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:

http://vacuousminx.wordpress.com/2014/03/06/love-color-and-blindness/

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.

Hmmm.

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.

10 comments:

Holley Trent said...

I should have known it would have been that article. I read it, too, and backed away very slowly.

Melissa Blue said...

Smart cookie.

M. Malone said...

You hit the nail right on the head with this one. The funny thing is that people get upset when white writers don't include POC in their fiction or represent us as stereotypes but then they act like that's what they want IR fiction to be?

I actively LOOK for IR romance that isn't about angst over race. Because that's not my life. That's not my experience. Maybe if I'd been born 20 years earlier or in a less progressive area then I could relate to that but seriously I'm just thinking "People still get upset over interracial couples? What is this the 1950s?"

So yeah.

Kelsey Jordan said...

In order to save us both the hassle from a ranty response, I will say I agree with what you said. My version uses more curse words and is far less eloquent.

Melissa Blue said...

@Minx "The funny thing is that people get upset when white writers don't include POC in their fiction or represent us as stereotypes but then they act like that's what they want IR fiction to be?"

Exactly. The expectation or designation of an IR for some is that race is the core issue. As though that's the truth for every IR relationship. It's never she has trust issues. He's grieving for his wife. I.e. minorities still aren't people who deal with everyday people problems.

I don't wake up in the morning thinking I'm black. I wake up in the morning thinking OMG, coffee!

I am not my skin color. I have experienced racism because of it, yes. But every day is not the Civil Rights Movement.

This is turning into another mini-rant. So I'll just say, yup. We're seeing eye to eye, Minx. lol

Melissa Blue said...

@Kelsey "In order to save us both the hassle from a ranty response, I will say I agree with what you said. My version uses more curse words and is far less eloquent."

lolol It's appreciated. I would have welcomed a rant too. Just FYI.

Laurel Cremant said...

DITTO to all of the above. I've gotten comments/questions asking me why I don't bring up the "race issue" in my books, and my response has always been that for my characters love and self-awareness is their biggest hurdle. Not who is what color or religion.

When I first met my husband, my first concern wasn't the color of our skin, but the difference in our religions and our age difference. Those represented more of a consideration to a relationship than our race.

I'm not saying that it's not something we thought about, but for me it was more along the lines of "Oh my God, I'm going to have to learn to cook kosher!"

And Melissa you are completely correct when you say background, upbringing and location matter a lot to how you react to race. My family is from the Caribbean, and I grew up in Miami a city that has almost every representation of race, religion, and culture concentrated in one one county. Growing up and seeing the myriad of colors and cultures mixing and marrying all my life, I never thought that dating was restricted to race. I grew up learning that it had everything to do with love and attraction.

So all that being said, for someone to tell me that I should change who I am and how many PC have grown up to be, just so that someone else can feel better about race dynamics and it's "complexities" when they read IR/MC romance is a huge insult. Just by asking the question they are telling me that I am not allowed to be more than my race. That I can't have an identity that includes it but is not defined by it. That people aren't allowed to experience one of the best feelings in the world (love) without pausing first and asking themselves whether should stop and having a conversation about race politics. That every IR/MC romance has to be some kind of teaching moment for people who can't read a POC story without focusing on race.

Okay...so what started off as a simple comment turned to a rant. Sorry about that. But those are my additional two cents :)

Nikki said...

Great post. I think it's refreshing that modern-day IR romances DON'T make a big thing about the racial differences. Why should they? That bell has been rung, and rung, and rung and it doesn't need to keep on ringing.

Melissa Blue said...

" I've gotten comments/questions asking me why I don't bring up the "race issue" in my books, and my response has always been that for my characters love and self-awareness is their biggest hurdle. Not who is what color or religion."

Yes. Once you get past race, if that's even an issue, there are still many things that can stand in the way of relationship.

"I'm not saying that it's not something we thought about, but for me it was more along the lines of "Oh my God, I'm going to have to learn to cook kosher!" "

I just did a quick search. Yup. I can understand what put you on the fence. lol

"Growing up and seeing the myriad of colors and cultures mixing and marrying all my life, I never thought that dating was restricted to race. I grew up learning that it had everything to do with love and attraction."

I was born in Texas but grew up in Cali. Interracial relationships are pretty common. I had more of a culture shock when I visited my sister in Dallas. You could get (good) fried chicken at the corner store. But not a taco stand to be found. lol

"So all that being said, for someone to tell me that I should change who I am and how many PC have grown up to be, just so that someone else can feel better about race dynamics and it's "complexities" when they read IR/MC romance is a huge insult."

I think that's what sticks in my craw the most. The IR of old is not the IR of now. Not always. You can still find books where race is the core issue. The thing is, we're sort of got past it. We're waiting for everyone else to catch the hell up. We all have things that makes us different. No need for it to be treated like a DefCon 5 alert.

And that's kind of the sense I get from that criticism. All the characters are supposed to go running around, flailing about over the fact the characters are from a different race.

Melissa Blue said...

@Nikki "Great post. I think it's refreshing that modern-day IR romances DON'T make a big thing about the racial differences. Why should they? That bell has been rung, and rung, and rung and it doesn't need to keep on ringing."

LMAO. I say the bell doesn't need to be hit as hard. I think Laurel's RL example is a good one. Less emphasis on race and more meshing a life together. 'Cause race doesn't automatically mean your upbringing was so vastly different you can barely hold a conversation. But, if you didn't grow up knowing anything about cooking kosher than I think that could throw you for a loop.

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