Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Getting political

I promise, I will not turn my blog into a place for heavy political or cultural debate. There are plenty of other places where you can read this sort of thing. But every now and then, a topic comes up and I just can't keep my mouth shut.

Over on Romancing the Blog, Wayne Jordan made an interesting post about the fact that there were no books by African-American authors nominated as finalists for this year's Rita awards. (The RITAs, if you don't know, are sort of the Academy awards for romance writing in the published category.)

And, as expected, any time the race card comes out, discussion happens. At the moment, it's the issue of the fact that the RWA has made no statement about the practice of "segregating" or shelving African-American romances in different location than all those romances with white people on the covers.

Speaking personally, I've never seen these segregated book sections. This doesn't mean that I don't believe they exist. I'd rather see the books all shelved together so that when you went into the romance section in a bookstore, you got African-American, Latino and ...what do we call them? Generic? No. Traditional, I suppose, romances all in the same place.

But when groups of the population want books that represent them, as well there should be, and want to be able to find them easily, without having to rummage through everything else, it makes sense to give them a different shelf, a different section, something that makes them easy to find.

Unfortunately, they can't be with the mass and separate from the mass. Shelve them in both places? Well, okay. But then do we stick Latino and traditional books in the section set aside for African-American books as well? No? Then we have to have separate sections for A-A, Latino and Traditional books, *and* have them all shelved together? Isn't that redundant? Does that make good financial sense to any bookseller? Does it make sense for the reader?

I freely admit that I'm a member of the RWA. I've not served on the National board, but I am on a National sub-committee, and I've been on the board of my local chapter a few times. I do not support all of the policies that come out of the RWA. I was a president last year during the one man/one woman and cover art debates. The less said about those the better.

But the RWA is pretty much our voice, out there in the "real world". They have the power and influence, ear of publishers and marketing people and booksellers that I'm pretty sure none of us as individuals have. If there is something that needs to be addressed in a portion of the industry, the RWA is the body to do it. But they can't do it if they don't know about it. They can't do it if people don't ask.

I've seen this issue compared with the Civil Rights issues of the 60s (which strikes me as overstating the case just a little, but that's a different topic). If that is true, then we should consider that *nothing changed* when people grumbled quietly on the sidelines and complained behind their hands that it wasn't fair. If Rosa had simply stood at the back of the bus and shouted about how unfair it was that she couldn't sit up front, the world would be a very different place.


Camilla said...

I am always frustrated by this topic because it's so subjective. Either readers and writers of AA romances want their works to be segregated so that they'll be able to find books featuring people like them, OR, there are those authors(a few of them, sadly) who don't want their works to be judged by the color of their skin. It's a catch 22 situation in the mind's of the publishers (and others as well) because marketing is a determinant on whether an editor will or will not buy a book, therefore if the author is black and writes romances with black protagonists, publishers see this as a "Black Romance" regardless of the opinions of the author. I know for a fact that non-AA readers want nothing to do with AA romances (go visit the romantictimes.com message board and hear the crickets chirping on the AA romance sub-board), but if an author like Mia Zachary seems to not allow her race to limit how far her career goes, shouldn't other AA romance authors do that as well? I grow aggravated when AA authors grumble about the segregation of the romance genre, and yet they turn their backs on the general romance public b/c they percieve the segregation--it's another catch 22 situation. I for one actively participate with everyone and not only other AA romance authors b/c I think they'll "get" my writing journey moreso than a non-AA romance writer. Which also happens to be segregation.

Sara Dennis said...

It is a catch-22. You're entirely right. And it's extremely frustrating.

I understand the desire to have books specifically targeted to the AA community. Heck, I would have loved to have more of those books growing up. Obviously not just romances, but books with black characters at all.

But it does sort of come back to haunt us because there is a perception that those books are not for the general reading population when they're shelved in special sections.

I think Mia's a perfect example of someone who's got her head in the right place.

I'm glad you've chosen to interact with people, regardless of race. I'm with you. I wish more of us would. And thanks for being willing to give a shout out to someone new. Nice to "meet" you, Camilla.