The recent issue of BITCH: FEMINIST RESPONSE TO POP CULTURE has a really insightful essay on the current abundance of Sheikhs in romance land. The essay by Christy McCullough titled, “Desert Hearts: In a New Crop of Romance Novels, It’s Always Midnight at the Oasis,” offers some interesting ideas about why we are seeing so many romance novels featuring men from the Middle East when we are currently at war in that region. I really liked this essay because it problematized race. It deals with race in really nuanced ways. This quote struck me as right on point:
“It seems that an Arab Man can now get on the cover of a romance novel in the United States almost more easily than he can get past airport security: According to the Chicago Tribune, the sales of sheik-themed romance novels have quadrupled in the years since the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. Up to 20 of these novels per year…”
Given all the recent talk on various blogs about racism in romance land, I thought this article raised some really interesting questions. We have been having this discussion based on the things that most white romance readers won’t read--African American romance novels. But what happens to the conversation when we really interrogate the ever-so popular reads: the sheiks, the Native Americans, the Latin Lovers. What happens when we really interrogate how men of color are objectified and made into the exotic other? What does this tell us about racism in romance? Is it particularly telling that we have so many captive by the savage other stories in romance land? And what does it mean that we seldom see black men in this savage other role, with the exception of perhaps MANDINGO many years ago? McCullough closes with some really hard-hitting observations:
“Given current stereotypes, any media portrayal of Middle Eastern men as sexy and desirable is in some respects a positive step. But when that desirability is predicated on an underlying savagery, it’s worth asking why it appeals to thousands of American readers. We can’t police desires, but we can investigate its cultural roots: If, in our collective imagination, we see even the most attractive and high-ranking Arab men as fundamentally violent and criminal, is it any wonder that we’d rather see them on a book cover than on an airplane?”
I have to say that as a girl who started reading romance novels because she snuck her mother’s Harlequin Presents, I have read my fair share of sheik romances. In fact, one of my all-time favorite books by Brenda Jackson is DELANEY’S DESERT SHEIKH. (That book had me crying and I knew it was a romance and they would end up together. But dang if I wasn't crying anyway.) But Jackson's novel doesn’t play into the captured by the savage sheik stereotypes that a lot of these novels have. It is different and I think the fact that it has a black woman as the lead has a lot to do with that difference. The stereotypes have to be reworked when you change the players. But what do you all think about the topic? Read any good sheik romances lately? Do you have any thoughts about why they seem to be growing in popularity during this time of war and racial profiling? Do you think they offer another way into the racism in romance discussion? What do you think?