Monday, September 19, 2016

Sports Romance and the Handling of the Audience

A few weeks back, there was an article about sports romance.  In it, there was mention that while plentiful, there is less sports romance featuring athletes of color, which given the current makeup of quite a few sports in the US, is out of sync.  As often happens, folks discussed this on Twitter.  And some folks showed up mad.  They said they were authors of sports romance and if they wanted to write about white people they could.  That they had happy publishers and happy readers and everyone should stop attacking them.  And buy their next book. 
So, let's unpack this.  
As writers, particularly genre fiction writers, there are a lot of thinkpieces afoot.  Most of them are a bit click baity, a little pearl clutchy, and are just there to poo-poo the thing that kids and/or women are reading.  So, I understand that when an article comes out about the thing you write, you may be predisposed to assume it is attacking you. 
Saying many of the books in a sub-genre feature white main characters is not an attack.  I mean, I guess, if it were untrue it would be an attack, but right now, there are two things working against that.  Most books in all categories are about white people.  Above and beyond the racial makeup of our country. And in the NFL, which happens to be the sport I see the most sports romance about, there are significantly more black players than white players. (Numbers for several pro sports here.) 
If your books do feature characters of color, it's still not an attack.  Because this is a big picture statement.  Just like if I said there was more heterosexual romance than queer, I'm not saying there isn't queer romance, I'm saying the numbers tilt towards heterosexuals in a way that is out of sync with the numbers in real life. 
If your books do not feature characters of color you may feel like this is an attack. It isn't.  Nor is saying, I find books that feature unrealistically white sports teams hard to read.  People saying there's a thing they can't get over in your books isn't aimed at you. If I wrote a vampire book and someone said, oh, I can't read vampires because my babysitter tortured me for three years with vampire stories*, I wouldn't say, oh but my vampires are really good.  I would say, okay, you are not my reader.  At least not for this story. 
And if it still feels like such a statement is aimed at you the author, then maybe you should look inside yourself and figure out why.  Do you maybe feel like you have been failing to represent fully in your fictional world?  If so, you can work on that.  
Also, it's becoming really common to see folks counter any criticism as being part of the call out culture, even though, jumping in people's mentions to tell them your books are just fine with all their white characters is actually more of an attack than the person who said, I can't read a sports books that ignores the existence of athletes of color.  These are separate things.  Yes, there is a rise in people calling out certain behaviors.  Sometimes those calls get vicious.  Painting all criticism as the same, in fact, attempting to imply that noting there are white characters is even close to calling someone out, is not only untrue, it's also an insidious attempt to turn people to your side and get them to attack others.  
You can write books with white characters.  There are just scads of data that prove no one has had any trouble getting books published with white characters.  No one said you had to stop writing white characters.  But it does absolutely imply that you are cherry picking.  Look, you were the one who created a world with only white characters.  You can keep on doing that.  Just like I could write a book series with only red headed vampires. (Sorry, vampires, I do seem to be picking on you today.)  Anyone who showed up and notes that I only have red headed vampires isn't attacking me.  They are noting.  I can go add a brunette vampire or not.  I can choose to explain why my vampires all have red hair or not.  But expecting readers not to notice is not only silly, it implies I hope my readers don't pay attention to things.  

*Made up example.