Monday, March 25, 2019

RITAs and Golden Hearts

I end up wary of some online discussion of RWA's RITAs and Golden Hearts, partly because so much of it cycles through people who don' know how the awards work, and folks, who suggest fixes that are either impractical or equally problematic.  I am sending a letter to the board with a list of suggestions.  I do believe the board wants to fix this.  I also believe that aircraft carrier sized organization or not, change needs to come swiftly.  
But, I also understand that having some of this discussion visible and transparent will help us move forward.  
It is still an honor to be nominated even in a flawed process.  I am still thrilled for the books I loved (or will love, since I haven't read them all) that are on this list. 
Any other organization that produced a list that focused this heavily on white, straight, characters and purported to represent the body of work in romance for 2018, I would yell about it's failure to represent the true breadth of the genre. 
Race is not the only underrepresented group in the RITAs.  My hope is that the changes we make to fix this, will also lift up other authors and characters we are failing to support. 
The Ripped Bodice's State of Diversity in Romance Publishing report relies somewhat on self-reporting and some educated guesswork, and focuses on traditional publishing.  Indie publishing obviously also includes both white authors and authors of color, and so it is not a full picture, but it is something we have numbers for.  Of the 2867 romances published in 2018 by these publishers, overall it averages out to about 6% of these books being by authors of color, which is about 176 books.  
The RITA is capped at 2000 entries.  There are obviously way more than 2000 romances published every year, so there is no way for it to fully capture everything, but that doesn't mean this current process couldn't be fixed to do a better job of representing the genre and the membership.  
This year there are about 3 authors of color nominated.  (The about is because yeah, not every author puts their data out there.  We could have a conversation about why they would need to hide their ethnicity.)
Based on my back of the envelope math, 6% of the 80 finalists, would be 5.  So, we're super close, right folks?  No.  Because we know that authors of color are represented at higher percentages in self-publishing.  (In fact two of the nominated authors of color are self published.) There isn't really a good way to calculate what percentage, to say nothing of how many of these folks participate in RWA.  Any way to try to arrive at these numbers is flawed. I could give you US demographic statistics, but I know there are Canadian, British, South African, and Australian members, to name a few places. 
There is no way to argue that this is just happenstance. The numbers should consistently not be lower than average for all authors of color. If I include Lifetime Achievement awards, the number of winners of color is incredibly low, even when I count folks that won twice, I still barely break double digits.  (Bronwen crunched the numbers of non-Lifetime Achievement awards. And is working to expand it further.)
So, the process as is currently exists, rewards authors of color at about the same rate that traditional publishing does.  The Ripped Bodice said fairly explicitly, that their hope with producing the report was for it to essentially track improvement.  Instead they have seen little to no shift in the overall numbers.  So the RITA's reflecting that means we are reflecting other flawed, systemically biased systems.