I’ve got no jokes today. I’m no fun and no games, either. See, recent events in the Romance Writers of America, an organization I’ve paid dues to, has my smile turned upside down and with d*mn good reason.
If you have not heard the ugly basics of this ongoing scandal/mess, there are a couple of resources to peek at first. Author Clair Ryan composed an excellent article featuring an incredibly useful timeline of events. Medium’s Phoenix Williams offers her experience and a succinct overview of the trash fire, Publishers Weekly covered the cancellation of the RITA awards, Vox has a piece updated to actually feature content from writers of color, and which displays the offensive, recent, and monstrously tone-deaf Romance Writers Report cover.
It’s a lot to follow. TL:DR of the most micro…the RWA, an organization meant to unite and support romance writers, has engaged in non-inclusive and unethical practices that are harmful to PoC writers, and underrepresented writers from a variety of communities. The precipitating events centered around the ever-awesome Courtney Milan, a Chinese-American romance author and lawyer, are just the tip of the iceberg.
Why is this relevant to you, dear Y/N? Rampant racism, bigotry, and ethical violations in publication are not new (*cough HUGOS cough*). Romance fiction, though, is a huge industry. It is escapism, when done well; at its best, empowering, inclusive, and inspiring. For scandal, hatred, and breaches of ethics to infest what is supposed to be entertaining and empowering means that, for all of those excluded and harmed, their right to enjoyment, to their own voices, to inclusion in not just publishing but hobby-reading, reviewing, and fun in general is tenuous at best.
I can carry this over to the importance of diversity in fanfic and any other popular media, and will in other posts. For now, I’ll say this: if writers of color, LGBT+ authors, and writers with disabilities cannot find a safe haven in creating and sharing love stories, then there is a serious freaking problem. And there has been for years. Again, this is not new, but it is very loudly, brightly obvious to the publishing, reviewing, and reading world now more than ever after the RWA implosion.
The up-side, if there is one? Maybe someone being stupid enough to go after Courtney Milan (I hate that I even have to do this silver lining crap) will lead to greater transparency within publishing communities, and will boost support and readership for authors of color and underrepresented authors. Maybe the mess that is currently the RWA will be reborn in a better form, or will pave the way for stronger support organizations that are truly inclusive.
RWA’s recent events prove that yes, hand-wringing do-gooders that want everyone to be nice, there is a reason for authors affected by these practices to be angry. Leave the nice to those of us with the privilege to do so. The RWA’s implosion is relevant to all (by which I mean to emphasize traditionally privileged, white) writers because we have to do better. White fragility and professional gripes or jealousies have NO place in the conversation right now. This is not about those of us who have enjoyed privilege throughout our careers or, if hobbyists, our experiences posting and sharing our fics. This is the time for us to listen, learn, and make changes based on the advice and recommendations of those who have been most hurt by scandals like this.
Yes, this is a soap-box moment. A teachable moment. And yes, it is relevant and important to anyone, even those who do not read or write in the romance genre. Where can we start, you might be wondering…well, it’s actually not that difficult. Support PoC authors by buying, reading, blogging about, featuring their work. Consult sensitivity readers when you write outside of your perspective and demographic. Read blog posts and listen to author talks that address inclusivity, sensitivity, and DEI issues in publishing and writing. And when someone who is NOT you but who has been gaslighted, taken advantage of, been excluded from professional outlets, and so on is talking about their experience, be quiet and LISTEN.
I hope that this series of painful experiences and scandals can help shed light on the pervasiveness of racism, exclusivity, and bigotry, and that this light shines on better practices and opportunities and a future where such implosions are a thing of the past. Till then, Nice White Ladies, we have work to do, so get to it.