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Thu Jan 2, 2020, 01:51 PM

Racism Dispute Roils Romance Writers Group

New York Times

A dispute over a racism accusation and how it was handled have upended the romance writers’ community, with best-selling novelists speaking out against the Romance Writers of America and most of the powerful, 9,000-member trade organization’s board resigning in the last days of the year.

The R.W.A. on Monday said it was hiring a law firm to “to conduct an audit of the process and these events to provide a clear report of the facts.” The dispute arose over the group’s treatment of Courtney Milan, a former board member and chair of its ethics committee who last summer criticized Kathryn Lynn Davis’s novel “Somewhere Lies the Moon” on Twitter as a “racist mess.”

Ms. Milan, who is Chinese-American, took issue with the depiction of 19th-century Chinese women in the book, including a description of “slanted almond eyes” and a quote from a character describing them as “demure and quiet, as our mothers have trained us to be.” “The notion of the submissive Chinese woman is a racist stereotype which fuels higher rates of violence against women,” Ms. Milan wrote on Twitter.

Ms. Davis, who is an honorary R.W.A. member, disagreed with Ms. Milan’s assessment, saying her book was historically accurate and based on years of research. She filed an ethics complaint with the R.W.A., saying that Ms. Milan’s comments were “cyberbullying” and cost her a publishing contract.


I've been seeing more Twitter traffic on this than any other non-politics story.

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Reply Racism Dispute Roils Romance Writers Group (Original post)
brooklynite Jan 2020 OP
wryter2000 Jan 2020 #1
brooklynite Jan 2020 #2
wryter2000 Jan 2020 #8
Hortensis Jan 2020 #5
wryter2000 Jan 2020 #7
Hortensis Jan 2020 #9
frogmarch Jan 2020 #3
WhiskeyGrinder Jan 2020 #4
ismnotwasm Jan 2020 #6

Response to brooklynite (Original post)

Thu Jan 2, 2020, 03:23 PM

1. Actually...

Milan called the book "a f***ing racist mess," but she didn't use asterisks.

I write romance. The organization has been dealing with this issue (badly) for some time now. The complaint against Milan came from a new publishing house where Davis is an editor, along with another editor who retweets Trump.

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Response to wryter2000 (Reply #1)

Thu Jan 2, 2020, 03:37 PM

2. Why is the organization "dealing" with it?

I assume the members write stories. Why does anyone, much less the ethics committee, have a voice in what they write?

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Response to brooklynite (Reply #2)

Thu Jan 2, 2020, 04:44 PM

8. We write stories about people falling in love

Historically, those people have been almost exclusively white and heterosexual. And when a POC was one of the protagonists, he/she was often portrayed in stereotypical ways, such as quiet, obedient Chinese women.

The other issue is our big contest, the Rita. There are about 10 - 12 categories, and books written by authors of color almost never made the finals. Same was true about books with characters of color or non-heterosexual characters. No African American author had won until last year. There's clearly bias in the judging.

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Response to wryter2000 (Reply #1)

Thu Jan 2, 2020, 03:57 PM

5. Very interesting. It sounds as if this issue has forced

a shakeup at R.W.A, hardly the first or 50,000th organization to not always evolve smoothly with the times. I notice this novel was first published in 1999. I haven't read it and of course have no opinion on this, but that was long into the "woke" days on these issues. At least it was in urban areas.

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Response to Hortensis (Reply #5)

Thu Jan 2, 2020, 04:29 PM

7. I believe the book was reissued

Not sure about that, but if true, at least one editor looked at it.

I wouldn't want to defend some of the things I wrote in 1990. I don't think I was ever racist, but I did write things that would be a problem with "me, too." I was actually embarrassed to read one of my old books. Of course, no one is reading that book now.

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Response to wryter2000 (Reply #7)

Thu Jan 2, 2020, 04:50 PM

9. :) MLK often referred to yellow, red, brown, black and white.

Beat him with a stick. It's still inexcusably acceptable to insult people by calling them black and white, but for how long? How on earth are we going to explain ourselves, especially when both terms are constantly used by bigots to direct their insults?

Seriously, we must all cringe at some things in our past, even if only some unfortunates actually published them under their own names. But, a lot of things are considered insulting now that just weren't insults then.at least not by good-hearted people, as Dr. King illustrates. It's not always ONLY that we didn't realize we were being wrong and insulting when we were.

I have a dream, actually more of an expectation, that someday people will be so comparatively relaxed and secure about racial issues that the sensitivities of this era will be analyzed as a symptom of the striving and counter-reactions of a tumultuous transitional era, enormously amplified by new social media, not as healthy, "woke" ends in themselves.

I looked up the book's publishing history, and it was reissued, I believe in 2014, so as you say.

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Response to brooklynite (Original post)

Thu Jan 2, 2020, 03:41 PM

3. Milan would call

the set-in-China short story "Eating Vinegar" by Rita Hooks worse than that.

http://www.eastoftheweb.com/short-stories/UBooks/EatiVine935.shtml

There were more than a few negative reader responses to the story, but one reader wrote this:

Amazing story. I am a Chinese. I have to say the details in story are so real just like a second or third line Chinese city 15-20 years ago and reminds me of my childhood experience. the bad smells, bad living conditions, elder women with bounded feet and talking styles are still deep in my mind, and those descriptions are exactly matched the era(only happened in the time). it seems like the author had spent a long time living in china with Chinese, because there are lots of real life experiences in the story.


I'm not Chinese, so I suppose it's easy for me to say, but I didn't see the story as racist as some readers did.

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Response to brooklynite (Original post)

Thu Jan 2, 2020, 03:44 PM

4. RWA has made the wrong move, every step of the way.

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Response to brooklynite (Original post)

Thu Jan 2, 2020, 04:06 PM

6. Opium and bound feet.

Yeah I get why this is disturbing. Foot binding was for higher classes if I recall correctly, and opium, was an English import. There a war about it

I get that books are a snapshot in time, but I except I just read was pure cringe.

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