It is almost two weeks since Romance Writers of America, the biggest association (I believe) for romance writers announced the shortlist for the RITAs, the awards for published novels and novellas. Of those 80 finalists only three are authors of colour. I was unaware until last week that the RWA was co-founded by a black woman and yet no black writer has ever won a Rita. Last year, out of 88, 7 were authors of colour and I remember the twitter comments and RWA’s commitment to look at the system and do better…
What can one say?
It’s not right, it’s not fair. It’s utterly unrepresentative of the quality and popularity of romance books out there. Books by writers of colour featuring heroes and heroines of colour have topped the Best of Year lists for the past few years and yet the Ritas have not reflected this. Partly because some authors of colour chose not to enter their books for the competition, knowing too well that their stories will receive low votes. And why? Because those stories and characters are “not relatable” or their hea is “unbelievable.”
Because of racism.
That’s not a word I use lightly but white authors and readers on twitter (and Facebook, although I know this only by what has been reported on twitter) have sought to defend the awards, and there is no other way to describe their belief that books by and about people of colour are inferior and unwanted. Because that IS what they are saying when they even try to justify the lack of authors of colour among the finalists and winners over the last 20 years
All I can say in answer to that (as I shouldn’t swear too much, even on my own blog) is look at this twitter thread. These are the books and authors that should be Rita finalists. Anyone who says they can’t find romance by and about people of colour isn’t looking too hard, but hey, here you go. Oh, and follow @WOCInRomance
I’m not going to go into details of individual comments, look at #ritassowhite if you are unaware of what has been going on, although a lot has been deleted. There will be no Lifetime Achievement Award this year due to comments made by the intended recipient.
Writer Bronwen Fleetwood has made an impressive – and disheartening – compilation of data about past nominees and winners here. The fact that more people called Susan gave won than authors of colour says too much.
So why am I posting this? I’m not an author of colour, nor a member of RWA. But so many of the authors I enjoy are both and they deserve more support and recognition. And at this time they do not need their hurt to be ignored or diminished. They must not be told that this is how it’s always been and what do they expect? They must not be told to wait their turn – to win or to complain! The RWA board say they are looking at ways to improve the system, yes they said that before but after the outrage this year I believe something will change.
In the meantime I will listen to, and try to amplify, authors of colour. I will never disbelieve or try to explain away their hurt and anger. I hope a better way forward for the Ritas can be found, but that responsibility should not lie on the shoulders of authors of colour – although I believe that over 50% of the current RWA board is made up of people of colour, I just hope their white colleagues will do their share.
I could write about the sadness, sickness and horror I felt on reading the shortlist and white authors’ defence of it – but this isn’t about me and my feelings. I shall end with this tweet by the wonderful Farrah Rochon as it sadly sums it all up too well. No author of colour should feel like this.