Romance has a whiteness problem. That’s true in rom coms, made-for-TV movies on *that* network (which has admittedly begun to make changes in race, even if they still pretend LGBTQ folks don’t exist), and for publishing. Search #romancesowhite on Twitter, and you’ll find dozens of links to articles, stories about scandals at publishing houses and within professional writing organizations, and more.
At heart, romance is about fantasy. Always, necessarily. Romance promises us that we, like the characters, can find true love, and the story will neatly conclude there. We don’t have to worry about how the couple – or ourselves – will fare through the trials of real life. And we don’t have to worry about rejection. No matter what obstacles stand between the couple and the declaration of love, they will always be broken down and overcome, and the “I love you” always comes. It’s a tidy fantasy, encapsulating the neatest but often smallest moments of real life, if you’re lucky.
It’s because romance is a fantasy that romance writers and publishers should support moves to end systemic racism. In the real world, for every time someone says that Black lives matter, there is someone else to argue. For every victory, like my governor’s declaration this week that racism is a public health crisis, there is at least one unnecessary death of a Black person. But romance is poised to offer us a fantasy view at the world we could have, one where people move in socially integrated circles and where we don’t ignore system racism (something that does sometimes happen in romance, unfortunately) but where we have fixed it.
I’m excited to see my publisher, Bold Strokes Books, putting their efforts into this charge. BSB is published a collection of stories and essays from BIPOC authors. The Lesbian Review, a website which reviews books and can make or break an author’s popular success, has said they are focusing on BIPOC authors for now. White authors will have to wait to be reviewed. I’m a white author with a debut novel coming out in a month. This is one of those times when I get to see if my values and actions actually align. I have to be okay with not being reviewed (or not yet being reviewed) to make up for all the authors of color who were forced into the backseat for so many years before. This may mean a hit to my review status, the word of mouth recommendations writers rely upon, and probably royalties and sales. But it’s important.
Romance is a fantasy that offers us a vision of the world where people find love just for being who they are. They all get their happy ending. Romance, more than many other genres, should naturally lead the charge on foregrounding stories about and by BIPOC authors. Because everyone deserves love.