I am black. There I said it, but I’m sure most readers already knew that considering there is a likeness of me on my Ylva Author’s Page.
Regardless, let me get something out of the way first.
I do not speak for the entire black or (romance) lesfic community that would be a blanket statement of sorts which is so not okay. This is my opinion.
When I first started on my publishing journey, it never occurred to me that I would…that I could write about black main characters. To me, it was just a given. Nearly everything I’ve read had white women as the characters of interest (the romantic leads). Anything else was relegated to the POC subset that exists for blacks, Latinas, and so on, which I thought was strange to begin with.
I mean, how could I be so ignorant?
I really was until I opened my eyes and started looking around and talking to people. Then, I just couldn’t understand why there was a separation between white lesfic romance and lesfic with POC. After my moment of enlightenment, I started reading, researching, etc on this topic. You know what I found? Publishers who were hesitant to feature POC on the covers. Publishers who were scared to get behind stories with POC. Readers who were, on the one hand, voraciously waiting to read about diverse characters. On the other hand, there were readers who stated they just didn’t think they could identify with someone who didn’t look like them.
Did I miss a memo or something? We all fall in love. Most of us live for the chase. We all struggle within relationships and would do anything to restore the equilibrium, the heat, the connection between lovers. That is universal.
Romance is romance.
So, it must be a cultural thing? Right? Ebonics? Latina, Mexican, Puerto Rican, Asian history or beliefs then? It’s so strange. It’s so different from how you were raised or how you were taught to be? Which makes it soooo hard to get into. Reading is a form of escape. Who wants to escape to the subset of somebody else’s culture especially when there are so many offerings similar to their own experiences? I’m gonna go further out on the limb here and say that reading about the racism POC face (if it’s featured) isn’t part of that escapism either.
I surely think that everything I’ve mentioned is part of the problem, and that’s somewhat due to the stereotypes perpetuated by pretty much all forms of media. Accordingly, black women are loud, angry brash, sassy, drug dealers, thugs, victims of broken homes, poor, etc.
Then, there is the flip side where they are powerful, rich, angry, loud…
Yes, we can be that, but so can women of any color.
Guess what? We can be the girl next door too. We can be the woman who loves her family, her friends; the woman who works hard; the woman who is funny, fierce and independent; the woman who is lonely and wants more; the woman who is scared and has been burned; the woman who is hot blooded, passionate and loves sex; and the woman who is so smart she can’t get out of her own way.
You get my drift?
Further pushing stereotypes in lesfic isn’t helpful either. Which brings up the question, should white authors write about POC and vice versa? I think it’s possible to an extent if the stereotypes/tropes are vetted. Because, like I said, some experience is universal. However, to create a character greatly affected by her culture, the writer has to go deeper and be willing to learn and delve into that culture in order to make that character so life like she jumps off the page.
Yes, I wrote about white women, but my situation is unique. All in all, they were characters readers grew to love or hate, which as an author makes me do a little dance. Kellie and Nora were real for some of you, and that lets me know I did my job. In my upcoming book, Between the Lines, Tonya Preston is biracial and Haley Jordan is white. Some readers will have a problem with this couple for some reason or another. I’m settled with that. I wrote a love story. I wrote a romance through and through, and for other readers they will get that love and romance can be universal.
Hell, wouldn’t it be nice if all romance was just romance and authors who wrote for lesbians were accepted at the big publishing houses? But I digress. That’s probably another blog. Let me get back on track.
I wish publishers took the chance more often concerning diversity instead of looking at the bottom line. I wish people did too. I know change is happening. I know people have opened their arms to it, but it just doesn’t seem to be happening fast enough. Now, with the state the world is in, I fear that slowly, eventually the traction gained in many areas will halt and roll back on itself.
But, I seriously hope not. That would be a fucking shame of epic proportion.
9 thoughts on “Racial Diversity in Lesfic”
Hey, KD–thanks for writing this. When I first started reading lesfic back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, I couldn’t find books with MCs who were POC. It’s a little better now, but I’d love more POC as MCs, and I’ve love more diversity in general. Older women, differently-abled women, women from different economic and political backgrounds, maybe different religious backgrounds…there’s so much to explore and learn about, and it’s a learning experience for writers, too, to want to dig deeper, as you say, and I think that we could start having those conversations. Some of them will be difficult. But we can’t move forward if we aren’t willing to engage.
I say that as a reminder to myself, too. I’ve been having some really difficult conversations with people in the last few weeks, and I’ve had to really re-think some things and check some things in terms of my own privilege, but they’re valuable conversations and I appreciate the willingness of people to feel like they can bring something up, no matter how painful or blunt or whatever it is and know that even if it hurts me to hear it, that I will listen. That’s something I’m learning to do more and more, is to listen.
And yes, we are going to lose some ground. I’m not going to sugar-coat that because it’s unrealistic and dishonest for me to say that everything is going to be fine. It’s not. I don’t know how bad it’ll be, but expect crap all around. That said, we are also living in a time when we have managed to come much farther than past generations, and there are a lot of people who now know what that feels like, to have certain levels of equality that we didn’t in the past, and there are expectations, now, for that to continue, and I think — I hope — that people are willing to fight just as hard now to keep that going, and to work for more, as our predecessors did in previous social justice movements. I also think that now, more than ever, we need diverse voices in all creative fields so thank you for all you do and I’m really glad I know you.
And I’m glad I know you
Yes!!! I went out of my way to look for diverse lesfic but googling is hell you either get “diverse fiction” or “lesfic” there is no in between.
I’m trying to majorly change the way I write because I’m not white so why should my characters be?? And why is white the default for me. Lots of learning and unlearning I have to do. The biggest challenge I get is researching other cultures which is hard but when done right it makes the book that much better (I’m thinking of Jaes heart trouble in particular. That was fun culture to learn about. 🙂
I just get so happy when others talk about this because I would love to read about poc leads who are at least a little bit involved with their culture whether that be far from the ‘norm’ or not.
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Thank you! It’s good to know I’m not the only one who struggles
I included a POC main character in my trilogy for a purely literary reason–she had to be different in a way the people around her would not be able to forget. As a result my books have appeared in several lists made up by young people, both gay and straight, of books that include POC characters, POC main characters, and POC protagonists. They are longing for these stories, and I have had nothing but good come to me from being “inclusive”.
As I am an indie, no one (publisher, editor) suggested that I couldn’t write about POC or anything else. It is true that the default, at least in America, is white. But the default also used to be straight, and we knocked that one down good and proper! I doubt any group is as ready to have this conversation as we are.
I think many white writers don’t write POC characters for fear of getting it wrong. My story is set in the Bronze Age, so it would be difficult for anyone to object how I portrayed my POC characters. But we all know people of color, or at least I hope we do, and we can certainly write about them as we would write about anyone else we know, from our own point of view and with openness to their lived experience as they choose to share it with us. That’s how I construct my characters, white or otherwise, gay or otherwise, female or otherwise.
I’ve been to a few lesfic cons and I wish they were more diverse. I’m not sure if POC don’t feel welcome or if they feel or believe that the overwhelming whiteness of our gatherings means we don’t value diversity. How can we change that? The last GCLS I went to was in 2013, so maybe things have changed already. I hope so.
Thank you, kdwilliamson, for beginning this conversation.
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I think starting discussions like this and keeping them going helps a little. Hope some people read it, got it and listened.
I’ve been reading lesfic for a couple of years and the interesting thing, perhaps horribly so, is that the first WOC lesbian I encountered came from a white guy’s time traveling fantasy/scifi series. (S.M. Stirling, Island in the sea of time series) Wether or not he did a good job with it, though a kickass lesbian with a sword is hard to go against, the fact is it shouldn’t be the first thing you find.
Like you said, it has improved, but it does need to get better. I know some white authors who are not only catching themselves from only writing about white MC’s, but get why they can’t just make them black and call it a day and that’s great, but we really need more POC to write, and more publishers to publish, stories that have a real connection to them. I’m really looking forward to seeing it happen. ‘Cause good love is good love.
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Yasss love is love I hope more recognize that one day soon