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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

BITCH Magazine Does Romance



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?

52 comments:

patricia sargeant said...

Gwyneth, this is a very interesting topic. I wonder if the physical distance between the U.S. and the Middle East makes sheik romances seem more acceptable? Perhaps the reader subconsciously thinks she can read about this "savage" seduction set in the Middle East while she's safe in her suburban home? That way, it doesn't seem as real to her whereas African American men do?

Paz said...

Very interesting topic. I have no idea about the success of sheik romances... I used to read them and finally stopped. I've found I don't like them much. The characters are not like the Middle Eastern men I know... However, if someone asked me about my all-time favorite sheik story, I would say it is Brenda Jackson's "Delaney's Desert Sheikh." Not only did I love the story and the heroine, I loved the hero, who was more of a realistic sheikh to me... A realistic person from that area. If Brenda wrote another sheikh story with him, I'd definitely read it. ;-)

Paz

Kimber An said...

I can't imagine the appeal of the sheik romance. Women's rights aren't exactly a priority in the Middle East.

On the other hand, I think Morgan Freeman has the sexiest voice of any man alive. I could listen to him read his grocery list and be perfectly happy.
;)

Gwyneth Bolton said...

Patricia ~ That's a good point. I think that location does play into the percieved 'safty' of the fantasy.

Paz ~ Yes, I've found that I don't read as many Harlequin Presents as I have in the past. And when I do, I don't ususally go for the sheik ones. I've found too many problematic stereotypes in them. Some of the descriptions of the men are just laden with stereotypes. Yikes. But Brenda Jackson's Delaney's Desert Sheikh is one for the keeper shelf. I love that book.

Kimber An ~ In many of the sheik romances I've read that has been one of the major tropes that they sort of run into the ground. In fact, the recent novels all seem to have the strong independent white western woman as the lead running up against the somewhat backward and less progressive at least in terms of women's rights, Arab man.

Gwyneth

Ramblings...acVernon Menchan said...

Wow, you went to work on this one. I love it. My guess is that it is in many ways a reworking of the bad boy scenario. Sheiks are bad, handsome and rich and that always sells...as for the racist elements I think that people have to recognize that, that is what they are doing before it can be dealt with...I guess it is time for me to read a Sheik Romance, the Brenda Jackson one would be a good place to start based on how you described it and she is a Jacksonville woman!!

Love and Blessings...
angelia

Chicki said...

That's deep. I've never thought about the subject because I've never read a sheikh novel. African-American men are feared more by American Caucasian women because of the media's depiction of them as violent, brutal sexual predators, players or pimps. No other race is portrayed that way in this country.

See, now I'm going to have to add that Brenda Jackson novel to my TBR tower...

Monica said...

Fabulous blog. I think it's interesting that as far as dangerous other alpha male fantasies, dude can be anything but black, even the feared Middle Eastern image.

Ersatz blacks e.g. JR Ward are preferable as long as they aren't really black or even mixed (as many of the oldtime sheikhs were).

It does say a lot about the antipathy toward blacks that we're not desirable fantasy fare even in fiction.

Gwyneth Bolton said...

Angelia ~ You're right, folks have to recognize it first. And that recognition is slow in romance land... so slow it's almost non-existent... And you'll love Brenda's book. ;-)

Chicki ~ That's what I found really thought provoking about the essay. When we think about it the media portrayal of Middle Eastern men right now paints them as the most dangerous and brutal out to kill "innocent" US citizens etc. And still we have all these sheik stories being published... And go ahead add Brenda's book to your pile. If it's alread toppling over, what's the difference? LOL.

Monica ~ Yes as I thought about it, I thought hmm... that's really interesting... no brothers in romanceland... Not that I'm saying we should objectify and make brothers into the exotic other for some taken by the savage fantasy... But it does say a lot that they aren't there. And it might even say more about why some white women don't read African American romances... In any case, the article really made me ponder. And I like thinking about "why" even if I don't come to a hard and fast answer...

Gwyneth

Ann Aguirre said...

I think it's more the money factor, to be honest.

Harlequin Presents embodies escapism fiction at its pinnacle. So we have the stereotypes of the rich man, coming in to sweep the heroine off her feet. Taking her away to exotic climes, so she can roll around in his big ole piles of loot, and live happily ever after.

Well, who does the American woman think of as being well off? Well, there's the Greek tycoon billionaire, of course. And the oil-rich Arab sheikh. Anyone else? Well, occasionally you get a European playboy.

I'm not saying there aren't rich men in America, but they lack the "take me away" quality. A book about a black man who made his money on Wall Street just isn't as exotic. Maybe he can afford to take you to Monaco, but he wasn't born there. This sort of book is trying to appeal to the little girl in all of us, who dreamed of growing up to be a real princess, just like Grace Kelly.

Lleeo said...

Wow, I had no idea Sheikh romances were so popular--I guess there aren't as many of them in single-title romance. I can see where the attraction of women to the exotic and rich would come from but it seems sad that multiculturalism is expanding in the romance genre for every race except Afrian Americans. But then again, the depiction of Native American, Middle Eastern and even Asian men in the romance genre has probably been more of a parody or stereotype than anything else. There's a historical romance author out there who's been around forever and I swear that every single one of her books features a cover with a shirtless, savage-looking Native American man with a tiny white woman clutching at him in passion. I've never read any of her books because her covers always disturbed me and her obsession with an archetype.

Luckily there are some good authors out there who are writing more realistic, positive portrayals of characters from different races. But black authors and characters are largely excluded from the genre. Writing about this systematic segregation on a blog will certainly help spread the word about this issue, though.

I actually found it interesting when a member of a LiveJournal blog group about romance novels commented asking whether there were any romances out there featuring an Indian heroine and a white hero. I wasn't sure what to make of her request because were obviously underlying racial undertones and issues accompanying the questions, but whether they were positive or negative, I couldn't tell.

roslynholcomb said...

I never cared for sheikh romances. The idea of being dragged off to a tent in the desert never really appealed to me. Loved Delaney's Desert Sheikh, but then I'd buy Brenda Jackson if she was writing cereal box copy.

I think black men as romance heroes would be very popular if they could somehow not be so...black. You know, have all the flavor and mannerisms, and the cool cache, but for the love of Goddess don't make them so...black. Just what romance needed, our own personal Elvis.

Dalia said...

I agree with the commenter who talked about the distance between the U.S. and the Middle East as a reason why American women can fall more easily into the fantasy of an exotic romance.

You don't see berobed desert sheiks at your office, in the clubs, playing sports, at the grocery - so regardless of the negative news storylines you hear, it's easy to disassociate from that reality when you start to read.

Especially due to the fact that sheik heroes are just Alpha heroes with religion. And if a reader likes possessive, domineering, powerful men who make others cower but still fall at the feet of their heroine, what's not to love in a sheik romance?

I only remember reading a couple or so sheik romances in my teens but never got drawn into the fantasy world enough to continue reading. However, I also don't particularly enjoy heavily alpha males who the heroine must 'teach' how to love; who is rude/arrogant/bitter/prejudiced at the start of the novel till the end when it is the smart-alecky or just-so-sensitive-and-innocent female who would bring him to his knees.

Anyway, this obsession with men of arab descent in romance grows straight out of reality. How many women - western, educated, not particularly religious - fall for Arab men, hie over to his sprawling desert estate in Wherever and then call home crying (if they could get to a phone) because, if the man hasn't changed on them - the strictures of society get to be too much?

What draws these women to these men in spite of all the negative publicity? Old world charm. Would you like to...ma'am? Shall I fulfil your every desire cherie?
I hope you do not think me forward but I have a chateau in France...etc etc.

Gwyneth Bolton said...

Annie ~ Yes, money probably is a factor. But I don't think it erases the race issues. It adds another layer for sure and actually can complicate the discussion by bringing in class issues. If we are to believe Janice Radaway's READING THE ROMANCE: WOMEN PATRIARCHY AND POPULAR LITERATURE and her findings about the lower and working class backgrounds of some white women romance readers, then one can easily see why these kinds of "rich foreign guy take me away" fantasies have such appeal. It doesn't account for the stereotyped portrayals though.

lleeo ~ Those covers that show the Native American hero as savage really bother me too. I can honestly say that I have never read one because of the covers. But then I don't tend to read a lot of historical romances anyway.

Roslyn ~ I'm with you, I'd buy Brenda Jackson's rendition of the ABC's. I puffy heart love her. As for black men in romance that are somehow not black... J. R. Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood does come to mind... hmmm....

Dalia ~ Good points... Good points...

Gwyneth

Lynn said...

Great topic. Although I don't read sheik romances, I think Mrs. Giggles made a good point over on Karen Scott's blog- it has to do with fantasy land. White romance readers don't care about the reality- they've suspended it because the fantasy "take me to your oasis" thing sets them ablaze.

I don't think white readers can suspend belief (and bypass the cultural bias about us) to see Black males or females in romantic situations. They simply don't believe it.

Ann Aguirre said...

"I don't think white readers can suspend belief (and bypass the cultural bias about us) to see Black males or females in romantic situations."

I disagree with such generalization. While that's true of some white readers, it's not true of everyone. I would think that life experiences would vary a great deal, depending on where they grew up. Maybe I'm wrong on this, but it seems to me, life for a person who lived in Iowa would be a lot different than someone coming up in Brooklyn. And wouldn't this apply to people of all races?

PS - I haven't read anything by JR Ward and don't plan to, primarily because I can't get past her silly ass names, and her habit of putting H's in everything for no apparent reason.

LadyBronco said...

"African-American men are feared more by American Caucasian women because of the media's depiction of them as violent, brutal sexual predators, players or pimps."

I'm sorry, but I have to take offense at such a blatant stereotype.

When we can stop thinking in those terms, race will no longer be a factor for anyone - but everyone has to be willing to stop such generalizations.

Everyone.

LadyBronco said...

"I don't think white readers can suspend belief (and bypass the cultural bias about us) to see Black males or females in romantic situations. They simply don't believe it."

Ugh - you really believe this?

It is truly sad, and not very accurate.

roslynholcomb said...

Ann, I don't think she's talking about all white readers, but its been my experience that a substantial percentage of the white population harbors some really stereotypical notions about black people. I'm frequently amazed at the types of things that white people have said to me over the years, and I've been black AND in Alabama for almost 43 years now.

And surely, y'all have seen all the studies that demonstrate that whites have an irrational fear of blacks, particularly black men. Everything from grabbing their purse when a black man walks by, to refusing them rides in taxis. I don't think its a generalization to say that a lot of white people are afraid of black people, and even those who aren't see us as a mysterious 'Other.' Not mysterious in a 'sexy' sheikh way, mysterious in a OHMIGOD hide the womenfolk way.

LadyBronco said...

"And surely, y'all have seen all the studies that demonstrate that whites have an irrational fear of blacks, particularly black men. Everything from grabbing their purse when a black man walks by, to refusing them rides in taxis. I don't think its a generalization to say that a lot of white people are afraid of black people, and even those who aren't see us as a mysterious 'Other.' Not mysterious in a 'sexy' sheikh way, mysterious in a OHMIGOD hide the womenfolk way."

I am trying not to choke on my utter disbelief, because as a white female, I am so damn tired of this stupid generalization thrown in my face.

It belongs right up there with the equally ignorant beliefs that all 'blacks' look alike and all 'whites' are racists.

All three stereotypes could not be further from the truth, and all three need to stop somewhere.

As women, we need to stop perpetuating these ignorant generalizations - we, as a gender, are better than that.

Ann Aguirre said...

Well, I'm not gonna try to change anyone's mind, or argue in a away that invalidates their life experiences. I'm sorry ya'll have run across a bunch of stupid white folks, but they aren't me.

I can only speak for myself, but I find black men hot as hell, and black women uncommonly beautiful. As it happens I married a brown man, and he's beautiful too.

Gwyneth Bolton said...

Lynn ~ Yes, I saw Mrs. Giggles comment. And I agree it does play into a fantasy. The magazine article posits as much. I think the key part is the questioning of why this is such a popular fantasy? What are the larger implications?

Annie ~ We shouldn't make generalizations, for sure. I try not to by qualifying statements with the ever vague "some." The fact is these viewpoints do exist for some readers.

Lady Bronco ~ Are you speaking to the sterotypes listed about black men and the media's portrayal? I'm not clear on what stereotypes you are objecting to? I think we can point to lots of examples of how black masculinity is demonized in the media. Or are you taking issue with the statement about white women being afraid. That statement should have been qualified with a "some" perhaps.

Roslyn ~ You've just reminded me of all those cool studies they used to do back in the 90s that should people's reactions to black men and women and white men and women in similar situations. It does make me wonder if this country has changed enough to make those kinds of studies turn out different if they were done today.

Gwyneth

roslynholcomb said...

Hell no. Because Tyra Banks is doing the exact same shows right now, and every time they show the same thing. Like I said, I don't think every white person feels that way. But I have little doubt that most do. And why wouldn't they? For the most part this is still a significantly segregated country. Whites and blacks might work and go to school together (And that's a huge MIGHT. I still keep encountering white people who've lived their whole lives without having a conversation with a black person. And they're NOT from Utah! -lol-). But there's still very little social interaction between the two groups. Many whites only have media images to rely on, and we all know how pathetically biased the media can be.

Gwyneth Bolton said...

Lady Bronco ~ I'm not sure what you're finding unbelievable. The fact that the studies have been done and shown this or that Roslyn mentioned them? I'm not sure how her mentioning the studies is perpetuating a stereotype.

The fact is racism still exists in the world. It's the reason it is sometimes hard for black people to get a cab in major cities. They've done studies to show that as well. I don't think by mentioning them that I am perpetuating a stereotype. Or that it's throwing anything in anyone's face. So, I'm asking to try and better understand what you find disturbing about what Roslyn wrote.

Annie ~ You're right we can't discount anyone's experience. The fact is that I wouldn't make statements about all white people anymore than I would about all black folk. Honestly, I've met some really cool white folk and some really fucked up white folk. Same with Black, Latino, Asian what have you.

Ann Aguirre said...

I'm gonna go out on a limb here.

Roslyn, you've met a lot of stupid white people on your day that have said some racist and ridiculous things. They say, "black people are like this, and this and this," they buy into stereotypes, right?

Well, that's not true. Black people are individuals, just like white people are. Just like any people are.

So do you think it is, perhaps, a bad idea to go around saying, "White people are this, this and this," based on the fools you've met? Stupid is not a color.

Gwyneth Bolton said...

One thing I would like to see is for the discussion about race in romance to move away from the "personal experience" aspects. Racism is a system of oppression. It's real. It exists. We all do things every day to keep the system going. And I'm making a big generalization when I say that because I do think we all play a role. That's why brilliant theorists have written about "the oppressor within." Because truth be told, at the end of the day, our predjudices and biases, whether we own them or not, feed the machine...

Ann Aguirre said...

I hope nothing I said came across as denying the existence of racism, particularly in romance, because that wasn't my aim. I just don't like generalizations.

Bookstore segregation chaps my ass. I would love to see books sorted by genre. Anyway, I'm done derailing the conversation. Night, ya'll.

roslynholcomb said...

Ann(ie) I never said all white people do anything. I said that its my belief that most white people see black people as 'the other.' That is, different from themselves, and scary. I would never say that all white people feel this way. My opinion is not just based on my experiences, but with studies and research that's been going on forever.

Monica said...

Thank you Jesus that somebody else is taking on this topic in an intelligent fashion.

I'm going to lie down with a hot water bottle on my abdomen and a glass of wine on that thought.

Good night.

Angela said...

Hmmm...I find it interesting that most romance readers as white women from middle and working class backgrounds. Could explain why a lot of readers and writers cling to the word "fantasy" in defense of their reading and writing choices as well as the plethora of beautiful, well-built heroines and gorgeous men.

If this large percentage of white female readers and writers look to the genre for fantasy, their particular fantasy is not going to automatically veer towards a black man or a black woman. The ideal woman within American culture is to be beautiful, most likely blonde, tall and well-shaped. Occasionally readers may gripe about the lack of "curvy" heroines, but the end result is always the same: the curvy heroine always gets the super-hot man, and the readers don't pay attention to the many curvy black heroines populating romances written by black writers.

And another factor is the obsession with youth. Many romance readers are in the 35+ age bracket, yet romances featuring 20-somethings flourish while the Harlequin Next line suffers.

Be honest, many white people do not find a black man or woman to be their ideal fantasy. It has nothing to do with racism, but because America has been conditioned to view darker skin and broader features as relatively unattractive(even amongst black, latino and asian cultures).

Generalizations may rub some raw, but just as there is a kernel of truth in stereotypes, there is a kernel of truth in generalizations.I only grow irritated when the conversation is shut down when participants feel they are being attacked and want to retaliate or shut down in order to protect themselves. Isn't that why negative things still exist? Because people let their personal feelings get in the way instead of clearing the air? Isn't communication the key to growing a relationship? One wouldn't want their significant other to shut the conversation down when things didn't go their way, so why do a lot of people feel it's okay to do it to other people?

Angela said...

And another thing, blacks aren't seen a financially secure--or even have tons of money (pick up a copy of Black Enterprise, you'd be heartily surprised)--so how could a general romance reader be "taken away" the fantasy of a black man with tons of money when they think it is pure fantasy?

Karen Scott said...

It never fails to surprise me how some people automatically get defensive when racial issues are raised. Dude, this isn't about you

This also isn't about attacking the white woman, this is about opening the door for the debate on why The Black man in Romanceland isn't considered sexy or romantic. If you disagree, then disagree, but try not to get all offended and huffy, because that really does stop the debate from progressing.

Those people who happen to be in an IR relationship with a black man, will invariably have a different take on things, so really, giving yourself up as an example of how 'NOT' racist you are is pointless, because in my experience, rabid racists tend not to marry different coloured people, whereas men/women in an IR relationship with a black person are generally more open minded to 'black culture', for lack of a better description.

Yes there are generalisations, but the fact is, romance books featuring Black heroes do not sell as well as romances featuring Middle Eastern men.

Gwyneth, I do think that Mrs Giggles is right in that the typical romance sheik is a white man wearing a turban, and I agree with her that this is probably one of the reasons why they sell so well. You have the fantasy of the rich exotic sheik, without dealing with the reality of how a real Middle Eastern man would behave with a female.

Bahrain, is one of the most progressive countries in the Middle East, yet woman were only allowed to vote in 2002. That kind of information would probably be a bit of a passion killer in a standard romance wouldn't it?

Dalia said...

I think it was Eggs that said it's easier to make up your own concept of what a middle eastern man may be like because you rarely - if ever - rub shoulders with him.

Against that scarcity of reality we have black/white american men who are practically everywhere and you've been able to garner personal proof of their: selfishness; cluelessness; sports obsessions; lack of hygiene; mama's boy mentality; expectations of a wife/mother/lover etc etc etc

With all that *fact* floating around, it's hard to undo reality.

Patricia W. said...

Oh man, I hate when I have "days off" from the Internet. Looks like I missed a great topic.

Like it or not, stereotypes are one reason Black men are not featured. Money is another. And class? Yep, add that one in. And don't forget the media. If most romance readers are white women from lower and middle classes, how often do they hear/read/see/come in contact, personally or via the media, with wealthy Black men who are not athletes or celebrities? Media plays a role in our fantasies. We do hear about and see television shows the princes who are the world's richest lists. Not too many brothers on those shows.

Then there's curiosity. As a society, our exposure to folks outside of America has increased greatly in the last twenty years, thanks to cable/satellite television and the Internet. We know more, which has served to make us more curious. African-Americans on the other hand may be perceived as familiar and therefore less interesting.

I haven't read the sheikh books because they haven't appealed to me for some of the reasons others have mentioned. Now give me a romance with both the hero and heroine hailing from the Middle East, preferably written by an author from the Middle East, and I'm turning pages. Whether true or not, there's a greater sense of authenticity on my part. Also, my impression is that the characters in the sheikh books often are placed in Westernized situations, or come to terms with Western thinking before true love can prevail. I could be wrong but if so, it's a bit of a turn off.

Demon Hunter said...

It's amazing how people become offended because racism exists. It does, and it won't go away until we acknowledge it exists and do something to change it. If racism and sexism didn't exist anymore, the first step to change would be to have a Black or female president. Obama doesn't count because his parents are not from here and did not have generations and generations of racism engrained in their culture. It makes a difference.

Ramblings...acVernon Menchan said...

I am so loving this, I have to say that we had better know that people are still segregated and biased, particularly in their heart. I remember when my first book came out and the women in my office read it...I am AA, they are all white biologists and several made the comments that they had never heard of a man like my hero "Black", he was a selfmade millionaire, who loved his family and community and head over heels...I was astonished, because these women had lived around the world, a bell went off in my head, I immediately knew that you can't know if you dont get outside of yourself and grow...if you live in a monolithic environment, the only exposure you have is the media and that is inherently negative....
WOW, I love this....
angelia

Barbara B. said...

I'm fascinated by the many people who seem to think that racism wouldn't exist if people didn't talk about it. That it would just die away like a fire deprived of oxygen. It's magical thinking and it's painfully naive. Does this magic also apply to things like war, poverty, cancer, crime, etc.? Would all of these things cease to exist if everyone vowed not to ever mention them again?

When has silence and inaction ever accomplished anything but maintaining the status quo?

Gwyneth Bolton said...

Barbara B ~ You just made me think of that wonderful quote, "your silence will not protect you."

Not talking about these issues will not make them disappear. In fact it could have the opposite effect of helping to foster an environment for these things to thrive.

Gwyneth

roslynholcomb said...

I like this other Audre Lorde quote as well: "When we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard or welcomed. But when we are silent, we are still afraid. So it is better to speak.”

My mama took way too much shit to gain the right to speak. I'll be damned to hell and back before I'll muzzle myself.

Gwyneth Bolton said...

Roslyn ~ I love Audre Lorde. She left us with some gems and a whole lot of powerful and smart thoughts on race, class, class, gender and sexuality...

Gwyneth

Gwyneth Bolton said...

Everyone has given such wonderful and thorough feedback. I really love that the conversation has taken off.

Annie ~ I didn't take anything you said as denying that racism exists.

Monica ~ Hmmm...

Angela ~ You've made some interesting points. I think that the "kernal of truth" theory might be one that many would find debatable though. The thing is just like you may be able to find folks who fit any given stereotype, you will also be able to find exceptions. The same with generalizations. You aill always be able to find some that fit and some that don't. So in my opinion, it's best to stay ways from making sweeping generalizations.

Karen ~ I think that's why I wanted us to step away from personal experiences. Then we can get to the heart of the matter and race and racism in romance land...

Patricia W ~ See what happens when you leave the web for a day. :-) Good points, glad you chimed in.

Tyhitia ~ Now you know some folks would take issue with your "Obama doesn't count" statement. They might say that that kind of statement reifies monolithic notions of blackness... But I'm gonna leave it alone for now...

Angelia ~ Good points... I think that more people stepping outside of their comfort zone in romance land could be a good thing.

Like I said, I love the feedback and many of you have pushed my thinking about race and romance in some really useful ways. Thanks!

Gwyneth

Bella said...

Wow, you opened a can of worms with this one. I've read almost all Brenda Jackosn's books except the Delaney's Desert Sheik...couldn't wrap my brain around an Arab hero (I guess I need to get over myself and live a little). I know the media does influence who we want in our fantasies, but why Arab heroes and not AA, Indian (from India), Asian ones? Is it media portrayal of AA men only? Or does color, physical features, and size matter too (there's got to be a reason why Asians and Indians are not favored either). Or could it be fear of a backlash from black female authors and readers if the hero is black and heroine is white. Or could be the white romance readers worry about their men seeing them read a book with a black man or couple on the cover. When my first book came out, my best friend's husband(who's white ) went to the local Borders and bought three copies....for his wife, sister-in-law, and mother-in-law...the store clerk stared at him as though he'd lost his mind. It pisses me off that black readers, me included, will read a book by any author if it's interesting and engaging while our books are judged by the color of our skin and those of our characters.

Bella

Bella

Lynn Emery said...

Lawd have mercy, I left one little ol' comment and a few folks got their knickers/panties twisted like crazy! I was unclear, for that I hereby apologize and clarify- I was speaking of the majority of romance readers who according to RWA stats (highly respected and frequently quoted) are middle-classed white women. Romance deals in fantasy and based on the challenges long time Black romance authors have faced (won't re-hash previous points made by Monica and others) Black heroes (and heroines) are not part of the popular fantasy. Period.

Yes, YOU may find Black men hot. Yes, you may have even married one. That is not what I'm talking about. Having been in this business as a Black author for 11 years now I can speak from experience, watching the marketplace play out and watching the industry trends. I have had white women buy my books, but my comment still stands.

I'm not even saying it's all racism, but a cultural conciousness that prizes a certain "look" to what is romantic. Flip through major mags, watch commercials, movies- even Hollywood folks will tell you that having a Black female romantic interest (even if the hero is Black!) or Black romance storyline is the kiss of death to a film. Wake up and stop taking everything so personally.

Okay, now Monica will probably really faint now that southern mild mannered Lynn Emery went on a mini-rant LOL

Btw, I find some white men hot and some of my best friends are white. So there, my street cred presented.

Anonymous said...

I think black men as romance heroes would be very popular if they could somehow not be so...black. You know, have all the flavor and mannerisms, and the cool cache, but for the love of Goddess don't make them so...black. Just what romance needed, our own personal Elvis.

================================

Hmmm, I read the above and found it disturbing. What do you mean, don't make them too black? What exactly does that mean.

And I beg to differ about black men not being a hero. Maybe it isn't that way in romances, but if you look around you, in real life, everybody wants our men. From the the Wall Street executive to the NBA ball player to the maintenace engineer in the building where you work. Women of all colors are coupled with black men. So, what does that say about it not transferring to the page? Maybe that should be explored.

roslynholcomb said...

I was being sarcastic anonymous. As for everyone wanting black men, I'm not too sure about that. Sure everybody wants an NBA star or a Wall Street executive, but your average black guy? Not so much. Despite all the brouhaha about interracial pairings between black men and white women only 4% of the marriages in this country are interracial. And even then the overwhelming majority are between white men and Asian women.

In general most white women are not interested in losing white skin privilege, a fact of life that comes with being with a black man. But when Ward writes characters that are in fact black men, in all but skin color they basically get 'Black Man Lite.' All the coolness, and none of the, shall we say drawbacks that come with being black. Yanno, not getting taxis, DWB, etc...etc...etc...

Gwyneth Bolton said...

"It pisses me off that black readers, me included, will read a book by any author if it's interesting and engaging while our books are judged by the color of our skin and those of our characters."

Yeah, Bella, I feel you on this one. Sometimes I feel like having myself a mini boycott until our books are treated fairly.

Gwyneth

Gwyneth Bolton said...

"Okay, now Monica will probably really faint now that southern mild mannered Lynn Emery went on a mini-rant LOL"

Lynn, I'm about to faint myself! LOL.

Anon ~ You got some stats on that? It would be interesting to see them. Otherwise it sounds like the kind of generalizations we are trying to stay away from "everyone wants our men." Everyone who? Where?

Gwyneth

Kimber An said...

Here's an idea, African American authors make a concerted effort to market their novels through Bloggers like me who are thrilled to review any novel I like and have Blog Buddies from a variety of cultures. Keep a list of reviewers who are eager and effective at this.

Also, consider writing novels in genres which transport the reader out of contemporary culture, like Science Fiction, Science Fiction Romance, and Fantasy and Romantic Fantasy. Use metaphor to communicate your themes. Mix up the characters - white, black, purple Martians. Throw a wide net. That's what Gene Roddenberry did and since he started we've had an African American captain and a woman captain on Star Trek shows. Mr. Sulu commanded the Excelsior in the last Star Trek movie with the original cast. Hispanic actress B'Elanna Torres served as Chief Engineer on Star Trek Voyager. Elves, hobbits, Vulcans, whatever - these all represent different races and cultures, which you can mix up to communicate the very truths you seek.

Devon said...

I haven't been blog-hopping as much lately, so I'm late to the discussion, but I just want to commend you and KarenS for hosting a discussion involving race which took only minor detour into people getting all het up and personal :)

I find the topic of the romance sheik to be totally fascinating. For me, one of the middle class white women who make up the romance reading public, "fantasy" is the operative word when describing my reading tastes. I read primarily paranormal and historical, and even my forays into contemporaries tend to include the ridiculous (HPs, Silhouette Desires). Upon some self-examination, I think that the reason for this is to kind of justify my reading tastes to myself. As a left-leaning, avowed feminist, when I start to really examine some of the shallow characterizations and assumptions at play in romance, not only regarding race, but also ethnicity, economic class, regional differences and gender (of course) my head kind of wants to explode. But an English earl? A werewolf? Different rules completely. What do I know of them, really? Much easier suspension of disbelief.

Sheiks are an area where that suspension of disbelief fails. While I am not saying that all Muslim men or men of M.E. descent are bad, I have difficulty reconciling what I know of the treatment of women in the M.E. with the desert oasis fantasy.

As for the black hero thing, I think the fantasy thing is at work there, too. I admit I was woefully ignorant of AA romance, and I assumed that most of it was along the Harlequin/Kimani lines. Too real for me :) The AA heroes most likely to appeal to me are either somehow supernatural, billionaires or from like, small towns in the South or something. [I'm from Long Island, to me the South and the West seem exotic.]

But I very rarely read black heroes. I adore IRs, but I tend to go for black Woman/white (or other) man stories. I also, like many white women, have a long line of black fantasy boyfriends from TV/movies, dating all the way back to Jesse on All My Children when I was 8. I have total interest in, and a comfort level with, AA men as romantic heroes on tv/movies. So why doesn't this translate into my reading? Something to examine.

I apologize for my ramblings. This is a great topic, with several layers, but I should take it to my own place. I can be so incoherent.

Robin L. said...

I don't think I've ever read a sheik romance, but I do love the Elizabeth Peters mysteries - featuring an Egyptian man as one of the romantic leads in some of the books.

I wonder, too, if men of color feature as romantic leads more often outside of genre romance. I don't know if that's true, but I can think of a few examples of these, at least.

This is a really interesting topic!

Gwyneth Bolton said...

Kimber An ~ I would probably hesitate to tell writers to write science fiction since I think that like any other genre science fiction takes certain skills and knowledge, to say nothing of interests. It would be nice if this were a feasible option for all, but just think of the kinds of books that could be written by people who are writing this kind of book just because. For some people, writing about aliens, outer space, etc isn't an option.

Devon ~ Thanks for stopping by. You make some really interesting points. "Fantasy" is definitely key to the conversation. I'm finding the teasing out of the "why" behind the popularity of certain fantasies to be very intriguing.

Robin I ~ Thanks for commenting. That's a good question and it would be intersting to look into. Because if they are more prominent outside of the romance genre then it begs the question, what is it about the romance genre and the romance audience that makes it less prominent here...

Gwyneth

Kimber An said...

True, but there is paranormal and that's not for of a stretch.

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