Diversity in Romance, or “Why can she write that, and I can’t?”
No one is perfect, but we can listen and learn.
A couple of weeks ago, I sent a message to someone on Twitter asking them a question. My intent was to provide support. This person put in a lot of emotional labour to let me know my approach was hurtful, and that I’d overstepped. I apologised and stepped away from the discussion.
I had overstepped and made a mistake.
My intent didn’t matter.
Let me say that again. My intent didn’t matter. I had hurt someone. I apologised. My apology cannot take away their hurt.
When the ‘Asian Hero Boxed Set’ discussion began on social media, I watched. I didn’t want to overstep again and add further hurt to people who were hurting.
It quickly became apparent that I could add a careful voice to this situation to boost the people who had been hurt by the marketing of these books. I sent a message to a different person on Twitter – firstly asking if it was ok to discuss how to help them, because I’d screwed up with someone else and didn’t want to make the same mistake. We discussed the issues privately, and I added my voice to the public opinion on the way these books were marketed to help people doing the important difficult work of calling this out.
One thing is important in this whole saga – no one is telling authors what they can or can’t write. This issue is not about the writing (although some of the authors in the criticised set have claimed this).
The issue is not about who they can write.
The issue is about using #ownvoices successful films to advertise a non-ownvoices series in a way that triggers historically racist ideas and hurts people who hold those diverse identities.
“None of the criticism said don’t write Asian heroes. It said don’t fetishise them in historically racist ways and don’t cash in on Asian authors’ success by riding their sales in your marketing material.” Dr Amy Matthews.
Some of these authors claim to have ‘done their research’. They may have. They may have even paid sensitivity readers to ensure they hadn’t overstepped. But at some point, they made a judgement call to piggy-back off an #ownvoices success for their non-ownvoices production. This was called out by people who felt the marketing decision was inappropriate.
There is a larger, ongoing, discussion about the line between inclusion and appropriation.
And we, as writers, need to understand our privilege, use sensitivity readers, and not create stereotypes or fetish certain looks. It’s hard work, and requires a lot of listening.
(I am not perfect by any means, but am always open to doing better.) https://t.co/sXjIhMOAxg
— Renee Dahlia&Geelen (@dekabat) September 19, 2018
I get it. It’s hard to acknowledge privilege, to face the idea that an idea might be wrong or hurtful.
Listening is necessary – and can be done without wailing about unfairness. Unfairness is the state of traditional publishing in America (and globally, but USA is where available data exists).
I have pushed myself to listen, to learn, and to investigate this in my writing. I’m slowly growing, and I use sensitivity readers. I do research by reading books by #ownvoices writers (and boosting them), by living in a diverse community in my daily life, and by apologising when I make mistakes. We all make mistakes. How we act after that is what makes us grow as people.
My next book features an Anglo-Indian hero, and some will say “why can SHE write that, and I can’t?”
Anyone can write anything.
All writing is political – writing an all-white world will bring criticism too (because it erases more than half of the world’s people). It is the background work that goes into the writing, listening to marginalised groups, the ability to understand the biases you grew up with (we all have them), understanding historical issues surrounding how a group of people are stereotyped and thinking about if your writing piles more crap onto that history or not, and it’s about how you market these stories to the world. Be prepared to listen when people from that culture, or identity, or disability, or any marginalised group talk about the mistakes. Be prepared to apologise when you get it wrong.
If someone from a marginalised group says something is hurtful, it probably is.
Apologise, listen, and do better.
I do my best to focus on these three things.