[Introduction: Greetings, passengers! Heather here. Part II of an interview with author Suzanne Brockmann at the AAR blog about characters of color and LGBT characters in romance caught my interest. Since Ms. Brockmann wrote a sci-fi romance called BORN TO DARKNESS, I hoped she might mention at least one relevant SFR title.
As I was reading, however, I became concerned by her responses. I felt as though there were some erasure happening, as if other authors of MC/IR and LGBT romances didn't exist, and that their contributions were much less important than hers.
Suzanne Brockmann's post How Far We've Come at Romance Matters only increased my concern about the marginalization of authors who write MC/IR and LGBT romances. In a post focused on how romance has changed over the years regarding diversity, Ms. Brockmann only made a passing reference to "…many other authors…"
The above posts reminded me about the importance of continuing the conversation about diversity in romance and to increase awareness about the number of authors who write with diversity in mind.
They deserve to be named.
Coincidentally, after reading the AAR interview, I encountered a few insightful tweets about diversity in romance by author Suleikha Snyder (BOLLYWOOD AND THE BEAST). Given how much the diversity issue was on my mind, I invited her aboard to share her wisdom.]
Mind the Queue: Privilege, Diversity and Romance
by Suleikha Snyder
I’m new. I’ve only been published since 2011. But I’ve already learned what so many other writers of color before me know: We’re at the back of the line. Be it LGBT romance or MC/IR, someone else has to do it first, and be validated and lauded, before anyone even glances our way. And that person, that “groundbreaking” someone…? Is almost always white, straight and cisgendered. And their work is viewed as “edgy” or “brave.”
All too often, while accepting the accolades and cookies for being first, there is a blindness and a deafness to the fact that an author wasn’t first, that they weren’t “edgy.” They just got to move to the front of the line and get in the door a little earlier. But here’s the thing: The room is full, the line is longer than the DMV’s, and other folks have been in it for years —and there’s nothing “brave” about just writing what needs to be written. That, my friend, is white privilege.
Sure, you could say, “Well, POC writers just aren’t as good.” Or “POC writers are just bitter.” But that’s clueless horseshit. That, my friend, is white privilege.
N.K. Jemisin’s amazing The Killing Moon put the rest of her works on my gargantuan TBR pile. Karen Lord’s The Best of All Possible Worlds is beautiful. Alisha Rai’s Night Whispers is one of my favorite post-apocalyptic romances of the past year. As for the names we don’t know yet…? Well, we haven’t heard them because the “trailblazers” are still standing in the doorway.
I'm not saying that J.R. Ward shouldn't have written Lover at Last or Suzanne Brockmann shouldn't have created Jules Cassidy and Alyssa Locke. I own at least 13 Brockmann titles, and I firmly believe everybody should write everything. We need more of it all. That’s the glory of fiction. But these books don't exist in a vacuum. Ward wasn’t first; Brockmann wasn’t unique. They were the cheerleaders standing atop a pyramid created by fellow authors and hungry readers. Their books hit because there is an audience out there that wants stories that reflect their experience.
There needs to be an acknowledgment that minorities can write these stories as well as read them, and that they have been writing them. More than that, there needs to be a celebration of it. As I said on Twitter about white authors writing diverse stories: “Don't take all the bows and flowers. Acknowledge the audience, the orchestra, the crew, the theater.”
Where's the actually black Black Dagger Brotherhood? The SFR version of Blade? Why must romance heroes be half-Latin, half-Indian, non-Muslim sheiks? Where is the understanding that women of all colors, orientations and socioeconomic backgrounds crave a good book?
While there’s been a lot of discussion of diversity in SFF/F and the various problems in highlighting authors of color, at least in terms of content it’s miles ahead of romance publishing. Why? Well, the positive spin is that, for many, the future is one of a blended society. Be it the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine philosophy, or just a natural progression of intermarriage and evolution. The not-so happy flip side is what I call the Passions Problem. For years, Passions was daytime’s most diverse soap opera: featuring a central black family, a central Irish-Latino family and a whole host of secondary characters of color. It also had witches, vampires, mermaids and talking dolls. It was a brimming basket of supernatural crazy. As if the only way diversity could be commonplace was if it, too, was a kind of Other. As if it just wouldn’t fit on a “normal” soap.
Similarly, “normal” romance is by and large white. Entirely white small towns. Entirely white big cities. White Regencies, white Scottish romances, white werewolves and white ménages. With just enough color to be “exotic.” If you want diversity, there is Af-Am romance, where the entire cast is black! Isn’t there an alternative? Aren’t there books about people who fall in between white and black? Why can’t we all read everything? Where’s the middle ground? Where’s the bustling, multicolored, sexually diverse metropolitan area? No one who asks the questions gets answered. No one who talks about these things gets heard. Unless they’re white.
That, my friend, is white privilege.
It’s not “edgy” when you’re the only one speaking.
It’s not “brave” when you’re the only one being listened to.
It’s an echo chamber.
And the door is shut and locked to everyone else.
About the author
Editor, writer, American desi and lifelong geek, Suleikha Snyder published her first romantic short in 2011. The years since have hosted a slew of releases, including Suleikha’s India-set novellas, SPICE AND SMOKE, SPICE AND SECRETS and BOLLYWOOD AND THE BEAST.
Suleikha lives in New York City, finding inspiration in Bollywood films, daytime and primetime soaps and anything that involves chocolate or bacon. Visit her at www.suleikhasnyder.com and follow her at twitter.com/suleikhasnyder.
[End note: Suleikha Snyder wrote an erotic SF horror short called LAST CALL. While not strictly sci-fi romance, I think SFR fans would find it appealing. You can download it for free from Smashwords!
Stay tuned for my next post, which will focus on People of Color in science fiction romance. I'd also like to get your input on the issue Ms. Snyder raised in her last sentence. How do we unlock that door and let authors of color pour through?]