With everything that’s gone on in Romancelandia over the last few weeks it’s brought so much ugliness to the forefront of everyone’s minds. What’s come to light are some things that have just frankly never occurred to me about publishing; unconscious biases and to put it more overtly, racism, that is just built into our culture and society for the most part. And that includes me. I read across genres and across cultures and colors. I looked back through my reviews here on the blog over the last two years and of course I’ve reviewed Nalini Singh (my all time favorite author), Sonali Dev (who I adore), Alyssa Cole, Alisha Rai, Angie Thomas – but just because I’ve read and reviewed those authors here doesn’t excuse that I haven’t reviewed more. I looked through my Goodreads profile and there are more black authors there, more authors of color present. But…honestly? Not enough. I can do better. I *should* do better.
To try to put it succinctly, what has happened is that the Romance Writers of America award nominations came up – the RITA (kind of like the Oscars of Romance writing) – nominations happened and these are the statistics for black author RITA finalists from 2000 to 2017:
• The number of finalist books by black authors is less than half of 1% of the total number of finalist books
• No black romance author has ever won a RITA
This has driven an intense discussion about racism in publishing and romance in particular – which is important to me because this is my chosen genre that I love and support with my money, reviewing, and voice.
That there have been no black authors to win a RITA is shocking to me. But as a white woman, and not even a white author, I do not need to lend my voice there at all. There have been many wonderful points made on Twitter by Alyssa Cole, Courtney Milan, Beverly Jenkins, and countless other authors. If you want to get educated on all of this please search out the amazing discussion that is out there. But where I do think there should be some discussion is the blogger and reviewing aspect. I was not aware that black authors have had issues getting their books accepted by book bloggers to even be read and reviewed. That’s on me. Our blog did not mention diversity in our review policy before April 8th, and we’ve made that change now.
I do turn down books to review all of the time, it’s 100% of the time because of genre. I get requests for non-fiction reviews constantly. I read maybe 2-4 of those a year so I almost always say no. But what I saw black authors say truly surprised me – that they would request their books to be read and reviewed by blogs and the response would be along the lines of ‘is it ghetto?’ and ‘I can’t relate to those kinds of characters’ which directly translates to that reviewer is flat out racist. But this was not one author saying this, this was one author speaking up and multiple others saying oh, me too.
I reached out to author Holley Trent, who the awesome people on Twitter introduced me to. I dove into her backlist and have yet to come up for air. Expect to see reviews for her books shortly because I am loving them! I had a brief Q&A with her to find out about experiences she may have had with blogs and reviewers.
Bookish Devices: With all of the racism coming to light in romancelandia I wanted to highlight experiences black authors have been having with some bloggers and reviewers. As a white reviewer this is the one area of the conversation that I felt that I could lend my input to. I saw this brought up in the conversation last week and was very surprised – but my surprise I’m sure stems from my privilege. I saw authors mentioning that they’ve submitted books for reviewing and they’ve had reviewers either ask if it’s ‘ghetto’ or tell them flat out they don’t read multi-cultural books. Have you experienced something along these lines?
BD: This doesn’t need to be about your specific books but books by black authors and authors of color in general – do you feel that the reviews you do see have biases in them?
BD: One of the suggestions I saw mentioned was for review blogs to change their review policies to explicitly state if they’re open to reviewing diverse books. If you were looking at blogs to submit your book for review is that something that you look for and would that make you feel comfortable with a blog reviewing your books in the future? Is there anything else that you’d like to see from review blogs that they’re not doing? This can include the big blogs and/or small blogs like us.
BD: I really appreciate your time and energy in answering my questions. I will work on doing better immediately.
Over the last month I made an effort to consciously seek out more authors of color. And it’s made a big difference in my reading. I have absolutely loved what I’ve read. This isn’t to say that I wouldn’t have gotten to these books eventually but I made the choice to get there sooner. I’ve read Holley Trent (obviously), Mia Sosa, Beverly Jenkins, Farrah Rochon, Robin Covington, Tomi Adeyemi, and Ruby Lang. My TBR list is piled high and it’s never looked better. My next step is to review these books so that will be starting soon. None of this conversation is to say we deserve cookies if we read inclusively, but rather to say that we should be doing this. Period.
Racial biases are prevalent in our society and can be overt and easy to see but oftentimes it’s much harder to discern. I thought I was reading inclusively and across genders and ethnicities but I realize that I could have been doing more. I could have been more vocal, in retrospect I could have done a lot of things differently, and going forward I will.