The Erasure of BIPOC from Diverse Settings
This year has been a big year for moving forward the topics of diversity and inclusion in the romance genre. From the Romance Writers of America scandal to discourse over white authors writing from BIPOC perspectives: 2020 has taught us a lot about ourselves and the ever-developing craft of writing romance novels.
However, we need to talk about is the wholesale erasure of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous People of Color) from book settings.
You might think I am nitpicking, but when you are white the world around automatically reflects your reality. Mostly, you don’t even have to think about it. Yet, when you are a person of color consuming media, your entire existence is erased.
The biggest example for me was ‘Sex and The City’. The setting of the show was in New York City. In reality, the city is a cultural melting pot full of different races and ethnicities. Yet, we only had one black person star on the show, and in the movie sequel, the only black woman was Louis played by Oscar award-winning actress Jennifer Hudson and was Carrie Bradshaw’s sassy personal assistant.
It’s a fact, no matter if you like it or not, that BIPOC outnumbers white people in the world, but you wouldn’t know that if your only vision of the outside world is through movies, tv shows, and books.
It also goes back to the discourse if white authors should write from BIPOC perspectives. A lot of white authors got up in their feelings about it. Just because we ask you not to write BIPOC perspectives doesn’t mean that you can’t have a diverse cast of minor characters.
White main characters are not a blanket excuse to erase people of color from your settings.
Small town romances are a big example of this. Small town in romance, much like historical romance, is used to erase BIPOC from the narrative. It ignores that in reality, BIPOC lives in rural areas and contributed much to European pre-modern history.
In M/M or MLM romance, I have read books set in big cities such as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, Cincinnati; and every character in the book is white.
Romance books do not exist in a vacuum, although people read for escapism it can not completely ignore the truth of the actual world.
What can you do about this?
1. Ask The Author or Leave It in the Review
Let’s get one straight: I’m not asking you to leave a scathing email in the author’s inbox. However, what I am asking you to do is write a respectful email requesting that the author add more diversity in their next book and then tell them why diversity is so important to you.
Point out the books lacking BIPOC in your reviews, Authors sometimes read reviews and this could be a possible lightbulb moment for them.
2. Support Authors of Color
There is a brand of author who uses their BIPOC main characters to shield them from the fact they are taking space away from #ownvoices books. Again, this is where I bring up the discourse over white people writing BIPOC perspectives. Support the authors of color (especially in queer spaces) that are already writing these books. If you can’t buy a book right then, amplify them by sharing and recommending that book to your friends. Everyone loves a good book rec, and word of mouth is an awesome way to get our stories into more hands.
3. Support Authors That Have Diverse Casts
After you are done supporting authors of colors, support the authors who write a diverse cast of characters. Buy their books, leave a good review, and recommend them! If white authors see that this is popular, they might push them towards writing more BIPOC minor characters.
Unfortunately, you also need to pay attention to HOW they write them.
They are white authors who think that just by adding a BIPOC to their books, without acknowledging or respecting that character’s race and culture, is a simple way to get diversity brownie points. To write a diverse cast takes work. It’s not an easy fix. Do your research, hire or ask for sensitivity readers, and take criticism from BIPOC.
Reward the ones who do the work and call out the ones who don’t.
As a genre, and as an industry we should collectively try our best to even the playing field for BIPOC authors and readers. The world is richer and greater because of diversity and we must dismantle white supremacy and racism in the book community.
Georgina Kiersten is a black non-binary (they/them) author of diverse LGBTQ+ romance and erotica. They are also a fierce advocate for diversity and inclusion in publishing. Georgina blogs about writing and books and is writing their debut romance novel “The Bipartisan Affair”. Visit Georgina’s website, subscribe to their FREE newsletter or follow them on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook.
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