My esteemed colleagues,
We have a very long way to go.
Most of us say “Diversity in literature is really important,” and/or “I am not racist/ ableist/homophobic,” and/or “Of course, I would buy a romance novel by or about a person of color/gay or lesbian/disabled person.” But when was the last time you did?
When was the last time you bought a romance by an author, or about a character, with a different cultural, historical, or physical experience than your own? About a person with a different skin color, nationality, religion? About a gay man or lesbian or transgender person? When was the last time you bought a romance with a physically or mentally disadvantaged hero or heroine? A novel about people who live in the margins?
When was the last time you wrote one?
Women are overlooked in myriad areas of publishing—book contracts, sales, awards, reviews—but we are also the much greater portion of romance writers. Are we, as female authors who are often marginalized and maligned ourselves, really so callous as to assume people of color don’t have Happy Ever Afters? That LGBT romance is only about sex? That people with disabilities never fall in love? Or do we just not think about it?
This letter is not meant to encourage you to shoehorn a diverse character into a book that doesn’t need one, or write a book about diverse characters because it is a hot topic or because it feels like the right thing to do. One of the most wonderful things I have heard on this subject recently was: “I write characters who happen to be people of color. I don’t make a big deal about it.”
What I am proposing is that we don’t overlook characters with diverse experiences as we are writing. That we don’t miss them lurking in the shadows of our books. That we don’t push them aside because we don’t understand them. That we don’t dismiss a great idea because it is scary to be outside of our comfort zone, or because we are afraid to get something wrong.
But MOST IMPORTANT, I am proposing that we don’t overlook authors who are already doing it.
I am not saying a black person can’t write a book or have it published. I am not saying same-sex romance novels don’t exist. I am not saying a romance novel with an Indian heroine can’t become a bestseller (knock on wood). But these novels are shunted aside into the “African-American” or “Multicultural” or “LGBT” categories, which do not get as much attention as “Historical Romance” or “Regency Romance” or “Contemporary Romance,” overwhelmingly written by and about white people. And the more marginalized a book is on Amazon (and elsewhere), the less likely it is to be shown in the “People Also Buy” and “Recommended for You” sections. Front page of Amazon? Forget it.
I am not blaming or attacking, though to be sure, this topic almost always makes comfortable people suddenly uncomfortable. Yet, I think it worth the discomfort to have the conversation. This is a terribly important topic with enormous ramifications for groups that are already sidelined in so many ways. Are we okay with knowing that Vanessa Riley, Piper Huguley, Kianna Alexander, and Lena Hart have a harder time selling books than we do?
Do we, as romance writers, want to create one more place where it is harder to get ahead for a person of color than a white person?
- I am guilty of overlooking diverse books, not out of malice, but simple inattention. I haven’t gone looking for them, because they are often hard to find.
- I am guilty of assuming only white people read (and write) romance novels.
- I am guilty of mentally labeling every historical with African-American characters “mainstream,” as though “romance” can’t be just as much a part of their experience as the historic hardships they faced.
- I am guilty of using the hashtag #WeNeedDiverseRomance to promote my book before I knew the people who are doing the hard work to promote the subject matter.
- I am guilty of asking my author friends who are people of color to educate me, rather than educating myself.
- I will surely be guilty of causing unintentional offense, having now written a book with an Indian heroine.
So, to amend my own appalling oversights, I went looking for romance authors who are people of color or LGBT-identified or disabled and/or write romance novels about characters who are. In about an hour, I found more than sixty, and I am absolutely certain this is only a start.
I also found:
We Need Diverse Romance
Buy a “WeNeedDiverseRomance” tee-shirt in black or white.
Women of Color in Romance
http://multiculturalromancewriters.com (Sortable author/book listings)
http://RomanceNovelsInColor.com (Book information and reviews)
http://www.RomanceSlamJam.org (African-American romance convention; home of the Emma Awards)
http://www.RainbowRomanceWriters.com (RWA Chapter for LGBT authors)
Romances with heroes or heroines with physical, mental, or emotional maladies
If you click on any of the links above, you may find a new romance author you will love or a way to support the cause of diverse romance. I did.
So, in closing, I ask every white, straight, able-bodied author who is reading this to:
- Buy a book written by someone with a different historical, cultural, or physical experience than you.
- Review a book written by someone with a different historical, cultural, or physical experience than you.
- Recommend a book written by someone with a different historical, cultural, or physical experience than you.
- Write a character with a different historical, cultural, or physical experience than you.
Saying and/or doing nothing on this topic is a vote against diverse authors and characters, when most of us believe that diversity in romance novels is important and there isn’t enough of it.
Where do you truly fall on this issue? What message do you want to send to other writers—and readers—who are different from you? How important is diversity to you? And what will you do about it today?
Mariana Gabrielle/Mari Christie
[White] Author of Regency romance
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