A Case for Assimilation or Separatism

Minority cultures often struggle between losing themselves in assimilation or alienating their communities with acts that suggest separatism. The majority of society assumes that their rituals, morals and traditions should predominate because in terms of sheer numbers they dominate.  As a result, we have a historical discourse that features people of color as a footnote to the generational advancements of this society.

 

While race relations have improved compared to the experiences of our ancestors, prejudice and intolerance is a rippling undercurrent that taints our relationships and our social interactions, regardless of ethnic background. This state of existence is felt and read about in every sector of life.. It is a source of entertainment, ridicule and violence.
Most recently, I find myself bombarded by this as I interact in my romantic literary circles. In April, I attended two writers’ conferences. At the first one, I was a minority face in the crowd. Many of the reactions I received in response to my multicultural/interracial platform were, “That’s actually cool,” and “That’s interesting.”  However, meeting an editor and a reader grateful for my platform made the time and money I spent worthwhile. The second conference I attended that month was Romance Slam Jam, an African American romance writer’s conference. I felt like one of the girls in this crowd. It was nice to meet others who wrote interracial and multicultural romance as well as many talented women who wrote strictly African American romantic fiction. It allowed me to enhance the relationships I had been forming with many of these women online.

 

The separatism and assimilation question came up when I got back from Slam Jam. When I went to my local Romance Writers of America meeting, I reconnected with a few women who had been absent from the most recent meetings. I reluctantly told them about Slam Jam. They had no idea what I was talking about. The women, one Caucasian and the other Hispanic, listened with mild interest.  The woman of Hispanic decent began to show a growing interest as she asked if you had to be Black to attend. To be honest the question took me off guard because it highlighted the reason for my reluctance to discuss it in the first place. Of course, you don’t have to be Black to attend, but it is a natural presumption that non-Blacks make. I’m not sure if it’s because they think we don’t want them involved or if it’s because they don’t really have an interest in being involved. Yet, it is expected that we want to be a part of whatever it is they are doing. In reality, we have fought long and hard to be included. However, the existence of separate but equal activities and organizations makes me wonder if our struggle has more to do with equal opportunity, respect for our culture and our existence as human beings rather than truly being involved in the activities of the majority. Many members of the majority say, “See, they are being separatist. They want us to include them but then they create their own organizations.” This was never been clearer to me than when I stumbled upon the debate over the Black National Anthem. African Americans on the blog condemned it for perpetuating separatism. Many Caucasian bloggers agreed, stating this is America and a Black National Anthem was disrespectful. So much for being a melting pot of ideas. Can we be a part of the majority and still claim some things as our very own?

 

This notion confronted me again when I picked up the latest RWA Romance Writers’ Report. In this issue, there was a quarter-page announcement for the recipients of the Emma Awards that took place at Romance Slam Jam. There was no information about the conference or the history behind the awards. The announcement also came three months after the awards ceremony, despite the fact that there were RWA representatives at the conference. Please note the Romance Writers’ Report, RWA’s industry member magazine, is published monthly. Hey, I guess better late than never, maybe they have really long lead times. There was also a very interesting interview about the experience of multicultural authors in the romance writing industry. It indirectly spoke to the idea of assimilation and separatism when famed author Beverly Jenkins spoke of the emergence of African American romance novels. It was clear that the publishing industry didn’t think black female dollars were significant enough to warrant a book line catering to the life and loves of African Americans. Nor did they think it was necessary, after all black women have been reading about white love stories for ages. Isn’t the point of these novels to provide fantasies and a glimpse into the lives we couldn’t possibly have the chance of living ourselves?

 

These occurrences have lead me to realize that my multicultural platform is more than about people of differing cultures and persuasions living, loving and interacting with one another. I don’t desire to create a fondue pot where the contents melt to create a blended product, but a crock-pot where all the ingredients of the stew are still distinct but the different textures compliment and coexist together.

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Power in the Stance

I’ve been in my own world for the past few weeks while I edit my contracted novel and lay the foundation for my next work. In my short 33 years, I have never been known to take the easy road and the focus on igniting my literary career is no exception.

I write Multicultural Interracial Romance.

I’ll say it again….

I write Multicultural Interracial Romance.

I write about a society where people of differing cultures, races, religions and orientations positively interact with one another and in many cases fall in love.

I knew when I joined a couple of mainstream national writers’ groups and their local chapters that while I would be embraced for my passion of writing itself, they may not understand my chosen topic. So for a while I wrote in a vacuum, not sharing my work just calling it chicklit because of my knack for sarcasm and humor. But my work is much broader than a female coming of age story. My work is about families, friends, lovers, and society coming of age. 

I emerged from my self-imposed coccoon to discover, on the first day of Black History month (gotta love the irony), that the possibility that we are evolving to a true melting pot of cultures in the publishing industry is not nearly as evident as first perceived. Yes, we are in the bookstores, but we still fight for shelf space and appropriate categorization.

While the list of African American, Gay/Lesbian, and Multicultural/Interracial romance titles are growing, there are still many agents, publishers and the like, who refuse to acknowledge the growing demand for this literature. Middle class Caucasians are not the only market for literature, and literature based on the white middle class does not speak to everyone. Why is it that we as people of color are expected to read and enjoy literature based on the white experience, while accepting the lie that our experience holds no interest for anyone? The answer isn’t to be prejudice against the white experience, but for everyone to equally value all cultural experiences.  

Well, this post is the result of an uproar regarding the 2007 Best Book of the Year contest posted by Ecataromance. A very active multicultural/interracial group of writers and readers discovered that two of their own published members were among the nominees. They were both writers of interracial romance. Not only were they nominated, but they were in the number one and number two spots for their categories. The group urged it’s members to visit the ecataromance site and place their votes for Aliyah Burke & Shara Azod.

Then suddenly the voting was halted and the poll was replaced with a new poll minus these author’s books.

http://readerslounge.catanetwork.com/?page_id=305 

The only explanation was that some books were miscategorized and the organizer wanted to ensure that all books nominated were correctly categorized. As a result, the new poll was re-posted and the voting deadline was extended. Why hadn’t this due dilligence been exhausted prior to the initial release of the poll? And why did recategorization constitute removing the works of the interracial authors?

After the ever- growing multicultural audience expressed their disgust via blogs and chatrooms and a barrage of questions from publishers of multicultural and interracial romance flooded the ecataromance webmistress’ in-box, the poll was restored and the original deadline upheld.

http://www.ecataromance.com/index.php?page_id=323

In the end, Azod came in first place in all three of her categories and Burke took second place in hers. Now we are left to wonder what the end result would have been had this poll genuinely ended on it’s own natural volition.

Nevertheless, this is a prime lesson for the power of standing firm in what you believe. We may not be fighting lynchings, church burnings, fire hose assaults, and police baton beatings, but we are still striving to maintain every inch of progress those we honor this month have acquired for us.