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February 5th, 2007

8:48 PM

White Romance Novels versus Black Romance Novels


One of these days I'd probably look back at this and chuckle at how ridiculous the whole situation is. I was right there to catch the whole Monica Jackson versus Sybil dustup (you can start reading at this point if you're into bloghopping) but the end result is Monica Jackson shutting down her blog and announcing that she's had it with race issues and she's moving on to other things.

Bummer. I love her blog.

At any rate, I think Monica is being a little too oversensitive here. It's just my opinion, of course, but I notice that it took only a few people responding in her initial blog where she happened to drop so casually the fact that Sybil is a racist to set her off to announce dramatically the demise of the blog. In fact, many people seemed to be asking, "Who's Sybil?" And that's it, isn't it - nobody really knows who Sybil is (I understand that she's a blogger and that's only after I'm told about this by a few of my fellow friendly observers of the incident at the front row seats). Some people are disagreeing with Monica's use of the word "racist". But somehow this leads to Monica basically pointing fingers and saying that the online community is oh-so-eat-my-middle-finger suckworthy because we condone Sybil's "racist" behavior.

This is what I think of the situation, not that anyone is asking me for my opinions, of course. But hey, it's my blog, et cetera.

Sybil's blog post that set Monica off, from what I could follow, was Sybil throwing down the gautlet to Monica by saying that she was tired of Monica's constant talking about race so she deliberately refused to read an anthology after she "realized that it was an AA" thing. From the name of the anthology, I find it hard to believe that she didn't know it was an AA thing since Monica Jackson was one of the authors whose names are on the cover of Big Girls Don't Cry. It was more like some Miss Thing must be feeling the heat of Monica's posts and went all-out on the defensive if you ask me. Monica used this post and some further bits and pieces here and there as evidence that Sybil's blog entry was racist in nature.

I don't know Sybil and when I read that blog entry by Sybil, my first impression of Sybil - no offense to Sybil, but that blog entry wouldn't win the Most Dignified Blog Entry Ever award anytime soon - was that this was a fifteen year girl throwing a petty tantrum after being nagged one time too many by Mommy so she was now going to do anything just to get Mommy's attention and drive her crazy. In fact, it did cross my mind that for all I know, Sybil could be Monica's daughter, heh.

And yes, a few people showed up to defend Sybil. Some were clearly her blogging buddies, others disagreed with Monica's calling Sybil a racist, and some agreed as well as disagreed with Monica but I don't think these handful of people could be accurately called a representation of the entire online community. Personally, I won't even call Sybil's blog entry that set Monica off "racist". It's more akin to someone showing her tongue at you just to show you how much she thinks you suck. "You tell me to take a bath so I WON'T! EVER! MAKE ME IF YOU CAN!" It's really not worth making a fuss over and Monica's use of her blog entry as an example gives that particular blog entry more significance than it actually warranted.

As for the bigger issue that is lost in the dust-up - AA romances versus the world part 1,546,888 - call me cynical but I don't think yet another circular argument in one or two blogs will make any difference. I won't say it's racism at work, it's more like many people in America who aren't buying AA romances harbor apathy towards the genre. There is no use trying to pinpoint the finger in this case - whether the problem is because so-and-so can't find AA romance books because it's shelved in a separate aisle marked AA fiction - because at this current rate, nobody that matters give a damn about the issue. Everyone has his or her own reasons for not wanting to read AA romances and arguing about it in one or two blogs won't change anything.

What could change some things here and there, though, is Monica keeping her blog open. Sure, some would say she's the gal who cries wolf. Others would say she's racist against whites because she seems to put down white people so often in her blog entries. But at least she's saying something when many other AA authors are keeping quiet and that's what matters at the end. Monica calls herself an activist, but an activist fights for what she believes is right, not because she expects success or complete agreement from other people because she says that she's right. Okay, I may be contradicting myself here since I early said that a few people blogging about the matter won't change anything, but if Monica can get more blogs to say something and spark discussion, or heck, maybe even get few more people to pick up an AA romance if only to see what's in those books, that may actually... change something. Even if these blogs are disagreeing with her, Monica should remember that for every three people saying something on a blog, there are at least six people lurking and reading but not participating. So if it is yet another "Oh no, what did Monica do this time?" and we have ten or so blogs linking to Monica's blog, that means there will be people who otherwise don't read AA romances or even know who Monica Jackson is will end up at her blog and may even be moved to think about the situation and even pick up an AA romance or two.

But I don't know Monica just like I don't know Sybil, so I don't know if there are other reasons why she would close her blog. Maybe she was fatigued by what she views as a one-woman fight with no  open support from her peers, I don't know, or maybe she really feels that she has had it and she's moving on to another community that will not make her want to choke on her bile so often. But if she's in the mood to post another rant in her often amusing and sardonic way, I hope she'll do that. Maybe even get a nom de plume and start a new blog if she wants to keep her professional and online lives separate. There's nothing wrong with that, we can't all be Jennifer Crusie.

But... come on now. If the blog shuts down because of a lawsuit, that's not so bad a way to go. At least one can say one was shut down by the Big Corporation. If the blog goes down because it was irreparably hacked, one could say that one had successfully gotten to the creeps so well that the creeps played dirty to hit back. But to throw down the towel like this? What will people say? "Some gal named Sybil showed Monica the tongue so Monica called everyone White Racists and flounced away in a huff!" is pretty much a whimper of a closure.
Come on. You're letting this silly mountain-out-of-molehill issue be the straw that breaks the camel's back? There's no lawsuit, there isn't even a systematic flame ambush from your dissenters. There's no picketing, no National Dog Monica Day, no nationwide "Hell, No, We're Now Boycotting AA Romances Because Monica Is Too Annoying For Words!" campaign endorsed by the White House... just a few people in a few blogs disagreeing with you, as usual, so really now. You don't want your Proud Outspoken Online Broad membership card revoked permanently, do you?

As for everyone else, aww, come on, if you have read everything there is about this bizarre and blown-out-of-proportion fuss, the next time you go to the bookstore, come on, there is really no reason not to look for any AA section there unless there is a line of men in white robes and pointy hats bearing torches and ropes blocking your way. If you are on a leisurely stroll to check out books in a bookstore, well, you know there's a thing called AA section in the bookstore so it's no longer an excuse to say that it is so hard to walk a few minutes over to that aisle over there. Unless, of course, you have no interest in reading AA romances. There's nothing wrong with that, of course.

But if you claim that you are not like those people Monica spoke about in her blog entries, then maybe it's time to help out and do look for a few new AA authors to try. My personal recommendations would be Melanie Schuster, Doreen Rainey, Janice Sims, Donna Hill, Leslie Esdaile, Brenda Jackson, Reon Laudat, Lynn Emery, Bettye Griffin, Adrienne Byrd, Beverly Jenkins, and Monica Jackson - I find these authors' books generally enjoyable, but that's just me, of course. Lucky for you, there are many other AA authors to try. There's no point going to Monica's blog to wring your hands in dismay, saying that you are not like those people, you'd really love to read an AA romance but oh my goodness, the aisle is hidden from your view and the cashier is broken and there is a snowstorm coming soon and you have no time to look because your water just broke and - OH, PUH-LEEZE. This is apathy.

The next time Monica or some AA author wags a figurative finger in a blog about AA romance apathy and you are one of those who just won't read them for any reason, please, do think about why you don't read AA romances before you accuse that person of crying wolf and making general sweeping statements. Because they aren't general sweeping statements. The audience for AA books are really small compared to the audience for white books and these authors are not making noise just for drama. There is a pervalent apathy towards AA romance and if you feel that Monica or some other author blogging about race is going about doing things the wrong way by accusing white people of being racists, won't it be better if you show her how wrong she is by reading an AA romance now and then and supporting the industry in a small way, even if it's, say, regularly buying the books of just one AA author who has become your favorite? That's better than deliberately boycotting AA romances because of one author - that's not making a statement, that's being petty. These authors aren't saying that you have to read their books or they will brand you a racist. They are just asking for a fair chance and for readers to give their books a try.

The point of my long-winded rant is this: if for some reason you won't read AA romances - lack of interests, KKK parents who will disown you if they find out, the bookstore doesn't stock on AA romances and Amazon banned you from accessing their website because of one reason or the other, Monica Jackson was the nurse who made you cry when she applied an injection that hurt too much - then perhaps authors like Monica have a valid cause for concern (although unlike Monica, I'd say the problem is apathy for most people rather than racism) and therefore why not just let these authors have their say? There's no need to call them doomsday prophets or silly biddies who cried wolf. And if you don't like the way they word their blog entries, there is no use just telling them to be quiet or to say things in a more pleasant way. Show them that they are wrong. At least look at the AA aisle and check out the back blurbs of one or two books.

Necessary disclaimer: Before anyone demands to know why I wasn't reviewing AA romances like I used to regularly when I lived in Singapore (where I bought every Arabesque book that came to the bookstores each month), it's because Borders and MPH Malaysia don't stock up on them at all. The very few AA romances I manage to  get my hands on now and then are purchased from Amazon. If you have seen their international shipping charges and the Malaysian Ringgit-United States Dollar currency exchange rate, you'll understand why I'm not buying AA books more often.

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Posted by sam:

I was a little surprised as to how much Sybil did push Monica's buttons. On occasion Sybil's posts seem a little childish and after lurking at her blog from time to time, I wonder if she is just a very young person blogging about romance novels, because her posts come across that way. I would think she'd be a little blurb in Monica's path.
February 9th, 2007 @ 1:16 AM

Posted by AngieZ:

Monica said: My pub tells me I have to have blacks prominently on my covers to woo the niche and not surprise and anger white readers who might accidently buy it otherwise.

Maybe I am on the only one, but it really cheeses me when the cover shots don't match the hero/heroines. When they describe a heroine with brown hair, yet the cover has a women with blonde hair it just ruins my vision of the character. And don't get me started on period appropriate clothing. I don't care what coloring or race the characters are but please make the cover match. I don't see that as a racial issue. Now I could see it as an issue if you want the cover without any people on it and the publisher is insisting on people just so you don't piss anyone off. That would suck.
February 7th, 2007 @ 1:22 PM

Posted by AA Reader:

MrsG wrote:
Everyone has his or her own reasons for not wanting to read AA romances and arguing about it in one or two blogs won't change anything.

This is what Monica just couldn't grasp. I am an AA but I don't read romance. I have only being following the blogs cause as most cat fights -- they are entertaining and fun to watch, or read.

I think many of the AA romance writers knew their sales numbers had flatlines, and thought if I could get me some non AA (really they meant White) readers then that would be great. Some White readers don't wish to read AA romance novels, or any romance novels by any writers, and that doesn't necessarily make them a racist. And, spending all that time and energy on people who think or believe are racist, is useless. You can't guilt people into buying your books, especially if they don't like them. And, then if they do read your books, and then say that don't like them (because they really don't -- which I must say is why I don't read them), then they will still be called racist. They are in a no- win situation.

Throwing the word (racist) around so loosely is what I thought was the major problem.
February 6th, 2007 @ 11:36 PM

Posted by Jennifer:

I'm sorry - but what shocks me is the fact that there is a separate AA shelf in bookstores. Period. Maybe I'm naive - but it would never occur to me to think that black authors should be kept separate from white authors.
Is there a separate shelf for Chinese authors or Hispanic authors? Are their romances separate from the white romance books? Are there any anthologies with a mixture of white and black authors and characters?
February 6th, 2007 @ 10:43 PM

Posted by Dalia:

Hey, the rest of my post got lost. Bummer. Too long-winded eh? Ok.

In short: as I said to Charlene: when a hispanic romance author starts to write about the issues s/he faces in the romance world (and maybe this person is out there, I do not know) then the conversation will focus on this aspect of racism in the romance publishing industry and the AA pov need not have a place in that discussion other than to show similarities or make clear, differences.
February 6th, 2007 @ 8:45 PM

Posted by Dalia:

Charlene said:
"I think what annoyed me about that entire conversation was a) the assumption that we're all American, and AA romances are segregated everywhere on earth, and b) that Black Americans are the only put-upon people on Earth."

Monica is American, published with American houses who in the main part choose to section off her work by race, distributed primarily to an American audience and she's black, she writes about black people and she, primarily, sells to black people. That's why her posts will come from that angle.

I don't know how long her posts will have to be if she were to carry the weight of disenfranchised people the world over but we'd probably be scrolling down for hours.

Robin said:
"Living in the Western US, race is about so much more than the AA - White divide that I'm always amazed the issue always seems to reduce down to a black-white split -- that feels very East Coast to me."

I don't see the conversation as 'reduced' to a black-white split as if somehow it lacks robustness in it not touching on the latino vs american culture clash. The racial and cultural dynamics between AA-White and Latini-White are so different, even if a conversation began combining the two, the shareholders for each part will effectively separate the two issues.

I see this as a good thing to deal with them separately rather than conflate them because the cause & effect models differ enough for individual discussions to show greater progress.

One major difference that I see right now between the AA-White and Latino-White divide is that there is no 'Chica Romance' section (in the stores I have shopped at with a large hispanic population - Borders & BN stores in Miami, Orlando and Texas. There is also not a 'Chica Romance' section in the Borders I've been to in DC. But there *are* books by latina women with characters distinctly latina. I read them. I find them next to SEP and Julia Quinn and whoever.

In addition, 'chica lit' will fit in right
February 6th, 2007 @ 7:41 PM

Posted by Maria Duncan:

I'm not sure what to make of that. I read romances and I like them because I love the romance, I don't dismiss romance novels because of the colour of the characaters' skin or their nationality. I would dismiss a book if the writing was bad or I didn't like the characters.
It's strange to me that this is an issue, and maybe this is naive of me to say, but I thought we as a world were past this
February 6th, 2007 @ 6:00 AM

Posted by Robin:

The Monica/Sybil clash has been going on for quite a while, and I'm always sorry to see it distract from some of the issues at stake. I don't always agree with Monica, but I like that she shakes things up and spurs conversation.

Frankly, I wish the Romance community as a whole were more engaged in discussion about how Romance treats race, class, and sexuality in general. Robin Schone's books, for example, tend to demonize homosexuality, merging it with pedophilia -- THAT disturbs me, and it makes me feel ambivalent about enjoying the fact that she's progressive and interesting in other ways. Non-white characters rarely appear in historical Romance, and when they do, the results are often terrifying. The collective portrayal of Native Americans is a scandal of epic proportions, IMO. Why aren't we talking more about all of that? Human sex with werewolves is okay but not mixed race couplings?

As for how authors are marketed, I am fascinated by this topic, and am looking for more voices talking about how and why authors are marketed and shelved the way they are. Is it publishers that are racially motivated? It seems that they go after the money, so I sense that the rationale behind an AA niche market is based on more than simply racially-motivated thinking. But what, exactly, the factors are would be great to understand better. Which readers, for example, are driving the AA niche market? Living in the Western US, race is about so much more than the AA - White divide that I'm always amazed the issue always seems to reduce down to a black-white split -- that feels very East Coast to me. I know people get tired of talking about race (and I am wary of the casual use of "racist" in these conversations), but it is sort of shocking to me that Romance has progressed in so many ways sexually, for example, but is still SO whitewashed.
February 6th, 2007 @ 5:23 AM

Posted by maura anderson:

I'm similar to Anne and Shiloh. I buy books because the story or the characters grab me. I don't care (and almost always never know) if the author is AA or not. It doesn't matter to me.

In the bookstore I frequent, the AA romances are intermingled in the romance section. There is no distinction made other than trades have to be separate from mass market because of shelving requirements. That's it.

I'm more likely to not buy a book because of sub-genre than the skin color of the author.
February 6th, 2007 @ 4:34 AM

Posted by Annie Dean:

I only get to shop in brick and mortar stores maybe twice a year now. There aren't any BN or Borders in Mexico. I order all my stuff off Amazon and generaly I know exactly what I want before I go to the site. I don't do a lot of impulse shopping that way because as Mrs. G notes, international shipping rates suck. My splurge shopping is limited to the occasions when I actually get to go to a bookstore. Like Anne, I just buy whatever looks good or grabs my attention and I will spend hours browsing.
February 6th, 2007 @ 2:20 AM

Posted by Roslyn Holcomb:

I've always found tilting at windmills to be a foolish endeavor. I like Monica and as much as I enjoy her blog, I don't like seeing my friends get beat up simply because they choose to tell their truth as they see it. I think Monica has a righteous beef and those who complain that moderate her tone so as to not offend are full of it. The truth is what it is, and one shouldn't be required to sugar-coat it. The publishing industry is rife with racism. Some choose to ignore it, others choose to speak out on it. Though I'm not surprised, I am disgusted that it is those who choose to speak who are castigated. As I said, I'm not surprised, but I am deeply disappointed.
February 6th, 2007 @ 2:11 AM

Posted by Anne:

I must deviate from the norm because when I pick up a book to read, I could give a rat's ass what color the author is. If the story is fabulous, I read it. If it's not, I don't. And to show the extent of my ignorance, up until two or so years ago I didn't even know that Brenda Jackson(an auto-buy author for me) was AA... and honestly, I don't care. She writes fabulous, so I read her stuff. I wonder how many other authors that I read regularly are AA and I just don't know it ;)
February 6th, 2007 @ 1:21 AM

Posted by Shiloh Walker:

It's more akin to someone showing her tongue at you just to show you how much she thinks you suck. "You tell me to take a bath so I WON'T! EVER! MAKE ME IF YOU CAN!" It's really not worth making a fuss over and Monica's use of her blog entry as an example gives that particular blog entry more significance than it actually warranted.

This is exactly my take on the Monica/Sybil situation. They have a serious personality clash, and a lot of it stems from both of them being very out spoken. Sybil felt she was ordered to do something, therefore, she did the opposite. Uhhh... I tend to do the same thing when I feel somebody is trying to make me do something.

I hate that Monica felt the need to shut her blog down. I like what Karen is doing, trying to get some in depth answers on it. Maybe it will solve something. Name calling and finger pointing rarely do.

On the subject of AA romances, I buy books. I buy romances. I don't care what color skin the characters have, or the author. But like I said on Karen's blog, my bookstore buying trips usually have to be accomplished in 15 minutes or so. I hit the romance section. If I'm in a fantasy mood, I'll go to the fantasy/sci fi area. I don't do much browsing, but when a book jumps out at me, I pick it up. If it appeals, I buy it. And whether or not it appeals will all boil down to the story itself. But since I have to squeeze my book buying in with two young kids and a baby on my hip, I hit the areas where I know I'll find what I'm looking for, and fast. I generally don't have that much time to wade thru the variety in an AA section trying to find a paranormal, a suspense, or whatever I'm in the mood for. But, if a book is getting a lot of buzz, I'll go out of my way to find it. I checked out Monica's Mr. Right Now because I saw it mentioned a few places. However, I bought it because the storyline appealed to me...it's a vamp story and reading the blurb was all it took. I wanted to read i
February 6th, 2007 @ 12:56 AM

Posted by Charlene:

I think what annoyed me about that entire conversation was a) the assumption that we're all American, and AA romances are segregated everywhere on earth, and b) that Black Americans are the only put-upon people on Earth. There's no racism anywhere but in the United States, apparently.
February 6th, 2007 @ 12:40 AM

Posted by Monica:

I got out of blogging on race because I'm tired. You're right about being little support from my peers. The reason is they know it's an exercise in futility and frustration. It's past time I got the point too.

No matter what I say on the issue, unless it comes off as an Uncle Tom manifesto, it will be said I'm being racist and attacking whites. It's no win.

We see authors such as Millenia not allowed to participate in the mainstream market because she's black. My pub tells me I have to have blacks prominently on my covers to woo the niche and not surprise and anger white readers who might accidently buy it otherwise. Our books aren't even carried in majority white markets--the majority of the U.S.

Then some nonblack authors who never have to deal with the above state it's bad to ever use the R-word or how upset they are that they ever hear it? Sheesh. It feels as if they might as well be wearing white sheets.

I know most romance authors aren't like that at all, but there is the basic alienation. How many of us participate in the community? Everyone points their finger back to us, our fault they say, but if the romance community was worth the effort (and frustration), we would be at the same boards, blogs and forums as the other romance authors.

Bottom-line, the people I was addressing are not my readers. They aren't the ones supporting me with their dollars. I should be spending my time blogging to the people who read and support me (whatever their race) rather than worrying about a romance community who doesn't treat my books equitably (you have to admit that's the honest truth) for whatever reasons.
February 5th, 2007 @ 11:51 PM

Posted by Karen Scott:

As usual, you are the voice of reason Mrs G.
February 5th, 2007 @ 11:46 PM