Today is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
In honor of such I wanted to talk about a topic that, though talked about before, does not get nearly enough attention.
However, before I get to that, let’s take a moment to learn about and refresh our memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
If you would like to know a bit more, here are two other websites/articles to check out.
- The Meaning of the MLK holiday from TheKingCenter.org
- 20 Interesting Facts about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. from TodayIFoundOut.com
Now, I’m not a veritable fountain of knowledge when it comes to civil rights. I know what I know from school and from documentaries and books. I’m not here to debate the significance of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr or the rumors of his character.
What I am here to talk about is African American Authors in the Romance genre.
Like most of you know, though I’ve been an avid reader most of my life, I’ve only been delving into the writing world for about a year or so.
During this time of discovery I have found out many things I did not know but nothing quite as surprising as the difficulties that African American Authors face when trying to write and publish in the romance genre.
It was this fateful podcast from Smart Bitches Trashy Books with Farrah Rochon that opened my eyes. Take a moment and listen….
Podcast Transcript 94: An Interview with Farrah Rochon
This was the first podcast from the Smart Bitches website I listened to and boy was I in love! I don’t know what made me click on it but I’m so happy that I did.
I’ve been reading romance since I was a teenager. Those first few books were limited to what my mother had stashed in her closet but as I grew older and bolder I started looking for some on my own.
Before learning about the romance world through the eyes of a writer I was pretty clueless to all the different sub genres and special lines that publishing houses had. Matter of fact I was ignorant on even the names of publishing houses as well. Except for Harlequin.
When I walked into a book store searching for Romance I went straight to the romance section and browsed the titles displayed on the shelf. I never thought that somewhere else in the store were more romance books shelved as something else.
I did know that there were romance books that had people of other races and colors in it but I had never seen one in person or even read one myself. Crazy right?
It’s not because I didn’t want to or that I was actively ignoring them. It was based solely on the fact that I never ran across them on the bookshelves in the romance section.
About 5 years ago I started actively searching for books online (I was a die hard bookstore girl) and was overwhelmed with all the options and sub genres for romance. I kept thinking to myself, “Why do I not see this in my local book store?”
Little by little I started ordering more from online sources. I felt bad for it because I loved my bookstores but I had such a need for a wide variety of stories that I just wasn’t finding in person.
So, as the years went on I was introduced to the world of paranormal romance, sci-fi romance, erotica, etc…. things that I wasn’t ever finding out in the real world. I saw the African American section of romance online but I never clicked on it because, and this feels really weird to type, but I felt as though that was not for me. Have you or do you currently feel that way too?
Now, I’m not a white person but I’m not a black person either. I’m Native American. And though I know what it feels like to “not be white” I still felt that because it was sectioned as African American Romance it was romance written only for African Americans. I felt like I would not find the same kind of enjoyment in it. Almost like it was a part of the romance world I was not allowed to enter….
Now, that being said, if I saw a book in the other sub genres that happened to have an African American character as the Heroine or Hero I did not feel the same way. Weird right? It was almost like, since the book was in a sub genre that focused on the type of book it was instead of what races were used I felt more welcome to read it. Why is that?
I never really gave it much thought until I started writing my own romances with characters from different races. When I stumbled onto the podcast interview with Farrah it was like fate. I had so many questions as to why, as a reader I had limited myself so much when as a writer I felt free to portray other races.
Then I heard Sarah say this in the podcast:
“…that something that has people of color on it is not for me. Not because it’s, you know, less or it’s, you know, I am superior and that is lesser. It is, it is inappropriate for me to read that. That is not for me, and that is not a place where I am even welcome. Like, I have internalized that message, and then I was like, well, I feel really fucking stupid now. Shit! How do I undo this?“
I sat there with a shocked expression on my face thinking, “Oh My God. This is what I’ve been realizing with myself! I can’t believe someone else out there felt this way too.”
No matter what races are used in a romance book it should be enjoyed by all.
Everyone should feel free to read whatever catches their fancy.
However, the first hurdle of that mindset to overcome is that, though something might be categorized as African American or located in the African American Literature section it is meant for everyone to enjoy, for everyone to read. We need to tare down the segregational walls we have inherited in our subconscious and explore all the different cultures and races in fiction and non fiction. Do you agree?
But how do we go about doing this? Do we get rid of sub genres all together?
I’ve heard some African American romance readers say that they don’t click on the African American category online because the results are too general. They can’t find the “type” of romance they like to read.
So, then, would it be best if there was no African American section?
Some say no because their sole desire is to read romances with only African Americans in it and that is the easiest way to find it. While others, who look for their romances in book stores feel that it would be best to shelve all romances together because they feel out of place looking in the African American Literature section.
Then there is the problem of publication. Half of the time, books that have African Americans as their Heroes or Heroines will not portray that on their cover. They will have a picture of scenery, or objects but nothing in regards to what the people look like in the story. Why?
Before I listened to the podcast I never thought about it. But afterwards I couldn’t help but go over my own experience with covers as a reader.
I found that I gravitated more to covers that had scenes or objects and chose the books that had an interesting title.
The covers that had people depicted on it never influenced my decision but I realized that when the people were absent I was more likely to choose it. Is it because I liked not knowing? Or because I like drawing my own picture of the characters in me head? If the book had only African American people on it would I feel like it was not for me?
As if all these questions aren’t difficult enough we have African American authors who wont even include their photo on their books for fear of a reader passing their story over based solely on the authors color.
I have never chosen a book based on what the author looked like. Matter of fact, who the author is is the last thing I ever look at. I don’t even care really unless the book was really good. Then I will look at the picture of the author and the author bio before searching for more of their work. Do author pictures ever influence your decision to read a book?
After listening to Farrah talk about her publishing experiences, all the hurdles she has had to go through and the difficulties of where her book will be shelved in the end, it really opened up my eyes to the hardships of being an African American Author who writes African American Romances.
Sure, it’s better then it was a decade ago but as many have said before me…..”We still have a long way to go…”
What are your thoughts on this?
Listed below are just a few of the African American Romance Authors that so many have enjoyed. Check out a few and broaden your enjoyment of Romance.
- Rochelle Alers
- Gwyneth Bolton
- Lynn Emery
- Gwynne Forster
- Nelson George
- Donna Hill
- Brenda Jackson
- Beverly Jenkins
- Margaret Johnson-Hodge
- Sandra Kitt
- La-Tessa Montgomery
- Kayla Perrin
- Farrah Rochon
- Nicki Salcedo
- Carl Weber
Wednesday @ 9am “African American Romance Reads of the Curvy Persuasion”
Friday @ 9am “How Race and Ethnic Heritage Influence Body Acceptance”
8 thoughts on “Diversity in Romance. Does that even exist?”
I think sub-genres are useful for finding specific things like sci-fi in romance or fantasy in romance, but for different types of people or different skin colours, that’s just a no. I seriously can’t believe this happens, it’s just… mind boggling.
I read all types of romance, no matter the characters appearance. I think it has more to do with what the characters are like as people and their personalities and actions.
I write the type of stories that I want to read, stories that include diverse casts. Since entering the romance arena a year or two ago, I have resisted the labels that others seem to want to place on me as an author. “Interracial.” “Multicultural.” Having now published my first book I’ve found that, without those labels, it is impossible to find my work in e-stores. My cover depicts an interracial couple and so it gets placed in a special section for “those kinds of books” or whatever. Even in the small bookstore at a national conference that I attended, the books with people of colour on the covers were sectioned off in the back of the store. (No symbolism intended there, I’m sure lol.)
On one hand, it’s infuriating. On the other hand, I want readers to find my books. As Mishka said, sub-genres are perfectly fine. But when they extend to skin colour (or size, or ethnicity) I find it ridiculous. Still, in 2015, it appears to be a necessary evil. I hope we can move (rapidly) to a point in time when my books can sit alongside those of Nora Roberts or Sylvia Day and not be singled out because I happen to write the world I live in. A world full of colour. Don’t we all live there? 🙂
Thanks for sharing!
Great points Xio! I completely agree with you. We live in such a diverse world. I wish our bookstores would show that without all the labels and classifications. However we seem to need them to help navigate us through the seemingly endless array of books to choose from. A necessary evil I’m afraid! I can’t wait to read your stories 🙂
Thanks for reading me ~ Margaret Johnson-Hodge
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