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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A Different World

April was filled with a series of firsts in my writing career. It was the first time:

  •  I traveled to a new state alone without the intention of meeting family, friends or coworkers.
  • I attended an RWA sponsored writer’s conference.
  • I attended an African American writer’s conference.
  • I visited Chicago, Illinois.
  • I considered truly being self-employed without feeling a panic attack brewing in my chest.

 When I attended the RWA sponsored Desert Dreams conference in early April, I had every intention of comparing and contrasting that experience with my participation in the predominantly African American focused Romance Slam Jam set to take place later in the month.

 These two experiences really reflected the industry distinction between two groups who have the same appreciation  for love and romance but operate on different levels of support.

 At Desert Dreams, which was hosted by my local RWA chapter, I was the only African American author and the only author who wrote interracial romance.  Despite that fact, I felt the readers and writers in attendance really took an interest in my platform, because to them it was unique and different. One Caucasian woman took an extreme interest because her daughter was the product of an interracial relationship. Talking with an editor from St Martin’s Press only solidified my conclusions.

 While Desert Dreams was a great experience, one that I will repeat again in the future, I really felt at home at the Romance Slam Jam conference. There were a lot more readers in attendance who were hungry for great romantic stories and excited to meet the authors of those stories. Even though I was a newly published author, I was an important contributor to these attendees. It was nice to be around people who looked like me and appreciated what I was called to do. While I didn’t have any agent/editor appointments at this conference, I actually had one seek me out. She was an editor at Red Sage and she introduced herself to me because I seemed familiar to her. Upon hearing that I write interracial romance, she invited me to submit to her.

 The conference was nearly a week long and it was great to laugh, learn and party with my sisters and brothers. It was great to put names to faces and personalities. It felt like a reunion although all of those in attendance were virtually strangers to me. I was able to meet some of my virtual critique partners and it was like vacationing with sisters. I made so many contacts and so many new friends that there’s no doubt the next Slam Jam will be even better.

While Slam Jam didn’t have the exposure to the New York publishing market like Desert Dreams did, it is clear that we are garnering attention. Representatives from RWA were there as they were a low-key sponsor as well as Avon and a local Chicago book-club. It becomes obvious that we are growing in numbers and our economic power is being watched when those in mainstream start to take notice.

 On returning to the regular day to day, a raging fire was ignited in me. I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Writing, reading and being around those that appreciate these endeavors is how I see my future and now I have the courage to pursue it with laser-like focus. Since arriving home, I have been up late every night writing and researching ways to freelance full time. It is still my primary desire to write novels, however, freelancing appeals to me as well. I am no longer satisfied being at the mercy of one company no matter the industry. Even in writing, I plan to write in multiple genres for various publishers and companies.

 I’ve search for many years for that one product I would market in order to stake my claim among the self employed, and these conferences have taught me to look within. The product I can promote the best is inside of me.

 As long as there are readers looking for stories that reflect their unique experiences in a world that is not just black or white, I will be striving to meet the demand.

 

 

 

 

 

Camaraderie in Meeting a Need

This weekend I attended my very first writers’ conference. It was not only my first writers’ conference, it was the first time I networked in-person among readers, writers, editors and agents as a published author.
The Tempe Arizona Desert Rose RWA chapter hosted the 2008 biannual writer’s conference in Chandler, Arizona. It was a busy weekend packed with workshops, mixers, editor/agent appointments and book signings.

Over 225 men and women descended upon the San Marcos Golf Course and Resort to serve or satisfy a need or desire. Editors and Agents were on site to offer advice and hopefully spot the next bestselling author, while writers were there to connect with readers, other writers and hopefully get recognized as potentially the next bestselling author.
Despite an allergy-induced head cold, I arrived on Friday afternoon, ready to meet a fellow author who would be my roommate for the weekend and anxious to take advantage of all the conference had to offer.
Being hosted by a chapter of Romance Writers of America, the attendees consisted of USA Today and New York Times bestselling authors, as well as lesser known successful authors all the way down to aspiring romance writers both male and female from as young as 20 to as aged as 80.

One point of interest to make is the fact that I was the only African American present. Such ethnicities as Chinese, Korean, Hawaiian, and Hispanic writers were present but there were few of them as well. Equally low in attendance were the number of men as to be expected. There were a couple of men who were there as aspiring writers, but most of the men were husbands of the attendees or employed on the sales side of the publishing field.

Although I was the only African American there and obviously the only person focused on African American romance, it was a test to my commitment every time I answered the question regarding my genre of choice. When asked, I would reply “I write interracial multicultural romance”. Most of those inquiring were pleasantly surprised. Their response seemed genuine many asking follow-up questions. The best response I received was from an aspiring mystery writer. She was a middle-aged Caucasian woman who expressed strong interest the moment I mentioned my genre of choice.

As it turns out, she was in an interracial relationship in the 1970’s and a baby girl resulted. She went on to express the difficulties she and her mate experienced and the difficulties her biracial daughter still encounters today. She seemed excited and flattered that someone was interested in telling the stories of people with experiences like hers. She beamed with excitement and laughed as she imagined her daughter’s response in hearing about my book and platform.

I asked her if she had pictures of her daughter. Unfortunately, she did not but her eyes twinkled with pride as she compared her features to that of Lisa Bonet.

An obviously shy woman stepped out of her shell as she shared snippets of her experience with me. In addition, the fact that I was a black woman interested in her experience was not lost on her. It made her feel even more comfortable as she began to chat like we were old friends.

I gave her my card and a bookmark with the realization that my audience just tripled. I assumed my writing would appeal to African American woman aged 18 to 55, but I realized in this exchange that anyone touched by the romantic bonding between ethnicities would be drawn to my stories.

Although I never say her again the rest of the weekend, I know with that encounter that biracial stories are important and need to be told and I am happy to be that vehicle as we inch closer toward acceptance of our differences and similarities.

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.

Caught Between Two Worlds

MismatchedIn the midst of that first literary milestone, my book cover is out, my first round of edits are in and it’s time to update my promotional web sites. My personal site was easy, just tweak the color and add the book cover, but my Myspace page proved to be more of a challenge.

Previous to being offered a contract, I went with the pizazz of a black, white and gray color scheme plus lots of glitzy glitter hearts and stars. What my site was about was a little ambiguous until you read the content.

Now with my book cover exhibiting interracial love, it was time that my promotional page reflected my writing niche. When I was done, I didn’t just have a ode to interracial love, but more specifically, an tribute to the love between a black woman and a white man.

By writing in this area, am I turning my back on the pride of my race? Am I getting in bed with the devil? I’ve often pondered these same questions in the few interracial relationships I’ve had. They are few because of the struggles they tend to carry, but my same race romantic relationships are even fewer. I have no objections to my beautiful brothers. People just tend to date what and who they know, in my case I grew up in predominantly white neighborhoods and went to white schools.  It was not unusual for me to be the only black child in the classroom.

As I promote my interracial romance, I realize more and more how many couples resonate with the experiences of my characters.

Just the other day, a bi-racial co-worker (Mexican and Caucasian) who is an avid romance reader, remarked how until she read the rough draft of my newly contracted novel, she didn’t notice how few interracial romances were on the bookshelves. She claimed to never notice the race of the characters she enjoyed reading about. After reading my book, she was compelled to search for more books that reflect her experience only to come up short.

So I ask again, am I turning my back on my heritage? No, we love who we love and we deserve to enjoy stories that reflect the uniqueness of that experience.

I look forward to fulfilling that need and also the need to write positive African American literature that reflects our strengths and how we overcome our weaknesses.

My goal isn’t to join one world and reject the other, but to create stories that will be enjoyed by both worlds and hopefully create a bridge where each world’s inhabitants can share and respect each other’s experiences.