I was going to title this post “The Whiteness of Romance”, but that seemed a little on-the-nose. Instead, I figure what happens next is just as appropriate, because there’s a lot of stuff going on…
The post I wrote last month – Where is the line, exactly? – was deliberately vague, but now that the issue has resolved, more or less, I want to fill in some of the blanks. I wrote the post about the situation in the world of M/M romance, where Santino Hassell was revealed to be something other than the character in his author bio.
Instead of being a bi dude single father with health and money problems, he/she/they is a husband & wife team with a talent for manipulation and, it seems, very little conscience. In the weeks after my post, the testimonials describing their abusive behavior – in addition to questionable crowd-sourcing support for unlikely health problems – has been really appalling.
I don’t know for sure how many of the accusations are true, but the entity known as Santino Hassell has been dropped by their agent and most of (all of?) their publishers. That’s enough for me.
On the heels of that – like, literally the next week – author Xen Sanders came forward, and in painful detail accused Riptide Publishing of racist practices and sexual abuse. (You can read his full statement here.) His editor has been fired, and a substantial number of Riptide authors have asked for and had the rights to their work returned.
Riptide is (was?) one of the bigger LGBT romance publishers. Their principal editors put out a statement (read it here),vowing to do better, and they’re currently closed to unsolicited submissions.
All in all, it was quite a 1-2 punch for M/M romance.
And then RWA announced the RITA nominees.
The RITAs are the annual awards for published novels, organized by the Romance Writers of America (RWA). Think Academy Awards but for romance. As usual, and to the surprise of no one, the nominees are predominantly white. I did find numbers that suggest there’s a small increase in diversity; Alexis Hall’s blog post on the RITAs historical category goes into some statistics. But still.
But still, no black author has ever won a RITA.
And people are speaking up. Loud.
Maybe the shitstorm in M/M and the takedown of Riptide primed the pump, and maybe the #metoo movement laid some of the groundwork. For sure and for certain, the diversity report put out by The Ripped Bodice, a romance-only bookstore, added fuel to the furror.
This is the second year The Ripped Bodice has put out a diversity report that can be summarized pretty simply. Six of their top ten best sellers are written by authors of color, yet overall, only 6.2 out of every 100 romances published in 2017 were written by an author of color. That’s down from 7.8/100 in 2016.
Here’s one of their other statistics: “80% of publishers had fewer than 10% of their books written by people of color.” Read the whole report. It’s food for thought. They debunk the most common excuses used to justify the disparity, and give credit to Crimson Romance, who at 29% had the highest percentage of authors of color.
Crimson closed the day the report came out. Not joking.
A few paragraphs ago, I said people – authors – were speaking out, but the thing is, I don’t want to put words in their mouths. Go to twitter and listen to the stories they tell, stories about the shit way they’ve been treated by publishers, editors, and the RWA and its members. Follow Courtney Milan, Rebekah Weatherspoon, or Alyssa Cole, and listen to what they have to say. Follow Xen Sanders. Follow EE Ottoman.
And while you’re listening, buy their books!
Because the best way to prove to a publisher that a book will sell it to buy it. To be honest, I think Ripper says it better than I ever could:
ETA….so what does happen next? I’d like to think we all wake up and start treating each other like Mr. Rogers thought we should. But…
Meanwhile, take small steps. Read outside your comfort zone. Listen to what the authors of color you know have to say. Systemic change will only happen when a critical mass of individuals push for it. Be part of that critical mass.
ETA2..here’s a link to RWAs statement, “Board Commitment to RITAs and Inclusivity”. And for more ideas on what you can do, check out this statement by the POC Queer Romance Authors Community.