Disclaimer: This post will have some stuff that aren’t quite politically correct but maybe this is what needs to be said so people get it.
Photo by Henry Be – unsplash.com
Legend: For the purposes of this blog here are some definitions you should know.
POC: Persons of colour – In my opinion this doesn’t mean only black folks. POC to mean means anyone who isn’t white.
AOC: Author of Colour, again, this includes anyone that’s not white.
Okay, here we go.
It seems I’m writing more and more about the lack of diversity in the world and it’s bleeding into something I love and holds dear.
When I was eight years old, in Jamaica, I picked up my first romance novel. Back then, I didn’t really care about the story. I was eight. I just needed to feed my craving for something to read. I mean, back then (and now) I would have read anything. I was very poor and where I lived didn’t have a library. Once every three weeks or so (Depending on if they could find a driver) a library bus would come to the square. We were only allowed 3 books and I read fast–so those three books would last me maybe, a week.
Anyway, from eight years old until about nineteen, I never saw a romance novel with a POC on the cover… Around that time, my niece was growing up and walking in my footsteps. She was reading everything and I wanted to see books with women who looked like her on the covers. I began working on a series called The Destiny Series. This included my Destiny’s Cowboy and Destiny’s Rhapsody stories. At eighteen, the first story was accepted and released by Amira Press. Both these books were interracial. I saw it as something I enjoy doing, putting cultures together and see what falls out. I love learning about the culture and the language and the mannerisms.
Now, some twenty something years later, I find myself in a struggle with the powers that be within the publishing world. We’ve somehow taken a step back into the dark ages and I cannot understand how we’ve gotten it so wrong. From Riptide Publishing telling an author straight up that “black folks on covers don’t sell” to Harlequin being blatantly racist – I’m am extremely disappointed.
A few years ago, BET owned a publishing arm, a romance line called Arabesque. During those early days, Arabesque was everything! Finally, here were covers that showed POC in love and going through the same thing White characters did. Here were books with people who looked like me on the covers. You can google “Arabesque Romance” and you will be stunned to find all these amazing AOC and POC and beauty.
I read voraciously! I picked up as many as I could. I scoured thrift stores, Chapters, online–everywhere I could to find . Then one day, Harlequin bought Arabesque and my world basically ended. I knew what was coming and it hurt–it physically hurt. Slowly, Arabesque authors began disappearing until the only notable one left was Brenda Jackson.
Little by little, Black faces disappeared from the covers, Arabesque was changed to Kimani and after a while, the line was shut down permanently.
Black voices died.
A few days ago, Courtney Milan (which surprised me because Courtney, apparently, writes historical romances and that’s a sub genre that isn’t very diverse) aired some things about Harlequin that didn’t surprise me, but disappointed me greatly. You can find Courtney by clicking here and on twitter.
Harlequin was the goal. It has been the goal ever since I was sixteen and an English teacher asked me if I’d ever considered writing for a living. Harlequin was the holy grail of where myself as a romance author wanted to reach. It was my Dark Tower as it were (A lil Stephen King reference there). It was my pinnacle, the goal to end all goals and I was slowly working toward it. But these latest revelations has me broken in ways I never thought was even possible.
They aren’t surprising – like I said before.
Why was I not surprised? Well, I’ve checked into joining the RWA – the Toronto Branch…I’ve gone through the websites and asked questions. If you do get a chance to check out the RWA or the TRWA or the RITA pages – you will notice a lack of POC/AOC. It’s gotten to the point now where the RWA isn’t even hiding their lack of diversity. Every single face I’ve seen on these sites are white. Except the odd time when they post Brenda Jackson or Beverly. To me, this means everyone there keeps screaming DIVERSITY at the top of their lungs but no one has done anything to put their money where their mouth is. And don’t get me started on the RITA and how those authors are treated.
We’re being told that black folks on covers never sells well. We’re being told that anyone other than white aren’t worthy.
When I started putting my stories out there, no one told me I was coming in with two strikes against me.
I’m a woman – Strike one.
I’m black – Strike two.
No one told me that I’m going to have to do three times the amount of work as my white counterparts. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind the work. Hell, I fill every second of my day with doing something. I’m one of those people who can’t sit still without doing something for very long. So, I don’t mind rolling up my sleeves and putting my shoulders to the grind. But when I spend time researching and writing, then rewriting, then rechecking and putting something out, and it’s buried because search engines are burying your work because of the colour of the characters’ skin or your publisher aren’t pushing you like they push others, it makes me wonder why even bother?
Why is race still such a huge factor in all of this? What do we, as POC/AOC have to do for those who aren’t to take us seriously? My father always told me if I didn’t like the way the industry is, without culture, to change it, to write what I love and add a little colour into the world. But, there is only so much I can do. There is only so much patience I have left before I toss my hands up. I mean, even Amazon, there are zero Kindle Worlds open that has any culture involved. Why? Well, either there are no AOC with that much sales to be considered to run a world, or people just don’t care.
I keep saying that we have to do better–that we must do better because we can. But there are so little motive for Amazon, or Harlequin, or the RWA to do better, it’s sickening.
So, let’s break it down one more time – though I doubt it will do any good:
- POC/AOC are not asking for special treatment. That’s not what this is about. This is about being given the same exposure and opportunities that white authors get. We would like to be given the chance to show POC that yes, love is possible and yes they are worth it. Sure, these books are fiction but that is not the point.
- POC/AOC aren’t saying non-POC/AOC can’t write POC. What we’re saying is that we’ve seen from the Amy Lane incident and others that well, y’all mess it up because non-POC/AOC (usually) fall into the same damn stereotypes like everyone else. No one can really tell our stories like we can – and to say no, we’re not going to hire POC/AOC to write for us but we’re going to hire them to ensure that their white counterparts get the POC correct in their books is bullshit. Yes, I’m calling bullshit on that mentality.
- You may ask why am I so angry? – I’m angry because POC/AOC have been pushing for years and we’re still on the floor. We’ve made ZERO progress. The world of romance publishing is a glaring white that seems destined to remain that way.
Right now, the only POC/AOC that’s been given a showcase are ones who have been around for ages – they are the ones people would riot if the publishers dropped. New authors like myself has no shelf space, we get no chances to show what we’re capable of. So we struggle against the white light and gets pushed further and further along the shelf until we topple off the edge.
There doesn’t seem to be room for new authors coming in. And soon or later, POC/AOC will have no visibility and be regulated to complete invisibility. I sick of being told no you can’t be who you are. I’m sick of feeling as if the colour of my skin makes me undeserving of love or a happily ever. I’m tired of walking into a major bookstore and is bombarded by a sea of white that is blinding me. For once, I’d like to see a Chinese/Japanese/Indian (that’s not a native American dressed in the stereotypical fashion sense but an Indian from INDIA)/Hispanic etc.
The strange thing, AOC (some) are not helping either. I keep seeing these “The Thug’s Side Chick” esque stories popping up on Amazon now and they make me gag – and not in the RuPaul’s you are gorgeous gag. It’s disgust at this crap. Here we are fighting for equality to be taken serious and for others to drop the stereotyping and here these fools come with this mess.
We’re all here. As a POC/AOC – I’m trying one more time – Give us a break, huh? What do we have to do to be taken seriously? What do we have to do to get the same chances as a non-POC/AOC? What do we have to do to show that POC has the same blood running through our veins as non-POC/AOC?
Why, in 2018 we’re STILL fighting to get equal billing? Why is our struggle so much more complicated? Why do we still need to prove ourselves repeatedly and even then still get dragged through the trenches like we’re worthless? I don’t get it. I need someone to explain it to me.
Please use the following hastags to help the movement. #Equalityontheshelf #Diversitynow