What’s happening with the Romance Writers of America?
I’ve had several people ask me “What’s going on with RWA?”
How do I even begin to explain? While the big pimple on the face of the organization might have imploded with the wrongful suspension and false allegations against Courtney Milan, the blemishes we’ve been covering up go much deeper and have been going on for much longer. Unfortunately, many of us, myself included where blind to these facts, or at least willingly oblivious.
Like the political climate, things have been festering for a while. When the new president of the United States was announced one of my dear friends and mentor from high school, Ms. Glenoria Jennette came to me and told me of a nightmare she’d had. In her dream, she feared the US would revert to slavery. I denied this possibility, but she told me she knew she’d be okay because her friends, like me, would protect her. I thought, Oh Lord, she’s giving me her power. She can’t give me her power, I’m not worthy, I’m not strong enough… Oh crap what if I really do have to protect her? But that wasn’t what she was doing. She wasn’t giving away her rights or her ability to make her own choices, what she wanted was to know was that I had her back. To quote the late Martin Luther King, jr. “There comes a time when silence is betrayal.” In the present political climate I have ducked my head and kept my own council because no matter what I believe it’s wrong according to someone but when a friend is depending on you to do what is right, you have to make a stand, even if it’s unpopular.
“In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends,” MLK. As a white, heterosexual, able bodied woman I do not feel capable of making decisions for people of color or any other marginalized individual. Before I can make a decision affecting someone else, I should first have an honest conversation with them to discover what it is they need from me, from the group, etc. Making assumptions about others’ needs, taking away their power is no different than saying they are incapable of making these decisions for themselves, but I know it is past time for the rest of us to stand up and add our voices to this problem. “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter,” MLK. I pray it is not too late for RWA or for our country to find a place of understanding and peace.
It is difficult to look at myself as one of the entitled white women, and I don’t say that with any malicious intent or to undermine the racial inequalities that have come to light during this whole debacle. No, I say it to embrace the facts. I did not realize I was entitled, and I think that is where my crime lies. I was oblivious. Like many who belong to RWA or other groups and organizations, we do not necessarily see the problem because it doesn’t affect us. Sometimes we see slights but write them off as this one’s personality, or that one is older, and she doesn’t really mean to be inconsiderate. For some reason people who have reached a certain age think they can say anything they want and get by with it. We also tend to “mind our own business” and not involve ourselves in someone else’s fight.
With so many of our fellow authors leaving RWA in protest of Courtney’s mistreatment, the battle has fallen to us, the “white women” to finally stand up and say, this is our battle too. For if we are truly a “Professional Group” for ALL romance authors then we need to behave as such. Regardless of race, religion or sexual preference, all men and women shall be treated equally and with respect. (I started writing this before reading JR Ward’s and Nora Roberts’ responses to the situation but found both had said much of what I wanted to say and more eloquently. Check out their essays. Also check out Alyssa Cole’s op-ed about Harry and Meghan’s announcement and how it parallels with what is happening in RWA.)
I believe it is the lack of respect that I find the most difficult to understand. My parents taught me to always treat people, no matter their station in life, with dignity and kindness. Good manners cost nothing and when we belong to a large group like the Romance Writers of America it is important to be kind. That doesn’t mean we can’t be ourselves, that we can’t speak out, it means we treat others the way we want to be treated, and we expect our neighbors regardless of race, religion, physical ability or sexual preference to be given the same opportunities, respect and welcome.
For now, I will remain with the RWA in the hope that my voice will make a difference and that one day soon those who felt the need to leave will be welcomed home with the love and honor they deserve. I believe in happy endings.