The RWA board released the following statement Friday. There were (and continue to be) a variety of reactions. It's not a fix. But acknowledging the problem is the first step. Some authors asked about other authors of color, Native, etc. We're not going to fix all of this quickly, but steps are being taken and that's good. As long as we don't stay stuck in the information gathering phase, then good.
And some of the reactions were, sigh. So, here's seven reasons you might not have noticed that there has never been a black author winning a RITA (that wasn't a lifetime achievement) or wondered openly on the internet if there even are black romance authors. Or readers
1. You're white. Some of you just recoiled. They don't have to be. They just might not have noticed. I know. There are six more reasons. But if you joined an organization it's just normal to look around either before or after you joined and look for people who look like you. Yes that look like you can take many forms: gender expression, class expression, age, ability, and so on. But if you didn't notice if there were black people in the organization, if your first response was maybe there aren't black authors, I'm going to assume you are white.
2. You are new to North America. That may seem a big jump, but between We Need Diverse Books and #WeNeedDiverseRomance and #OscarsSoWhite there has been a ton of discussion about how media in North America does not honor and award creators of color at a similar rate to white ones. Now publishing is, in my humble opinion, doing a tiny bit better with Asian Americans, than Hollywood is, but that's a discussion that's been going on. The Ripped Bodice has been collecting numbers on authors for two years. And those numbers are pretty similar to the kids books numbers that get published every year too. RWA acknowledging the issue and taking steps to gather better data is joining into a larger discussion already in progress.
3. You're new to RWA. Like so new. So new you don't remember when Brenda Jackson was the first black RITA award winner, or when Beverly Jenkins was the second. Both for lifetime achievement.
4. You don't read. I mean, look, some people are visually impaired and not everything works great with assistive devices, but RWA has posted studies on romance readers. If you are still playing the there aren't any black romance readers game, then you must not read. In fact there were questions on the survey results, since several authors felt it likely undercounted readers of color.
5. All your friends are white. Maybe there isn't a local chapter where you are. Or there is but your chapter is very white. Somehow you've managed to exist in RWA without noticing folks that aren't white. Or are black.
6. All your readers are white. This isn't a fault thing. You can't help who your readers are. But if all your readers are white, when the most read folks often aren't, well, that might mean your marketing is bad. Also, since I was just at a huge reader event, I will tell you this also means you haven't been to a multi-author event, like say even the RWA Literacy signing.
7. You don't like money. I don't want to conflate readers and authors. Black authors don't only write black characters, and black readers don't only read black characters. But part of the larger discussion is that it's a vicious circle. If RWA honors great romance books and yet seems to ignore those by black authors, then readers have to wonder how useful the awards are. It will likely never be perfect, there are whole years you couldn't pay me to see any of the Oscar nominated movies, but it's ridiculous to pretend this isn't something we should work on. But if you still think, today, that there aren't black readers looking for romance, then you are willfully ignoring a segment of the reading population. You can do that. There are plenty of authors who do. But RWA is seeking to serve more authors than that. For which I am grateful.