I’ve been pretty vocal on Twitter about my support for Black Lives Matter, but I want to make sure and register that here on my blog since it’s such an important platform for me. Keep reading to learn more about things I’ve already been doing to support Black authors, and steps I’m planning to take in the future to do better.
What I’ve Been Doing
I’m not sure how much I’ve publicly talked about some of the steps I already take as a blogger, reviewer, reader, and book buyer, so I’d like to start out by sharing some of those things both to be more vocal about it and to encourage others to do the same if they’re not already.
Read books by Black authors. I thought this was an obvious step, but from what I’ve seen on social media, apparently it’s not. Commit to reading both nonfiction and fiction. It’s important to learn via nonfiction what Black people experience, but it’s also important to read about Black people living their lives (and in the case of romance, falling in love). I’ve committed for the last several years to reading at least 30 percent books by authors of color, a number I picked based on census statistics to use as a bare minimum. This year I upped that to 40 percent, because I think that’s more accurate and because I want to do even better. I have some updates to that goal, but I’ll talk about that more later.
Buy books by Black authors. While I generally try to avoid buying books and really take advantage of my library, I’ve made it a point for a while to buy books by Black authors and other authors of color when they’re on sale or are new releases I’m excited to pick up. And every time I buy a book by a white author, I try to make sure I pick up a book by an author of color, too. Consider doing the same, with an emphasis on supporting Black authors. Anti-blackness is very real, and it’s not enough to support authors of color without making sure that Black authors have significant representation, too.
Follow Black creators on social. I’m a terrible member of the blogging community in the sense that I don’t tend to interact much with other bloggers or reviewers, but I’m much more active on Twitter and have made sure for a long time to follow a diverse range of voices. I’ve learned so much about diversity and inclusion and what Black people have to deal with from Twitter, and as awful as social media can be sometimes, it’s been an invaluable resource for me. Do the same and follow Black authors and bloggers and reviewers and activists on social, and pay attention and internalize what they have to say!
Recommend books by Black authors. I always make sure to include at least one book by an author of color in every recommendation post I make, though I prefer to make sure my recommendation lists are more diverse than just one author. I’ll admit, I haven’t focused on making sure to specifically amplify Black authors, but that’s something I’d like to commit to doing more in the future.
Donate. I personally have been donating to We Need Diverse Books for a while because I think they do incredibly important work bringing diverse voices to publishing and supporting authors in the face of all the obstacles they face, including institutional racism and casual racist bias. I’m also a Patreon supporter for WOC in Romance, which collects a list of books written by women of color in the romance genre and sorts them by trope and subgenre, and will continue to be one. If these causes are important to you and you can afford it, consider donating and supporting them.
What I’m Going to Do
For starters, I definitely plan to read more books by Black authors. It was originally a stretch goal of mine to read 50 percent books of authors of color, but given the protests happening around the country, I’d like to make that my actual goal for the remainder of the year, with at least 20 percent books by Black authors.
I also want to make it a point to support Black-owned bookstores. I’ll admit, it’s not something I ever thought of doing before the protests, despite going out of my way to support indies during Covid-19. But I’ve ordered from a few in recent weeks, and I’m committed to continuing to place orders from them going forward.
Another commitment I’d like to make is to specifically read more Black romance. I’d seen the conversation on Twitter about how many books by Black authors feature interracial relationships, often with white heroes, and how uncommon it is to have both a Black heroine and Black hero, but it’s something I didn’t fully appreciate until I participated in the Black Love-a-Thon in February hosted by Mina Reads and LucieReads. I had a whole slew of books by Black authors ready to read for the readathon, only to realize that Black love specifically meant both Black heroes and heroines, and none of the books I’d planned to read had that.
I wound up going on a buying spree so I could participate in the readathon, and while I tweeted something brief about it, it’s not something I’ve spoken out about much. I felt like an idiot for taking so long to really understand what the Black women I’d been following were talking about, and I didn’t want to call attention to that or make myself sound like a genius/savior for finally figuring it out, so I didn’t talk about it on my blog. That’s something I regret, because it’s become apparent in recent weeks that A LOT of people don’t know the difference, and romance recommendation lists are the worse for it.
Which leads me to my next point, that I want to be more outspoken about racial issues. Don’t get me wrong, definitely sit back and listen when Black women and women of color have something to say!! But I haven’t been as good as I can about being vocally antiracist, especially in white spaces. This post is a start, but I want to speak out more about why it’s important to amplify Black authors and other authors of color.
I’m not entirely sure what that looks like, and I imagine it will be a work in progress, but I’ve started by making sure more of my fellow white romance readers know what Black romance is, and that they try to be more conscientious about just recommending Beverly Jenkins and Alyssa Cole to romance readers who already know and love them (if you’ve missed the bandwagon on these two, go get their books stat!!).
I also know it will entail speaking out more about the need for diverse historical romance. I talked at the beginning of the pandemic about how historical romances are my comfort reads, and I knew when I retreated into them that doing so would likely wreck my reading statistics for women of color, because historical romance is super freaking white. There are very few women of color publishing diverse historicals in mainstream publishing, and it’s a huge problem. I know there are authors of color writing historicals outside of the Big Five publishers, but I’ve been reluctant to pick up their books because I like the comfort, reliability, and ease of access of mainstream publishing. But publishing is clearly not going to change anytime soon, and so if I want those books, I have to do better about finding and amplifying them. Because historical romance is one of the whitest sections of publishing, and I love it too much to let it stay that way if I can help it. So keep an eye out on my blog for a new review series featuring more historicals by Black authors and authors of color set in different times and places than Regency England!
Another thing I want to do is work on highlighting race and decentering whiteness in my blog. Going forward, whenever I talk about a book, I want to add tags indicating how the author and the protagonists identify so that it’s easier to find books with diverse authors and characters. But I can’t just assume white is the default and only identify people who aren’t white. So if I’m going to tag, which I think is helpful for searchability purposes and to reinforce what I’m reading and recommending, I want to make sure and tag white characters and authors, too. I’ll probably make mistakes with this, which is scary, but it’s the only way to keep learning and doing better. Also, I suspect I’ll get really sick of writing the word “white” very quickly, which will probably push me to be even more diverse in my reading and recommending.
One last, small thing I’ve done that I think will make for a good reminder is to put an alert in my phone for every three months reminding me to be antiracist. It’s been so inspiring to see all of the support for Black Lives Matter in the wake of the protests, but that work doesn’t end just because the protests aren’t dominating the news anymore. I want the alert to serve as a reminder to keep analyzing my actions and make sure I haven’t become complacent.
So those are just a few things I have in mind on how to do better going forward. Of course, there’s a lot more to do, and I want to keep learning and evolving and being actively antiracist.
This might get rambly, but I have a few other things floating around in my head that I wanted to write down. One of those things is what it looks like for me as a white woman to review Black romances. I know it’s very much a thing for white women not to really engage with the books and give books by Black authors low ratings that tank their star rating on sites like Goodreads and Amazon. It’s hard because I think it’s fair for a book not to be the right fit for me, but I struggle to know whether it’s attributable to some internalized bias I’m not aware of, whether the book was targeted at a different audience (and if I can/should be part of the audience), or whether it’s just not right for me. Right now, I’m thinking I’ll review books by Black authors and, if I don’t want to give them a high rating, thoroughly articulate what I don’t like and why with an eye towards whether any of those reasons are racially biased (i.e., not connecting to a “voice”), and avoid giving them a star if it’s likely to have a significant impact on their rating. Like, I can’t imagine giving Alyssa Cole a low star on anything, but her books have enough ratings that my rating won’t make a difference. But a lot of the books by Black authors I’ve bought lately don’t have many ratings, and my rating could really tank that, and I don’t want to do more harm than good with my reviews.
Another thing I’ve been thinking about is how much romance written by Black women and published by mainstream publishers still centers the white gaze. I mentioned that a lot of books by Black authors feature white heroes, which I definitely think is part of it, but I wonder how much authors, editors, and publishers alter their books, whether consciously or unconsciously, in order to appeal to what’s perceived as the mainstream, and which essentially means white readers. I don’t feel at all qualified to pick this apart, and I don’t feel like I have the ability to make much of a difference on this front, other than to continue listening to readers, reviewers, and critics who are much more qualified than I to analyze these things, and do my best to buy and read books by Black authors who are indie or self publishing and therefore less subject to the machine that is the Big Five.
I have no answers or takes or even special insight into any of these things, but they’re things I think about that I wanted to share. If you’ve made it this far, thank you for sticking with me! I’d love to hear your thoughts, or be pointed in different directions to keep learning more.
And don’t forget to buy and read books by Black authors! And follow and support Black reviewers and bloggers and booktubers, etc!! And actually do the work of engaging and learning from them!!!