Tuesday, July 19, 2016

DAMMIT, DO BETTER!


I love reading. I get excited when I discover a new author or find an outstanding story. I’m eager to leave reviews and share with others my new finds. When a book or story is lackluster, leaving me less than thrilled, I usually remain silent. I know the effort that an author has put into a story. I know how hurtful a bad review can be. It is not for me to dash anyone else’s dream because what I might not have liked, someone else may have loved.
Recently I read books that left me disappointed, and angry. One was an award-winning title, the author gleefully claiming a coveted statue for her efforts. Clearly what I hated, others found award-worthy. And that actually scares me. The story was as well-written as any other in the genre. Its formulaic plot hit all the buttons that her publisher required. But as a woman of color, I found it as insulting and as distasteful as any story I have ever read.
The story featured a Native American heroine. She had self-esteem issues, continually questioning her worth. Her mother had ten kids by four different men and had sex in the backseat of cars while her eldest child raised her bastard children. Authors words, not mine. She wasn’t sure who her daddy was. In comes the white hero to give her life “value and purpose” and to tell her it’s okay if she has sex with him. That won’t make her like her mother. The entire tone of the story was condescending and gut-wrenching.
The next book had me fuming before page ten and I had to stop myself from railing that emotion in a review. Heroine is “passing” for white. Her mother was a black, drug-addicted prostitute whose children had been sent to foster care. Her father is unknown, assumed to be white, because she can “pass” but she’s not sure. As a black woman’s child “she had no value.” Becoming white “made her valuable.” An African-American baby is found in the trash, the discovery pulling at her heartstrings because he reminds her of her baby brother who died in foster care. There’s a reference to crack babies here which was unnecessary to the nth degree. The hero’s reaction to finding a newborn black baby in the trash? “This is disgusting.” To which she responds by ignoring his comment because she’s too busy getting all goose pimply at seeing his bare chest.
I can't even begin to express my sheer disgust with the interracial historical that paired a black woman with a Klu Klux Klan member. From his offering to pay her for sex to her wanting him to join the Klan spoke volumes about a writer who clearly has had no experience with or knowledge of the Klan and the painful history that surrounds them. Perhaps she should find the racist pamphlets threatening to beat and castrate black men and rape black women before gutting them, on her front porch as so many in North Carolina were greeted with just this week. I was appalled on many levels, starting with the blatant stereotypes and ending with the latent racism. That anyone would find any of this acceptable in the year 2016 defies all logic.
With the call for more diversity in books and publishing, twitter hashtags extolling #weneeddiversebooks and #ownvoices, publishers have been calling on their white authors to add characters of color to their storylines. There have been conference meetings on the topics, closed door discussions in publishing houses, even secret calls to authors not of color that no one is supposed to know about. If writing like this is their answer to more diversity, they seriously need to do better.
Maybe what needs to be stressed is that we need diverse books that don’t perpetuate ignorance, reinforce negative stereotypes and demean any people. Most especially not in romance. Maybe what needs to be addressed is why diverse authors writing their stories are often overlooked or shuffled to the back of the bus…I mean bookstore. Why aren’t authors of color pandered to or promoted as significantly as their white counterparts? How come they count for less than 3% of a publisher’s roster? Why does this still need to even be a discussion when publisher after publisher has promised time and time again to do better, be different, make a change? How hard is it to publish diverse authors and their stories? Why not put your marketing monies behind books written by diverse authors writing their own stories? Why does it take rocket science to just do what's right?
As a black woman, I say this to any author wanting to just throw in a black character into their stories, most especially a black woman. Know us before you write about us. If your only experience with anyone of color is what you see on television or your infrequent encounter with a person of color in passing, tread cautiously. Because we don’t question our value. We know our value. We don’t need any man, black or white, to give our lives purpose. There is no one, black, white or yellow who needs to validate our worth. We’ve known our value since the days of slavery. Just because we were told we were worthless, certainly didn’t make it true, nor did we fall for that flagrant lie. Not then. Not now.
We know our value which is why we are fighting tooth and nail for the respect that we are continually being denied.
Why we fight to see our faces on the screen and in the media being the amazing females and people that we are.
Why we fight to get our stories read.
Why we write.
Now, dammit, do better.

41 comments:

Musings IRJ said...

I just got my life. Thank you!

Twyla Turner said...

YESSSSSS!!!💜

Dylan St. Jaymes said...

Thank you for dropping this truth bomb. I hope the ones that need to hear it receive this word.

Toni Robinson said...

Well said, this is why I do not like to read books about us written by them because they don't know a damn thing about us an our lives. As a member of a book club if the book is the BOM I half read in order to take part in the discussion. We recently had one of those books and flat out sated the book was a bunched of made up lies, not even good fiction I grew up in the placed she talked about, saw the way my grandmother was treated. They need to leave us our children, our history , and our lived the hell alone.

Edwina Putney said...

Thank you Deborah! TRUTH

K.D. KING said...

I'm doing the holy ghost dance.

Sean D. Young said...

Excellent!! Wow!

PJ DEAN said...

this is the new take from these "mainstream" authors who just must write POC. Since they do not know how to write a proud POC, they write a confused, SELF HATING ONE. It reveals their bigotry.

Movie Maven Gal said...

Very well said.

Cynt said...

Thank you for speaking out on people writing reviews without reading books and predetermine Authors because of the color of their skin -
And not the gift of their talent!

Anonymous said...

I hope this doesn't come off as "white tears," but I really feel I need to speak up in support of the author of the first book mentioned. I don't know her personally but I have read many of her romances. Most of them feature Native Americans; many of those books are set on a reservation. The author is not only thoughtful and respectful in how she approaches tough topics; she actually dedicates time and effort to raising money for educational charities for Native children. (In fact, the book maligned was inspired in part by a real-life incident in which the founder of such a charity approached a celebrity for a donation, and to raise awareness.) I'm not seeing the self-hate or white savior tropes either; was the entire book read? I found it neither formulaic nor condescending.

It's not stereotyping to shine a light on the very real challenges facing indigenous peoples on and off the reservation. The author's characters wrestle with poverty, alcoholism, and other issues. She honors her subjects by researching tribal matters, by writing complex and flawed characters, and by using proper translations when the Lakota language is used. I think her work is the definition of "doing better."

I hope that you'll read some of the author's other books, especially those with Native American protagonists. (A series that was published not by Harlequin but by Samhain is my favorite).

Thank you for the opportunity to comment.

Faye said...

Good lord these premises can't be real. WTH!

Unknown said...

:-)
Good perception,don't b lured.

DrenzPen said...

Why is it important to speak on the "true life" of the Lakota Indians (as you note) when writing a romance novel about make believe billionares? Is that the only way they can be depicted? Can't they have regular jobs, live regular lives without being betrayed by stereotypes? I can't believe that this is all we can do as writers. It's very disturbing that billionaires can be make believe, but we have to use every stereotype to tell the Lakota story.

Deborah Mello said...

Thank you for responding. And no, it can't come off as "white tears" if you're anonymous. For all I know you may be black and your tears are rivers of chocolate. Obviously the author's books are well received by virtue of her winning awards for them. But I didn't like her book, didn't see what you saw, and had the right to call out the bullshit that irked me. And it is stereotyping when you systematically fail to shine a light on those Native Americans who are not impoverished, who are successful, productive members of our very racist society. It's stereotyping when all of your stories have a character of color who is a drug addicted whore that shows no love for their children. Once might get you a pass, but every story? Really? Not only does that take condescending to a whole other level, but when you start tossing in lines about the minority characters feeling they have no value until they are accepted by a bright white world, now that is just downright infuriating.

You liked the book, as did many others. I'm sure that brings the author much joy. I applaud her philanthropic efforts but I'm sure the Lakota would better appreciate being seen as the well-rounded individuals they are far more than impoverished drunks unable to maintain healthy loving relationships without the white savior trope stepping in to save them. As a wise woman said, that's no better than if all my black heroes only rescued white girls with grade school educations who live in a trailer park and only work part-time at Walmart. But that's just my opinion.

Thanks for agreeing to disagree.

Sharon Cunningham Cooper said...

*clapping hands* VERY well said!

bl0wp0p said...

As a white person (a VERY white person) it even makes me uncomfortable just reading what those books are about. If what the anonymous person posted is true that it's about a true-ish thing, I would much rather read it if it came from a person who is a member of the Lakota nation. As in recognised as such. I had to rage quit a YA series about members of the Cree Nation written from the view of a white person (and it was a white author who wrote it). SOME of the book I didn't have much issue with (such as the Cree person inviting non Cree people into some ceremonies and them participating that way) but even then I still had issue because it was white person writing this. And while the book doesn't explicitly state that it's the Cree Nation, just from 3 seconds of a google search I figured it out (that and the geography in the book).

As a reviewer, while yes I do feel a little bad about bad reviews, I feel it is part of my job to use my privilege to call out my fellow white people writing caricatures and not good depictions period. I, myself, don't care much for stereotypes written by people who aren't of that race/nationality/etc. I ADORE diverse books. A good portion of my books I've been reading lately are by non white people and it's so fantastic to be able to read these great authors that get little to no publicity outside of what they themselves do. I write reviews honestly and based on what I feel the author has written. Including bad reviews. I definitely prefer writing good reviews. But I won't write reviews that attack an author. Just write based on what I've read.

Deborah Mello said...

Thank you so much for stopping by!

Brenda L said...

Excellent observations.

Deborah Mello said...

Thank you!

Deborah Mello said...

I do too, Dylan! Thank you!

Deborah Mello said...

Thank you for expressing your feelings!

Deborah Mello said...

Thank you for stopping by!

Deborah Mello said...

Hugs! Thank you!

Deborah Mello said...

Thank you!

Deborah Mello said...

I agree. Thank you for stopping by!

Deborah Mello said...

Thank you!

Deborah Mello said...

Thank you!

Deborah Mello said...

Thank you!

Nikkie W said...

Yes!!

Deborah Mello said...

Sadly they are, Faye! Thank you for stopping by.

Deborah Mello said...

Thank you!

Nikkie W said...

I love reading and I'm one of those people who love going to bookstore or wherever books are sold.I love discovering new authors.However I must say their some as you stated.And I picked them up to put them back down for most of those reasons stated in this article. And it really shocked me that the writers was a woman for one, and a woman of color and she degraded women and a whole race.So I'm so glad to see an article like this that states truth and facts.



Nikkie W said...

I love reading and I'm one of those people who love going to bookstore or wherever books are sold.I love discovering new authors.However I must say their some as you stated.And I picked them up to put them back down for most of those reasons stated in this article. And it really shocked me that the writers was a woman for one, and a woman of color and she degraded women and a whole race.So I'm so glad to see an article like this that states truth and facts.



Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for writing this. I've never understood why it's so hard to bring more voices to the table, and you've definitely got me thinking about my own writing and how I represent different groups of people.

You also reminded me of something I've noticed before in watching / listening to people, but hadn't thought of in awhile (I remember thinking about this a lot back when I worked in NYC at a jazz bar that had both white and black crowds, but those crowds tended to be highly segregated). I think most white people assume (and I'm white, so I hope this isn't offensive), that being discriminated against makes people insecure and unsure of their worth. In my experience, the exact opposite is true. What makes people insecure and unsure of their inner worth is being granted privilege you didn't earn. I think on some level (mostly unconscious, sadly), whites KNOW we didn't earn a lot of what we have, so there's an element of constantly feeling like we have to defend why we have it, usually by arguing we DO deserve more (and yet knowing that's not true so getting even more whiny and offended when someone questions that).

They've studied this with wealthy people too, how they are much more likely to scream about how they earned every penny, no one helped them, etc., etc., even if they inherited every cent of their wealth or got it via other forms of intense privilege, (far more than poor people who are more likely to be grateful, ironically enough). I think sometimes a big part of the problem is that white people don't understand themselves. They're so used to everyone telling them that how they are is "normal" and everyone else is "other" that a large percentage of them lack any true introspection. The fact that they'd project that onto a nonwhite character, assuming that anyone not-white would feel exactly like them only "worse" just shows that they don't understand the effects of their own privilege on themselves.

Anyway, I guess that's a long way of saying "I agree." I think the only answer to this is a lot more voices at the table. I suspect that the real reason many balk at that is that they are afraid of what those voices might say about them, which is just... sad.

Cheris Hodges said...

Great post! If this is what some people think those stories account for diverse romance, they need to think again!

Dawn Brower said...

Well said. Very powerful and straight on. Thanks for sharing.

GL Tomas said...

Truth serum in a blog post💯

bl0wp0p said...

I owe all the thanks to the wonderful WOC who have helped open my eyes to things going on in the world.

EilisFlynn said...

Yep, yep, yep. As someone of color (in this case Asian), it's painful and mystifying. Try a little research. Try (in my case) not saying, "Herro" as a greeting and thinking that's appropriate.

Deborah Mello said...

Amen! Thanks for stopping by!