While I make it a policy to keep my interactions with the literary community as non-political as possible, since romance does not shy away from tough topics, I am making an exception here, but I promise to keep it as nonpartisan as I can.
Romance bookstore The Ripped Bodice posted their report on “The State of Racial Diversity in 2016. And while it is nice to see the genre making strides toward inclusion, I still found the data worrying. Only two publishers came close to have 20% of their books written by an author of color: Kensington at 19.8 and Forever/Forever Yours at 17.5%. Crimson Romance features 12.2%, but all other publishers publish less than 10% of books by authors of color.
There is an argument that it’s all about the publisher’s expectations of the manuscript. Romance, despite being varied, does see enduring trends (e.g. Regency dukes) or new trends that rise in popularity, which will dictate what publishing houses are looking for. One member of OSRBC, responding to a post about the Ripped Bodice’s data started off by pointing out that they don’t ask the color of your skin when you submit the manuscript.
Fair enough, especially as so many aspiring authors query agents and publishers online. But she demonstrated a lack of understanding of why we need diverse books, which shows her white privilege. I shared with her a video of a talk that the writer Chimamanda Adichie did, and she was perplexed when I explained that Adichie could not identify with what she was reading in books by white people about white people, deflecting by comparing to her own experience, and then suggesting that we prove that some races are aliens, because they can’t identify with everything. In her attempt to prove that somehow focusing on the lack of books by authors of color was racist, she made herself look like one.
As I began to think about this concept of not identifying a bit more, however, I began to realize I may have conveyed the idea of Adichie’s talk in an inaccurate way. Yes, it’s true there are things she could not identify with. But they are just as much geographical as they are racial, if not more so. When I read books set in England, taking for granted what the weather might be like during the season (when it is mentioned). I live in Hawaii, and have never traveled anywhere except within the state, and to California and Las Vegas (Side note: Prayers to all affected by the recent shooting). As a result, I know nothing about extremely cold winters and snowstorms, or even the obvious signs of seasonal change. I can read about it, and look at photos or videos, but I don’t get to experience it firsthand.
And this is just one of several reasons why I support diverse books. They can allow you to go anywhere without monetary cost, and the experience of being able to read about people like yourself, or recommend those books to others to broaden their horizons, is a truly rewarding experience.