December 2008 inviting online story entries in their search for the ‘World’s Next Big Romance Author’ and provide aspiring Indian authors with a global platform. The results were announced in February 2009 and Milan Vohra secured first place among the four acknowledged winners. The Love Asana will be published in the Mills & Boon Modern Series in India (as a Special Bonus feature) and on the Mills & Boon website as well in May 2009. (Business World)

    I remember seeing a post recently at Word Wenches about

    Shobhan [Bantwal] [who] has had three books published by Kensington so far, and if I were to classify them, it would be as “contemporary romantic ethnic women's fiction.” That is to say, her subjects are modern India and Indians and her heroines live at the intersection of deeply rooted traditions and contemporary challenges. Or put another way, she tells great, accessible stories about Indian women, and she believes in happy endings.

    I haven’t read them myself, so I don’t know why they’re being described here as “women’s fiction” rather than “romance” if the author “believes in happy endings.” Maybe it’s just that they don’t have quite the same tight focus on the central relationship that romances do?

  226. Anne Douglas
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 05:49:07

    @Alisha Rai: You have me curious now. I have a menage book with one hero as westernised Indian (pulled from the some of the Indian people I’d known in NZ). It’s the book people either loved to death or just plain disliked. I assumed it was because of the gradual discovery of a relationship between the men (started as a mfm ended mmf), but the comments here about your Indian heroine have me wondering now.

  227. Sheryl Nantus
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 05:51:55

    @Jade Lee:

    This breaks my heart.

    I’ve loved ALL of your books BECAUSE of the Asian element; the intertwining of a culture I know little about but adore from a distance into a rocking good read.

    TPTB are idiots for forcing you into the same old groove.

    I shall still follow you and hope you get a chance to return to what you do best – telling vibrant tales of a culture the general public doesn’t know enough about.

    :(

  228. roslynholcomb
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 06:04:51

    told me she couldn't get past my heroine's race to actually read the story-that in her view, since Indians “prized purity,” an Indian-American female would NEVER consider a little kinkiness.

    Yeah, I got the same thing about a Muslim character in one of my books. There are millions of Muslims on this planet, some of them HAVE to be having premarital sex. It defies reason to think otherwise. Unfortunately, I think the notion of a kick-ass Muslim woman was too un-stereotypical for many people to grasp.

  229. joannef
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 06:17:56

    @Karen Scott:

    To all the white people who either deny that there's really a problem in the first place, or feel that they shouldn't be made to feel guilty about reading books that they're comfortable with, how would you feel if 95% of all published romance books featured black couples? JoanneF? Caligi?

    Once again, Karen Scott, who’s denying anything? Please don’t attribute words or thoughts to me that aren’t there (which seems to be a common theme here).

  230. Ros
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 06:19:29

    I’ve just checked through some of the links in the OP (I followed some of the racefail debate earlier this year, so I had a good idea what would be there). There’s a LOT of stuff there and I can quite see why people new to the discussion wouldn’t bother reading it. So here I’m linking one page which explains clearly and concisely what the problem is with privilege (it is not specific to white privilege) and why it matters.

    In particular, I would like to draw attention to the section headed ‘Don’t Make It About You’. There have been a number of commenters on this thread whose responses are defensive and self-involved: ‘I don’t have privilege’; ‘Why are you making me feel guilty?’ etc. PLEASE read this and think about why, even if those are true statements, they are not useful contributions to the discussion. Let it be about other people, for once.

  231. Jayne
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 06:19:34

    @Laura Vivanco:

    The results were announced in February 2009 and Milan Vohra secured first place among the four acknowledged winners. The Love Asana will be published in the Mills & Boon Modern Series in India (as a Special Bonus feature) and on the Mills & Boon website as well in May 2009. (Business World)

    I just looked for this at the M&B website and couldn’t find any information about it. Was it published?

    Shobhan [Bantwal] [who] has had three books published by Kensington so far,

    I remember a very strong review for one of her books at TRR. I wrote her name down but never followed up. Thanks for reminding me about her.

  232. Estara
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 06:59:26

    Good afternoon from Germany!

    @joannef: If that’s your interpretation, that’s fine for you. I read the essay differently and where I live it’s the truth, so that’s fine for me. I thank you for actually addressing the list and having looked at it.

    @Caligi:

    Ugh, you would bring up the Gates incident. I don't think anything racist went down there. If a cop comes to your house, you butter his ego, you do not argue. When you argue, you get booked, no matter your race. I kiss cops' asses routinely, and I've been followed home by cops for no reason other than being out after midnight as an adult.

    The Gates incident probably wasn’t the best example, you’re right, since accounts of the provocations on both sides vary. I would like to know, why you need to use the tone “Ugh, you would bring up []” ? I am trying to address your concerns seriously and it’s obviously not coming across.

    As for your silly list, I can't get French Canadian grub around here, I've never seen indie rock in the grocery store, I bet my white kids would get picked on around here for being different had I any, I go to a specific salon that knows what to do with my curly hair so why can't anyone else and the only reason I don't worry about representing my race is because I don't care. Because people are paranoid does not make their concerns true.

    Same question: why is the list silly, why do you think people are paranoid just because your personal experience is different?

    Other than that, I guess you really can’t find yourself reflected in the list. This is statistically not the truth for the majority of the white people in the western world. It certainly holds true for the majority of the white people in my country.

    I've never seen myself or my life in any novel, and I don't expect to, ever. There's no market for white, crippled, working-class, unemployed forum trolls living in a lousy neighborhood in the best house she could afford and the web programmers who love them.

    Fair enough. Talking about the HEA requirement and the fact that many people read romance as an escape from reality that probably wouldn’t be a scenario that was easy to sell.

    Every book I read involves characters that don't resemble me. If good stories are getting turned down, though, I guess I have to admit that's bad.

    I think that is a large part of why people are taking the issue seriously this time.

    But if the issue is only that white romances grossly outnumber non-white protagonists, I don't know what to say. I've never seen a black woman on the T reading a romance not a black romance, so I can't fault people for not reading outside of what they're comfortable with and I can't fault publishers for being bound by trends.

    I read this post and the discussion in the comments as an attempt at finding some ideas of being more inclusive without making publishers and authors lose money on the books. It’s not as if any of the achievements that have been made in treading people equally were made from one day to the next.

    I guess that's what I've spent too many words and posts getting to. So romance is overwhelmingly pasty, what's to be done? Why bring it up if not to condemn people for not wanting to read characters that don't look like them? Obviously you don't want to either, or you wouldn't have mentioned it.

    I can’t follow again. How do you get from the second to last sentence to the last impression about me (what wouldn’t I have mentioned)? Being a mixed child, even though I look white actually made me fairly interested in other cultures (even in my Dad’s though I’ve always had a hard time with the emphasis on male dominance over women – I was lucky enough to be raised in Germany after all).

    For example, I would love to see historical Japanese, Chinese or Indian romances, or the South-American cultures (I do have a partiality to complex cultures, I admit) or contemporary non-white tycoons with their non-white women of power. But that’s just me.

  233. Aoife
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 07:17:25

    @Laura Vivanco I’ve read all of Shobhan Bantwal”s books from Kensington and enjoyed them very much, but they aren’t strictly speaking Romance since they are as much-or more-about the heroine’s journey and self-actualization as they are about the HEA. And actually, it’s as likely to be a HFN as a HEA.

  234. Estara
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 07:38:57

    @Seressia Glass: That sounds extremely tasty. Feeds into my fantasy obsession as well.

  235. Laura Vivanco
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 07:50:01

    @Jayne: I looked for “The Love Asana,” and I couldn’t find it either. My suspicion is that if it was published “in the Mills & Boon Modern Series in India (as a Special Bonus feature)” then it wouldn’t be very easy to find because the book’s probably listed everywhere with the title of the main story, not the “special bonus” one. And if they also published it on their website “in May 2009″ then it’s probably been taken down by now, as it looks as though they only have one free read up at a time.

    @Aoife: Thanks for the clarification about Shobhan Bantwal’s books, Aoife!

  236. Xica
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 08:15:58

    @Zealot,

    One major controversy you left out of the Disney piece was that they originally made the character a maid.
    Her original name was Maddie, which sounded too much like Mammy. And she worked for a spoiled Southern debutante, making the production sound too much like an animated Gone with the Wind.

    They’ve since changed her name to Tiana and she lives in New Orleans during the Jazz age. There’s much more debate about the film, like the fact that she’s not human for most of it, and her prince isn’t African American. There’s voodoo, jazz, and her sidekicks, a Cajun firefly and an alligator.

    Here’s a link to where I got the info:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/31/fashion/31disney.html
    http://jezebel.com/5026242/why-is-disneys-first-black-princess-such-a-challenge
    http://www.people.com/people/article/0,,20259850,00.html

  237. Estara
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 08:24:25

    @Ros: Thank you for highlighting that link.

  238. CD
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 08:40:07

    @Karen Scott: Just to clarify – I’m not white: I’m mixed Vietnamese/Chinese/French who grew up in Britain but has spent most of my working life overseas – currently now in Haiti. So I get a bit confused as to what to say when people ask me where I’m from! However, there are so many posts here that it’s pretty difficult to keep track of just who said what and I didn’t make things easier by breaking up my extremely long comment into different posts. Apologies for that.

    I’m not saying that there isn’t a problem, but I also just wanted to inject a bit of optimism in this discussion in that I don’t believe that the majority of readers have an intentional bias against non-white characters. The majority of us, as mentioned in these posts, go for a story we like be it rock stars, friends to lovers, amnesia, enemies to lovers, vampires etc etc and would read these books whatever the colour of the protagonists. It’s more the case of getting the reviews out there on the quality of those books. I bought Holcomb’s ROCK STAR on the strength of Mrs Giggles’ review, Langhorne’s UNFINISHED BUSINESS due to AAR, and Jade Lee’s THE CONCUBINE due to the review on this site. And I don’t think I’m the only one. I could skim the Kimani section of Harlequin but then I have no idea which books have storylines I like and are, you know, good.

    As I mentioned on another post, I really feel that the whole fear of causing offense by writing characters of a different colour than your own is basically ridiculous when you are talking about contemporaries featuring “people of colour” who’ve lived in the same country as you since birth. There are definitely cultural differences but as long as you are not blind to that and as long as you can write well-rounded characters who make sense in the context of the story (which any good writer should do), then you’ll be fine. And for readers who don’t feel they can “relate”, then they’re basically just talking out of their arse. I mean, if we can relate to a mega rock star or an American football players’ familial and romantic problems (or even a vampire’s ;-), then we can probably just about relate to the bookstore owner whom he ends up dating, even if she does happen to be black.

    As I also mentioned further up, it gets more problematic when you are going back into history and/or setting your characters in another country – particuarly one that has been historically exploited. Living in Haiti, I really don’t think that you could responsibly set any kind of book in this country in whatever time period without making damn sure that you know what you’re doing. Yes, you could definitely set it amongst the “mulatto” elite or the expats/colonials/other “blancs” and there are definitely story potentials there, but you can’t just ignore the situation in the country and the history of (and even current) exploitation because it’s too raw and in your face. I’m not saying every book about Haiti has to be darkness and about suffering and the history of slavery, far from it when there’s SO much more to the country than that, but there needs to be an awareness of the issues and the author needs to have done her research.

    As I mentioned, maybe one day we will reach a stage where these events are so much in the past that you can write an Avon type “wallpaper” book set in Haiti and that could be just enjoyed for what it is without all the accompanying baggage. However that day is pretty damn far away.

    On a personal level – yes, I’d love to see more Far Eastern characters in romances. But then I’d love to find a romance with a heroine who is a real social activist (not one of those fake ones) and a real feminist. And a realistic depiction of inter-cultural/religious/ethnic dating. Or a romance with a francophone West African as a hero (yum yum). Or a romance that really takes music seriously and not just as background. I could go on…

  239. Diane V
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 08:48:51

    I think the issue with why I haven’t bought more books from some of the authors of AA books that I’ve read is the language (as a previous poster mentioned) — sorry, but I don’t like slang or weird names or lots of swear words.

    But I also apply the same principal to “white” authors – I don’t buy books by Dean Koontz (porn IMHO) or JR Ward (shitkickers and pie-hole for cripes sake) or Vickie Lewis Stevenson (cajun accent/terms in one of her books drove me insane) or Diane Emery (uses last names for all her characters) or Lauren Dane (the absolute worst unpronouncable names for her paranormal characters) – to name just a few because of irritation with their use of language or character names.

    I read a lot of books every month so I do make a point of looking in the AA section at Borders/Waldenbooks when I’m there to see if anything strikes my interest — but just like books in the romance section I flip through the books to make sure there isn’t a bunch of slang (sistah, etc) or swear words that I’m not interested in reading. Does this make me a racist? I’d say no as I probably buy/read about 15 AA books a year, but as that’s only about 5% of the books I read each year I guess it could be considered to be out of proportion. But I never see African-American women shopping the AA section when I’m at Borders — they’re usually in the Romance section — which often makes me think that I’m buying more AA books than the AA women in my city.

  240. Zealot
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 09:00:51

    @Xica: Thanks for all the background on the film, seems I only know the tip of the iceberg.

  241. roslynholcomb
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 09:08:39

    @Diane V.

    I think the issue with why I haven't bought more books from some of the authors of AA books that I've read is the language (as a previous poster mentioned) -’ sorry, but I don't like slang or weird names or lots of swear words.

    If you’re seeing lots of slang and swear words you’re probably not looking at black romances, but street lit, an entirely different genre. Easy mistake to make since black books are typically all thrown together in one indecipherable mish-mash in bookstores. If you want to find out more about black romances and see some reviews, check out romanceincolor.com. If you like categories, the Kimani line is good. Brenda Jackson of course is a best-seller. Dee Savoy does really awesome romantic-suspense. Andrianne Byrd, Sandra Kitt and Donna Hill are also tremendous. I’d be very surprised if you found any slang or bad language in any of their books. Beverly Jenkins does historicals and some really awesome suspense books as well.

    Sistah is not slang, it’s a cultural affirmation derived primarily from African Americans strong affiliation with the black church. I don’t recall any black romances I’ve read that use the term, or at least not heavily.

  242. hope
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 09:44:25

    I’ve been thinking about this since last nigh. Even longer, really, because I followed some of the racefail discussions. What is the problem with describing people in terms of food? Women have had peaches and cream complexions for forever. And milk white skin. Why shouldn’t they also have honey, coffee, chocolate, or cinnamon skin?

    I’ve heard the complaint before and I can’t make sense of it. I can understand why you might get tired of the same line over and over, but the suggestion I am seeing is that any use of food as a descriptor is offensive. We’ve been talking about people in terms of food forever, presumably because we LIKE food. My little cabbage, Honey, Sugar. We name girls Candy. True, Sugar Tits is NOT going to go over well with me, but I don’t understand why all descriptions of people that use food are inherently racist or demeaning. Can someone help me out with an explanation?

    Has anybody got a link to a list of good alternatives? Has anybody got any suggestions?

  243. Zealot
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 09:57:34

    @hope:

    Women have had peaches and cream complexions for forever. And milk white skin. Why shouldn't they also have honey, coffee, chocolate, or cinnamon skin?

    Stop it, you’re making me hungry…

    As for an alternative, you could fall back on wine-tasting terms.

    However, would a woman like being called “fruity, bitter, with a hint of tar under the surface”?

  244. Diane V
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 10:04:20

    Hi Roslyn,

    I’m going to look at the books I have at home to see who the authors were with the slang and the swear words — I thought some were from the Kimani line, but maybe they were more street lit.

    What’s funny is the authors you mentioned – Byrd, Jackson, Kitt and Hill are my repeat purchases.

    Diane

    P.S. “RockStar” remains one of my favorite romances (and book cover). I usually re-read it a couple times a year.

  245. roslynholcomb
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 10:04:29

    @hope, I don’t get this one either, but I’ve heard enough complaints about it that I try to diversify as much as possible. I find it almost impossible to describe brown-skinned people without using food references, but I also use sienna, umber and other art colors. I actually keep a file of “brown words” that I can use. Which is why one of my recent characters had smoky topaz eyes. Takes a bit more work, but it can be done.

  246. hope
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 10:19:36

    @roslynholcomb, In my experience, people don’t like sienna or umber either.

  247. Anah Crow
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 10:23:01

    re: food references

    It’s never a good idea to refer to minorities in terms of consumption. I know that some women find the ‘food’ references to women questionable and even offensive. When you describe someone as a food item, you are not only objectifying them, you’re referring to them as something to be manufactured and consumed, usually for pleasure and not even in terms of survival. (“She was his water.” has something different to it than “She was his cookie.”)

    The way that characters of colour are distributed in novels is still, largely, “for flavour”. Even that is a direct reference to consumption. Characters of colour are not unique and vital elements, they do not have life of their own, they are not present because they are present in reality, they are only there to accentuate and decorate the white-populated milieu.

    As we live in a culture that once treated people of colour as objects to be produced, traded, and consumed, and as we are still in a culture that treats characters of colour as ‘seasonings’ to be added judiciously for best effect and not real, active agents with real world analogs, avoiding food references is not just the right thing to do, it’s part of a process of becoming fully aware of how we perceive and represent one another. What colour are people, really? Are you grabbing for a ‘flavourful’ word instead of actually thinking of the colour of a person’s skin? The fact that writers of colour may use those terms is not a pass to do so; people of colour are just as indoctrinated as white people, when it comes to how they should be represented. They may also be reclaiming formerly objectifying language, but that is their prerogative.

    Resources like Wikipedia and art books have extensive discussions of colour, including the historical references to origins and uses of colours. Teak, fallow, amber, ochre, chestnut, sienna, russet, sepia, bole, ecru, isabelline, buff, flax, fulvous… a small selection of words referencing browns and yellows. Why stop at a colour word, though? There are many ways to sketch out a character’s appearance without directly grabbing for a single, definable word.

    A writer can define and use a word in the same sentence, it’s a very small thing we do frequently. The fact that our cultural vocabulary is shrinking is no excuse. Writers can likewise create images in more elaborate terms than a simple colour. It is an exercise worth pursuing, looking at people of colour (and women, and queers, and ultimately everyone) and deciding how you would describe them through a newly focused lens of love or desire or compassion instead of the old glass of historical and modern objectification. The cultural shorthand is a very useful thing for a writer, but when that shorthand is based on dehumanizing, racist traditions, it is time to write in longhand.

  248. hope
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 10:30:46

    @Anah Crow, thank you for answering and laying out your reasoning so clearly. I really appreciate it. I don’t agree with your argument, but it’s impossible for me to know if that’s just my white privilege talking. I’ll certainly think about it.

  249. Zealot
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 10:41:20

    @Anah Crow: Ummm….Wow.

    What colour are people, really? Are you grabbing for a ‘flavourful' word instead of actually thinking of the colour of a person's skin?

    Isn’t good writing all about finding interesting, evocative, “flavourful” words to describe the mundane? I mean, if we were going for straight cold description, the colour of all of our skin would be “brownish” no matter our race…maybe “light brownish” or “dark brownish”.

    The fact that writers of colour may use those terms is not a pass to do so; people of colour are just as indoctrinated as white people, when it comes to how they should be represented.

    Right ON! Fight the power!

    Seriously, don’t you think that sounds a bit like looking for an issue? “You don’t know, realize or care that I think that this term you are using is making you into a condiment and you have been programmed into using it by the majority society, so I will attack it on your behalf.”

    Why stop at a colour word, though? There are many ways to sketch out a character's appearance without directly grabbing for a single, definable word.

    I believe the idea is that these words are just some of many used to describe a person’s entire look, manner or personality. Describing someone’s complexion is a normal way of telling us how they look or what sort of emotions they may be experiencing. As for avoiding the use of color words to describe someone’s skin, whenever I use “Juicy” someone slaps me, so I am running out of options.

  250. Jane
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 10:45:16

    @Zealot I think it has to do with why mention the color in the first place? One thing I like about the Jo Goodman books is that the characters descriptions are provided with context. To merely describe the character by their skin color to provide “flavor” intimates that the color of the skin is what provides the depth of the person. One of the things I didn’t like about Suzanne Brockmann’s characterization of Alyssa, a black woman, was that Alyssa’s minority status was all superficial. The color of one’s skin can define them because of the way people interact with a person based on the color of the skin but I am not an olive colored girl.

  251. Not That PC
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 10:45:28

    It’s never a good idea to refer to minorities in terms of consumption. I know that some women find the ‘food’ references to women questionable and even offensive. When you describe someone as a food item, you are not only objectifying them, you’re referring to them as something to be manufactured and consumed, usually for pleasure and not even in terms of survival.

    Back when I was in my mid twenties just out of college and refusing to let my daughters play with Barbies I would have said “Rock On! I completely agree with you!” But now I'm 40ish with a lot more life behind me and now it just seems like yet another example of taking political correctness too far.

  252. Jane
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 10:47:15

    @Not That PC I always see the PC argument as a cop out. Is it really so hard not to refer to people as food?

  253. Zealot
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 10:50:01

    @Jane:

    To merely describe the character by their skin color to provide “flavor” intimates that the color of the skin is what provides the depth of the person.

    Exactly…as I said, it can be one word of many used to describe a person. Alone it doesn’t mean much…but then neither does “Tall”, “Swedish” or “Double-Jointed”. However, when many meaningless words travel in packs, they can tell us a great deal. Why preclude certain words and not others?

  254. Jane
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 10:52:44

    @Zealot The answer to the why was provided upthread – because comparing people to food is akin to objectification. I.e., I am highly offended if someone refers to me as Oriental and not Asian. Words have meaning other than what Meriam Webster has provided. Authors should know this. It is their business to know the effect and power of words. It is why they write, correct?

  255. Not That PC
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 10:54:26

    @Jane

    I understand that the issue with food names is a valid argument but I still think life is too short , you have to pick you battles and I refuse to stop calling my child pumpkin butter. I’ve called her that for 18 years it’s too late to stop now.

  256. Xica
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 10:54:48

    This conversation is so cool. I’m learning so much, even with the disagreements.

    I really want to do something positive to promote diversity in paranormal romance (thought I’d start there since its so popular). So I just put up a site called “Confessions of a Shapeshifter” at wordpress to house a graphic novel filled with diverse romances. I’d like to include more world mythology, so while I’m researching, if anyone can suggest shifters besides the norm (werewolves etc.) if would be appreciated. I promise all races will get exposure and a hot storyline.

    Thanks in advance.

  257. Jane
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 10:55:53

    @Not That PC That’s certainly your choice but by saying that it is PC taken too far essentially is saying that it is unreasonable for people to care about the issue.

  258. Zealot
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 10:59:13

    @Jane:

    Words have meaning other than what Meriam Webster has provided. Authors should know this. It is their business to know the effect and power of words. It is why they write, correct?

    Absolutely, and words also come in and out of style. Terms that were once acceptable become less so. I remember clearly my grandmother telling me how nice it was that I had little colored friends, even though they were goys.

    The avoidance of food terms is certainly something to be aware of, but I think more important is not to depend on a single trait, especially one as silly as color, to describe a character.

    Breakfast?

  259. Jane
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 11:01:50

    @Zealot I don’t disagree with your assessment that focusing on a single trait to describe a character is not healthy as an author. But part of the conversation was why some readers dislike the food=color of skin references so I don’t really know how the two relate?

  260. Barbara B.
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 11:02:15

    @ Hope
    I’m one of those readers annoyed by food references as skin color descriptors. I have no idea why it bothers me but it just does. People often call me chocolate and there’s nothing at all chocolate about me. I’m neither milk chocolate nor dark chocolate, and I’m definitely not sweet. My skin is dark brown and that’s good enough for me.

    I guess sometimes authors get too descriptive for me when it comes to describing physical characteristics. When I’m reading white romances I could just scream when the author CONSTANTLY refers to the heroine’s creamy, milky white, pearly, maganolia, alabaster or ivory skin. It’s supposed to emphasize to the reader how incredibly beautiful the heroine is but somehow I’m less than impressed. Particularly when the author goes on to describe “the faint tracery of blue veins” that can be seen on the heroine’s breasts because she’s so very pale.

    Question: why are the heroines so pale but the heroes who are usually the very same race, class, and ethnicity are rarely described as pale? I’ve noticed this in contemporaries as well as historicals. Paleness is feminine and darkness is masculine. Except the hero can’t be TOO dark if you know what I mean?

    Off topic:
    Speaking of darkness reading as masculine, I’m 5’9 and when I wear heels I look 6′ tall. I’m also dark-skinned with broad shoulders and long legs. I can’t count the times that I’ve been in the ladies room washing my hands when a white woman walks in and practically has a heart attack. It’s a pearl clutching moment! I wear my hair shoulder length but I always wear pants suits. My face is definitely feminine and I’ve got quite a rack, but I guess from the back I look like their worst nightmare: a big black guy! It kinda makes me nervous that I’m tall and dark because in a split second a cop could think I’m a black guy, freak out and blow me away.

    back on topic sorta:
    In black romances the skin is often described as cinnamon, chocolate, mocha, almond, honey, and a few others. What really gets me is that the eyes are invariably almond shaped and often honey or golden brown. I think that’s to impart a hint of exoticism. The heroine’s no ordinary Negro after all!

    Why do romance authors feel the need to describe their protags over and over again?
    Do they think readers have bad memories? I don’t much care how the protags look as long as they’re attracted to each other. Except…I do wish there were more tall heroines. I hate to read about heroes well over 6 feet and the heroine’s described as petite. That brings to mind a father/daughter relationship to me. I like the protags to be equal in all ways. If the dude is tall and physically imposing I’d love for the heroine to be that too, but of course the rules don’t allow for that. With short heroines I’d prefer to see average sized heroes.

    Sorry about all the detours but lately I’ve been in a venting, rambling mood.

  261. Anah Crow
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 11:03:46

    @Jane:

    I always see the PC argument as a cop out. Is it really so hard not to refer to people as food?

    This. I feel as a writer that the ultimate question I have to ask myself about avoiding something that people of colour have directly and consistently said is offensive is not “are they right” but “why not?” Really. “Why not?”

    Am I not good enough as a writer? Does it mean that much to me to prove that I can ignore people of colour? Does having the privilege of not having to think about it mean that much to me? Am I really invested in writing in unconscious and outmoded ways?

    To answer those questions that would lead me to persist in thoughtlessly using words in ways that I’ve been told are offensive because I can afford to ignore the discomfort and distress of those speaking out would make me think really poorly of myself, as a person first and writer second.

  262. Zealot
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 11:07:26

    @Jane: Referencing back to a comment by Anah Crow…

    There are many ways to sketch out a character's appearance without directly grabbing for a single, definable word.

    THAT I feel is the crux of things…the food/non-food question is more a question of current fashion than good or bad writing, I feel.

    Though next time I am describing a character, I will definitely look for other terms to describe appearance. Maybe “She had the look of a badger caught unexpectedly in the drive-through of a Dairy Queen in August…and I knew from that instant that she was the marsupial for me…”

  263. Jane
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 11:07:38

    @Anah Crow I also see a point and time in which using food as a metaphorical descriptor is perfectly unobjectionable such as if the book is about food and the characters are foodies and their lives are focused around food. I.e. your body is a delicious meal, your lips like berries, your skin like chocolate, your limbs like long twizzlers, your belly button is full of sugar, etc etc. (of course, I’m not saying this is good writing, but I can’t see it as objectionable). It’s all context.

  264. Julia Sullivan
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 11:09:10

    I feel as a writer that the ultimate question I have to ask myself about avoiding something that people of colour have directly and consistently said is offensive is not “are they right” but “why not?” Really. “Why not?”

    This.

    If one knew someone whose name was “Susan” and one called her “Sue” and she said “Please don’t call me ‘Sue’” one wouldn’t be all OHWHARGABLBLFF YOU’RE CHOKING ME WITH YOUR PC NONSENSE, one would just say, “Okay. Sorry, Susan.”

    Is there some nuance in “caramel-colored skin” that is SO AMAZING that it absolutely needs to be preserved at the expense of being incredibly rude to the many, many people of color who have registered their objections to this nonsense?

  265. Not That PC
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 11:09:50

    @Jane

    Maybe in my haste to get my comment out I used the wrong choice of words. I apologize.

    I was just trying to say that things like food names, Barbies etc that in my twenties I would have spent lots of time and energy getting angry about don’t bother me as much now.

    What about writing in deep POV and you have another character’s thoughts when meeting a character of color would you not need to use terms that fit the scope of the vocabulary of that character and for some characters it natural for something they are familiar with to pop in their head and would sometimes food not be very familiar to most characters.
    Is some 18th or 19th century hero going to know it’s offensive to 21st century women so he can’t think her hair looks like caramel?

  266. hope
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 11:12:03

    Barbara B. Oh, bad writing, it is bad in so many ways, isn’t it? I would like to talk more but I just got a sick kid call from the school.

  267. Jane
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 11:13:00

    @Not That PC I suppose it depends on consistency. Is the 18th/19th C hero describing everyone in terms of confections? Does he describe his mother as buttercream frosting and his black horse as fudge?

  268. Heather (errantdreams)
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 11:14:27

    @Anah Crow:

    re: food references

    It's never a good idea to refer to minorities in terms of consumption. I know that some women find the ‘food' references to women questionable and even offensive. When you describe someone as a food item, you are not only objectifying them, you're referring to them as something to be manufactured and consumed, usually for pleasure and not even in terms of survival. (”She was his water.” has something different to it than “She was his cookie.”)

    I’ve always seen flavor references as a sensuality thing. The physical senses are all heavily tied in to sensuality and sexuality, including taste. For me it isn’t that using “cinnamon” when describing a woman is objectifying her—it’s that cinnamon is a highly sensual flavor and lends that sensuality to the description. Pretty much all of the flavors I’ve seen used in descriptions are ones I think of as sensual—spices, fruits, coffee, cream, chocolate. (Oh god chocolate—sorry, just reviewed a chocolate cookbook, and dear lord were those pots de creme sensuality embodied.)

    I can definitely see where you’re coming from, and why some women would view the use of flavors in descriptions in a negative light. But I don’t think that objectification is the only purpose such words necessarily serve.

  269. Barbara B.
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 11:21:00

    @Anah Crow
    Brava!

  270. Not That PC
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 11:25:59

    @Jane

    I suppose it depends on consistency. Is the 18th/19th C hero describing everyone in terms of confections? Does he describe his mother as buttercream frosting and his black horse as fudge?

    Well no but he knows his mother and his horse. So he isn’t going to look at his own horse and suddenly remark on its color. But if he sees a beautiful woman he’s never met he’s going to remark on her physical appearance and use terms that are very familiar to him which could be food maybe.

    I tend agree with @Heather(errantdreams) I have always seen the use of food terms as sensual not objectifying. But will be more conscious that others see it differently now.

  271. Anah Crow
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 11:34:14

    @Jane:

    I’m definitely never going to say “I won’t ever use those words.” I do use them, and I use them in context where the standard reason they’re offensive is blatantly mitigated (as in your example) or I use them knowing that they are offensive, and I use that as part of the deeper meaning, to reflect on a character or on a culture. It’s not like I don’t offend people. I burned that bridge back before I was in double-digits. :p

    I just plan to do it on purpose, with a larger reason than “you can’t tell me not to!” And, I should add, I never want to do it lightly (even though I may miss the mark at some point), because using something of offense to an already embattled minority just to make a point is something that should never be done lightly. Being a writer and artist doesn’t give me some kind of free pass there. I never want (and I know I may not always succeed, but I can always try) for someone to pick up my work and get a careless punch in the gut from me.

    I’m just really weary of people arguing why the use of those terms couldn’t possibly be offensive, and it’s all just about being “PC”. At some point just the use of the words/terms, the thoughtlessness and even pure disrespect in the way people persist simply on principle after others have spoken up, becomes a compounding offense.

  272. Jackie Barbosa » Blog Archive » WTF Wednesday: Diversity, Where Art Thou?
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 11:41:11

    [...] Dear Author posted an anonymous guest post on the subject of cultural appropriation. In it, the writer lamented the dearth of non-white protagonists in romance, and the tendency for [...]

  273. Tatiana Caldwell
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 11:44:35

    It's never a good idea to refer to minorities in terms of consumption.

    I so don’t like the term “never”.

    One person’s offense is not necessarily another’s, even amongst people in the same group. For instance, Barbara B might take offense to it, but I for one often describe myself as “caramel” colored, and I constantly refer to my husband as “big, thick and chocolate”. Those descriptions are yummy and sexy to me, and I sometimes use them in my writing. I personally would miss it if the descriptions milky, creamy and chocolate suddenly disappeared from romances – but hey that’s just me.

    I’m sharing this viewpoint to point out to writers that you can’t please everybody all of the time, and so I wouldn’t fret *too* much over the smaller (food references are “smaller” concerns in my opinion when talking about cultural diversity in books) stuff like that, and to remind some readers that not everybody interprets everything the same way so please try to keep that in mind.

    But this is why discussions like this are great IMO.

  274. Janine
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 11:52:09

    @Not That PC:

    Is some 18th or 19th century hero going to know it's offensive to 21st century women so he can't think her hair looks like caramel?

    This is a tricky thing about writing historicals. The writer has to find a balance between not being too off-putting to contemporary readers on the one hand and not being too anachronistic on the other. It isn’t easy. However since color words were in use in earlier centuries too, I think in this case it can be done.

    What I find harder is when it comes down to a choice between romanticizing bigotry (ex. Hero is a racist or anti-semite) and erasing a painful history (hero treats minorities as his equals and friends and all his friends are accepting of them). Neither one works for me and I think often the best option is to try to find something in the middle between the two extremes.

  275. Chloe Harris (Noelle)
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 11:54:24

    Food terms are used sparingly in Secrets of Sin .

    I am a huge foodie so I do sometimes use food terms as descriptives . I never dreamed anyone would find them offensive. Like a couple of others have said, to me they’re passionate sexy words because they are part of something I’m passionate about.

    The book is past the page proof stage so there is nothing I can do about them being there now that I know some others don’t see food terms in the same way.

  276. Lisa Paitz Spindler
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 11:59:20

    @Barbara B.

    Particularly when the author goes on to describe “the faint tracery of blue veins” that can be seen on the heroine's breast because she's so very pale.

    Speaking as someone who is translucently pale, veins do in fact show up as blue under the skin everywhere, not just on parts that have never seen the sun. Having said that, reading it knocks me right out of a narrative — unless I’m reading a vampire Romance.

    I think the origin of it is in the term “blue blood” denoting a person who supposedly has no admixture — which is bogus. In historicals, I imagine this is a reference to class differences since it’s only the white idle rich who sit inside all day and therefore are not tan. Ironically, many who are actually this pale are that way because of being a redhead incapable of tanning (as I was as a child) — a group who have historically been viewed as evil.

    I don’t know why today in books there is this pale ideal for women when in reality many whites are somewhat obsessed with tanning despite what the dermatologists say. My personal experience with such a fair complexion among other whites is being labeled as freakishly undead, vampiric, “OMG do you glow in the dark?”, and “Are you anemic?” This attribute inevitably warrants a disbelieving remark every few days from someone.

    why are the heroines so pale but the heroes who are usually the very same race, class, and ethnicity are rarely described as pale. I’ve noticed this in contemporaries as well as historicals. Paleness is feminine and darkness is masculine.

    I know it’s a generalization, but IMO, that’s because among whites pale men are generally not considered attractive. Also, it plays up the idea of the “other,” which is an important aspect of Romance no matter what ethnicity the characters are.

    Why do romance authors feel the need to describe their protags over and over again?

    I’m not published, but I have noticed that a subtle approach to description invariably means that alpha and beta readers assume by default that characters are white. This discussion has definitely given me some new approaches to try.

  277. CrankyBeach
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 12:01:15

    The first time I tried to read an “African-American” romance, I only made it to chapter 2 before I returned it to the library. Why? Because on just about every page, the author (thinly disguised as the characters) beat me over the head with just how many wonderful, under-reported accomplishments people of African descent have made, and isn’t it just awful that more people aren’t aware of these things, which had nothing whatsoever to do with the story. Or even the characters, for that matter.

    I have since read a number of books, romances and otherwise, with interesting characters of various races and ethnicities, who just happen to be the protagonists in some pretty good stories.

    The same thing happened the first time I tried to read an “inspirational” romance. By the end of chapter 2, both hero and heroine had preached about 3 sermons apiece. When I want a sermon, I don’t pick up an alleged romance novel, I go park myself in a church seat. That book went right back to the library too.

    And since then, I have read a number of inspirationals with pretty good characters inhabiting pretty good stories. Their faith (or their journey toward faith) is an integral part of who they are, and they don’t go around thumping an invisible Bible at people.

    I think it’s safe to say that there are unfortunate cases in ALL genres, wherein an author uses the book as a thinly-disguised vehicle to push their agenda, whatever it may be. Even more unfortunate is that they actually get published and inflicted upon an unsuspecting public.

  278. Estara
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 12:01:36

    @Xica: Japanese Kitsune are shifters – and I don’t think they’ve been done to death yet, although they show up now and again in fantasy

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kitsune

    And wouldn’t Anansi
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anansi
    and probably Coyote, being tricksters, also be shifters?
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coyote_(mythology)

    Charles de Lint uses Coyote in his Newport stories as far as I remember. Oh right, that’s a writer whose world isn’t completely white, although he loves his Celtic mythology too.

    JaneLindskold did a quite good story about old myths walking which had a shifter as the center of the story.
    http://www.amazon.com/Changer-Jane-Lindskold/dp/0380788497/

  279. Lori
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 12:03:00

    This has been a fascinating conversation and I really thank everyone for their willingness to discuss and learn and disagree. I feel like I’m learning a lot reading all the comments.

    I find as a white, Jewish woman with a Chinese daughter that descriptors are almost impossible. My daughter’s skin is lighter than mine and according to her she’s white. How do I respond to that? She is whiter than I and yet Chinese. I find it offensive when she’s referred to as “a doll” since there’s nothing doll-like about my Batman-afficionado daughter.

    I read Jade Lee’s Harlequins because of the Asian Hero’s. I have had only 2 short stories published and both heroines were white but one hero was Chinese and one was black. My own preferences as a woman coming out with those.

    I try to remain aware because my daughter is growing up in a world where I know she’ll have to fight being pigeon-holed. I appreciate the conversation because more awareness is better than less.

  280. Heather (errantdreams)
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 12:09:25

    I was thinking about the food descriptor thing some more, and realized, I don’t think I could give up flavor and food imagery and descriptors in sensual fiction. My husband and I had our first date over minty hot chocolates at our favorite cafe, and our first long talk over ice cream. We spent our first winter over steaming mugs of my special hot chocolate, and our relationship developed over my teaching him to cook. Our special occasions are marked by meals at favorite restaurants or wild cooking sprees. It has nothing to do with ethnicity or gender for us—food is, simply, a romantic and sensual thing. And I’ve gotten the impression it is for many others as well.

    This has certainly made me more aware of the issue, and I’m glad of that. But I also see a difference between “the only food reference in this book is used when describing the mixed-race/non-caucasian/etc. heroine, therefore it’s objectifying her race/gender/etc.,” and using flavor/food references in general. I can much more easily see the argument that the former is offensive; the latter seems like a matter of individual taste. I hope that makes sense.

  281. Erastes
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 12:14:09

    Especially when writing about male characters travelling around the world, it would be very difficult to manage that without some kind of exploitation, because that’s exactly what they did. It’s ok to write characters with ideas ahead of their time, we all know they existed, such as William Wilberforce, but they weren’t the norm, and time and again I read about blue stocking women who are striding about, talking back to everyone, teaching the native populations to read, or the slaves. Generally when they did that kind of thing they were missionaries, and that was just another kind of corruption and exploitation, after all.

    I would hesitate hugely to write a main protagonist of colour, and I applaud the very few m/m writers who have done it and done it well. I don’t doubt I could do it, as anyone who knows me knows I’m research whore, but I’d upset one faction or the other by doing it. If I did it accurately people would complain that I was condoning slavery (as one m/m author was accused of lately because she wrote Age of Sail) and if I made things not as they were I’d get hit by the accuracy brigade and accused of changing history.

    I get enough stick simply writing men as protagonists. People would chuck things at me if I tried, as a white female, to write a black gay male.

  282. Anah Crow
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 12:25:39

    @Heather (errantdreams):

    This has certainly made me more aware of the issue, and I'm glad of that. But I also see a difference between “the only food reference in this book is used when describing the mixed-race/non-caucasian/etc. heroine, therefore it's objectifying her race/gender/etc.,” and using flavor/food references in general. I can much more easily see the argument that the former is offensive; the latter seems like a matter of individual taste. I hope that makes sense.

    I think it makes perfect sense. I think I’d go nuts if I couldn’t describe a minty winter morning or a blanket so warm it’s like sliding into a mug of cocoa, a man’s vanilla (though some day I’ll get into the valuation of kink references) facade, a rebuke like lemon juice on a cut, a laugh like chocolate, a woman who leaves a man with his teeth stuck together like he was caught eating toffee. Food is immensely evocative. It’s being aware of the underlying meaning, built up by the past, that is important, and avoiding uses that we know come pre-loaded by the build up of past and present inequality/injustice.

  283. Janine
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 12:47:15

    @Erastes:

    I would hesitate hugely to write a main protagonist of colour, and I applaud the very few m/m writers who have done it and done it well. I don't doubt I could do it, as anyone who knows me knows I'm research whore, but I'd upset one faction or the other by doing it. If I did it accurately people would complain that I was condoning slavery (as one m/m author was accused of lately because she wrote Age of Sail) and if I made things not as they were I'd get hit by the accuracy brigade and accused of changing history.

    Yes. I think this is more of a problem in this genre than in other genres, because it is impossible to write a romance without, well, romanticizing something.

  284. Julia Sullivan
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 14:06:20

    Heather makes a good point. A character (or an author who was in tight POV with that character) might describe everyone in terms of food, and that would convey something about the character—their obsession with food—as much as it did about the other characters.

    But the rude AND bad-writing thing to me is “Joan had flawless skin and shiny blonde curls; Amy had deeply tanned skin and a Day-glo green buzz cut; Ann had rich chocolate skin and bourbon-dark eyes; Li had marzipan skin and almond-shaped eyes” where an entirely different linguistic register is used to describe white characters and characters of color.

    White characters may see characters of color as “other” and vice-versa (Walter Mosley’s Easy Rollins refers to a black man as “a man” and a white man as “a white man,” which was thought-provoking to me as a white reader), but since books are read by people of all self-identifications, I would hesitate, as a white writer, from enshrining the point of view in the meta-text.

  285. handyhunter
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 14:08:54

    @Not That PC: I refuse to stop calling my child pumpkin butter. I've called her that for 18 years it's too late to stop now.

    There’s a difference between a term of endearment and using food to fetishize someone’s skin colour. That is what bothers me about it. And I think people use these descriptions simply because they’re in use, the same way people tell stories that were told to them, and the same way certain ideas/images get perpetuated.

    (I also don’t think comparing POC to animals is a very good idea either… At least without care because that also has quite a history behind it.)

    Is some 18th or 19th century hero going to know it's offensive to 21st century women so he can't think her hair looks like caramel?

    My question wouldn’t be so much if it’s “PC”, but if it’s an anachronism. Did people describe themselves like food in the 18th or 19th century? Was “caramel” (or whatever food descriptor) used then, and in the same context? Is using caramel imposing 21st century values onto historical characters?

    I came across this video yesterday. If I’d seen it before I wrote the OP, I might have saved myself a few words. The Danger of a Single Story.

  286. Karen Scott
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 14:24:23

    @CD

    Your comment was randomly plucked out for the purpose of the comment I made below. It wasn’t actually aimed at you.

  287. Janine
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 14:42:42

    @Zealot:

    I understand completely. There was a period around 2000 when the acclaim for the Italian comedy “Life is Beautiful” started a wave of books and films with descriptions like “A heartwarming story set against the horrific backdrop of the Nazi deathcamps…” or “A zany celebration of the unquenchability of life in Dachau”. These included many “Jewish girl/guilt stricken Nazi” romances which even now piss me off.

    While people did indeed fall in love in the camps (I know several who did) and there were stories that could be called “heartwarming” (I have heard them from the actual survivors), most of these stories that were being published revolved around trying to focus on the little bits of goodness, or human compassion that were seen even at the worst moments. While such things can be applauded, sometimes focusing so desperately on them tends to mitigate or lessen the impact of the horror going on around the one merciful act, which in normal life would be quite insignificant.

    Does one glorify a small incident because it shows that not everything is ever totally black, at the risk of distracting people from the darker truths of the story? A hard balance, and no easy answer.

    At one point, I was looking at a section of a branch of the public library that was devoted to the Holocaust, and was astonished at the number of books (nonfiction) that were focused on those people who had risked their lives to save the Jews. Now, I don’t deny that those people existed and that they deserve to have their stories told, but the proportion of these books in this section of the library was much higher than the proportion of such people in the European population during World War II.

    I understand why; I think reading about genoide is so painful and depressing that the only way many people can bear to explore the subject is if they focus on the good rather than on the evil. But there are a lot more evil deeds than good ones during genocide, and sometimes I think that most of us human beings are afraid to look that truth straight in the eye.

  288. Janine
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 14:44:35

    @handyhunter:

    I came across this video yesterday. If I'd seen it before I wrote the OP, I might have saved myself a few words. The Danger of a Single Story.

    Wonderful video. Thanks so much for posting the link!

  289. Xica
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 14:51:41

    @Estara

    Thanks so much for the suggestions! I’m going to work on getting a page up before Friday, but since so many have commented on the lack of a minority male heroes, I’ll have a teaser poster up of my Tyrese Gibson, Takeshi Kaneshiro and one other male yet to be chosen clones. I’ll have to look at my Kresley Cole and other paranormal romance covers to get this just right :)

  290. Estara
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 15:58:06

    @Xica: Can I throw in a vote for Joe Cheng? So we have a Chinese/Taiwanese represented? I admit I’m just completely into him since seeing him in the Taiwanese dorama version of the Bara no Tameni manga “The Rose” (and I quite emphasized with Ella playing Bai He because I’m not that slim myself).

    I love the combination of almost androgynous beauty and that deep voice. But I’m also a manga fan, so androgynous beautiful men have never been a problem to me ^^.

    Music Video from scenes of the two (by the way, he isn’ t the hero in this one)
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U5d_jEqYJWA
    This is their first kiss scene and you can hear that is voice is fairly deep
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o0kptQKBK5Q

    And because I can’t get enough of his face here is one with stills only
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3qObCALsQPE
    oops, there’s some actual video in there too (the m/m is canon, by the way, Kui/Joe Cheng is supposed to start out in love with his brother – nothing comes of it, not in the manga nor in the dorama I believe – you can hear his voice even better here, though)

    I’m shallow, I know.

  291. Ros
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 16:23:00

    @handyhunter:

    Thank you for the link to that video. I think it should be compulsory viewing for all authors – and readers!

  292. Caligi
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 17:03:53

    @Karen Scott:

    If 95% of all romances had black protagonists, because whites were the minority, I would not have an issue with it. I read AA romance on occasion as is, though I admit to being sick to death of freakin’ Westmorelands. I’ve read and enjoyed a lot of dick lit and old SF where the protagonist and tone is almost always male without issue. So long as it’s a good story, I’ll read it.

    I get that people want to see themselves in stories. I definitely seek out the very few romances featuring happy cripples. But I don’t blame others for not wanting to read about hobbled heroes and heroines and I’ve accepted market forces for what they are.

    I admit my logic and argument is sort of all over the place. I think I just object to the term “white privilege” since I have nearly nothing in common with the white culture considered the norm either. Maybe “majority privilege” would be more accurate and a realization that you really can’t take a national approach to it. Where I come from, race really isn’t an issue. YMMV.

  293. Susan/DC
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 17:22:04

    @janine

    Except… do you ever see Jewish characters in all those books set in 19th century Europe?

    Try Carola Dunn’s Miss Jacobson’s Journey, a trad Regency. One of Carola Dunn’s ancestors was Jewish, although she herself is not. It’s about the only historical romance I’ve read with both a Jewish hero and heroine. It also has a third major character, a British aristocrat. It’s been a long time since I read it, but I have memories of a confrontation where the aristocrat claims his father was ruined by Jewish bankers, and the hero claims his father was ruined by aristocrats who’d rather pay their gambling debts than their tailors or their mortgage. I’ve read a few with Jewish secondary characters (e.g., Marjorie Farrell’s Lady Barbara’s Dilemma); in that book one potential hero’s not-so-subtle anti-semitism is what alerts the reader (and Lady Barbara) that he is not, in fact, true hero material.

    As for Adelia, in Arianna Franklin’s mystery series, I don’t think she is Jewish. She was a foundling adopted by a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother.

  294. Janine
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 17:30:53

    @Susan/DC: Thanks! I will have to look up Miss Jacobson’s Journey.

    ETA: My main point with the comment you quoted was that I don’t think the historicals set in Europe and the United States are necessarily more sensitive to issues of race and culture than those set in other continents.

  295. Jia
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 17:33:27

    @Julia Sullivan: Neil Gaiman’s Anansi Boys did a similar thing in which the only characters whose skin colors were described were that of the white folks. I personally liked the reversal. (The main characters were otherwise POC.)

  296. Anon
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 17:42:15

    @Janine: I don’t know if you have it but Barbara Samual’s BED OF SPICES has a Jewish heroine, it’s a medieval. There seems to be quite a few in straight historicals though – I read one recently where Shakespeare’s Dark Lady was revealed to have been Jewish. The story was told from her point her view.

    Otherwise, you could always try IVANHOE, although I actually prefer the television series to the book to be honest…

  297. Michelle
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 17:48:38

    About the food references, I kept thinking about how often the heroine’s breasts are described as apples.

    Also I think often a hero’s eyes are described as chocolate/melting chocolate. I wonder if people are as offended when a non poc, especially a male is described in food terms.

  298. Janine
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 18:02:32

    @Anon: Yes, I have read Barbara Samuel’s Bed of Spices. I have it on my keeper shelf. It is actually the hero who is Jewish (something I really appreciated, since usually if a protagonist is Jewish, it is more likely to be the heroine). The heroine in Bed of Spices is German and Christian. I thought it was a very good book and a sensitive depiction and I especially liked the portrayal of the anti-Jewish violence that swept Europe in the wake of the plague. I also liked that they moved to Egypt at the end of the book as that was a more tolerant place than Europe during that time frame. However, I did feel the epilogue was something of a copout because it seemed like the heroine held on to her Christian faith yet was accepted by the hero’s Jewish community, something that did not seem likely to me although I’m the first to admit that I’m not an expert on the era.

  299. Laura Vivanco
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 18:15:12

    It's about the only historical romance I've read with both a Jewish hero and heroine.

    I’ve come across one other: Claire Delacroix’s Honeyed Lies, which begins in “Toledo, Andalusia – June 1084.”

  300. Miriam Pace
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 18:23:54

    @Jane:

    Jane, I don’t know what went amiss, but I would be happy to send you review copies. Please contact me to set this up.

    Miriam Pace
    Parker Publishing Inc

  301. Edie
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 18:31:16

    That video posted in comment #285 is just made of all kinds of awesome..

  302. Xica
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 18:33:25

    @Estara

    Then count me in as shallow too, cuz Joe’s hot. A friend of mine said she’d never talk to me if I don’t include a Michael Fassbender (300) clone. And I’ll never be able to give up on Russell Wong. I still dream of him.

    @Barbara B
    For you, a Valkyrie who’s six feet tall, deep brown with a short, pixie cut.

  303. Xica
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 19:15:11

    @handyhunter

    I’m in agreement with everyone else who’s seen the video and posted.
    Thank you so much for that link. I think it adds to what you were saying, and if there’s a way to edit your original post to include it, I think that video is a so very necessary to your post.

  304. handyhunter
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 20:28:33

    @Xica:

    I don’t have the ability to edit posts, but yeah, it should be unburied out of the comments and in the OP somewhere. Perhaps at the beginning or end with a TL;DR WATCH THIS attached to it. ;)

  305. Farrah Rochon
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 21:03:50

    Thanks for that video in comment 285. Powerful, powerful words.

  306. kaigou
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 21:36:23

    The question about skin colors as food… I think it’s an easy shorthand (and thus questionable, since easy becomes lazy) because to some degree we’re all pretty agreed, well, mostly, on what ‘caramel’ or ‘coffee’ or ‘cafe-au-lait’ generally looks like. I tried to use ‘mahogany’ once, and a beta reader protested on the grounds that mahogany is deep red, almost crimson. But it’s not, I wanted to say, and, what is this deep red you speak of?

    Then I realized that working with wood means I’m familiar with the coloration, which isn’t nearly as red-toned as the stain/toner you see on faux-mahogany furniture. Sigh. That relative obscurity also makes ‘ochre’ difficult, since most people I’ve asked aren’t sure exactly what ochre is: yellow-brown, red-brown, tan/taupe or is that burnt umber and what’s umber, then, or is it the red-brown that’s sienna? and so on.

    (This is why one of my favorite lines from Monsters, Inc is, “oh, so that’s chartreuse.”)

    I can’t recall now who did the study, but it focused on reader perceptions of character ethnicity, and found that white readers defaulted to assuming the character was white, and black readers… did the same. If the description contained any cultural markers, readers of that ethnicity would recognize/identify the character’s ethnicity, but white readers, on average, were still more likely to see that character as white (unless the ethnic markers were really strong, or were tapping a major stereotype).

    The upshot is that if an all-white cast isn’t intended, you can’t just leave it to readers’ imagination, because the chances are better than even that they’ll imagine everyone white, barring major signifiers like name or accent. But at the same time, when an author notes skin tone or ethnicity only for some characters, my reaction is, “why did she get that moniker, and not him?”. Seems like the only fair way to do it is for all characters, so no one gets “this is the oddball who must have skin color described so you know for certain she’s not white”. Much better to simply write with no default skin-tone or ethnicity — or language, or religion, or sexuality — at all.

    This is a descriptive element to a story that I feel pretty strongly about, and when I find authors who do this, I get an additional layer of enjoyment. It’s like, in some way, I feel like the author actually thought about this, yo, instead of defaulting to “this character is white so I don’t have to actually describe her all that much, since you already know how it works”. I suppose that’s the kissing cousin to caramel, in that it’s just another form of lazy.

  307. LisaPS
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 21:47:51

    @kaigou:

    The upshot is that if an all-white cast isn’t intended, you can’t just leave it to readers’ imagination, because the chances are better than even that they’ll imagine everyone white, barring major signifiers like name or accent. But at the same time, when an author notes skin tone or ethnicity only for some characters, my reaction is, “why did she get that moniker, and not him?”. Seems like the only fair way to do it is for all characters, so no one gets “this is the oddball who must have skin color described so you know for certain she’s not white”. Much better to simply write with no default skin-tone or ethnicity — or language, or religion, or sexuality — at all.

    This is a descriptive element to a story that I feel pretty strongly about, and when I find authors who do this, I get an additional layer of enjoyment.

    I made this same point earlier. Could you name some of these authors who you feel meet this standard? I’m very, genuinely, interested in reading them.

  308. kaigou
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 22:25:03

    @LisaPS: …and I’d bet pizza money you were far more succinct, eh? (heh) Sorry I missed it, hard to keep up with 300-and-going!

    Could you name some of these authors who you feel meet this standard?

    Yep, says I, they’re …. and my brain goes schzzfizzle. Can I get back to you on that? I’m still kinda loopy from a day of inhaling shellac and sawdust. *heddesk*

  309. Roxie
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 22:40:12

    @Heather (errantdreams): Exactly. If someone told me my skin looked like coffee, I’d say thank you very much. Coffee is delicious. I have a hugely positive association to coffee, why wouldn’t one want to be similar to it? Instead, I get compared to a cracker. Boring and bland. Hmm… which would I prefer, coffee or a cracker? Not a difficult choice in my opinion. One persons compliment is another’s insult.

    I have to thank yall for this article. I hadn’t given it much thought, but the majority of romances that I’ve read have a white hero or heroine. While I was initially offended by the tone of some of the posts, once I stepped back I realized there were some valid points to be made.

    I actively seek out authors whose characters are Asian, Indian, American Indian, etc., simply because I enjoy reading about those cultures. I should have realized from the difficulty in finding these stories that there is a scarcity, and questioned why. Perhaps this is an example of my “white privilege”.

  310. Robin
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 22:57:29

    It’s taken me a long time to get through the post and all of the comments. Add me to the list of folks who did not find anything angry about either Handy Hunter’s post or Barbara B.’s comments. In fact, I’m impressed that the thread has gone for more than 300 comments without a thread-derailing throw down.

    One of the reasons I think this is a tough issue is because we want there to be some clear explanation and reason. When in fact, it’s much more likely to be the accumulation of many different factors, developments, and interactions. Anyone who works in a large industry knows that a complex system can take a long time to change paradigm, even when most of the people actively want the change.

    I have to agree with those who have put more emphasis on the people buying and selling books, because I think that even under the very best circumstances the “science” involved in predicting books that will sell or trends is, well, pretty unscientific and not all that efficient or coherent. Also, I think there’s far more anecdotal evidence here (i.e. how many letters constitutes a “scad” and is a book published in a brand new line with a title that invokes some pretty ugly stereotypes not selling because the established author’s name is “tainted? — and as an aside, I’m flabbergasted that an editor would use such language about an author’s name, if, indeed, that was the wording used).

    So why do these problems in the genre persist? For many reasons, IMO. First I think we need to acknowledge, though, that the genre has historically been normed white. I don’t think this is an arguable point, actually, even with the presence of sheikhs, braves, and other non-white characters. Sheikhs used to be Europeans masquerading as Middle Eastern, while Native American heroes have often been merely “adopted” white men. Even when they are “authentic,” there is a good deal of exotic fetishization, a sexifying of the “other” in ways that are extremely problematic as a matter of cultural representation and racial norming. I don’t, though, want to say that these portrayals are all bad, because I think there are some subversive elements to these characters and the romantic relationships featured in some of these novels. For example, these heroes often represent some form of rebellion against mainstream social values, even if other social norms are being codified.

    Regardless, I don’t think we can escape the fact that the history of the genre is Anglicized, and especially in the case of US Romances, it is largely pitched at a certain class level, as well. While it is true that there are many contemps now published featuring working class protags, historicals have been largely focused on very wealthy and well positioned characters, especially the heroes. Even the impoverished ones are usually of noble birth. And while the class issue might be more directly connected to the “fantasy” element of the genre, I think we need to resist that logic when talking about the whitewashing in the genre, because IMO there are many complex reasons for the narrow racial focus, some of which have been talked about here (the horrors of the Holocaust, slavery, etc. don’t always make a particularly romantic setting).

    Still, it’s a problem, and I don’t think we should avoid admitting that. And with AA authored and populated Romance, there is overt segregation in lines and on shelves, which is yet another aspect of the problem. I do not believe that any one minority group is *more* discriminated against than another in the genre, even though the AA situation is more visible (is, for example, writing white because you’re afraid of selling any better, really?). And it’s been easy to blame the reader for this — publishers certainly want the blame there, and there are anecdotal examples we can each point to that would seem to sustain that argument. And there will, of course, always be those readers who insist that they do only want to read about white characters, and those comments continue to circulate as evidence of readers’ racial bias.

    But think about another norm in Romance — the norm toward the female author. We hardly question the fact that most Romance is written by women or by men bearing a woman’s pen name. I think the majority of Romance readers see it as natural, somehow. Now let’s say that a new line is formed made up solely of male Romance writers. And a big deal is made of this, from separate covers to separate shelving to promo focused on the authors’ gender. How do you think that line would sell? Instead, say a couple hundred men started writing genre Romance, and those books were sold right along side the rest of the genre books, with no special attention paid to the male author name. Would readers initially view the books with some suspicion, a concern that the men couldn’t write genre Romance with the same “relatability” as women? I think so. But I also think that if the genders were well integrated over time as authors of genre Romance, a new norm would be created and readers would no longer have all these relatability issues.

    And I think it’s the same with racial, cultural, ethnic, and religious diversity in the genre. That it’s a matter of creating a new norm, a new paradigm, which takes time, concentrated effort, the willingness to hang in there until it takes hold, and full integration without a lot of focus on differences. IMO whenever publishers call attention to a multicultural Romance they doubly otherize it, alerting readers to a new norm, telling readers that there’s something *different* about a genre that some readers value for a certain level of predictability. And because the difference is race, it’s doubly difficult, because there *are* racial biases that we all hold, and those are compounded with all these other things that make the norming issue one of pure racism or racial prejudice.

    But since anecdotal evidence seems to hold sway in these discussions, consider some on the other side. Authors who are writing multicultural characters, interracial romances, who are themselves AA or other POC without advertizing themselves as such or writing for segregated lines. And their books are selling. Do you really think that readers assume the authors are white, or are they just not thinking about it at all? And what about the sheikhs who really aren’t white? Sure they’ve been eroticized and exoticized, but think about how much RL suspicion there is toward Middle Eastern men in the US and then look at the incredible popularity of sheikh heroes. That has always fascinated me, and I cannot bring myself to see the phenomenon as wholly bad. In fact, I’d love to know how Kate Hardy’s Surrender to the Playboy Sheikh sold, since he’s a really progressive hero. I’d also love to know how multicultural Romance ebooks are selling — are the sales strong or weak there? And I’m curious about how Jade Lee’s Tigress books have been selling, since she was writing those long before the Blaze historical.

    In any case, I’m not denying that some readers might never be comfortable with non-white protags in their Romance. And I’m not denying that the racial tensions and biases in US society are absent from genre Romance. But I honestly don’t think discriminatory attitudes on the part of readers, editors, authors, and publishers are driving the historically shaped whitewash of the genre. And I think if publishers were willing to hold fast to diversifying their offerings, and if books currently shelves separately were, at the least, double shelved so they were integrated with the rest of the genre, and overall books authored by non-white authors and featuring non-white protags were not marked as *substantively* different (i.e. not Romance), then over time the norm will change and readers and our expectations will simply be conditioned differently (i.e. to expect diversity as “normal” in the genre).

    Will this happen? I don’t know, but I do think it would make for a very different cultural and racial landscape in the genre and a much less discriminatory effect in marketing and writing.

  311. Robin
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 23:04:24

    Also, one point about cultural appropriation: I think it’s probably inevitable any time a person of one race/culture/ethnicity writes about a person from another race/culture/ethnicity, but I don’t think it’s always bad. Cultures appropriate from one another in real life all the time. Sometimes the effects are bad — colonialism, imperialism, assimilation, erasure, etc., but sometimes they are positive — adaptation, subversion, progression, diversification. When the point is for one culture to dominate over another or be shown as superior, of course it’s bad, but even then, there’s always an amazing amount of subversion of the dominant culture that can and does occur in these situations.

    So while I loved Handy Hunter’s post a lot and agreed with so much of what she had to say, I also think that we need to distinguish the perpetuation of demeaning stereotypes from the evolution of cultures through contact and engagement with other cultures. And I personally love it when Romance novels take on these issues with subtlety and courage (and yes, I think some have!). I’d rather read a book in which the author took a risk and did it thoughtfully but imperfectly than have the author be too afraid to try anything outside her own personal experience.

  312. Janine
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 23:41:26

    @handyhunter:

    I don't have the ability to edit posts, but yeah, it should be unburied out of the comments and in the OP somewhere. Perhaps at the beginning or end with a TL;DR WATCH THIS attached to it. ;)

    Done.

  313. handyhunter
    Oct 29, 2009 @ 01:29:42

    @Janine: Thank you!

    @Robin: Also, one point about cultural appropriation: I think it's probably inevitable any time a person of one race/culture/ethnicity writes about a person from another race/culture/ethnicity,

    I would probably find that less appropriative (depending on how it was written) than writing about white characters in non-western/foreign countries or white characters borrowing aspects of another culture because it’s “cool”, without much regard for the “uncool” parts or the people.

    the horrors of the Holocaust, slavery, etc. don't always make a particularly romantic setting

    But there’s more to POC than their suffering, which part of what Adichie talks about in the video I linked to. I think a reason why people automatically associate POC with hardship is because it’s the stories that have been told about them, and their other stories aren’t heard or told as much. Which then makes it more difficult to imagine POC in love stories, say, as the hero or main character.

    I think the analogy to male romance writers is a bit off because it doesn’t include men of colour who might write romance novels, as if gender were somehow more important than or replaced race (this is the same problem when talking about feminism, in that it tends to be about white women).

    Cultures appropriate from one another in real life all the time. Sometimes the effects are bad -’ colonialism, imperialism, assimilation, erasure, etc., but sometimes they are positive -’ adaptation, subversion, progression, diversification.

    I’m going to link to this post again because it explains so much better than I could what appropriation is (which is different from assimilation or even idea sharing between two similarly powered cultures — which is why a white main American character in Britain, for example, doesn’t have the same effect as a white main character in India or China). And why when writing about another (less dominant) culture, it’s important that it doesn’t stem from a place of entitlement, which is where appropriation stems from.

    I think looking at the positive and negative effects like that doesn’t take into account how or why they are connected. Of course less dominant cultures have to adapt (assimilate) in order to survive, due to colonialism and imperialism; it’s not just that one effect/action is bad and the other is good… I’m a little bit at a loss as to how to explain this.

    I'd rather read a book in which the author took a risk and did it thoughtfully but imperfectly than have the author be too afraid to try anything outside her own personal experience.

    So would I, but I also think the book should stand up to critical analysis* of race and appropriation. And should it come up short, I’d rather the author tried to fix this in their next book(s), instead of defending their work or contributing to racefail. But that tends to mean that they’re already aware of how racism and privilege works.

    *Even if it’s only for the people who say “it’s only fiction” or “I don’t want to think that hard about my escapist reading”. That way they don’t have to, if stories didn’t contain troublesome elements like appropriation.

  314. Barbara B.
    Oct 29, 2009 @ 06:23:07

    handy hunter said-
    “But there's more to POC than their suffering, which part of what Adichie talks about in the video I linked to. I think a reason why people automatically associate POC with hardship is because it's the stories that have been told about them, and their other stories aren't heard or told as much. Which then makes it more difficult to imagine POC in love stories, say, as the hero or main character.”

    Very true. This reminds me of when I first went off to college. I’d be chatting with a white stranger or new acquaintance and they’d casually bring up my experiences of living in the ghetto and being on welfare. At first I’d think they were mistaking me for someone else. This happened over and over again and I finally realized that those people thought they knew my life story based on movies, the news, and TV shows. I grew up in a working class neighborhood that was mostly black due to white flight. My family wasn’t on welfare and we knew nothing about drug life or street culture.

    My boyfriend, a law student, had similar experiences. He grew up middle-classed with parents who were educators. He told me that no matter where he went white people would approach him looking for drugs. It was hilarious to me because a bigger nerd you will never meet. Hanging out with him I often witnessed young white men approach him for drugs. It was just a very odd thing. I also had a problem with older white men approaching me as a prostitute or dominatrix. I never understood why. I walked around with coke bottle thick glasses and dressed exactly the way most of the other female students did. It used to drive me crazy. It finally dawned on me that my double D breasts and race marked me as a prostitute to some men. And yet, I’ve had a breast reduction and still occasionally get approached in that way. Believe me I’m no great beauty, either.

    That one story theory has a lot of traction. It certainly has affected the way mainstream society looks at me.

  315. Lisa Paitz Spindler (LisaPS)
    Oct 29, 2009 @ 07:47:39

    @handy hunter:

    “But there's more to POC than their suffering, which part of what Adichie talks about in the video I linked to. I think a reason why people automatically associate POC with hardship is because it's the stories that have been told about them, and their other stories aren't heard or told as much. Which then makes it more difficult to imagine POC in love stories, say, as the hero or main character.”

    Adichie’s speech made me feel like I had permission to write the story I want to write because it is just one story in many — and that we should have many. It released me from the fear of my story being taken as emblematic and the misconception that I had to write a certain kind of story if I was going to write about POC at all. I’m not sure if that makes sense, but I’m not sure how else to articulate the message I took from that powerful speech.

    @kaigou:

    …and I’d bet pizza money you were far more succinct, eh? (heh) Sorry I missed it, hard to keep up with 300-and-going!

    Could you name some of these authors who you feel meet this standard?

    Yep, says I, they’re …. and my brain goes schzzfizzle. Can I get back to you on that? I’m still kinda loopy from a day of inhaling shellac and sawdust. *heddesk*

    Hey, NP. This has indeed been a very long, educational thread. I’m just tallying up all the books people here have mentioned as positive examples.

  316. handyhunter
    Oct 29, 2009 @ 07:51:39

    @Barbara B.: Yes, there’s something rather…extreme about how POC are looked at or written about, either asexual or hypersexualized (ok for sex, but not romantic relationships). Not whole people, just some version of someone else’s ideas of us. Not worth listening to until we tell stories that are incredibly personal, and even (especially) then I fear some clueless white person will find a way to dismiss it or shape it to their view of what POC are supposed to be like. I don’t know. It’s why when I come across characters of colour who I love that are written as people, I hold on hard. But it’s not quite enough.

  317. Robin
    Oct 29, 2009 @ 11:25:55

    @handyhunter:

    But there's more to POC than their suffering

    Of course! But as you know, genre Romance is sustained by a certain idealization, which means that we’ve seen a lot of Romances set during the antebellum South that either whitewash, erase, or present a paternalistic image of blacks (slave and free) during the period. Thus you get reactions like that of the reader earlier in the thread who said she thinks it’s horrible when Romances are set in this period because of the erasure/whitewashing.

    By the same token, you have many Romances set in time periods in which horrific things were occurring but, because they’ve become popular eras to idealize, I suspect many readers aren’t even aware of all the stuff occurring during the set time/place.

    Romance has often relied on *invented history* that has, because of the way it’s been passed from book to book, author to author, reader to reader, has taken on an air of authenticity that is completely artificial (on Twitter I compared bad history to an STD in the genre, indiscriminately passed around).

    So the point I was trying to make isn’t that we should persist in stereotyping POC by staying away from certain settings in the genre; it’s that the pseudo history invented in Romance makes it difficult sometimes to write more authentic historical stories without running up against various resistances, including readers who insist that the author is *wrong wrong wrong* in her historical portrayal (even though her book is better researched than so many books before it). So not only does it take real sensitivity and awareness on the part of the author, but it requires a certain breaking through reader expectations set by the norms of the genre.

    I think the analogy to male romance writers is a bit off because it doesn't include men of colour who might write romance novels, as if gender were somehow more important than or replaced race (this is the same problem when talking about feminism, in that it tends to be about white women).

    I was not trying to create an equitable analogy at all there, Handy Hunter, but rather an illustration of a particular *norm* in the genre and the way readers often take that norm for granted as “natural,” more perhaps from conditioning than from any valid, logical rationale or conscious resistance to a different norm.

    I think looking at the positive and negative effects like that doesn't take into account how or why they are connected. Of course less dominant cultures have to adapt (assimilate) in order to survive, due to colonialism and imperialism; it's not just that one effect/action is bad and the other is good… I'm a little bit at a loss as to how to explain this.

    Well, it may have helped if I had been clear that I was talking about cultural appropriation in a broader sense. But also, as someone who works in the field of postcolonial theory, I’m working off multiple models of appropriation, not all of which conform to the definition in that post. That’s a tangent, so I won’t entertain it here, but I will just say that I once witnessed a very interesting debate between Leslie Marmon Silko and Maxine Hong Kingston, who were arguing about whether cultural symbols should/could be appropriated and re-signified by other cultures. Kingston’s position was yes, no symbol was “owned” by a culture and the fluidity of culture made such transformation inevitable, while Silko insisted that cultures should be able to retain the integrity of their symbols, that transfer was inseparable from domination, and that transformation should not be supported and viewed as positive (I’m *massively* paraphrasing and simplifying here). Obviously, it’s an ongoing debate.

    ITA with you, though, that it’s much more complicated than bad or good, and I should not have tried to simplify my point so much. All I was really trying to say was that even dominant cultures are altered in the context of cultural contact. And you often have dual narratives running simultaneously – the “official” narrative (often the national narrative, the governmental narrative) that the “mother” culture is pure and dominant and wholly noble, while the experiences of people and the casual cultures that evolve tell much different stories. I’m not saying that in an effort to explain, excuse or justify anything – just as a way to resist the model of colonialism/imperialism/domination/invasion that paints the invading culture as all powerful and the invaded culture as stripped of all power and cultural vitality (i.e. the failure of New Historicism). That is, I’ve seen very well-intentioned attempts to show cultural oppression that end up doubly disempowering the people of the oppressed culture, which I find just as problematic as attempts to justify the oppression.

  318. Janine
    Oct 29, 2009 @ 12:48:27

    This reminds me of when I first went off to college. I'd be chatting with a white stranger or new acquaintance and they'd casually bring up my experiences of living in the ghetto and being on welfare. At first I'd think they were mistaking me for someone else. This happened over and over again and I finally realized that those people thought they knew my life story based on movies, the news, and TV shows.

    I had a similar experience when I emigrated to this country from Israel. I arrived in an Illinois town to realize have my fellow seventh graders tell me that in Israel “everyone wears sheets and rides on camels.”

    I also know an immigrant from Bosnia who told me that when he came to this country people tried to teach him how to use a toilet — as if he didn’t already know!

  319. GrowlyCub
    Oct 29, 2009 @ 13:23:41

    @Janine:

    tried to teach him how to use a toilet -’ as if he didn't already know!

    As to the toilets and knowing how to use them, I’ll relate a story from my July trip to Germany. I and several of the American ladies who were on the plane with me sought out the bathrooms right after arrival.

    I overheard them saying that there was no way to flush and how gross that was. A couple left without even trying to figure it out. I was able to explain to the others how to use this particular system.

    I recently stayed at a 3 star hotel here in the U.S. If there hadn’t been instructions on how to use that particular shower (three different steps required to turn on and get warm water) I would have never figured it out on my own.

    I know your example was trying to show cultural insensitivity and assumed superiority, but as somebody who worked in international education for years, occasionally it’s indeed necessary to explain how modern conveniences work. If you have ever only seen a toilet with an overhead tank on which there’s a string you need to pull or a hole in the ground with no flushing mechanism at all, a lever or push button might stump you.

    Just as the small and large integrated push buttons built into the wall over the toilet bowl stumped those American ladies in Stuttgart (in case you are curious why there were two buttons – it’s for water saving; the small button releases a lesser amount of water).

    Sometimes assuming that people from other cultures will know exactly how things work can be as harmful as assuming they know nothing.

  320. Janine
    Oct 29, 2009 @ 15:58:48

    @GrowlyCub: I understand, Growly. But perhaps there are sensitive and insensitive ways to teach this? This Bosnian immigrant was so offended, I can’t even tell you. He remembered it years later and got really upset while telling me the story.

  321. liz m
    Oct 29, 2009 @ 16:15:38

    This thread makes me tired. I’m just not up for it today. And you know what? That is the ULTIMATE example of WP – that I consider it my right to decide if this topic is worthy of consideration or not, because what I think or feel about something is what’s correct to feel about something.

    But that’s never (or at least not today) going to get through to some. And I have a sick kid and no sleep, so how coherent would I be? Thank you for hosting this thread, and thank you Jade Lee for your honesty. I read very little HQN so I didn’t pay any attention to the promos I saw. Earlier this morning I bought a Carolyn Jewell novel as a result of one of her comments – I’m headed back to my e-book store of choice to pick up some Concubine and … wait…. I already have it!!! I bought it in a bundle (on someone’s suggestion) and didn’t read it yet.

    I’m buying something backlist. Because the way we vote is 20% with out words and 80% with our money. Change comes from breaking out of our patterns and putting our money where our mouth is.

  322. Caligi
    Oct 29, 2009 @ 16:57:38

    I get people who speak to me slowly or try to do for me things I have well in hand because they see my walker and make assumptions.

    I really don’t see the problem. In a sentence or two they’re set straight. I can hardly fault them for trying to be helpful, even if they failed at it.

    We all make assumptions and have biases.

  323. handyhunter
    Oct 29, 2009 @ 17:28:50

    @GrowlyCub: assumed superiority

    Why do people think this when POC ask to be taken seriously or like normal human beings? Or when POC assert that we might know our stories better than other people writing us?

    @Robin: Romance has often relied on *invented history* that has, because of the way it's been passed from book to book, author to author, reader to reader, has taken on an air of authenticity that is completely artificial (on Twitter I compared bad history to an STD in the genre, indiscriminately passed around).

    Heh. Relatedly, I wish more people would look at history as a living, breathing, evolving creature that changes as we find out more about it, sometimes by shifting perspective a little (away from the white male gaze).

    So not only does it take real sensitivity and awareness on the part of the author, but it requires a certain breaking through reader expectations set by the norms of the genre.

    Yes, it’s why I wish there were more awareness and discussion of race and appropriation.

    I will just say that I once witnessed a very interesting debate between Leslie Marmon Silko and Maxine Hong Kingston, who were arguing about whether cultural symbols should/could be appropriated and re-signified by other cultures. Kingston's position was yes, no symbol was “owned” by a culture and the fluidity of culture made such transformation inevitable, while Silko insisted that cultures should be able to retain the integrity of their symbols, that transfer was inseparable from domination, and that transformation should not be supported and viewed as positive (I'm *massively* paraphrasing and simplifying here). Obviously, it's an ongoing debate.

    Yes, POC have different opinions and different experiences, even within the same race and culture. I think context/history is an important factor; I understand you’re simplifying, but Silko is Native American and Kingston is Chinese-American — there are some shared issues, but it’s not all the same. The impact on Native Americans when European settlers migrated to the New World – the continuing erasure of them – is not the same as Chinese people migrating to America. But I think you know this?

  324. Robin
    Oct 30, 2009 @ 00:30:32

    @handyhunter:

    I understand you're simplifying, but Silko is Native American and Kingston is Chinese-American -’ there are some shared issues, but it's not all the same. The impact on Native Americans when European settlers migrated to the New World – the continuing erasure of them – is not the same as Chinese people migrating to America. But I think you know this?

    Yup, but do you really think it’s as clear as part Native American v. child of Chinese immigrants? I’m very wary of making that leap, and not just because Silko is actually mixed heritage (Anglo, Mexican, and Laguna, IIRC). Gerald Vizenor, for example, would, I think, share Kingston’s POV. Both are very fond of the trickster figure, even though Vizenor, as Chippewa, might superficially be aligned more closely with Silko.

    There are so many issues here, as you know, from the nature of the sacred, the nature of culture (I keep thinking, too, of Homi Bhabha’s theories of cultural hybridity), the construction of race and ethnicity, the rhetoric of nationhood, matriarchal v. patriarchal societies (i.e. the Laguna are matriarchal), the substantive differences among indigenous nations (members of the Iroquois Confederacy, for example, controlled the Eastern part of what’s now the US through the reduction of Canada in 1763 and so had a very different experience of Anglo imposition than the Chippewa or the Pueblo or the Crow/Absarokee, etc.). Then there is the question of how each person identifies themselves as part of culture, how they represent that in their work, how that does and does not conform to the historical experiences that others in their general racial/cultural/ethnic cohort might define them, etc. Oy, just thinking about it is overwhelming, lol. In any case, it’s most definitely an amazing example of how difficult these questions of representation and appropriation are, which circles back to your original call for more awareness and understanding re. the Romance genre.

  325. LisaPS
    Oct 30, 2009 @ 07:49:57

    @handyhunter:

    Or when POC assert that we might know our stories better than other people writing us?

    Does this mean that as a white writer I shouldn’t even try to tell stories with protagonists who are POC? I’m genuinely wondering, not trying to be confrontational. Would even my attempt be condescending no matter how good my intentions or in-depth my research because these aren’t my stories to tell? I ask because I know there’s no possible way I can get it 100% right no matter how hard I try. In most things it’s better to try and fail rather than to not try at all, but does that hold for this?

  326. Ros
    Oct 30, 2009 @ 09:05:11

    @LisaPS: I have been wondering about this too, Lisa. I have heard some POC say one thing and some another, and I get that both are entitled to feel the way they do. I would be interested to hear what handyhunter thinks about it, too.

    At the moment, the conclusion I’ve come to – and I am not trying to suggest that this is the ‘right’ answer, or that every writer should do the same – is that I have to write the stories that I think I can tell, and if that includes characters from different ethnic and racial backgrounds from me, I have to do my best to write them well and to tell a range of different stories for them. I’m British and I write stories set in the UK, so there are a plethora of different non-white and non-English stories to be told.

    I have just submitted my first novel to M&B. It’s set mainly in London and in my mind one of the secondary characters was definitely a typical East-London black girl. She appears in the novel as a part-time cleaning lady, supplementing her funding for a PhD in bio-molecular physics. She also acts as the style-guru for my clueless MC. I thought really long and hard about whether I wanted to say explicitly that she was black – given that I didn’t make a point of saying any of my white characters were white – and in the end I didn’t. I know this means that many readers will default to the assumption that this character is white, too, and maybe another time I’d make a different choice. I’m also thinking about my next story and whether one of the protagonists – probably the hero would fit best – might work well as a non-white character. I’m a bit nervous, because the content of the story would play straight into the ‘black men can dance’ stereotype, so I’d like to try to find a way to subvert that somehow.

    Sorry, too rambling and off topic. I guess I’m just feeling that this whole area is always more complicated and maybe there aren’t ‘right’ choices (though there are certainly ‘wrong’ ones) – we just have to keep trying, failing, trying again and failing better.

  327. LisaPS
    Oct 30, 2009 @ 09:35:17

    @Ros:

    I have to write the stories that I think I can tell, and if that includes characters from different ethnic and racial backgrounds from me, I have to do my best to write them well and to tell a range of different stories for them.

    I maintain the Danger Gal Blog where I profile female characters, usually in science fiction, who subvert common stereotypes. I’ve often made the point that if the gender of a character makes no difference in a story that I wish fewer stories defaulted to male — and the same idea holds true for characters of color. If we do our characterization homework, a character’s ethnicity should be examined and if the message of the story or the facet of life I’m picking apart has nothing to do with ethnicity then I should consider all possible ethnic backgrounds. This means that I have stories to tell with protagonists who are POC and their ethnicity is not the focus of the story, but certainly it will influence how they see their world. I hope that makes sense. So many stories with characters of color focus on ethnicity, so I have no idea if there’s a place for my approach. Maybe that’s just another example of my only experience being with a particular “single story?”

    She appears in the novel as a part-time cleaning lady, supplementing her funding for a PhD in bio-molecular physics.

    Please tell me that this character gets her own book next.

  328. Xica
    Oct 30, 2009 @ 10:24:35

    @Ros

    “She appears in the novel as a part-time cleaning lady, supplementing her funding for a PhD in bio-molecular physics. She also acts as the style-guru for my clueless MC”

    Ros, I commend you for adding a character of color, but I kinda cringed at the second line. So often POC and gay and lesbian characters are thrust into the role of a sidekick, with no life of their own (not saying that’s what you’ve done, your character may have a very full life and you may have woven this into the story) save for being a style guru/jokester/confidant. And I might have to ask why someone going for their PHD would act as a style guru (I know individuals who’ve gotten their Bachelors while working as cooks and cleaners, but this is the first one going for a PHD. Not saying it isn’t done, but once you get your Masters over in the US, you should be able to get a higher paying job than cleaning lady). I guess I’m a bit sensitive to this because in the US, many books and movies have a POC acting as the “urban” style coach, while its basically all about the MC.

    Please don’t think I’m jumping on you, because that is not my intent and I would welcome a conversation on this. I just thought I’d point it out, and I’m only one opinion. What we are discussing is not an easy thing to do, so I commend you for putting it out here. When I began reading this thread, I started work on an on-line graphic novel that focuses on inter-racial couplings in a paranormal world. I state this because when it came time to assign attributes, I thought long and hard about whether I should make the African American male a werewolf or a warlock. Yeah, silly huh?

    While that may seem innocent at first glance, if not done right, it could offend. See, a werewolf in popular fiction is barechested and enraged most often, and I don’t want anyone to think that’s the default position for a black male. So I decided to make him more deliberately laid back, in possession of an ancient, cerebral wolf power.

    So I thought to change him to a wizard, until I realized I didn’t want to hear him described as a witch doctor, since I plan on adding a back story of his African roots (sorry, but I saw some protesters with Obama photoshopped as a witch doctor and that image galls me). Then I created an Asian character and made him a Gorgon. But after some research, I decided to make him the Wizard. Why? because I rarely read any fiction with Asian characters dealing with magic, though hopefully, someone on here can point me to some good paranormal romance where this is so. After reading Barbara’s comments, I decided to create a tall Valkyrie who’s African American. But I didn’t want her with long flowing hair. So for her backstory, I decided that even though she was on Chemo-therapy, she tried to stop a kid from being mugged and was almost killed. Because of her bravery she was made into a Valkyrie, because, after reading I think it was Angela’s comments, why do writers in paranormal act as if there would be no friction between races?
    I decided that since the Valkyries I read about are usually non-minority, her inclusion rubs some the wrong way, and it will make for a good storyline I believe. Anyway, I write this way too long insight into my own deliberations as a POC to say, I wish you well, and we all have reservations at some point. Oh, and the non-minority hunk just became the gorgon.

  329. Ros
    Oct 30, 2009 @ 11:25:43

    @Xica: Thanks for the comment, and I get your point. I think this is a problem that I am always going to have – how to write POC in ways that don’t play into prevailing stereotypes – especially when it’s not always easy to see those stereotypes. I wasn’t giving my example as a suggestion of how to do it right – I’m sure that there are things I will have done that didn’t work. I was more trying to show how, even when it is an issue that an author is trying to think about, there are difficult choices to make. Your story shows that same process at work. It’s not easy, but I think the thing that I’ve learned most from this thread is that the more people who are telling these stories – even if they are sometimes reinforcing the same old story – the more likely we are to move towards a better, richer, stronger way of thinking, writing and reading about the mixed-up, complicated world we live in.

    Btw, PhD’s work differently in the UK – you might not have a Masters, you often won’t have full funding. Yes you can get teaching jobs, but they aren’t always worth the time for the money. I am partly-funding mine at the moment by doing some not-much-more-than-minimum-wage secretarial work. I hope it’s clear in the story why my character is doing this. She definitely gets (imo) the best line in the whole book! And yes, Lisa, I’d love to write her story one day. I’ll put that on the list!

  330. Xica
    Oct 30, 2009 @ 11:50:24

    @Ros,

    Thanks so much for taking the time to explain the difference regarding PHD’s.
    I think cultural history plays into it more than not when writing a POC in fiction.
    I guess I just wondered why her job would be as a cleaning lady, instead of the example of yourself, a secretarial job perhaps. I don’t mean to imply that a cleaning lady isn’t a worthy profession, so I hope those reading this will forgive me. It could be the cultural history in the US I’m falling back on, in regarding POC and domestic positions, as many times in real life those are long, hard hours for little pay. However, many a child has been put through college or a home bought through those jobs, with the parents wanting a better life for their offspring. In the US, while a parent might be a custodian or domestic, once their child is in college they look for other occupations to suppliment their income. It’s the “wanting better for my child than I had.” Yet in these tough economic times, I could see where that could possibly be the only alternative to get ahead.

  331. Ros
    Oct 30, 2009 @ 13:38:09

    @Xica: Oh yes, I see.

    I spent a couple of years living in the US recently and one of the things I was very struck by was just how differently the whole racial issue is configured there. Of course we have racial tensions and issues in the UK, but they are different from those in the US. Broadly speaking, our problems stem from large-scale, relatively recent (within the last 50 years) immigration – largely from India and Pakistan, from the Caribbean, and more recently from Eastern Europe. Though of course many immigrants will have worked the worst kinds of jobs, there isn’t a big history of immigrants in domestic service, largely because domestic service had all but died out by the 1950′s. Of course some will have been office cleaners and so on, but the majority will have been involved in industrial work – on the docks, in the factories and so on. It’s possible that I’m wrong about this, but I don’t think a British black person would respond in quite the same way to my character as you did.

    Which again illustrates some of the things that we have been talking about. The stories here are different from the stories in the US, and stories in other places around the world. It’s not that any one of these stories is right, and the others wrong, but it is that we need to hear – and therefore tell – all these stories.

  332. handyhunter
    Oct 30, 2009 @ 15:19:10

    @LisaPS: I've often made the point that if the gender of a character makes no difference in a story that I wish fewer stories defaulted to male -’ and the same idea holds true for characters of color. If we do our characterization homework, a character's ethnicity should be examined and if the message of the story or the facet of life I'm picking apart has nothing to do with ethnicity then I should consider all possible ethnic backgrounds. This means that I have stories to tell with protagonists who are POC and their ethnicity is not the focus of the story, but certainly it will influence how they see their world.

    Yes, that’s it exactly. Thank you!

    (I don’t mean white people shouldn’t write POC – or POC of one culture shouldn’t write POC of other cultures – but if, say, criticism of the story comes up by a POC, I think it’s worth listening to because, well, maybe we know a little bit more about what it’s like to be a person of colour.)

  333. A
    Nov 03, 2009 @ 06:16:22

    I am of multcultural background. My overall appearance is “white.” My birth certificate defines my race as “white.” If asked for my “race,” I respond “white” because it’s easier than trying to explain the artificial nuances of racial classifcation, who my grandmother was, who my great-grandfather was, etc.. I embrace my multicultural identity, but at the end of the day, if pressed to be “something,” I’m white.

    I’ve never faced racial prejudice from “white” people, I’ve experienced more than a little “colorism” prejudice from people identifying as another race.

    My perspective: “white” writers (whether ‘real white’ or ‘white enough to be considered a member of the dominant group’) cannot hope for a break when it comes to writing characters of alternative race and/or culture.

    If the “white” writer does a good job and gets it right, there’s praise, but there’s also an underlying resentment directed to the writer’s success, the idea that it would be more beneficial for a writer of color to succeed instead of the “white” writer.

    If a “white” writer does a lousy job, features unwholesome stereotypes, etc., s/he is mocked or attacked, is accused of “racism,” and faces all manner of criticism.

    If a “white” writer eschews characters of color, that’s put down as “white privilege” and “exclusion.”

    I, for one, enjoy developing characters of diverse backgrounds and experiences. I’ve faced my share of criticism for it. If I write about wealthy Black planters or tradesmen utilizing slave labor in the Antebellum era, I’m accused of dishonesty (if the reader is ignorant of the fact that Black planters/slaveowners thrived in the South) OR I’m “portraying (Blacks) in a negative light and ignoring the evils of slavery.”

    If I point out American Indians captured and enslaved European and Black people, sometimes torturing them to death, I am “corrected” by people who “know” that American Indians adopted captives into their tribes, the captives were all well-treated and lived happily with the Indians, etc.

    It seems like many people want stereotypes of the “white = greedy, saddistic, exploitative, opportunisitc” and “not white = spiritual, beautiful, non-violent, accepting all races/cultures, knowledgeable/in tune with Mother earth, morally superior to the white man…”

    Mostly, I write my characters as characters. It really doesn’t matter what one’s color/racial identity is. Humans have varying motives and their behavior has more to do with character than color. Regardless of race/cultural identity, a person can be a hero/ine or a villain/ess, good or evil, loving or abusive, scrupulous or unprincipled.

    I don’t feel I “owe” it to a particular race/culture to portray characters of their race/culture in the best possible light. I don’t “owe” it to minorities to portray whites in the worst possible light. I owe ALL readers a good story.

    Right now I’m “cooking” on a plotline of an Antebellum, biracial heroine who inherits a fortune from her white father. Impossible? Look up Amanda America Dickson’s bio. Truth is always stranger than fiction.

  334. A
    Nov 03, 2009 @ 06:53:54

    @Ros:

    The point of ‘white privilege' is not that white people believe themselves more privileged but that by virtue of the way our society is, we are privileged in a whole host of ways we often do not even notice. Of course you are right to say that not all white people are the same and we do not all enjoy the same privileges. And yes, being poor will mean that there are many privileges you don't have.

    But – and this is the point of having the debate here – you do have, by virtue simply of your colour, the privilege of being able to pick up almost any romance novel and find a heroine who has the same skin tone as you, without need for any discussion or defence of that fact. You may not regard that as a privilege, but for those women who cannot do the same, you are unquestionably in a privileged position in this respect.

    I’m uninterested in entertaining lengthy debate on the subject, but it’s possible for ANY person or group to point at another person or group and cite that person/group enjoying advantage/privilege the other person/group doesn’t enjoy. “The grass always looks greener,” etc..

    That said, I’ve no intention of arm-wrestling the alleged unprivileged group/person out of its beliefs. Perception influences reality. If someone’s convinced the color of a band-aid demonstrates “unfair” or “unearned” advantage, so be it.

  335. A
    Nov 03, 2009 @ 07:59:30

    I’d like to point out the inherent racism in Handy Hunter’s statement:

    Romance suffers from the same problem SF/F does. It's very, very white.

    I personally do not have a problem with white characters, nor do I view the presence of white characters in books as something “defective” or “problematic.”

    Ms. Hunter appears to take greater issue against white characters in romance than she does against the lack of POC in romance and SF/F.

    It would also seem that readers are far more okay with reading about vampires and werewolves and demons and angels than characters of colour. That is not okay.

    Why is it “not okay” for readers to prefer genres most appealing to readers? For that matter, comparison of paranormal characters to POC demonstrates poor logic. I and other authors have written paranormal characters of color. Paranormal characters are more a separate species (from human) than a separate race/color.

    It is not diversity to have white people running around in foreign lands without much thought to the people who are native to those lands. I can't say I find it romantic when they're in the middle of colonizing another country either; I'm not sure how I'm supposed to root for our heroes when they're killing or enslaving other people, or condoning/profiting from it, even if they aren't actively participating (this is an issue even when white characters don't visit foreign lands, but it's a bit harder to ignore, I think, when they're in the middle of taking over another country).

    1. Not every author writes a book with the intent of promoting diversity. Nor should they.

    2. I have no problem with accurate historical novels. I comprehend the concept “that was then, this is now.” As for the killing/enslaving/exploitation, Whites hardly hold a corner on that market. I don’t have a problem with historical fiction depicting “whites taking over another country” in instances where that is historical fact. For that matter, I have no problem with historical fiction demonstrating blacks taking over land/property that presumably belonged to someone else (check historical records of royal land grants, white people alone did not receive them.) People who have issues with history…don’t read historicals, I guess.

    Wow. This is such an anti-White hatefully charged post, it’s amazing to me this site permitted it.

  336. handyhunter
    Nov 03, 2009 @ 22:28:24

    @A: Watch Chimamanda Adichie’s The danger of a single story. And if you still don’t get it after that, I have no idea what to say.

  337. M
    Nov 05, 2009 @ 23:15:30

    Amen to A. Handyhunter’s column smacks of entitlement. And moreover, I’m not quite sure what the point of the column is, and the fact that it’s inspired a deluge of scattered “I too am a minority and this is my story” or “I am white and here is my story” posts definitely says something about the column’s self-importance and lack of focus. Handy–try a thesis statement. Try articulating an actual argument. It’s what I tell my students every day.

    First of all, I’m not quite sure what this column is trying to say–that whites need to write more people of color into their stories? Okay, but how would we minorities feel if whites dictated to us about the proper color balance of our stories? (Yes, for the record, I am a minority.) First of all, no one should EVER feel entitled to demand anything of a writer as far as subject-matter, racial make-up of characters, setting, tone, etc. etc. It’s your story–if you want to write about Appalachians, go for it. If you want to write about Africans, godspeed. If it is good, it will be believable. If your characters are well-drawn, your race won’t matter, and neither will the race of your characters.

    In fact, there’s no such thing as a racist text–just a bad text. Racial stereotypes are the fodder of bad writers. When I come across racist stereotypes in fiction, I dismiss the story as poorly written, badly conceived, and just a waste of time. Such stories are usually not propaganda, though they may reflect damaging cultural attitudes. Truly, these stories are told by uncreative, untalented minds, and they won’t last.

    Second of all, if we minorities want to see more minorities in stories, then we have to write them. We CANNOT blame white people for not wanting to write outside of their culture, just as they can’t blame us for not eagerly writing about suburban whites. It’s absurd! Novels aren’t affirmative action programs. You can’t employ some system of tokenism to try to even out the injustices of society. What an INSULT to the human imagination.

    There’s nothing wrong with stories about white people doing “white upper-class things.” Just as there’s nothing wrong with Puerto Ricans doing Puerto Rican things. The kind of attitude that Handyhunter is promoting–one that essentializes cultures and dismisses stories by certain groups of people simply because of who they are or where they grew up or what they like to do–is a dangerous one, one that would seem extreme, offensive, and downright hateful if directed toward non-whites.

    I encourage everyone to just calm down and walk away from this one. This column is not worth getting yourselves worked up about. It’s a poorly written and poorly crafted essay that seems little more than a straw-man argument that a college freshman might write to piss off his composition teacher. That’s all.

  338. Kimberly Santoyo
    Mar 23, 2013 @ 22:59:19

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