“I don’t see color…” What it means.

This is going to be an abbreviated, somewhat modified version of a post I put out on the PAN loop of RWA. For those who aren’t familiar… RWA is the Romance Writers of America, and PAN is the Published Authors Network.

I strongly feel that the message I put out to PAN is one all white authors need to be aware, but I’m going to put this out there to RWA members and the white members specifically, because…well, there is a systemic problem of racism in the publishing world and white folks…we’ve got the power to fix it, but we can’t do it by sitting on laurels, or nodding soberly when somebody says…RWA, we have a problem.

We fix it by speaking out. By speaking up. By supporting writers of color and calling out the racist actions of our fellow authors, despite our fellow writers who may shake their hands and clutch their pearls and insist that we’re professionals and we should all be nicer.

To that, I loudly say BULLSHIT.

There’s a saying…nice women never made history. Well, I’m not looking make history, but I’m also not content to let things stay as they are in the present and I firmly believe that the reason we have the status quo is because so many of us women were expected to be nice and play by the rules…to stay silent.

For years, black women in the industry have been overlooked. I know this affects black men, other minorities and marginalized groups as well, I know, but as I’m speaking specifically about the romance industry, I’m going to focus mostly on my fellow RWA members, and especially on black women who have been fighting so long for the recognition and fair treatment they deserve. But don’t take this to mean I’m ignoring or unaware of other marginalized groups. I’m not. I see you. Your work matters. All of you deserve to be recognized and given the same treatment and chances a white writer gets.

If I recall correctly and if I understand my research, in twenty years, there hasn’t been a single black RITA winner. Not one. This is our industry award and black women who write powerful, beautiful stories aren’t just underrepresented by our industry award…they’re absent. They don’t exist.

A lot of discussion is going on within RWA, by the board, within PAN, etc, on how to fix this. Some people don’t think there’s a ‘this’ to fix. Some have suggested there’s a ‘quality’ problem and that’s why WOC don’t finalize as much, why black women haven’t ever won.

To that… let me just say…your ignorance and prejudice is showing and no attempts to clarify and ‘explain’ are going to change that.

Some acknowledge there is a ‘problem’ but surely we’re all professionals and we can figure out how to fix this by being professional (polite) and not name-calling (pointing out when somebody is being racist.)

But we’ve tried that. For years. It’s not working. It’s time to try something else–let’s start with calling these problematic behaviors what they are. If you act like a racist and say racist BS? Then you need to be called out for it.

I’ve mentioned before that I grew up surrounded by racism. It was something that bothered me from a very young age, although I really don’t know what it was that set me off. I do recall hearing a very racist joke about a black man that made everybody around me laugh. I didn’t laugh. It made my belly hurt in that way it does when you’re a kid and something feels wrong, but you don’t know why. I was probably five and the only reason I remember that was because of the dog I had. She was my favorite dog, up until the little monsters I have now. One day, she got her head stuck in the wooden gate. Everybody was panicking. I was scared to death. Mom mentioned calling the fire department. Along comes the neighbor. This ancient little Asian man. I think he was Vietnamese but I’m not certain. Like I said, I was young and this one incident is really the one clear memory I have of him. He’s as calm as he can be while everybody else is freaking out. He has a tub of butter or margarine and proceeds to slick up my dog’s big, silly head…and pop. Out she slides. This sweet old guy had saved my dog. He smiles at me and shuffles on back to his house without saying anything.

It’s one of the clearest memories from childhood, although really all I remember is the panic of my dog being stuck…and him saving her.

As I grew older, I spent a lot of time in books and my ‘world view’, as we call it, grew. By the time I hit middle school, I knew that funny feeling in my gut and those jokes had to do with racism.

Very arrogantly, I decided, I wouldn’t see color.

Too many of the people I knew, people I went to school with…they saw color and it made them ugly.

That wouldn’t be me.

Man, was that arrogant. Was it well-meaning on my part? Yes.

Was it right? No. Was it racist? Yes.

Monica Jackson, God rest her soul, changed the conversation for me. She changed a lot of things, made me a better person.

She’s gone now but she’s the reason I realized I was looking at race and the inequalities black people face entirely wrong, and she’s why I started fighting and pushing.

Don’t get me wrong… I definitely had the best of intentions when I decided I wouldn’t see color. Too many around saw color–particularly black and they acted ugly for it.

Monica and I were talking one day. I don’t remember how it came up, what started it… but I said… I don’t see color, I look for the character.

And, keep in mind I’m paraphrasing…this was fifteen or so years ago…but she told me:

“Being black isn’t just a skin color.  It’s a life experience. Everything we do and go through and deal with is influenced by the color of our skin. So when you tell me you don’t see color, you’re telling me that you don’t see me.”

Monica Jackson


Think about that.  Seriously. THINK ABOUT IT.

How often do we look past the black person entirely because we’re ‘not seeing color’?

Do you know that studies show people with ethnic sounding names are less likely to hired or called for interviews than those with names that sound obviously white?  So if you’re a Mary or John or Susan, you’ve already got an advantage over a Dontrelle, Aayisha or D’Amari.

Black women & Latinas earn 64 & 56 cents on the dollar compared to white men.  White women aren’t making bank, but we do better than our black/Latina counterparts at 70 cents on the dollar.  (figures from 2015 and I don’t think those numbers have changed much.)

Black mothers know that when they send their teen sons out, when their young adult sons leave for work, they are twice as likely to die before the age of twenty than white teens and young age. Documented fact.

Additionally, consider how many young, unarmed black men are killed by cops and these cops are never charged. Black men from the ages of 15-34 are between 9-16x more likely to be killed by the police than other people.  Unarmed victims of police shootings are more likely to be minorities… according to the FBI.

Systemic racism affects a POC’s school from preschool on up. Even their chances at getting help when struggling are affected.

Examples:

A comment from a piece on Thought Co. is particularly interesting… AND RELEVANT because didn’t we have somebody suggesting that it was quality preventing black authors from finaling and winning the RITA?

In 1994, a book called The Bell Curve posited that genetics were to blame for African Americans’ traditionally lower scoring than whites on intelligence tests. The book was attacked by everyone from New York Times columnist Bob Herbert, who argued that social factors were responsible for the differential, to Stephen Jay Gould who argued that the authors made conclusions unsupported by scientific research.In 2007, Nobel Prize-winning geneticist James Watson ignited similar controversy when he suggested that blacks were less intelligent than whites.


Thought Co WHAT IS RACISM

REALLY.

I mean, well, it’s not surprising, I guess, that people think this way, considering we’ve got members making it clear that AOCs aren’t winning the RITA because the AOCs just don’t write ‘quality’.

Please.

For years, this pervasive attitude of be nice, don’t hurt anybody’s feelings has dominated the discussion when the subject of racism comes up. Don’t use vile names like racist… Wasn’t there a media commentor who said, “There’s nothing worse than being called a racist?’

I dunno but it seems to me that actually being racist and perpetuating racism is more vile than being called a racist.

People are too often concerned with putting the feelings of nice white ladies first, careful not to hurt their feelings, but when do we address the disease that is racism?

Maybe it’s my nursing background, but I’ve always been of the mind to that the sooner a disease is addressed, the better the chance of recovery.  And racism has been choking this country for centuries.  We really need to do an intensive therapeutic regimen of kick-ass, done-with-this-bullshit prophylaxis, treatment and detox, with some follow-up to make sure that crap stays gone.-

It’s time we look at the fact that black authors are being denied their chance in the sun, their chance to prosper and thrive. Demanding that isn’t unprofessional. It’s actually the very definition of it.

More, it’s the right thing to do. Black authors have been fighting this battle mostly alone for too long and that needs to stop.

When they speak out, then others who want to support them add our voices, there are nice white ladies who come clutching pearls and waving handkerchiefs… we should be nice! We’re professionals! No name calling!

Well here are the problem with that idea.

Black women have been nice. They’ve been patient. They’ve waited their turn, they’ve asked permission. They’ve been polite and waited for their chance for a seat at the table.

“If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.”


Shirley Chisholm

Some people in RWA clearly don’t want to make room at the table.  They don’t even seem to care about allowing room for those who bring the frigging chair.

These are the people who get upset when black authors speak their displeasure and hurt after years of being overlooked and ignored in the RITA.

These authors say racism isn’t an issue in RWA despite the fact that black authors have spoken up about being whispered about, snickered about, excluded, shut down within this very organization, at the national conference-yes, it happens and if you aren’t aware, it’s because you aren’t paying attention and that’s on you.

If that sounds harsh, too bad.  This has been talked about for years. People have asked for change, suggested change. People have requested that those with the hidden biases look at them.

And we still have those people trying to act like racism within RWA isn’t a problem.

That’s the biggest load of crap to come out of this loop in ages.

We’ve got professional, educated authors who use the world lynching in these discussions, then get pissy when called on it and pull out the dictionary definition to defend it and claim lynching wasn’t a racial issue.

From 1882-1968, 4,743 lynchings occurred in the United States.  Of these people that were lynched 3,446 were black.  The blacks lynched accounted for 72.7% of the people lynched.  These numbers seem large, but it is known that not all of the lynchings were ever recorded.  Out of the 4,743 people lynched only 1,297 white people were lynched.  That is only 27.3%.  Many of the whites lynched were lynched for helping the black or being anti lynching and even for domestic crimes.

NAACP

 Almost seventy-five percent of those lynched were black people. White people were lynched, but they were typically lynched because they had views against the act itself or because they spoke up in defense of the black community.

Topics like this often make white people uncomfortable and that happens for a reason. If that applies to you, you need to look deeper, because chances are there are hidden biases you need to explore and work at overcoming. I check myself all the time because I don’t want to be that person and those subtle, hidden biases are often more subtle than a lot of people realize.

See a story about an unarmed black man getting shot by a cop?

If your first response is …what did he do to provoke it… you’ve got a bias.

See a story about how white mass shooters are lone wolves, not terrorists with points on how POC are treated differently and you instinctively think otherwise?

You’ve got a bias.

Read about a black kid getting roughed up at a middle school by a cop who is twice the size of that kid and you think…well, maybe the kid should have listened instead of why the hell didn’t that cop use de-escalation techniques?

You’ve got a bias.

Maybe if some of us worried half as much about the hurt feelings of black women, we could have fixed this problem years ago.

I’m about as white as they come and I know I’m missing things, but I care enough to look. I care enough to listen. I care enough to believe authors of color who say there’s a problem, this hurts me, please listen.

If you insist that we wait until the appropriate time, that we can do this without causing hurt feelings, that things are being misinterpreted, all the things that put white women’s feelings over the hurt and oppression black women have faced within RWA & publishing in general for years…?

Well, you might as well get used to having people like me make you uncomfortable. Get used to being called out. The time for making nice, waiting for the right time is so, so, so far gone.

If you aren’t willing to change, if you aren’t willing to grow, if you aren’t willing to be a frigging adult and look at the truths laid out before you, to listen to the voices of hurting people, especially when they are pointedly telling you ,t“You are hurting me, please listen,”…

Then maybe RWA isn’t the organization for you anymore.

If you can’t see that that black women deserve all the chances you and I have, that we need to do more to make that happen? 

Maybe this organization is outgrowing you.

2 Replies to ““I don’t see color…” What it means.”

  1. Thank you for speaking truth to power. And for being an ally to AOC. Allyship is vital in fighting for equity.

    Publishing is lagging behind in showing the diverse life experiences most of us know. As with everything, representation matters.

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