Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Genre Expectations: I Ramble About IR Romance

As you know, I don't blog often. When I say blog, I mean something other than Go Buy This Book or Giveaway, Giveaway, Giveaway! A big part of that is I started actively blogging in 2005. Damn. Almost a decade. So...I've run out of things to say. So what's inspired this post? Race. Or rather, the idea that colorblindness in IR romance is problematic.

I'm a bit conflicted myself. I don't have the right answer. I'm not a scholar or an academic so don't look for two-dollar words in this blog or a complete unpacking of all the myriad nuances. Quite frankly this just might be a ranty-ish ramble.

But let's start with this:

A quick summary of this review is that the blogger was surprised that even though the characters were aware of race and the complications, the black moment dealt with a run-of-the-mill romantic uncoupling.

Now, it's pretty obvious she's new to the IR romance scene. Because she asks the question, Yet is there no room in the genre for romances that gesture toward, or even confront, the difficulties that interracial couples might face in our purportedly post-racial society?”

Uh. Yeah. I'm pretty sure you can pick up any IR romance written in the 1990s or the early 2000s and find almost every damn book is about the difference of race between the characters. If they had made peace with it, a family member or friend had an issue. Personally, I suffered from reader fatigue with this trope. Yes, I was happy to see heroes and heroines with my skin color in books. But, for the love of God, could they break up over him being a good ol' fashioned man-jerk every once and a while?

And I think that reader fatigue is how IR romance evolved. It's why you can look at the landscape of IR romances now and not see race as the core issue. Let me emphasize that. THE CORE ISSUE. Which is a great thing in my opinion.

And where things start to get complicated. Why? I am more than my skin color. I'm proud to say I've never looked at a picture of myself and gasped, “OMG, I'm African American. Why did no one tell me?” So I think I'm pretty aware of my race.

Then there's this blog post, which is insightful and wonderful and highlights all the nuance I'm not equipped to write:

When good authors write minority characters, of course they want to highlight their individuality. That’s what makes a powerful fictional person. But race and ethnicity is an inescapable and foundational part of a minority group member’s psyche and lived experience. It isn’t the same lived experience for everyone. Some feel that identity every waking hour, some may go long stretches without thinking about it. But no one has the luxury of never thinking about it.”

Yup. Yup. Yup. I took a journalism course in college. They entrusted students to write articles for the newspaper. Now February rolls around and they wanted to highlight the African American Studies class. They wanted someone to volunteer to do the story.

All eyes turned to me.

Did I forget to mention I was the only chocolate drop in class? By no means was I the only minority, but I was the only African American. These people never treated me any differently, any other time. The newspaper crowd, at least in my college course, were an odd and quirky crowd. I fit right in being odd and quirky. But in that moment, right before I replied sarcastically, everyone else made it clear they knew I was black.

So to say people are truly colorblind is a bit of a misnomer.

The same can be said that race infiltrates every avenue of a minority's life. To me that's saying all my problems are because I'm black.

I'm a woman. I'm a single mother. Last year was the first time I peaked over that poverty line. Race, for me, is not a core issue of my life. So why should I have to write about it being a core issue for my characters, if it doesn't apply?

Back to Sunita:

We treat non-minority people as essentially individual and not representative; they don’t stand in for all majority group people. But minority people are different. They can be treated as conforming to type or challenging type, but type is almost always there.”

This is probably the closest answer to why IR/MC/AA romances have this unspoken expectation from outsiders, and sometimes insiders, to represent a specific race, culture, etc. in a certain way. These characters are not just characters. They are supposed to be representations for all. Caucasians don't have to carry that burden into their fiction. Their fiction can be about how the girl next door falls in love with the bad boy down the street. They can write that fiction without criticism. Or the notion they are doing their subgenre a disservice for not spotlighting an obvious real life issue or circumstance.

The problem is, what is African American culture? And that's a huge problem for those who aren't aware, because there isn't one clear and obvious culture. Just like any other race, you have many. It really is quite easier to shape a character by their upbringing. And then take a moment to consider how race shaped them.

I am vastly different from someone who was raised middle class. Even if we share the same skin color. Then you have to add in the nuance to my life in general. Just let my mother tell you about her trials and tribulations of having to go to Finishing School. Being raised by a Southern mother who wore gloves to church like a proper lady. Having an aunt who believed red nail polish was as racy as a miniskirt. And my own issues, given to me by my mother, of seeing someone wear white stockings with black shoes, or vice versa. My father's side of the family is the true melting pot of 'Merica. If I get started on being raised in church, this blog post will have no end.

And all that still doesn't touch on the relationships I've had. Taking a mental gander at them there have been issues about fidelity, honesty, my role as a “woman” and a lot of other things. My weakness for...never mind. The point is race wasn't an issue. This goes for relationships that were outside my color line. This is my experience. Not everyone's. Same goes for having moments in life where I was completely aware I was black and that was the difference and the problem. Let me emphasize that. MOMENTS.

Truth be told, I'm not a representative for my race. Lawd be a fence if I was. I see color. I'm not blind. But most times what's more important to me is if you're an asshole. That's not saying I don't see a culture's differences from my own. I usually do. I usually ask a million questions for book fodder and the fact I'm nosy. It doesn't rule my life and that is reflected in the books I write.

Yet IR romances are being called to the mat for not dealing with race? So instead of exploring everything that is love and relationships, IR authors should focus on what's historically been done to every minority ever—center on nothing more than the color of their skin.


Is it something we should continue to talk about? Absolutely. But saying things like race is being swept under the rug makes me twitch. We write romance. That IR designation does not change the fact the book is a romance. Readers don't expect every book to be about women's rights as the core issue. So why put that same restriction on IR romances? It's not being colorblind. It's actually, I don't know, writing a romance where the main issue might be that the hero is just an ol' fashioned man-jerk.

So that's my two cents. I may be wrong. I may need to get schooled. I can live with that. Anyway, the next time you hear from me I'll probably try to sell you something. Enjoy this reprieve while you can.

Friday, April 18, 2014

The 14.5k Likes Giveaway: The Official Heads Up

I'm part of a massive giveaway until April 24th. The amount of authors involved is ridiculous. It's hard NOT to win a prize. So what do you have to do? 

Put a dent in this rafflecopter to win.
a Rafflecopter giveaway