Wednesday, March 27, 2019

RWA: To Renew Membership or Not? #Opinion by @KarynGerrard #Romance

First: RWA is Romance Writers of America

The group was formed in December 1980 in Houston, Texas, USA, back in the old days when romance writers were in print only.

To say that gatekeeper mentality runs deep into the very bones of this organization is no exaggeration. Change did not come easy. Because for years joining the upper echelons of this organization was difficult. Gatekeepers. Rules.

Now, organizations should have rules and codes of conduct. But they should also have the foresight to see after 20+ years, romance publishing was changing. Did these predominately white "let's all be nice" ladies open their arms to change? Nope, not all of them. When E-books hit the scene, they were sniffed at, not considered "real books", and when digital publishers wanted to go to the convention? Nope. Not real publishers. LGBT books and publishers? Nope. Love is between one man and one woman. Yes, once upon a time, the RWA said that. So that caveat pretty much dismissed erotic romance as legit in their eyes as well. Changes to the rules to join PAN (a step up the rung of that ladder) to allow more to join? Met with a recoil and resistance.

But never was the elitist privilege of this group more apparent than the complete dismissal of authors of color (AoC) and in particular, black romance authors. Which is the ultimate irony because the founder of this group back in the day in Houston? Vivian Stephens, a black woman.

Now we come to the RITA awards. My opinion? Never likes peer-judged contests or awards. Because if there is a group of people who will be extra judge-y, its other writers. Let's set aside the inherent biases many romance authors bring to the table. Hell, I have them. I don't care for lighthearted regency romps (which often get picked in the Historical category) But I would read one and judge it fairly. There are certain types of books that nearly always get nominated, and it's why many don't bother to submit their books for consideration.

But not submitting a dark, gritty Victorian historical because that type of book is hardly ever chosen to be a finalist pales in comparison of how black romance authors have been systematically shut out, year after year. To. This. Day. Last year it was all #RitasoWhite, a lot of discussion, a promise of change, but what happened? The same this year. It was if those decades-old members doubled down. Did any judges purposely mark scores low on AoC? I hope we get to see some of the judges scores when they are given to authors this summer.

In the PAN (published authors network) forum of the RWA website the past few days, we saw white privilege with a healthy dose of elitism on full display. Most of the racist/homophobe comments were by older white ladies clutching their pearls. Those white ladies that have been members for decades. The OG. Which in this case stands for Old Gatekeepers.

So, what to do? Stay with the RWA or abandon ship? I had these thoughts before the RITA finalists were announced. For me, change isn't coming fast enough. I don't care for the cliquish feel of this organization. The popularity contest-like mood of it, from electing board members to the awards themselves. (and allowing board members to enter books into the contest. Never thought this was right, and was glad to see Tessa Dare call it out on Twitter) But the systemic bigotry across the board has me recoiling all the more.

My membership is up for renewal in May. Do I stay or do I go now? I have a lot to think about. And I have to think beyond my own opinions and biases. Because we white people cannot expect AoC and LGBTQIA or disabled members to carry the burden of change on their shoulders.

And it must change. And if it can't? Maybe it's not worth saving~

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