Ethnic and Cultural Diversity in Queer Romance ~ Sunday Spotlight by Beverley

PBA_Sunday_Spotlight

Ethnic and Cultural Diversity in Queer Romance:

Ethnic Diversity Hands

My spotlight today was inspired by an item that author Santino Hassell, posted about the recent Romantic Writers Association convention. Link here

I consider myself to be colour blind, but culturally aware. I have no idea if the term ‘colour blind’ has been appropriated as a ‘bad term’, but just in case I shall define what I mean.

I was born and raised in London and the suburbs of London. Although the majority of people were white, there was quite an ethnic mix to grow up and interact with, which I understand now, as an adult. As a child, people were either children, or adults –  I would hardly notice them boys or girls.

Although they would vigorously deny it – my parents are racist no two ways about it, I did not understand why as a child, and I do not understand now.

True example –

To Mrs Singh who was the postmistress at our local post office…

Me: Are you going to buy more post offices Mrs Singh?

Mrs S: No Beverley, why?

Me: Mummy said ‘people like Mrs Singh are buying up the post offices…to take all our money’

Of course, a red-faced Mummy finishes transaction quickly, and in silence (very rare). This story has been oft repeated in my family, as ‘evidence’ of many different things.

I have many stories of this ilk, including one regarding changing the name of a paint colour, but I am too embarrassed for my mother to repeat it. By the time I became a teenager more labels had been added to my world including gay, straight, male, female, black, white etc. By then I totally believed, people were people, and their cultures, heritage and life experiences were possibly very different to mine, and to each other – but stereotyping, prejudice, judgement, or discrimination because of skin colour, or cultural origins was an anathema to me, and remains so.

One incident has stayed with me, which I count as a minor epiphany. I left home (the first time, lol) when I was sixteen, and lived in a ‘house share’ in a very poor area of south London. Travelling home by bus one evening, I realised that every other person on the top deck with me was black. It didn’t personally bother me, I had never registered the fact before, but I remember realising this is how it must be all the time, for POC living in mainly white England. It wasn’t that I felt threatened, or concerned, just suddenly very aware of being different to everyone else. Knowing that if I looked around, I would only see people who were noticeably different to me. I was struck later, by the significance of this being a poor area – but that is a very big issue that I do not feel qualified to discuss, and is not in the remit of this blog.

If the people had all been white it might never have occurred to me, and yet those passengers would have all been just as diverse in comparison to myself. The visual difference however, made me aware of what we did have in common, which was experience of alienation, even if for different reasons. This can be made worse, and more intense, when right and privilege in the world around you, is represented as being cis/white/het/male – and you are not.

It is very easy to say you are not racist/sexist/homophobic/transphobic etc., when you are in the majority.

Okay, so when I say I am colour blind – I do not judge or make assumptions about people based on their gender and/or sexual diversity/group – or their ethnicity/stereotypes/colour of skin/even religion etc. However, I am aware of different cultures, and I love them, want to learn from them, about different foods, and experiences, hopes and dreams, ambitions and dislikes. I want this from all people not just cis/het/white ones, which can become boring, and is unrepresentative of the world where we all live. This brings me to ethnic diversity in queer romance…

coloured-hands

For this, I would like to propose you think about four questions:

1) How many books have you read with a POC on the front cover?

2) How many books have you read with main characters who were POC?

3) How many books have you read with white models on the front, who did not match the ethnicity of the main characters?

4) Would a POC or model from an obvious religious background on the front cover, put you off purchasing a book?

I think I can guess the answers to the first three, but number four is one to make the individual look deep inside, and consider because publishers think it will put you off. This one of the main reasons you see so few covers with POC as models etc. This appears to be an even bigger problem in romance writing.

Two more questions…

How many authors do you know of, writing queer romantic fiction, who are of afro-Caribbean or African descent, or citizens of an English speaking African or Caribbean nation? I can name one – Larry Benjamin, and his books are fantastic – Unbroken is one of my favourite reads of 2015. His book has a main character who is black, and even he could not get a black model on the front cover of his book.

Can you name many Hispanic or Latino authors, Chinese, Asian? – I know a few but…

If I am missing all these wonderful ethnically diverse writers and books, let me know below because surely, just as romance is not the prerogative of the binary/heteronormative world it is not the prerogative of the white world either!

While I am quite happy now to write and talk about gender, and sexual diversity – it wasn’t so long ago that I was not. I did not understand the shibboleths, and phraseology that mattered to people in the LGBTQ community, but I learned. However, more important than the right words is ‘respect’.

I have used the acronym POC, but have also used the terms ‘black’, and ‘non-white’, am I unwittingly offending, or is it always about context?

To those on the periphery of any group where a cultural commonality binds – or where a community is bound by oppression of any sort – it can feel easy to offend, sometimes due to the changing use of shibboleths, and correct phraseology. Yet again what is required is more respect.

For now I hope we can start to promote further diversity in Queer fiction by including ethnic diversity too. There are still many walls to bring down.

Farewell Giveaway
I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.

Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,

Brandilyn
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12 thoughts on “Ethnic and Cultural Diversity in Queer Romance ~ Sunday Spotlight by Beverley

  1. I think if you like an author it is a moot point, the race, ethnicity, etc. of one of the characters. At least for me, it’s all about the story. Once again, you love who you love.

  2. I agree Diane that it should be about the story – but whether it’s an author we follow, or a new one we would like to try – surely the ethnicity of the MCs should not be an issue.

  3. I had the epiphany you had on the bus in a movie theatre. It stuck with me.

    It’s a shame we are still discussing the cover issues these days – especially #3, which is still happening. #4 – the ethnicity doesn’t put me off. The “obvious religious background” is trickier because I am wary of a lot of books with a religious theme no matter what the religion. I would probably scrutinize the blurb and some reviews before purchasing unless it was an author I already follow and trust.

    • It is a shame Irene – I do not like religious themes necessarily in books either, but if it is to do with the problems to be overcome, in a romantic book, I wouldn’t necessarily reject it. However,I’d like to think the cover would not affect my choice. If that makes sense.

  4. Well, this was very interesting. I often think about this, and what until recently seemed to be like a blooming in diversity where different ethnicities are concernred (or maybe *I* hadn’t noticed before, but they sure seems to flow more now). I often look for books with diverse characters.

    Regarding the 4th question – No. I would pick any book. I guess that maybe, a highly religious book would make me doubt (for the content and my personal experience with religiom, but never the cover), but i would still pick it up and read it.

    I think that while there is more diversity now than there was before, we still have a long way to go. As a Latina, I appreciate that authors leave their comfort zone with this.

  5. I was having a conversation over coffee this morning with someone who was raised by a very racist father. She was explaining how even now, 50 years later, despite not believing all the drivel he spewed, moving on and treating everyone equally, she still occasionally catches her internal monologue parroting it and would have to check it. Those early lessons, that we often don’t even know we’re learning, about inclusion and exclusion, can be hard to recognize and in turn ‘check’ and I think this comes through in book selection unless someone makes an effort to read a diverse selection of characters and authors. People tend to pick up the familiar.

    As for ‘color blind,’ I don’t know about in the UK, but here in The States, I think it is being appropriated (not wholly yet) to mean the mechanism by which the mass incarceration complex is able to jail vastly heavier numbers of POC than white. They can claim, ‘we’re color blind,’ it’s XYZ that’s leading to these numbers, even when XYZ can pretty easily be traced back to race.

    • I totally agree with your friend who grew up with a racist father…I think one of the ‘benefits’ of also being someone my mother and father would not be able to accept, has helped to hopefully lessen any racist tendencies I may have witnessed when young.

      Things are not perfect in UK by any means, but we do not seem to suffer from the intense racism we see reported in the US, especially where black americans are concerned.

  6. So I keep a Pinterest board with all the books I’ve read this year. I’m at 90, and of those, something like 85 are m/m romance. And of those, five have POC on the cover. Two black men (Amelia Faulkner’s Blindman’s Wolf & Alexis Hall’s Liberty & Other Stories), two Asian men (Amy Jo Cousins’ DRiTC story Full Exposure and Rhys Ford’s Murder & Mayhem), and one Mexican (Daisy Harris’s From the Ashes).

    I think I’m spelling it out to demonstrate how easy it is to believe the romance world is full of white people. I grab books because I like the author or someone recommends them on Facebook or I see something on Twitter. I don’t avoid books with racially diverse characters, but I guess I don’t seek them out, either. I also find it disheartening that an author could be forced to use a cover that didn’t reflect the racial make-up of his characters. As you say, there are still so many walls to bring down…

  7. I have read books with MCs of pretty much any colour you can think of, both mixed and two of the same colour (that is not white)
    But, I will NOT read a book with obvious religious themes, I am very much against those, well, all the preaching religions, I don’t mind the rest so much.

    I tend to not see skin colour though, I prefer what’s on the inside.

    I highly recommend Rose Christo, she mostly writes native American, both m/m and f/f, historical and contemporary.

  8. Reading and actively looking for diversity in both the authors who write and the characters that are written about is a goal of mine. This is an important topic to think about and talk about, even when answers aren’t simple or indeed found, so I’m glad you’ve shared this, Beverley, and that others have given their perspective. For me, when people are speaking from an experience different from my own, I try to listen with the most open mind I can because they certainly understand something I can’t. I read a post a couple of few days that I hope others will take the time for as well. Though it speaks to just one type of diversity, it can almost stand in for others. http://justinaireland.com/dammit-this-is-a-blog/2015/7/30/why-you-arent-really-colorblind-bookish-edition

    • Thank you Carolyn – I will check this blog out and read this post. I think it’s important that diverse people talk about problems with diversity – all views are needed on this subject.

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