Many readers have been busy with celebrations for various holidays this week and many more do not spend much time on Twitter, so some may have missed the news that dropped on December 23, 2019. To get started, I would recommend checking out this thread of tweets from Alyssa Cole. Here Cole lets the public know that RWA (Romance Writers of America) has taken action to suspend author Courtney Milan as a result of an alleged ethics violation. Even with many people getting ready to take breaks for their holidays, this news had an instant ripple effect. Clearly RWA underestimated the ability of romance authors and readers to multitask.
So, what happened? Well, back in August Courtney Milan tweeted about a 1999 novel by Kathryn Lynn Davis which contained what she and many others would describe as fairly egregious stereotyping, and she called the book out as problematic and racist. So, why did it matter that a twenty year old book was called racist? Well, Davis had recently been hired as an editor by Glenfinnan Publishing, a company owned by one Suzan Tisdale, and presumably these folks did not appreciate having the word “racist” associated with someone at the business. Tisdale and Davis responded by each filing ethics complaints against Courtney Milan. Suzan Tisdale’s complaint is here and Davis’ is linked here. The complaints contain several screenshots and Ms. Tisdale submitted more, which can be found here.
Now this is where things start to go off the rails, so hold on. I know I’m throwing up a lot of links here, but it really is worth readers’ time to go check these out. I can summarize everything, but nothing can replace seeing the actual documents or seeing members of the romance community describing events in their own words.
Getting back to Twitter – author Leslie Kelly (a former RWA President) has a great explanation of how ethics complaints are supposed to be handled and it’s very instructive in terms of seeing what went awry in this case. Normally, when an ethics complaint comes in, the Executive Committee (President, Pres-Elect, Treasurer and Secretary) review the complaint and decide if it should go to the Ethics Committee.
Now, at the time these particular complaints were filed, Courtney Milan was the chair of the ethics committee of RWA. Did she get a chance to recuse so that the investigation could go forward? No. It has come out that she was reportedly told to resign her position (which she did). Someone at RWA apparently then decided to bypass the entire ethics committee and form a second ethics committee just for the purpose of considering the Milan complaints. Oh, and the composition of that second ethics committee was – and still is – secret. Because that doesn’t look suspicious at all.
Just as a side note, I’ll mention that in the non-Romancelandia side of my life I have served and continue to serve on a variety of nonprofit and professional boards. Most have an ethics committee, and for those that do, the identity of every committee member is not only known to the accused, it’s a matter of public record. No one has his or her case considered by an anonymous judge. Not only does the accused know who they are facing, but they know who voted which way. This is basic transparency, folks, and it’s essential to building trust in organizations.
The secret ethics committee found Ms. Milan in violation on only one(1) of the grounds of complaint brought forward by Tisdale and Davis, but they recommended that she be suspended from RWA for 1 year, be censured, and that she be banned for life from holding any national or chapter position of leadership. Supposedly this was a unanimous recommendation. However, it is still unknown how many people were on the secret alternate ethics committee nor who they are. While several members of the original ethics committee have come forward to state that they did not receive the Milan complaint, to my knowledge no one who considered these complaints has identified themselves.
Next stop? The RWA Board of Directors. Initially, the Board of Directors, upon motion of President-Elect Damon Suede, voted 10-5 to adopt the recommendation of the ethics committee.
As many are aware, the Board of Directors met and rescinded their vote the very next day (December 24, 2019, if you’re keeping track). So, what happened in the meantime? Well, social media exploded just for starters. When the decision broke, members of the real ethics committee apparently learned for the first time of the existence of the super-secret alternate ethics committee that considered the complaints against Ms. Milan.
Since Courtney Milan has been an outspoken voice in favor of diversity and inclusion in an organization which has had a problematic history with regard to race, seeing her censured essentially for speaking up about racism feels like a betrayal for many of us who had hoped that RWA was working to become more inclusive. In addition, the extreme secrecy concerning how processes work, who considered this ethics complaint, and who voted which way on the Board(per former Board members, vote is to be done by roll call if not unanimous but the identities of who voted for and against the ethics committee report have been kept secret so far) have made it very difficult for authors and other members of the romance community to have any faith in what RWA has been doing behind closed doors in this situation. Added into these concerns are accounts from various current and former RWA members stating that the board did not have oversight of staff and that staff, not the board, at least sometimes decided which complaints got to the ethics committee. And then there is this mention of problematic behaviors from RWA past president (and lawyer!) HelenKay Dimon:
Needless to say, these actions have not been received positively by RWA members or by the romance community as a whole. On Twitter, one can find numerous tweets from authors who have pulled their work from RITA consideration and from RITA judges who are resigning. Many calls have been made for transparency and for RWA to provide a full, complete explanation of what transpired and who was involved at each point along the way. These have been met with silence. In addition, no less than 28 RWA chapter presidents have submitted a letter calling for the resignations of the President, President-Elect and Executive Director of RWA.
And it’s not just the RITA judges resigning. On December 24, Board member Chanta Reed stepped down, citing RWA’s handing of the Milan complaint as the deciding factor in her decision. On December 26, board members Priscilla Oliveras, Seressia Glass, Adrienne Mishel, Farrah Rochon, Pintip Dunn, Erica Ridley, Tracey Livesay, and Denny S. Bryce all resigned from the Board of RWA, Each issued a statement on Twitter that they “no longer trust or have confidence in RWA’s leadership.” Later on, it was confirmed by RWA that the President, Carolyn Jewel, has also resigned.The statement linked in the previous sentence is one which was sent out on December 26 by RWA. I have included that link because it does confirm Jewel’s resignation. However, the statement itself is an anonymous Google doc that I would best describe as word soup. As a professional response to an institutional meltdown, I think it fair to say that it leaves quite a bit to be desired.
The President-Elect, Damon Suede, remains as President of RWA. As a reminder, Mr. Suede is also the board member who, according to the report of the board meeting, moved for the actions of the ethics committee to be adopted. Other than that, his role in this debacle is largely unknown. Likewise, the role of RWA staff in this meltdown has been speculated upon but has not been shared with membership or readers. Given the magnitude of what has occurred, many in the romance community consider this unacceptable and rightfully so.
It’s obvious at this point that RWA screwed up. Frankly, as more information becomes available, it appears obvious that they made more than just one mistake. Their internal procedures are clearly flawed and while Courtney Milan is an author with a high enough profile to draw attention to the problems, one can only imagine how many people who are not so well-known may have been treated equally poorly by the organization. Story after story after story of alleged irregularities and bias at RWA(some going back to the early days of the organization) have been pouring out ever since this particular story broke and I can only imagine that will continue.
So, where does RWA go from here? Over the short term, I honestly think that the organization has broken trust with too many people. This isn’t a situation where they can apologize and hope we will all forget about it. Perhaps if they:
(1) clean house and start over by electing a brand new board who would then hire a new executive director;
(2) audit what has been happening not just with the complaints against Courtney Milan but with the ethics committee in general and make those findings publicly available, including the names of everyone on the shadow ethics committee, and
(3) show by their actions that RWA is willing to listen and to really do the work of becoming more diverse, inclusive and anti-racist, then over the long term they may survive.
However, RWA has damaged its reputation with a significant portion of its membership and with the romance community at large, and one can understand those of us who will be slow to risk trusting it again. There are lots of questions to be answered here, and from what is already known, it is apparent that once those questions are answered, the organization will have to change if it is to survive.
– Lynn Spencer
I enjoy spending as much time as I can between the covers of a book, traveling through time and around the world. When I'm not having adventures with fictional characters, I'm an attorney in Virginia and I love just hanging out with my husband, little man, and the cat who rules our house.
I’m not sure how this is threaded, but I can only see as far as Dabney’s update of the RITA cancellation. Likely, the issue is on my end. I just don’t know how to fix it. I didn’t mean to make it look like I walked in, babbled a lot and just left.
Brilliant article from Jezebel!! As an academic, I know we benefit from RWA’s grants to educators to help fund writing projects and to help us promote the teaching of romance writing in college popular culture curriculum.
I knew when I first glanced at this link and saw Jezebel that they would bring this issue back to gender and the way in which it intersects with race and diversity. One of the most important points here in this article focuses on the concept of the “Nice Girl” and the way the romance genre polices good girl conduct and the right way for women to act. Courtney Milan is “blunt” and “fearless,” as the article states, in her criticisms of racist writing, and so she has become a scapegoat for those attempting to police women’s conduct. Being conciliatory and staying polite about racism in the genre and romance industry only supports white privilege and a submissive kind of behavior women are expected to exhibit. I thought it was so brilliant too for Jezebel to point out the way in which “nice white women” are failing to control the narrative. The article specifically points not only to the multitude of dissenting women posting on Twitter and Facebook on this issue, but also the role in which Goodreads is now playing to disrupt a master narrative. They specifically mention the work that Dear Author and Smart Bitches Trashy Books are doing to contest racism. The questions really are about who gets seen in a romance, who gets represented, whose love gets privileged, which authors have access to being published and promoted, and who in the end is allowed to criticize. The Internet has taken over and has allowed the issue of intersectionality, inclusion, and access to be examined. RWA has no power now to control any of this.
Thanks for posting this!
Isn’t Jezebel a clickbait farm that doxxed teenagers?
Wow. I’m late to the party. I only just learned of this blow up over the weekend. In that time I read a lot of articles, blog posts (especially this one), and comments. Here’s my two cents, whether y’all want it or not. If this were an AITA thread, I’d say, based on what I know so far, that ESH. I’m still a bit fuzzy has to how this all really started. Some say Milan went looking for a target after seeing a publisher liking racist content on Twitter. I don’t think she went looking for a target. Just background into the character of those in positions of authority in the industry. I would’ve done the same. But the part focused on more than anything was how Milan reviewed another author’s work on a public forum. Granted, no author is immune from having their work critiqued and/or criticized, nor should they be. I’ve read comments that said this was a great moment to open dialogue for when white authors portray poc in their stories and I agreed, until we got to the part of the thread that called the author’s work a “piece of shit” and a “fucking racist mess!”. That’s a bit more than just being “critical” or “criticizing” someone’s work. That’s bringing to question the character of the author out into the public. It’s also a showstopper and the clear indication that the conversation is now over. If that was Milan’s intent, then don’t be pissed when it gets called out as such. (Let’s also note that the offending piece of work was reviewed here on this site with a Grade A and coveted title of Desert Isle Keeper. We’ll get into the implications of that later.) Having read the offending passages, my personal opinion is that they are “that bad” and “racist” in nature. It’s cringe-inducing to read. The descriptions are awful as well as the character implies *all* Chinese women are a certain way (demure, quiet, subservient,etc.) problematic. It’s a sweeping generalization that isn’t restricted to *just that character* and it is a gross misrepresentation. Perhaps if the character had said she was personally taught those things, it’d be a different story. I don’t know. Just spit-ballin’ here. I don’t blame Milan for having a visceral reaction. However, she seemed to have gathered herself well enough to lay out a critique and explain why it was problem before declaring it a “piece of shit” and a “fucking racist mess!” <<<< look at that. That was designed to also get a visceral reaction, to shock the reader into paying attention. And so it did. That's a door slammer if ever I saw one. The author, Ms. Davis, reacted just as badly to this. Granted, if someone leveled a broadside at me by calling my work a "fucking racist mess!" with the implication that I am also racist by virtue of the fact that I wrote it, then my reaction would probably be just as visceral. However, Davis didn't need to run to the RWA tattling on Milan because her feelings were hurt and demand action be taken while also compounding that complaint with a lie. She should've taken the issue to where it belonged: to Ms. Milan. Everything she said in the complaint could've been said to Ms. Milan and *then* a dialogue could've begun. If for no other reason other than it needs to be had and by someone smarter than the shitshow of a comment section over at SBTB. It really wasn't addressed much here. Davis claims to have done her research (did she?) which is what poc have asked of white authors when portraying a race and culture not their own. So there's that. Make of the author's claim what you will. Some have said that Milan wasn't calling Davis a racist, just her work. C'mon. Y'all, the book didn't write itself. If I may borrow a few words from George Carlin, the book "didn't pass through a membrane from another dimension". So, if you can call a work racist, but not the author that wrote the racist work, then someone please help me out here as to how. I am legit lost on that one. If we're going to level charges as serious as racism, let's be real about it. I also noted that this site (as well as a couple of others) reviewed the offending book quite favorably. So what does it say of a reader and/or reviewer that views a racist… Read more »
So really, really what we are talking about here is livelihood. People not being given an opportunity to work based on the discretion and/or prejudice of a potential employer. The submission of a novel does not guarantee a job or “contract”and its subsequent rejection is unfortunately subjective which makes it difficult to quantify fairness. But the implosion at RWA,is testimony to the fact that there was a major disadvantage to diversity authors.
It does beg the question what was the fundamental purpose of the organization? Was it to promote authors or to make money catering to the readers, and did the publishing houses they were affiliated with influence the types of romance RWA should promote? Could RWA justify promoting a more diverse romance to a publishing house without any sales data? Would the publishing house take on a novel if it wasn’t guaranteed sales? (or a return on investment) Was this inherently the problem combined with an old guard’s “traditional notion of romance.”
This whole situation reeks of money. Making it and fear of losing it.
Pre-internet the author was sort of anonymous. You could sink in and judge for yourself if you enjoyed the book or not. You didn’t know if the author was male or female. There was no internet, no webpage with a picture and bio, no quick way to determine ethnicity or race. (I never cared about these things.) No constant promotion. Maybe there was a picture on the jacket, maybe. And there was no access to the plethora of reviews available. (Reviews that could influence my decision to even read/buy a book.)
But with the internet also came self-publishing. An avenue to get around the gatekeepers, an avenue that allowed for more female authors in otherwise male dominated spaces, an avenue that let me find more diverse and interesting books.
But I love discovery. I still wander the aisles of my book store and library seeing what grabs my interest. Reading the blurb on the jacket and maybe the first couple of pages. I love the weight of a book in my hand. I love the smell of the paper, the fluttery pages, the spine splayed and gently cupped in my palm. But i digress…
I would hate to see RWA completely destroyed. My hope is that a better organization emerges. I will always love a good romance.
I was trying to be diplomatic; he seemed pretty self-involved to me. I would be interested to know what his other name is, If it exists. And my reaction to Hot Head was much like yours; I was underwhelmed. I have no need to read anything else written by him.
Reading through it, it’s even messier and all sorts of questions are raised for me aside from the other issues. The first involves Damon Suede and why and how his rise through RWA has been so meteoric. Less than a decade in writing/publishing and fewer than 10 books shouldn’t have qualified him for jack, IMO. Does this have anything to do with his being a minority minority (yes, I know white men are not minorities, but male writers of romance are in the minority).
The second is whether or not the Romance community will survive this blowback and what will emerge from the ashes. Let me preface things by saying I don’t like what happened to Courtney Milan one bit. It was underhanded, overblown and completely unethical. She deserves support for how she was treated.
That said, my sympathy for the woman is somewhat limited. I don’t think she’s a “bully” but she went to Kathryn Lynn Davis’ backlog, specifically looking for a fight because she had a beef with Davis’ publishing house and coworkers. She then proceeded to read a sample of a book, self confessed she never finished the sample or book, then instead of publishing a critique on how Chinese Eurasians were portrayed and why it’s harmful or calling Lynn Davis out, she self selected passages, went on an expletive laden rant and sicced her mob of Twitter followers on it. Lynn Davis was in her right to file a complaint.
I read YA literature and have watched original well intended movements meant to diversify the genre and create safe spaces for the marginalized, rapidly turn into packs of SJW who cannibalize their own. Recently, 2 books got pulled. Both were by POC. The first was because the Chinese French woman who wrote it was accused of capitalizing on black suffering…because she wrote about a slavery situation in a fantasy world. The second was because the author – a black gay man – was pilloried for writing a romance with the Kosovo war as a backdrop and a Muslim villain, and was accused of Islamophobia.
I don’t think it’s accurate to call concern — well-founded concern — about the publishing house a “beef,” She went looking for something, and she found it, and she brought it to light. The problem is that it was there to be found.
Agree! Having a suspicion or concern that racism exists in a fictional text and locating passages where the proof is in fact visible for us to see is a legitimate right everyone has. The issue for me in this whole debacle has always been on the racism in the text, and any reader can examine any published work and point out views on race or racism in them and discuss it publicly. Authors can respond back. Readers can respond — here or on Twitter or elsewhere. And in the end, we all get to decide as consumers if we want to plunk down our hard-earned cash for books that reinforce racism.
Any frustration with people debating publicly on social media is a distraction to me because we all have a right to debate publicly. The important thing is making sure that people have evidence when they make claims. I looked at Milan’s passages on racism in Davis’ text and thought her specific references were clear and persuasive. And in the end I can decide for myself if I want to take the time to go to the text itself to make a larger determination on how I spend my time and money.
According to a brief interview with Suede that I listened to which is available free from Audible, he has had a long and successful career as a playwright and screenwriter under a different name. Something like 25 years, he claimed. My overall impression of him from listening to the interview is that he has a very healthy ego.
I read Suede’s first romance (Hot Head) around 2011 or 2012 when it was first published. I was new to the m/m genre and it was getting incredible reviews. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why. Very mediocre work (IMHO).
I heard him interviewed some time/years later on an NPR station, about romances in general and m/m in particular, and again, I couln’t figure out why he was chosen when there were so many other, better (IMHO) writers who’d been working in the space for much longer, and deserved the exposure. Healthy ego is putting it lightly. It is clear to this former PR person that he either is or has a very good PR person working for him.
I think this twitter thread is worth reading, for those who have been acting as if Milan’s actions in critiquing the book are the most important part of this discussion.
The President and the Executive Director of RWA have resigned. Here is the organization’s announcement:
The events of the past two weeks have been the most painful and tumultuous in the history of Romance Writers of America (RWA). While these events stemmed from a recent ethics matter, they have their roots in significant failures of RWA over the course of several years to meaningfully address issues of diversity, equity and inclusion, and deficiencies in our communications and transparency with our membership.
That’s on us. We have lost the trust of our membership and the romance author community and we are taking steps to rebuild that relationship. We have a difficult road ahead, but we are committed to traveling it together and building a stronger, more inclusive organization with all of you — and for all of you.
We have already begun some of this work by:
Hiring an expert, independent law firm to conduct an audit of the recent ethics matter that will include interviews with key individuals as well as findings and recommendations on improving our process. The Board has committed to fully sharing these findings and recommendations with the membership.
Bringing on a diversity, equity and inclusion consultant who could assist RWA with diversifying Board and staff recruitment, as well as design and structure future membership programming and events. The process of identifying and vetting potential consultants has just begun and the Board will provide updates to the membership and seek input as it moves forward.
Cancelling the 2020 RITA Contest.
Launching an evaluation and potential revamping of our awards programs from top to bottom with the help of experts and member input.
We know that this is just a start to a longer process of reform for RWA, and that process is going to require new leadership, which is why the Board is announcing some leadership changes, including the departure of RWA President Damon Suede.
Damon has offered his resignation, effective immediately, and the Board has accepted it. Damon, who has served on the RWA Board of Directors since 2015, as President-Elect from September 2019 through late December 2019, and then as President for the past two weeks, has been a passionate advocate for diversity, equity and inclusion issues for his entire life. We thank Damon for his service and wish him all the best in the future.
The Board of Directors has made a decision to not immediately fill the office of President while the Board – working transparently with its membership – determines an appropriate recruitment and selection process.
The Board also has accepted the resignation of RWA Executive Director Carol Ritter, who has decided to step down from the role she assumed in November. Carol, who has been a steady senior member of RWA management for well over a decade, has offered to stay on over the coming months to support a smooth transition to new staff leadership; the Board has accepted this offer. Carol has been instrumental in keeping the operations of RWA running and we are deeply grateful to her for the commitment and leadership she has brought to our association. The Board will appoint an interim Executive Director upon Carol’s departure and will form a search committee to identify Carol’s permanent replacement.
We know we have a lot more work to do to restore the trust we have lost – and we are going to do whatever it takes to get there so that we can focus on the mission of this organization: to promote the professional and common business interests of romance writers. Our goal is to ensure the successful future of this association so it can be an even stronger, better and more inclusive professional home and advocate for romance authors.
We may not always get it right, but we will do our best, we will be honest and transparent, we will own our mistakes, and we will listen to our community. We hope you will join us – collaboratively and productively – in rebuilding an RWA that serves its diverse and talented members well into the future. We believe this community is worth saving.
Wow. Just . . . wow.
Also, author Angela Francis has called out Suzan Tisdale’s narrative on the “backlash” per her statement in the RWA grievance on Courtney Milan (that she’d lost several authors due to Milan’s review):
“I want to address the false narrative that authors refused to work with Suzan Tisdale only because they feared backlash. For me this is blatantly untrue. I chose to cancel my contract with Glenfinnan because I didn’t want to align myself with racists, and I have the receipts.” – Angela Francis
Read a copy of her emal to Tisdale:
Wow, Taking in this whole saga’s twists and turns is like watching a guilty pleasure Lifetime movie. Sadly, its real and not fiction.
It’s fascinating to me that Suede’s qualifications coming into question seemed to be the big nudge that pushed him to resign. Not the racist/homophobic hell that the RWA is. That.
And, yet Damon Suede is writing gay and homoerotic romance.
Seems quite weird to me.
Turns out Damon Suede might not be qualified to head the RWA.
I’m a reader, and not a member of RWA. But I have been the volunteer leader of various very small organizations (PTA, scouts, HOA, etc.) and am wondering how much of the problems we’ve all been reading about – that have been occuring for at least a decade or more (RWA not listening to/acting on member-raised issues) – have to do with paid staff vs. elected volunteers. I’m not casting stones or excusing anyone here . . . I don’t know any of the people/processes involved. (Although as a former PR person, I can’t help but cringe over all this.)
Am I correct in understanding that board members and positions like “president” and “secretary” are elected volunteers who change frequently? And they are also RWA members (writers)? Do the all or most of the elected positions change each year or so?
Are staff elected or paid? Are staff RWA members? Does staff change over time?
I’m just wondering about the organization’s structure, and if that structure has contributed to RWA’s problems e.g. volunteers going along “because that is the way it’s always been done, and I’m only going to be here a year” while paid staff have the run of the org because they’re the ones in place year after year? Or is it the same board members, elected year after year because no one else is willing to step up, and hence shape/control the organization to their vision (while mouthing platitudes to keep the dues rolling in)? All of the above?
Thanks for any insight for us poor readers out here!
Claire Ryan has a good (i.e. updated) follow up of all this mess: https://www.claireryanauthor.com/blog/2019/12/27/the-implosion-of-the-rwa.
Thank you for posting this., Kass! It’s interesting to read all of these events as they transpired. I’ve just started following Romance Alliance as an emergent alternative to RWA. It explicitly states that it will be a romance writing organization committed to intersectionalism, with 8 of its 12 board members consisting of multiple diversities, including people of color, LGBTQ, and neurodiversity. To that end I think the most salient point Courtney Milan has made over the past few weeks is that any umbrella romance writing guild must be committed to radical inclusivity, and it’s apparent from the implosion at the RWA and other sites/organizations where white people dominate conversations and policies, that disenfranchisement of marginal groups logically follows.
I’m just popping in between classes – what is the Romance Alliance? Is there a website?
So far I see them only on FB and Twitter but they are in the very early stages.
Publishers are pulling out of RWA in droves and more board members have resigned. Here’s a link to an article in today’s NYT that sums up the latest.
Again, I’m pulling comments that involve personal attacks.
Getting back to the topic of “Has the RWA lost its way?”
A host of sponsors have issued statements pulling out of the RWA National Conference or events. A listing (this may be growing as I write this): Avonbooks, Harlequin, Entangled Publishing.
There has also been another resignation from an RWA Administrator. I’m pretty sure the owner of this site will post more info,
Let me say that what’s happening to the RWA brings no joy to me. What’s happening isn’t the result of one person’s review, but years in the making.
Too many people were hurt over the years by the lack of inclusion and other behaviors, some yet to be revealed.
Before I began writing, I was a reader. I still buy and support authors, and celebrate a good story by talented wordsmiths.
It’s my bet that the 2020 conference is cancelled. The financial applications of this are huge. AAR isn’t a member of RWA but we’ve gone to the conferences before to connect with the industry. I feel for all the authors and chapters who rely on RWA. It’s just such a mess.
It looks like, thus far, I’m wrong.
I have been thinking about kindness frequently in the past few months. Social media and online commenting appears to me to be a place where the constructs of kindness and respect have been all too often disregarded in favor of judgement and attacks. These online platforms seem to allow us to forget that we almost never really know all of the life circumstances which are brought to a person’s comment – we can guess, but we don’t really fully know. If we think of kindness as ‘having, showing, or proceeding from benevolence and respect’ then I believe we would all be a little more careful before the fingers hit the keyboard. Although it makes me sad, RWA’s decision to cancel the Rita awards this year feels like the correct one to make. Hopefully in the coming year RWA can regroup and reorganize itself into a kinder organization.
I just started a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction class and the very first thing the moderator talked about was kindness–to ourselves and to others. My belief is that, as my favorite dish towel says, “Kindness: Spread that shit around.”
A lot of the comments here are saddening. How does bashing others and piling on contempt for what people post do anything good? My nana says any of us could be hit by a car at any time and that we should make sure the things we say/do aren’t last words/actions we aren’t proud of.
Dabney, good luck. Civility ain’t happening here.
Well, sorry if pointing out that someone is assuming demonstrably false and slanderous things about me is considered “uncivil”. Guess I should be spewing more f-bombs and expletives, then I’d be one of the kewl kids and that would be acceptable.
I’ve been offline for a few hours. In that time tempers have flared.
I’d like to reiterate my long standing belief about how we can have open and constructive conversations here. Personal attacks that verge on contempt prevent us from being able to listen to each other. I’d ask that we all work to treat fellow commenters here with empathy.
I’ll repost our commenting policy. Please adhere to it. Thanks.
AAR loves comments. We are a community where everyone is welcome. Here are our guidelines. Our goal is to make our discussion threads productive and positive.
#1: No bullying or personal attacks. If we deem your comment racist, sexist, homophobic, or in any way offensive, we will delete it. If you insult or threaten a fellow commenter or an AAR staff member, your comment will be deleted. If you continue to post offensive comments, we reserve the right to ban you from commenting on the site.
#2: AAR has the final say over what is or isn’t allowed on the site and generally we won’t publish comments about our moderation.
#3: Stay on topic. Be concise. Comments we believe derail a thread may be deleted.
#4: Disagreement is cool. Dismissiveness is not.
#5: Be kind.
RWA has cancelled the RITAs. This is the right call. Here’s the announcement:
Due to recent events in RWA, many in the romance community have lost faith in RWA’s ability to administer the 2020 RITA contest fairly, causing numerous judges and entrants to cancel their participation. The contest will not reflect the breadth and diversity of 2019 romance novels/novellas and thus will not be able to fulfill its purpose of recognizing excellence in the genre. For this reason, the Board has voted to cancel the contest for the current year. The plan is for next year’s contest to celebrate 2019 and 2020 romances.
While we understand this will be disappointing news for some, we also understand that other members will support taking this step. Recent RWA Boards have worked hard to make changes to the current contest, striving to make it more diverse and inclusive, relieve judging burdens, and bring in outside voices, but those changes had to be voted on and implemented in a narrow window of time each year.
By not holding a contest in 2020, we will be able to move away from making piecemeal changes. Instead, we will have the opportunity to take a proper amount of time to build an awards program and process – whether it’s a revamped RITA contest or something entirely new – that celebrates and elevates the best in our genre. We plan on engaging a consultant who specializes in awards programs and a DEI consultant, as well as soliciting member input.
Members who entered the 2020 contest will be refunded their full entry fee by January 22, 2020. We extend our deep appreciation to the judges who volunteered their time this year.
Thanks very much for the update, Dabney.
I’m new here, so hi everyone. It’s weird to me, but I can’t help but be most upset about the forum chosen by Courtney Milan. I know it’s a public forum and people can use whatever venue they choose to express a “critique”. But was it a critique? I know the personal platform was excluded from any kind of RWA affiliation, However every article I read had this title, “This book is a (insert expletive) racist mess! “ That sounds like an attack to me.
They are colleagues who belong to the same organization. I’m sure the passages cited were offensive but why would you call out a colleague in front of your peers? You can claim CM was just a reader and the book was a random critique, but it wasn’t. CM was a special kind of sensitivity reader acting on behalf of RWA. (I’m going to find the reference for this) CM reacted emotionally, which I think the quoted title above clearly demonstrates. Even being passionate is okay but why wouldn’t you critique your peer in private? If you walked in to the bar after work with a bunch of your colleagues including your boss, and over the Karoke machine a colleague says “ omg, BOB that report you wrote is a ( insert expletive) mess! Section 1, and section 3, and section 7 are totally off point. Did you ever know the difference between program 1 and program 2 ?” You would be mortified and wondering why your colleague didn’t discuss this with you in private. And the colleague (. we’ll call him Steve) may be totally right about everything. Now everybody you work with is questioning your judgement. You re worried about your livelihood and nobody trusts Steve. I’m sure Steve is satisfied he routed out unproductive work but did his method benefit anyone? And sure it was on personal time, but does it change the rippling effects? And even if they didn’t like each other, what happened to being tactful? As writers both of these woman should know, it’s not what you say it’s how you say it,
Let’s say one of my coworkers is walking down the hall and is distracted talking to someone else, and that person runs into me, making me fall over and twist my ankle.
Option 1 is to use a soft voice and say “Oh, excuse me, I’m so sorry to point this out, but I’m not sure if you know that your shoulder made contact with my back and now I’m hurt.”
Option 2 is to say “OW. This f@#*in’ hurts!!! Bob, why weren’t you watching where you were going??”
Bob’s response = to either option – should be to say “OMG, I’m so sorry. I promise to pay more attention the next time I’m walking down the hall.”
If Bob responds differently to option 1 than to option 2, Bob is either a jerk, or Bob needs to see a therapist to figure out why he is so defensive.
No one is required to protect the feelings to the person who hurt them.
Also, we don’t get to decide whether or not we hurt someone.
Clarification that therapy is not a punishment in my analogy. I think therapy is wonderful and probably everyone needs it.
I can see what your saying, but Bob colliding with someone at work is a random unplanned accident. Yes, he should apologize. He physically hurt someone. Now emotional hurts go on all the time in the workplace and those are an entirely different animal..lots of powerplays and such but that’s a different story. “Intentionally” belittling someone in the workplace for shoddy work in front of colleagues is another matter. I think you might agree especially if it has ever happened to you or even if you were belittled at a company Christmas party, etc.. I know I wouldn’t like it, even if the person were correct. Causing shame and embarrassment is never constructive. So CM may have been offended and she had a right to be. She publicly shamed her colleague. Again CM choice to do so. Nobody can tell anyone else how to feel or express themselves. D was embarrassed and defensive. I think this is a common reaction to public shaming. I just thought it could have been handled away from their colleagues eyes. An email, a meeting through RWA. Something.
I will say this is a very complex situation. How are colleagues in RWA supposed to air their grievances with one another? Who determines writing that is offensive? (Minorities by race? Minorities by gender? The marginalized? The poor? The elderly? The moral majority? The liberals? Parents? The government? The young?) And everyone’s life experience is different and totally subjective. Things that may offend you might not bother me. And yes if I find a book offensive I have the choice not to read it and not to buy it.
Define “harm”, then. I’m so tired of SJWs whining about the “harm” they’ve experienced because they freely chose to read a book and found a phrase or concept distasteful, even offensive. How is one “harmed” by being offended? Why do people think they have some right not to be offended?
In your scenario, if a person inadvertently causes physical harm to another, we know the harm — a broken bone, a torn tendon, for example.
If someone of Milan’s stature and education reads a romance with some clumsy descriptions of 18th century Chinese culture, how is she “harmed”?
Because that’s the rhetoric — that and that words are violence (hilariously hypocritical from a notoriously foul-mouthed person like Milan).
Seriously? The Author Davis went to school in California. Ain’t no way someone educated in California could be that ignorant about Chinese women, unless you made a concerted effort to avoid Chinese women. You guys gotta stop trying to rewrite history. The plain truth is that you couldn’t throw a stick in California without hitting someone of Asian or Latina origins in California at the time the Davis woman lived and educated herself there. You’re trying to make excuses for the arrogance of some socially inept author writing ignorant junk and passing it off as well educated. Yal not have any kids? No instagram? It’s part of the high school curriculum here in Georgia for kids to critically appraise literature. Kids write about issues of slavery in Mansfield Park, issues of bias and racism in other classical literature, and you think someone pointing out racist tropes on Twitter is inappropriate? Clue in people. Get out of your houses and interact with others. The younger generations are gonna chew you up for your mistakes. Why in the world would you think there was some sort of office etiquette at play among people who don’t share an office? Why do yal keep trying to rewrite this as something it’s not?
I’m glad the younger generations are learning from previous generations mistakes. However it doesn’t give anyone the right to “ chew you up for your mistakes” Or call you out to humiliate you. I hope the next generations write bright, bold stories of their own and don’t revel in feeling superior. I hope they all become men/women in the arena.
But you’re deluding yourself if you think that one day some kid isn’t gonna write a published article in whatever journal called “Racism in Rose Whatshername’s writing: A critical analysis of the author’s published literature” and that may end up on your Wikipedia page long after you’re gone, my friend. Yal seriously need to get out of your houses and interact with others so you’re not repeating ridiculousness.
The people who matter will know who you really are. Your “Wikipedia page” isn’t going to matter to anyone who means anything in your life. And we’re the ones who need to get out more and interact with others on a human level…?
Well something like that could end up being published in your lifetime, Nora. How are you gonna feel then? I’m just suggesting that you sign your kids up for a swim lesson maybe. Take your kids, sit with the other parents, have a chat. You will meet lots of different people from all walks of life. Exchange phone numbers for when your kids are gonna invite the other kids to a birthday party. Over the course of your kids activities you will make acquaintances, develop friendships. So will your kids. This will be your and your children’s support system as you go through life. This is how people make friends. Maybe one of those kids from swim lessons, soccer, whatever activity will be your kid’s college roommate. Regardless, you will interact with diverse people and they will subtly educate you on what’s ridiculous, or maybe it won’t be so subtle. But you will develop cherished friendships with people of other ethnicities than your own. It will be good for you, Nora. Just try it.
My “kids” are in their 30s, have kids of their own, and live in Brooklyn and Rome. I grew up in Queens, maintain an apartment in the West Village, a condo in SoMa in SF, an apartment in Rome and a home in Arizona.
Maybe I’m not the one who needs to get out of a bubble…?
You know,Mary. its possible someone somewhere we’ll be offended by something I write. But maybe that’s a genre thing. Romance in particular seems to be extremely sensitive to the current social mores. Look at fantasy, scifi or mystery. I don’t hear quite so much about racist tropes and stereotypes that are damaging. The Harry Potter series is filled with classism, elitist behavior and racism-the house elves. Where’s the outrage? You keep insisting that the people who respond here, need to get out and meet people. I’ve met plenty of people. And I’ve been let down quite a bit. Not because my expectations were too high, but because theirs were.
Also, the “Jesus effing Christ” rhetoric from Milan and her set — it’s okay for them to be openly and horrifically disrespectful to Christians — including Christians who are also POC — but a phrase in a decades-old romance novel set in the 18th century has them all freaked out and “harmed”? Please.
As if any of them would have the stones to be as equally disrespectful of Mohammed — don’t see them saying ‘effing Mohammed”!, do you?
“it’s okay for them to be openly and horrifically disrespectful to Christians ”
Now you’re spewing propaganda instead of facts. Plus you’re so far off the original issue I’m wondering if its simply out of frustration. Enough with the tactics. This isn’t about Christians vs, Islam and you should be ashamed of yourself to even go down that road.
But you do highlight one of the issues that marginalized people, and those who tried to work within the RWA came up against. People intent on clouding tthe issue in order to cause a distraction. You can’t change history of the documentation out there, and you can’t change Davis’ statements saying, she was “used” by the RWA. No amount of “speaking nicely” can alter the mis-steps someone in the RWA made and how its blown up in the faces of whoever planned this fiasco.
Please try to stay on topic, or at least I hope this site recognizes where you’re eventually headed with your “us vs them” rhetoric.
**Site owner, my apologies if this come up as a double post**
It speaks to why Davis’ reaction may have been hostile rather than open to criticism. When a party or parties exhibit a pattern of inappropriate behavior, even what some people may consider “common” expletives (this is common talk in some people’s households??) come across as personal attacks.
The hypocrisy of the anti-Christian bigotry combined with the unprofessional, inappropriate, aggressive language is not about Christianity v. Islam.. It’s an example of a pattern of behavior.
If you don’t see the difference between the effects caused by common expletives (such as the JFC you reference) and comments deliberately targeted toward members of specific marginalized groups, then I don’t know what to say to you. While comments of the first type may strike me as rude or perhaps even offensive, they will generally not make me fear for my or my family’s safety. In American society, a Christian has the privilege of being able to avoid those who are hostile. May not like them, but they’re easily avoided by and large.
However, comments of the second type I reference can and do cause harm. Groups of hostile people are moved to violence against minority groups by language. Members of marginalized groups very often do not have the luxury of being able to fully pursue their lives without being forced to interact with hostile forces.
I do not own this site and I’m not the moderator, so I lack the power to take action. I did write the piece you’re commenting on, though, and I have no problem telling you that I think your us v. them, Christian v. Islam, “I’m tired of SJWs” arguments are offensive and don’t encourage productive discussion of the matter at hand, which was the crisis in RWA, not to mention the fact that many RWA members who come from marginalized groups have stated for years that their concerns are dismissed and trivialized. I have yet to see a phrasing containing the term SJW that wasn’t trivializing someone else’s pain.
The crisis at RWA has been an ongoing downhill spiral for decades.
Also, I’m not sure why you think all Christians are white — or are even a monolithic group to begin with.
Being offended is good for you. It’ll make you think.
If you walk your dog around the block in my neighborhood, you will meet many devout Christians, Nora. But they may not look, act or think like you expect. Down the street from me is a very devout Christian woman. She does not eat meat or dairy. And she doesn’t go to church on Sundays, Nora. She’s 7th Day Adventist. And she’s Korean. I’m telling you this to encourage you to think about how diverse Christians are. Some Christians curse while some obviously don’t. But we don’t police other’s religiosity. This is what you learn when you get out there.
I don’t have a dog. Exactly — yes — many denominations, many practices. And…? My point was exactly that — that Christians are an incredibly diverse group, so when people spew bigoted and disrespectful anti-Christian rhetoric, they are speaking about POC, white people, Catholics, Mormons, Evangelicals, Mainline Protestants, non-denom fundamentalists, etc.
I’m not policing Christians at all. Practicing Christians do not say “JFC”. Professional people don’t use obscenity-laden rhetoric while critiquing another’s professional work, regardless of their religious beliefs.
What point, exactly, are you trying to make?
I’m saying that practicing Christians do say JFC, Nora. That’s exactly what I’m saying. Lots of Christians curse. Just because someone didn’t have it drilled into their brains as young children to not take the Lord’s name in vain, doesn’t make them any less of a Christian than anybody else. My mother told me growing up that if God meant for you to have pierced ears then He would have given you pierced ears. Now, that’s just silly. But that’s probably what many of her generation thought. You got pierced ears, Nora? How would you like someone saying you can’t be a practicing Christian with pierced ears? You would likely think that person had a screw loose. Well, the same applies for cursing or saying JFC. We don’t police other’s religiosity. You gotta get out there.
This discussion is getting pretty far off track of the original post. If you all wish to have a discussion of Christian practice, please do it somewhere other than on this forum. In addition, while I’m not the moderator, I am aware that personal attacks are not permitted and this is getting very close to that territory.
Agreed. I am going to begin to pull comments if this continues.
It won’t help them to get out of their house because they’re only interacting with other white people who think the same as them anyways
Who are “they”? Why are you assuming things about others based on the color of their skin? That’s the very definition of bigotry.
I think some of the comments here are hilarious and offensive. Did I read these comments right? Is someone comparing a Pulitzer Prize winning author Pearl S. Buck to Davis? I mean seriously, Davis? Have yal lost your ever loving minds? For context, I’m in my fifties, white, female and a mom from Atlanta, Georgia. I am old enough to know that the only way a woman college educated in California could characterize Chinese women as Davis did is if that woman never had a best friend of Chinese origins, not in the 1990s my friends. Or maybe she never attended her kids PTA meetings, never had kids on a swim team, any team sports, basically that author would have had to live their life as a shut-in to think this was okay. Some of you are arguing procedural issues. That’s fine, but the narrowly lived reality that you are trying to pass off to us readers as somehow authentic is ludicrous. I am so entirely tried of other white women who seemed to have lived life as shut-ins trying to pass off their bigoted, small lives as somehow reflective of society, and especially me, as a middle aged white woman myself. You people trying to make the argument that this was a book written over twenty years ago and then released again in 2014 or whenever need to get real. I lived in California in the 1990s. The only way you could have lived there at that time and have written what Davis wrote is if in fact you basically never associated with or interacted with any women of Asian descent. To imply otherwise is revisionist history. And to release the book again in 2014, again I just don’t see how the author ever has had any meaningful relationship with anyone of Chinese origins. This is just beyond ignorance and arrogance and bordering on delusional. Just my two cents as a middle aged white woman in her fifties currently living in the South, yal. I’m just thinking that there must be a lot of shut-ins in the RWA for this hogwash to fly.
Sorry, but I lived in California from 1998 to 2018 and there are entire swaths of the state where it’s unlikely one would run into a person of Chinese heritage. It’s actually beyond ignorance and arrogance to assume that a state as large and diverse as California is exactly the same as whatever area you visited once.
You’ve said a lot of…things.
If you lived in California and are familiar with the entirety of the state, as many of us here are, you wouldn’t have made such a silly statement — a demonstrably false statement.
Nothing wrong with me. Calm down.
We have, using (with her permission) Tweets from Elyssa Patrick, put together a storefront of all the books authors have pulled from 2019 RITA consideration. If you want to support those authors by buying their books, here’s a way to do so. All money raised from these sales (AAR gets 4%) will be donated to whatever comes after RWA.
Thank you for doing this. Makes it easy for readers and I appreciate that
Thanks so much for the link Dabney. I have been looking for new books since so many of my regularly read authors have landed now on my no-buy list due to their resounding silence the last two weeks.
The almost 250 authors who are on our list are a diverse bunch. They all deserve to be read! We are adding more every hour. We are also planning to donate any affiliate income we make from this storefront–we are waiting to see where is the best place we can support authors disenfranchised by RWA.
I saw today that Diana Biller has taken her lovely debut novel, The Widow of Rose House, out of RITA consideration.
Just bought it, thanks! I feel so bad for these authors who are giving up a cherished hope of seeing their hard work rewarded, in order to stand for a principle.
Added it to our list. Thanks.
We will be donating all the affiliate income raised by the sale our our #NoRitas storefront to We Need Diverse Books. Our first donation goes through today: 85.00!
Anyone want to talk about the newest information to come to light?
There was no contract. She lied!! She changed her book when someone talked to her “politely.”
If you’re only willing to hear truth when it’s presented to you in a way that you deem acceptable . . . Wow.
I’d like to hear if anyone’s opinion has now been changed. Seriously if anyone still feels like Davis is the injured party here then I have questions.
Also if the “Twitter Mob” hadn’t applied so much pressure, I highly doubt that Davis would have come forward with the truth. So thank goodness for Twitter. RWA has a mess to clean up
Thanks for sharing the article. My sympathy for Ms. Milan hasn’t changed, but now I’m feeling uneasy around Davis.
This is getting twistier and twister by the minute.
Interesting that Davis is buckling under the pressure and pointing fingers, as if this weren’t at least partially her idea.
Interestingly too, from Beckett’s interview Davis sounds like she’s admitting that her book is in fact a racist, f…ing mess, but she just needed someone to explain it to her calmly! :)
“Meanwhile, Davis said she had decided to make some changes to the novel Milan had criticized, Somewhere Lies the Moon, and that she has republished edited ebook versions.
“Some people have contacted me and have told me calmly what it was that offended them, and it was very few things, and I have corrected those things,” she said.”
I know I don’t appreciate being castigated, especially publicly. It just makes me more resistant.
“Tone policing” is a well known derailment tactic when people can’t refute the substance and instead claim that the tone was wrong.
Just as accusations of “tone policing” are used to derail and chill speech, etc. Works both ways.
Truth is that professional writers who are supposedly offering a professional critique of another writer’s work should be able to do better than spewing forth a bunch of obscenities and loads of exclamation points, and should find a forum outside of Twit-twit-twitter to express that professional criticism.
I’m so thankful for CM’s review and her method. Otherwise, how long would it have been before the rotten core of RWA was exposed? So telling that some people would rather complain about curse words than racism and a corrupt organization. I’m so proud of all of those using Twitter to raise voices that RWA has successfully silenced in the past.
I’m thankful too for Milan’s review. As a reader, I do want to know if a book puts forth racist tropes. I don’t want to waste my money and time on racist substance. That’s why I read reviews and why I come to sites like AAR or SBTB, and it’s why I follow reviewers and authors on Twitter. I’m proud too of Twitter users; they are having an impact in interrupting racism. This episode shone the light successfully on RWA, and listening now to all the authors stepping forward with their stories reveals even more.
Many of us realized years and years ago that RWA had lost it’s way and was no longer focusing on it’s mission. The “rotten core” of RWA was being discussed decades ago, seriously. There’s an entire generation of writers who ditched RWA a long time ago. Nothing new there.
Meh, Twitter — you don’t see Michael Connelly or Lee Child sniping at people on Twitter.
I have lost a ton of respect from romance authors I used to read because of Twitter and FB. and social media has been far more instrumental in spreading disinformation, outright lies and divisive propaganda than anything else.
*for, not from romance authors…
Being resistant to truth when it’s presented in a way you don’t find appealing is not something to be proud of. Life doesn’t always give you truth in ways you like, but you should always be willing to listen and learn.
KesterGayle – Being a public writer, producing books for profit for public consumption, means that you are by definition putting your text in the vulnerable position of being critiqued. That is what this site — AAR — is for. It reviews the good, the bad, and the ugly – or hopefully it does! It’s not uncommon for books here to receive terrible reviews. And if racist content is evident and the reviewer can show persuasively that it exists, I would want to know as a reader. Time and money are precious resources to all of us. I don’t really care if an author felt criticized, or if she needed her racism explained to her kindly, because the main point is that she produced a racist text, denied it was a racist text, instigated complaints about a reviewer of her racist text, and backpeddled and agreed that her text is in fact a little bit racist. There are so many ways Davis could have handled the criticism, but I can’t think of a worse way for how she chose to do so.
Blackjack, I understand your argument and it makes sense. I’m just saying that I also understand how Davis might have felt when the twitterverse started jumping on her. I would have been angry and defensive too, even if I was totally in the wrong. Literary critique is one thing, mob justice is something else entirely. Davis has clearly retrenched and is trying to change public perception now, and I’m glad she’s admitting that there was no actual contract.
I have no idea why Milan took her critiques to twitter, it seems a poorly thought out idea on the face of it. But, perhaps she felt she had tried literally everything else and that her point was imperative. We will likely never know. A blog, or a Facebook page, or just a press release seems like a better option here, but I’m not on social media, so what do I know?
There are (at least) 2 sides to this story, and two hurt and angry people at the heart of it. I’m only saying that we would do well to try to understand those two human beings rather than excoriate them.
As for the RWA, I think they probably need to fold up their tent and go home. Let someone else take on this task. They would have to do better; they could not possibly do worse.
I know that I post reviews on Goodreads, Edelweiss, and Netgalley (who posts mine on Amazon) and they are all open to the public to read. I openly discuss race, gender, sexuality, class, etc. in my reviews if those are issues in the writing I’m reviewing. I don’t though have the same negative views of Twitter that some others do here, and so it doesn’t bother me that Milan pointed out racism in a text on Twitter as opposed to pointing out racism in a text on Facebook. The bigger problem is racism and I believe it should be called out. Staying silent and not calling racism out is so much more of a problem in our society. I also don’t think the point is to engage in character assassination of an author (any author) because for me it is the writing that is the issue. The posts I read from Milan discussed only the text itself, and they were persuasive.
I’ve followed Milan for years on social media and she has written extensively about her efforts to make RWA more inclusive. I tend to think that current leadership of RWA should resign and make diversity and inclusivity its primary goal going forward.
She could’ve easily avoided this mess by saying “hey, this book was written years ago, my attitudes changed long ago, I’ll withdraw this and rewrite it for republication.”
Instead she doubled down, which is always a bad idea.
She still hasn’t apologized. She admits lying but refuses to say I’m sorry. Honestly, my 3 year old knows this behavior would get him some serious consequences. I have zero sympathy for her
That’s what makes her deflection so mindblowing. “If I put enough blame on someone else I’ll never have to apologize” is also a bad look.
I found it incredibly helpful to read both the complaints AND CM’s responses to those complaints, as getting the full picture changed my mind on what went down. Getting an accurate timeline of what actually was said by all parties and when it was discussed was enlightening, especially since CM’s comments about the republished book came at the end of an extremely interesting conversation about how easy it is for editors and book buyers to manipulate the books that were/are published or seen by bookbuyers – the author was to be an acquisitions editor for the publishing company who brought the first complaint. CM did not, out of the blue, pick on this author – she was demonstrating how this person might be a problematic choice for an acquisitions editor. CM also shared that in the past she had been threatened by a male who espoused some of the same hurtful commentary she found in the republished book.
Words matter. They shape and define our world, our beliefs and our actions, as well as the worlds, beliefs and actions of those who interact with us.
Notably, the most interesting words that I’ve NOT yet read from RWA are “I’m sorry.” Those words should have been the lede in every tweet, letter, post, and email they have sent out since this debacle, but they are conspicuously absent in every missive.
Since no proof of actually losing a contract has been provided, I have to wonder at the lawsuits that may end up against the author herself. A huge mess has been created which looks to be based on lies and hurt white lady feelings when pointing out racism. Milan has been treated abominably by the RWA and they should never have gotten involved with comments made on social media. If there was a libel case to be had against Milan about the racist passages it should have been between the author and Milan directly. But since it seems pretty obvious that there was nothing libellous said, this is more of a case of not wanting to be called out as racist. For all the accusations of being snowflakes against the left side of the spectrum, this sure seems like the other side exhibiting the behaviour they so often blame the SJW and woke side of doing.
I really don’t think there are two sides to this either. The longer the story goes on and more evidence comes out, the more obvious it is that certain privileged white ladies couldn’t handle valid criticism and had to pull a Karen and tell the manager. And the RWA got involved in something they should have avoided, which will probably destroy this organization for good. It’s hit mainstream now and looks really unprofessional.
I think the Disrespected White Ladies realized very quickly that suing Courtney wouldn’t fly. Whether you agree or not, what Courtney did was bog-standard literary criticism, easily covered by the first amendment and it’s fair-use exceptions. So instead of realizing that their rights were not violated, they threatened to sue Milan’s professional association if it didn’t censure her – and completely misjudged the level of force either side would be able to apply.
Yes, I agree that Milan’s interpretations of the romance novel are definitely standard literary critique and she did a persuasive job pointing to some salient passages to make her point. I’m always pleased when a person uses evidence to back up claims. I agree too that the ongoing backlash has caught RWA and its supporters by surprise. As the organization implodes I have a difficult time imagining a way forward for it that includes diversity. And if it tries to go forward satisfied with excluding minority groups, in today’s culture that’s a fast track to irrelevance at best and loathing at worst.
How is “disrespected white ladies” not racist…? Explain.
looking at both the original RWA report on the complaints and their subsequent 12/30 statement, I fully expect that RWA leadership intended this as laying the groundwork for taking action against other RWA members’ social media posts on the grounds of “ethics”.
From the original report: “Of the accusation that Ms. Milan violated Section 15.9.1(Repeatedly or intentionally engaging in any other acts of a violent, harassing [as defined in 184.108.40.206]or intimidating conduct that objectively threaten a member’s career, reputation, safety or well being. Specifically excluded from this section are exchanges of business information, true statement personal disagreements, honest discussions of books, non-RWA operated social media posts, and marketing materials),the committee finds with Ms. Milan, as it is presently unable to adjudicate postings on social media not operated by RWA. However, the committee was also made aware that Ms. Milan served on the Board when this exception was approved, and very likely understood she would be able to act in the manner she did, without being in violation of the code.”
From the 12/30 Board and staff statement: “Our members have strong opinions, which we applaud. But when expressed inappropriately, and in some cases far worse, by our organizational leadership – past and present – these can result in personal and financial harm to members. Other members have inappropriately shared personal and/or private information which has legal consequences and has resulted in members feeling threatened, exposed, and unsafe. This is unacceptable behavior. As writers we know more than most, words have consequences.”
They didn’t do much of anything right and it certainly seems from the large number of Board resignations that whoever came up with the stratagem didn’t give the entire Board all of the information it needed to resolve the complaint against Milan.. They seem to have totally underestimated the social media attention and backlash this action would engender.. But it would not surprise me at all to see whatever remains of the RWA Board attempting to revise the policy on social media statements. so that talking about racism and other problems has more consequences than engaging in actual racist behavior. Complaints about the latter have been swept under the rug by staff before according to reports. Nothing in the recent RWA statements shows any signs of that being recognized as a problem.
I have barely been aware of RWA over the last few decades, but even I knew that there has been an ongoing problem with inclusivity in the organization. In particular writers of color, LGBTQ+ writers, and the works they produce have suffered from these exclusions and that is profoundly troubling. It’s way past time for everyone to have a place at the table. Falling back on bylaws, mass resignations, and calling in arbiters are steps that are hardly likely to be helpful. Transparency is what is required if RWA ever wants the trust of its members or romance readers again. Or even to survive as an organization. They need to peel back the layers, let the public see what happened step-by-step, and open the doors to romance writers of every background.
Some apologies and a good housecleaning wouldn’t hurt either.
“How does coercing and manipulating people, including people from the very marginalized groups Milan claims to be fighting for, to resign from RWA help anyone?”
These are adults who have minds of their own. No one was “manipulated” or “coerced.” Perhaps, just perhaps, those who resigned did so because they were fed up with the RWA and this is the action they chose to show solidarity, based upon what they’d gone through with an org, which now promises to “do better” after years of complaints.
There is a sad history of some, and I stress some, in the RWA (in its local chapters as well as the national organization) dismissing, ignoring, being . . . dare I say it? RACIST to some authors and their works. Many of the tweets from authors of color and other marginalized groups stated their personal experiences, as well as some white authors tweeted what they’d witnessed at RWA events that shocked and saddened them. You can read accounts on Twitter or Facebook, or even Google the articles and blogs., which is what I chose to do.
And yes, industry professionals are witnessing this. A few are even chiming in to give their support.
Seems to me that this is bigger than Courtney Milan, and that’s what those still in control of the RWA fail to grasp.
I agree that this is absolutely far bigger than one writer on Twitter. It’s also far bigger than just what’s happening online. I think what we are _not_ seeing will ultimately be far more impactful and important going forward than what people are seeing in their social media or on blogs.
I’ve pulled several comments for personal attacks.
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Really appreciated Lynn’s write-up and how seriously people
are engaging with this topic. I remain surprised by those that do not understand and have empathy for people who have experienced racism and as a result are passionate about the subject especially when it’s a force that affects their work. It’s also truly amazing that civil rights leader quotes are still being ripped out of context to support color blindness rather than as a commentary on the emotional and social damage wrought by institutionalized racism. And this notion of agency boggles my mind. That CM apparently has all of it in inflicting the mob on RWA and Suede/Davis/Tisdale, but former RWA members have no agency and must go along? All of these authors of color are apparently animated by CM’s invective and not just plain infuriated by this organization’s machinations? That’s giving CM too much credit. I for one think if as readers we have strong enough opinions to write about this from the sidelines I can only imagine how the authors involved would feel and want to respond. And I would think using Twitter as a platform to dialogue seems more appropriate than mobilizing the ethics process in a professional organization to posture politically and settle grudges.
In a related topic about cyber bullying, I don’t think it makes sense to use CM as some rhetorical stand-in for cancel culture either. She’s talking about something that happened to her personally and so are many other authors. It’s precisely because certain groups of people can do actual harm through institutions that social media platforms, even with its vices, can be useful for marginalized voices.
“It’s precisely because certain groups of people can do actual harm through institutions that social media platforms, even with its vices, can be useful for marginalized voices.”
I think what has happened in some cases, and I believe in this case, is that actual harm done via social media platforms is just as damaging, if not more so, than the harm that has been done among some institutions by the dominating group.
There are tons of issues with using social media to air grievances or to target perceived offenders. Rarely are all sides heard, rarely is there any fair, reasoned, professional discussion of these grievances. No one has all the facts, but everyone is convinced they are right and everyone else is wrong. Also, I read some of the tweets from Milan and her buddies on Twitter and they’re just plain embarrassing. These are grown women, professional women — writers! — speaking about (and purportedly for) an industry sector that has struggled to earn respect and fair play from the industry mainstream. Can’t they do better than this?
It’s easy to get caught up in the emotional intensity of the moment on Twitter and jump on the bandwagon, but do people not realize that industry professionals are witnessing this? In the long run, is this a positive thing for romance, or is it going to set things back to where non-traditional romance will be relegated to small indie houses? How did smashing RWA to bits help anyone? How does coercing and manipulating people, including people from the very marginalized groups Milan claims to be fighting for, to resign from RWA help anyone?
Call me an old fuddy-dud if you like, make sneering comments about pearl-clutching, etc., but I still believe that respect is earned and if you don’t treat others, even those with whom you disagree, with respect, you’re probably not going to get it back in return. If your go-to approach is sneering, condescending, obscenity-laden tweets, you’re going to lose a lot of respect and your snarky little Twitter echo chamber is going to be cold comfort in the long run.
RWA’s most recent missive on the matter:
The writing here is quite vague on what might be considered an ethical violation, and it would be difficult to be a member of such an organization if a person didn’t know what they could or could not say about a work of literature from another writer online or elsewhere. That seems to be the main issue in this ;letter. Is an author permitted to critique a romance novel if her critique potentially causes damage to another author’s reputation? I’m not a lawyer and hesitate to say what RWA can legally mandate, but it seems to me very dangerous to censor members from commenting negatively on a literary work of other members. At least RWA acknowledge that their rules are unclear and in need of outside professional help. If I were a romance author right now, I would be wary of belonging to RWA while they are still in such disarray.
I’m amazed that they’re doubling down on what they’ve said, but I shouldn’t be.
Of all of the terrible takes the RWA has had about this matter, doubling down is the worst.
Honestly, it truly would have been better if RWA leadership had not responded until after the holidays were over and people were back to regular working hours and they had the full attention of all involved parties and legal resources. I think they’re scatter-shot responding in the moment because they feel they have to. But, as I said below, that’s one of the issues with all this going down on Twitter — the immediacy and the perceived need to respond ASAP are not serving anyone well here.
I did just edit one comment which was clearly a personal attack on another commenter. All are welcome to share what they believe here but we will not allow personal attacks.
Oh, and I want to thank AAR for leaving this comment section for for discussion from everyone! There are some other forums that have shut commenting, deleted comments they don’t agree with.
We don’t delete anything other than personal attacks. We believe strongly that discussion is key to moving forward on the tough issues society faces. Again, thanks to ALL for the reasonable tone of this thread.
I have to say, I struggle to see how comments denying the rise of anti-semitism while at the same time implying that Courtney Milan and her “Twitter mob” are trying to control people’s thoughts and suppress their speech are “key to moving forward on the tough issues society faces”. These two things are not the same. And I don’t think it is helpful to provide a platform for people repeating unsubstantiated claims without a moderator stepping in and at least making clear that the comment needs to be considered with at least a grain of salt.
I appreciate that you want to provide a place where people can talk freely, but – to be fair, this might be me speaking from my liberal bubble, but there is no such thing as racism against white people. And a society that dismisses the rise of anti-semitism is a dangerous place to be in. Some of the comments here actually scare me.
As a drive-by science fiction reader, I actually encourage people to disregard the MadGeniusClub in its entirety. They’re a blog associated with the Sad Puppies – a group of mad white sci-fi authors and readers who tried to subvert the voting for the Hugo Awards because too many women, people of color, LGBTQ+ folks, and assorted others not writing right-wing military sci-fi were getting nominated for the top English language sci-fi awards. It was real sad to see the tantrum thrown ruin several years of Hugo voting, until the BOD adjusted the rules to minimize the impact of slate voting.
Sorry if I described it wrong Caz, his twitter page describes him as a homoerotic and shenanigans romance writer
Oh, no worries. I admit I didn’t check the webpage, I just went by the couple of books of his I’ve read!
I recommend people read the post on MadGenuisClub which is another take on the entire situation. From what I’ve seen, Davis’ writing wasn’t racist, but actually historically accurate and possible. It’s a fiction book, but people are allowed to interrupt books however they want. People can be triggered by anything. It isn’t our right to tell people what they can and cannot write and how they should write it. There are hundreds of racists, triggering text out there. Just go look at the horror genre! Courtney didn’t post about the book out of the goodness of her heart, no she did it b/c she didn’t like Davis or the publishing company she works for. She went out of her way to find something controversial and get people to rally together against Davis. Should Davis change her text? No. There are many old school bodice ripper authors that have not neutered their work. That’s like changing history, censoring themselves and history. Courtney Milan is suppose to be a professional yet she is always on twitter attacking other writers in the community she works in. Instead of creating a community for authors of all backgrounds to come together she continually points out things to tear the community apart. She hasn’t done anything to help the community. Being loud and voice doesn’t do anything. Actions speak louder. She was fired from being ethics chair because of her actions and behaviors and then criticize the ethics community she was the one who helped built.
Thank you very much for writing this post. You are far more diplomatic and articulate than I am, and have really hit the nail on the head.
There are a lot of people like Courtney Milan in the world, those who tirelessly point out things to criticize rather than looking for common ground or even saying, “You know, I found this book offensive because (insert reason). But here’s a book I recommend instead.” But if I may give Ms. Milan credit for one thing, she is a prolific writer in her own right. A lot of people who tear others down don’t work in the field, which I think makes it even worse. Nonetheless, I think your assessment of her “attacking” behavior is spot on.
I really think there is an interesting spectrum. On one end, you have people who are just itching to start fights- whether on Twitter or in a barroom. And on the other end, you have people who are sitting around itching, *waiting* to be offended by something so they can call it out- not do anything productive about it, just call it out and encourage others to be as offended as they are and gang up on the supposed offender. I know I have the unfortunately personality flaw of being closer to the “Bring it on, baby!” side of that spectrum. But even I have had enough of this conversation.
As for me, this is my VERY LAST POST on this thread. I am beginning to feel like one of those clichéd movie boxers who has blood streaming down his face but keeps begging the coach for one more round. But now, I’m throwing in the towel. If I don’t, I won’t be able to move on to other topics I’d like to explore- elsewhere.
Thank you everyone, including L., for writing such insightful posts that really help show what’s going on in the writing world. I know this is not a popularity contest, but I am pleased that so many have given me happy faces and written solid arguments that support some of the things I have been saying.
Thank you also to those who disagree with me. It has been a fascinating, challenging few days that has worked my brain on overdrive. The commenters at AAR are a pretty smart, informed, and articulate bunch.
In the meantime, I’ve got to get back to work. There’s an audience out there somewhere waiting to read my next naughty story.
Warm regards to everyone at AAR,
Nan De Plume
Thank you and all who have argued here for being so well-behaved. We at AAR believe deeply in the right of everyone to speak their truth–Ms. Milan included!–and it’s been educational to read all the perspectives here.
Nan De Plume,
Thank you for arguing your points respectfully! I feel like so many people in this situation jumped the gun when they saw ‘racist book’ and Courtney Milan tweeting. No one actually stopped to think and look at the facts. People are merging the words racism, prejudice, and white supremacy, white privilege, etc all into one like they all mean the same thing. I found it appalling that Courtney Milan is suppose to be an educated lawyer yet called a historical fiction/romance book racists when not only did she only read a preview and not the whole book, but also a book written 20 years ago, but went onto twitter to attack the book of a fellow peer when in fact the a represented real situations Chinese women have faced in history. The blue eyes thing was over the top and Courtney overanalyzed it because Asians can have blue eyes. It’s just rare. People give Courtney Milan too much power in the romance community. She has ruined a lot of people’s careers and contributed to cancel culture. Nora Roberts came out with a nice post, an apology post, but did she have to do that? No. I felt like she was pressured to because of politicalization of the romance community CM is making it into. Should every author apologize for books they wrote in the past featuring forced seduction, ‘toxic masculinity’, heroine’s who actually want to get married and not own their own orphan shelter? No. Culture changes through the years and crazy how much it has changed in the last year where everything has become so politicalized. This situation I hope open the eyes of a lot of people to educate themselves on politics (both sides) and not immediately contribute cancel culture and mob mentality.
MLK “…they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” This obsession with pointing out differences in race, sex etc is dividing people more. No one should get special privileges for whatever skin they have. That is racism. Saying you can’t speak because you are white or you are not female. That is racism. Saying Chinese women weren’t educated and submissive in history? That is not racism. The term POC in itself is racist. ‘people of color, women of color’ is putting them in a box and not just calling them a human being, a person. Color does not define anyone, but your character does. CM’s actions, speak about her character.
Sorry went on a rant. The whole situation is frustrating.
“Nora Roberts came out with a nice post, an apology post, but did she have to do that? No. I felt like she was pressured to because of politicalization of the romance community CM is making it into.”
Seriously? This is hilarious. You think anyone in the romance community–or the entire romance community–could pressure Nora Roberts into doing anything she doesn’t want to? NR is more successful that CM or anyone else could dream of being. She could lose half her readership and still make more money than at least half the industry alone.
Her statement was entirely in character and her history shows she was standing up to RWA bigotry long before Nice White Ladies started whining about “Cancel Culture.” But you disagree with what she said, so she must have been pressured into it? Uh huh.
This sorely needs to be called out. Let’s see if I can do so gently enough, since, as we have all learned from this mess, calling out racism is only appropriate if one is nice about it.
“The term POC in itself is racist. ‘people of color, women of color’ is putting them in a box and not just calling them a human being, a person. Color does not define anyone, but your character does. CM’s actions, speak about her character.”
No, it is not racist for non-white individuals to use the terms “people of color,” “women of color” or “authors of color” to describe themselves, or for allies when discussing the very real issues those individuals face for being non-white.
If everyone was just a human being, then an RWA chapter wouldn’t have paid its black women speakers half of what it paid its white women speakers, and RWA would have responded to the ethics complaint about that instead of burying it. (But when white women complained about a non-white woman saying mean things on Twitter, boy, they rushed that complaint through–and changed their own rules to do so!). What you’re attempting to do is called erasure. Saying people shouldn’t mention race is saying no one should acknowledge some people are mistreated because of their race–because acknowledging that would be the “real” racism. (“Well, some women just happened to be paid half what other women were at that RWA chapter! There’s no possible reason for that, because mentioning that it was black women who were paid less would be the ‘real’ racism–not them being paid less!”) It’s a neat trick, trying to change the definition of racism by saying non-white people want “special treatment” for their race (ignoring all the instances where white people get “special treatment” for their race). No, they want equal treatment. At the very least, they want to not be mistreated, and so many stories that have come out as a result of this have shown that many, MANY non-white people on both the national and local RWA level and in the romance industry have been treated differently–which is to say, poorly–compared to white members. Pointing that out is not racism.
Thank you, NT, for addressing this nonsense. Racism puts people in a box; acknowledging that racism exists, does not. People of color are people of color and can self-identify in any terms they choose.
Color blind ideology is erasure. The Atlantic Monthly had a good article on this a few years ago: https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/09/color-blindness-is-counterproductive/405037/
Clearly, the protests from people of color and their allies unsettle many and strategies to silence them continues. It won’t work, as history has shown us.
I didn’t think L’s post was worth replying too, but now that (s)he’s actually been thanked for it, it needs to be pointed out that it’s composed of half-truths and outright lies. Milan wasn’t fired as ethics chair; she was asked to resign as chair by the outgoing president for the purposes of this ethics claim. That president, HelenKay Dimon, explained what happened on Twitter (natch) yesterday: https://twitter.com/helenkaydimon/status/1211369882358435840 And, oh by the way, Dimon is fully supporting Milan on this and has called out RWA’s actions.
It’s very telling that Milan’s critics have to rely on falsehoods to support their claims.
Okay, thanks for clarification that being asked to resign and being fired are two completely different things. Obviously. HelenKay Dimon made that post to save face, cover herself from attacks before it got out that she asked Milan to leave her position and she even stated it that it was because of Milan’s behavior. Milan as head of Ethics wasn’t acting like one and going on a public form ranting about her positions on subjects they were still discussing. HelenKay feared people would think the committee had reached a decision when they have not based on Milan’s very public opinons on it and being head of Ethics.
I just want to add the some of these apologies like from HelenKay Dimon and Nora Roberts is really telling about the mob mentality and cancel culture of this situation and that the fact apologies of whatever you wrote and did or did not do in the past will give you some leniency with Courtney Milan’s supporters. HelenKay didn’t need to apologize for asking Milan to leave. She did so in a respectful manner and had a reasonable reason for asking her to leave her position.
@L: I read the passages Milan examined and I read her interpretation of the racial representations of Asian American women and did find them to be racist. The author put forth stereotypes that reinforces negative views of a racial group. Milan did not tell another author what she could or could not write; she pointed out racism, which she as a reader is entitled to do.
Milan’s motivations are not the issue and they are ad hominem attacks on her character. I feel exhausted from saying this but many people posting on this thread really do not seem to understand the distinction between attacking an issue as opposed to attacking a person, and that is a troubling aspect of our culture.
“Should” Davis revise her novel? Well, from an ethical and racially responsible standpoint, I would certainly say yes. Legally, no she is not required to in a democracy. Economically, perhaps, because it sounds as if the reverberations of the accusations of racism are harming her ability to secure contracts and thus, her pocketbook. (Lost contract allegations have been made on this thread, though I haven’t yet seen evidence this is happening.)
As far as how to read books written in the past being, I’m a literature teacher and teach books in their historical context. In the act of reading historical texts, we study history and the texts that emerged out of a particular moment and the issues accompanying those texts all together. So yes, to your example of old school bodice rippers out there, they can best be understood by looking at the period in which they emerged and the cultural mores and attitudes about women at the time. Actually, romance writing is now a course offered as part of the cultural studies/literary bachelor of arts degree. Students can take literature courses that examine bodice rippers, but they do so from a cultural, literary, and historical perspective.
“The author put forth stereotypes that reinforces negative views of a racial group.”
That is not racism. In fact it was portraying the way Chinese women were viewed and treated during the time period which was quite accurate. Stereotyping is not racism. And I am in fact Chinese. ‘Hey you’re asian so you must be good at math!’ that is a stereotype and it is true for me and a lot of Asians but racist? No. I’m Asian and have too good of grades and am held at a higher standard than black students going into Harvard, yes that is racism against blacks and Asians. ‘Hey you’re Asian so you drive bad.” that is also a stereotype. The stereotype that back then Chinese women were more submissive, true? Yes. Can’t read or write? Yes. Even in the 21st century there is still oppression on women and many don’t know how to read or write in not just asian countries.
Never said she wasn’t allowed to point out her views in fact I did she was entitled to and everyone can interpret text the way they can. They way in which Milan went about ‘discussing’ and ‘critiquing’ Davis’ work is entirely part of the equation that is way RWA decided to punish her. The way in which CM acted was unprofessional. She did not have to point out Davis name, or point directly to her text. No, Milan could’ve written a simple tweet on her views about stereotyping Chinese people, given a history lesson with real historical texts without every naming a peer’s book, name, and showing off text. CM always screenshots names, points directly to people instead to the points to makes. She doesn’t highlight the issues, rather highlights the people who she thinks made the wrong statements.
I can’t believe you as a literature would encourage Davis to rewrite her text! That is censoring history. And what has been going on in school teaching about native american history and black history and asian history for years! They even censored HuckFinn for a time. History is uncomfortable and we have to face it and discuss it.
Yes, stereotyping is a form of racism. It can also be a form of denigrating any minority group, including women. Here’s are two easy references (one academic and one popular site) that are pitched at a very basic reading level:
“Overcoming Racial Stereotypes: https://ucc.nd.edu/self-help/multicultural-awareness/overcoming-stereotypes/
“Examples of Racial Discrimination: http://www.ohrc.on.ca/en/examples-racial-discrimination-fact-sheet
As to whether the RWA acted appropriately in punishing Milan is currently up for debate and hardly a settled issue. In fact, it appears today they have retracted their censure of her. AAR Moderator Dabney posted their letter here down-thread. Having read the letter, it looks as if the RWA doesn’t have a clear definition of member conduct for what authors can or cannot say on their own time and on their own private social media accounts. I don’t doubt that Milan is not a favorite person for them, but I doubt legally they can censure her. I’m not a lawyer though and would look to legal counsel on that issue. It sounds as if they are seeking outside help to clear up this fiasco.
You are right that as a literature professor, I would not encourage a writer to rewrite a text, However, if a writer did choose to rewrite a text or reissue an older version for public consumption and chose, for whatever reason, not to address racist content in their re-issue, that re-issued text would be subject to new scrutiny based on the time in which it was re-issued. That is exactly what has happened in this particular Milan/Davis case since Milan’s examination is based on the re-issue. And I absolutely agree that history is uncomfortable and we have to face and discuss it. I do that daily in my work and am happy to do so.
Nora Roberts is such a wise voice, One of the my favorite authors.
Blackjack doesn’t Damon Suede write M/M erotica? As he is now
President there shouldn’t be a problem with Homophobia now surely.
I think Sudee does. I haven’t read his novels but I see them pop up from time to time in reader posts. Roberts points to 2005 as a pivotal moment for her on homophobia in RWA when there was apparently an official definition of romance that excluded any person not heterosexual. I don’t know enough about their current politics on this issue though.
From reading through the threads posted it seems Suede is someone that Milan has a problem with now but was originally a person she herself had introduced to the board (if I am reading them correctly.) I also read on her Twitter she wanted him involved originally as she felt he was a member of an unrepresented group at RWA.
He writes m/m romance novels – I’ve only read a couple but I wouldn’t class them as erotica; they’re on a par with anything else I’ve read in the genre when it comes to steam.
Nora Roberts’ take on this mess is superb and she cites AAR! We are so honored.
Interesting information on the homophobic history of the RWA from Nora Roberts.
I was relatively new to romance reading when RWA made its proclamation that romances = one man/one woman and pretty much wrote them off at that point (easy for me to do, since I’m a reader, not a writer). No attending their conferences, ignoring their awards, whatever.
In fact, that move of theirs is probably when I started reading SM sites like AAR – specifically to find book recommendations from more open-minded readers. But this latest mess clearly shows that just ignoring RWA is not enough, even for readers. I’m not sure what the solution is going to be for writers who want/need a professional organization. But hopefully AAR will keep us informed (since mainstream media – even the publishing industry trades – rarely cover romance publishing with any expertise) so we can support our favorite (and someday favorite) authors.
I don’t really follow RWA or the RITA awards because IMHO it’s been years since they have nominated and recognized authors or books that really are any where near the best. I used to try to read (or at least read reviews) of the nominated books and short stories in various categories but after years of the most mediocre work being chosen -and some of the best being ignored I just gave up. I have no idea who is selecting or what the criteria is, but when you look at the number of great authors I have discovered from AAR or other sources and see NONE of them even nominated year after year there has to be a disconnect.
I recall there was some big shakeup or problem years ago with founding members, Linda Howard and some other online back and forth and outrage over being more inclusive. From what I can tell , even after that, quality hasn’t improved and people still think there isn’t enough inclusivity etc. I don’t follow RWA so I have no basis to make any judgement about that aspect. I can only say from a personal point of view, they lost my interest and respect a while ago when I couldn’t even fathom what they were representing in their awards.
Authors submit their own work for RITA and that is why you don’t see the best of the best there. I feel it’s used more as a marketing tool than as a recognition of excellence.
But years ago I did see authors I think are great being nominated and winning like Joanna Bourne, Susanna Kearsley, Simone St. James. I think Bec McMaster may have won a Golden Heart award. These authors are all still active and writing yet they don’t show up on nomination lists any more. New breakthrough authors like Penny Reid who have made quite a mark on the romance market and world are nowhere to be seen. Lisa Kleypas who is quite active isn’t to be found and she was a staple years ago.
This leads me to believe that these authors are either not submitting their works anymore for consideration (maybe because of unhappiness with the organization?) or the IMHO better works are simply being passed over.
I am going to go with your first option, based on the fact that anyone can submit their own work (as opposed to being nominated by an independent party; can you tell I don’t like this part? ;) ) and also based on a lot of stuff old stuff about RWA that came out in this storm (accounts of solutions that appease certain parties instead of resolving the situation – exactly the way they “solved” the Courtney Milan case).
It’s a sad and disillusioning state of affairs.
Being on the other side of the pond, I don’t think the RITAs have much of an impact here; I’d be surprised if many of us Brits have even heard of them. I do agree with what Sonya says about the award being mainly a marketing tool, and like you, am usually shaking my head at the WTF-ery of the nomination lists each year which rarely include books I’d consider the best of anything.
I also live on your side of The Pond, Caz. Do you know if there a UK equivalent of the RWA? I am aware of the RITAs but award winning books often are a complete mismatch to what I like to read so I don’t take much account of them. And, I agree with you that some of the stuff that does appear on the lists are such rubbish I wouldn’t waste my time or money on them.
I don’t think so, because romance novels are, treated and regarded differently over here. Granted, it’s been a while since I’ve bought a “dead tree” book or been into a bookshop, but I remember the romance section (if there was one) consisting of chick lit and family sagas; you might have found a Stephanie Laurens, Mary Balogh or Julia Quinn book in the fiction section of the local Waterstone’s but that was about it.
Even Amazon (UK) shows me those sorts of books when I get emails about romance novels – it’s a different genre over here!
Thanks for responding, Caz. Yes, it is different in the UKI. When I first arrived here in England 40 years ago from California, I was quite distressed that I could find very little in the way of romantic fiction except for M&B. I even joined their old book club out of desperation to get my “fix” and every time I returned to California for a visit, I returned with a second suitcase filled with findings from my favourite UBS. It was the arrival of Amazon for me in 1999 and the discovery of AAR that same year that opened my eyes to what was going on in the US with a whole raft of new-to-me authors. Bliss! However, it seems that no matter where readers here at AAR are domiciled, we are all caught up in the US-based Twitter frenzy about various issues and we all get (maybe more than) our fill of differing American POVs about them. It would be interesting to have a discussion (in another Ask perhaps), inviting the views of readers living outside of the American Twittersphere and see how their own particular cultural perspectives affect their views on these things including their choices in romantic fiction.
RWA member (for now) here…
Every author knows that once you publish a book, you are inviting evaluation and critique. Reviewers and readers can–and do–say all sorts of things about it. Sure, you can write whatever you want. Just don’t be surprised if someone calls you out for it.
Also, EVERY author I know with more than a few books has some older book(s) she would like to fix–from typos to factual mistakes to plotting changes to outdated attitudes and word choices. The fact that this author chose to reissue the book in 2014 as it is says, to me, that she was A-OK with everything in it. In fact, her complaint affirms that, with the possible exception of giving a half-Chinese child blue eyes (and even then she admits it might be genetically wrong but she still likes it for storytelling purposes).
Racism is racism, even if it’s unwitting or not meant in any “cruel” way. When Lisa Kleypas was recently called out for a part of her story many considered racist, she apologized and asked her publisher to remove or change that section. We all make mistakes. We can all always learn better how to handle them.
And lastly, even if Courtney was the rudest, bitchiest critic alive and her criticism was completely unjust, RWA’s own guidelines give them no right to police her speech on Twitter, a forum independent of RWA. I see a lot of posts here and elsewhere that strongly suggest some (most) of this uproar is a war between Courtney’s fans/friends/followers and people who dislike Courtney and/or her style. This should have nothing to do with who said it. An RWA member raised honestly felt criticism of a book on Twitter, and RWA explicitly excepts ALL OF THAT from its code of ethics. The complaint should have been dismissed from the start on that ground alone.
Given, though, that it WAS Courtney (who received an award from RWA just recently, and was the Chair of their own Ethic Committee), RWA should have bent over backward to do everything by the book, in a manner that the entire board could support even if they dissented from the eventual result. Instead they did pretty much everything wrong, and then fled at the sight of uproar. THAT is what is enraging the membership. We want to know what they did, who signed off on it, and why they did it that way. This was a test of RWA’s policies and procedures being fair and transparent, and they failed miserably. And if it had been their only failure in recent memory, maybe it would have blown over. But on top of member discontent over Dreamspinner Press, other ethics complaints, the RITAs, this is just the last straw. We expect more from the organization that claims to be the voice of romance.
FWIW I don’t personally know Courtney (have met her once or twice in passing) and I don’t think calling a book “a racist f****** mess” is the most, um, objective way to frame a critique, let alone a politic one. Doesn’t matter. NOBODY wants RWA to start monitoring members’ social media or clamping down on discussion of books.
Yes–I find RWA’s action to be far outside their purview.
*I’m on vacation and slowly catching up on this. It’s unbelievable. Thank you so much for putting this together Lynn. It’s made it much easier for me to follow.
**I am not the same Em who commented earlier in this thread.
If Damon Suede resigns, will authors give RWA another chance?
Oh. I have no idea.
An introduction into the members of the board would be a workable PR move. Like Youtube rewind introduced youtubers at the end of their collaborative feeling videos, maybe something faintly similar could work.
I would very much like to read Courtney Milan’s original attack on this book, but it’s not easy to find, even within this above article. Could someone please send the site of her attack?
You could start here:
Here’s the book review tweet thread: https://twitter.com/courtneymilan/status/1165781318875013120
FWIW – here is a copy of Courtney Milan’s response to Tisdale’s complaint as well:
It’s kind of wild to me how many people are talking about whether or not they like Milan, or whether or not she should have worried about this particular book. Questions like that are not germane to the issue of whether or not she was ALLOWED, as per RWA ethics rules, to examine any book or to say unpleasant things.
“I like her” or “I like what she said” is not the standard here.
I think it’s less about liking v. disliking Milan and more about finding her well-documented track record of bullying and manipulating people via Twitter problematic. Hilariously, she is desperately trying to clean up her own gossipy, backstabbing behavior by breathlessly insisting all the stories of the mean things she’s said about her supposed friends are lies, all lies (!!). This all just meangirl nastiness now, dressed up as some big activist moment, or something.
But the point is – even if you see her as a nasty mean girl, there is no rule against being a nasty mean girl. That means that Milan was censured inappropriately. And it turns out that RWA had to violate its own process and bylaws to do it, probably because of the inappropriateness of the censure. So that’s doubly inappropriate. At minimum.
Well at least her potentially actionable little attempt to imply financial improprieties on the part of RWA leadership got slapped down right quick. She thinks she’s protected by that social media exclusion, but she’s not – not in the real, non-Twitter world.
If the current petition to recall RWA’s leadership is successful, what happens to the organization? Again, I have a hard time seeing a big tent group rising from the ashes of this disaster.
Courtney is Chinese American. Courtney has experienced racism due to being Chinese American.
Courtney read a 2014 release that fed the very cultural racism and stereotypes she personally experienced.
Courtney expressed her concern on Twitter a social media outlet that is not covered by RWA rules.
A publisher appealed to RWA and RWA took the side of a publisher over a writer even though RWA is supposed to be a writers organization.
At the same time, the President elect is apparently being still being paid by a publisher who is the subject of complaints for a year or more worth of non payment to other authors who are also RWA members and who also have not been able to get their lack of payment by this publisher i heard by the board of which the president elect is a member.
This same president elect issued a statement revealing he was the liaison to the board from a specially appointed new for this issue only .sub committee or panel replacing the existing ethics committee to hear the publisher vs writer ethics complaint
Considering RWAs long history of advocating for authors as RWA exists to advocate for authors this has caused authors to say what is happening ?
Why is RWA not following Its own policies and procedures?
Those questions deserve an answer .
Excellent summary. Agree 100%.
There are no winners here, only losers. I have little sympathy for Courtney Milan, as she’s a notoriously vicious little bully, but I long ago realized RWA was pretty useless in the long run. I don’t really care how this nets out for either party.
I find the Twitter cancel culture deeply problematic and horribly anti-democratic, anti-American. I don’t know the Davis book, but Milan only looked into the free Amazon sample because she didn’t like Davis’ politics, and she looked into it with the intent of finding something in order to personally harm Davis. She whipped up her Twitter mob and they went in for the kill — over a book written, what?, twenty years ago? That’s shameful. Just shameful.
As stated above – Davis rereleased the book. She made the choice to juxtapose it with modern, more informed works. If her book does not stand up to modern standards, she shouldn’t have re released it or should have revised it.
Milan never said a word about Davis’s political leanings as far as I’ve seen. People were criticizing Sue Grimshaw’s likes, not Davis’s. There were accusations of long-term racism when Grimshaw was gatekeeper for Borders and other companies. Then Tisdale posted that regrettable video defending Grimshaw and claiming the ruckus was about one tweet she liked (not the 700 likes of racist content or the years of accusations for AOCs). Because of that, people started looking at the other acquisition editor at Glenfinnan since both would be gatekeepers at the publishing company in question. Someone found this book, which says it was published in 2014. When Davis republished it, she had the opportunity to re-edit it and update it. It was the 2014 ebook edition that Milan critiqued. It’s sad that you have to twist the facts to support your world view, but that’s exactly what Tisdale and Davis have tried to do as well, but there were too many witnesses and screen shots.
Good Lord your comment reads like it should be in a Junior High School post, We get it, you don’t like CM and think everyone should be able to say whatever racist, harmful thing they want to without accountability. That’s the beauty of cancel culture though, many of us want to spend our money on products/companies that share our values.
I don’t like Milan’s demeanor, no, nor do I like Twitter or cancel culture in general. People who are heralding cancel culture now when it serves their personal grudges may find themselves on the other side of the mob one day and I’m not so sure they’ll wax ecstatic about it then.
The broader issue is what do professional organizations of any stripe do about social media, what policies should they be considering?
More and more companies and organizations are developing clear policy on what individuals can say and do on Twitter while they’re representing a brand or an organization. I think it would be very wise for RWA to sit down with their legal resources and do exactly that.
I largely agree with Milan’s views and so her “demeanor” doesn’t bother me. I also support so-called cancel culture because consumers have a right to endorse and/or purchase products that align with their interests and values. One example where I personally lost out on this is when the Dixie Chicks lost public support because they voiced anti-war sentiment and publicly blamed President Bush. I shared their views and I loved their music and was sad they faded away. However, I still support public right to boycott products. It’s effective and it’s meaningful and it’s our right.
I agree that one of the main issues (racism is still the top one for me) is what rights does an organization have to censor a person’s private social media accounts. A former mentor of mine and tenured professor won a long legal battle with his university after he sued them when they tried to demand he remove content they deemed pornographic from his Facebook page. On 1st Amendment rights, he actually won the lawsuit in the state of Virginia. I don’t know if Milan is going to sue or how this will pan out legally, but I’m definitely curious.
Demeanor is important when it comes to brands and businesses.
Cancel culture is dangerous because it creates fear and division, nothing else. Everyone has their hands over their ears singing la-la-la-la. No one is listening. No one is hearing. No one is extending grace.
We are losing our humanity.
Demeanor is subjective though. Milan has been and is an important, supportive person for underrepresented minorities. Twitter is filled today with appreciative posts from people of color and women voicing respect for her work and thoughts.
What you call cancel culture, I call democracy. Intolerance for difference is tearing our society apart. Watching the news on antisemitism in the U.S. today, for instance, is heartbreaking and a harbinger of more racial, ethnic, minority attacks to come.
Cancel culture is the opposite of democracy. It silences, it chills speech. It’s totalitarianism in nature, not democratic.
Watching news (or the lack thereof, if you’ve truly been following the rise of anti-semetism over the years) on anti-semetic incidents has nothing to do with cancel culture. News reporting is (or should be) a thoughtful, reasoned affair. Facts are gathered. People are interviewed. Editorial and ethical standards are adhered to. If guilty parties are caught, due process is followed.
The news itself is not a harbinger of more division. The division is a symptom of the rise of a new totalitarianism — even a new fascism. When people can have their lives destroyed for thought crimes, we are not talking about democracy any longer. We are talking about a hideous evil we hoped we’d not see rise again.
I have no idea what’s a calm solution to this rather than a passionate solution. I like Courtney Milan and reasoning out PR issues.
Have the OG creator make an apology letter? Redesign old school reprints have a disclaimer like that Song of the South movie? Apologizing for writing a book sounds weird. And not writing the book may have not been an option for the limited info that author had. I just don’t know the backstory for this one writer. I think the common complaint of SJW! is the lack of information and training in stuff like Stereotypes.
I’m race confused, so I can’t help that much.
And the complainant can try asking Baenbooks for looking at their books. I read some weird books on there for free.
One thing authors can try is hiring sensitivity readers – a term that sounds very squishy but which just means you pay someone from a group you are writing about to look over your manuscripts for things you may not know are problematic. A lot of Davis’s comments were “I had no idea this was a problem!” But you are a writer writing about a real place! You owe as much research to China as you do to Almack’s!
I judge less for the mistake and more for what it says about the author that she could not be bothered to invest the time, energy, and money in writing in a way that shows she cares about reception by readers of color.
And of course not all Chinese Americans would have the same view. But she could TRY.
Great point. I am an American Southerner. I don’t know how many times I have seen stereotypical representations of southerners and southern speech that absolutely rings false to me. I do not buy books again from authors who do that. While that is not anywhere near the same thing as being a member of an extremely marginalized group, if I respond negatively to lack of research into southern culture, then marginalized readers absolutely have the right to respond negatively as well. I write grants for a living. I also give workshops on grant writing. One thing I tell attendees is like every other type of writing, KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE and DO YOUR RESEARCH.
Don’t even get me started on the truly appalling stereotypes of the Irish among romance novelists…oy!
Milan self-righteously humiliates people constantly. Who thinks denouncing people for making mistakes does anything helpful? Using social media to wreck others is a oldskool tool used to shut up anyone who doesn’t see the stuff in the “right” way. Milan has the right to say whatever she wishes but lets not pretend she’s not narrow minded and nasty.
Ad hominem argument attacking Milan instead of addressing her critique of the fictional work she examined.
But she didn’t “examine” it. She downloaded a free Amazon sample AFTER she found out she didn’t like the author’s politics, admitted she didn’t even read the entire free sample, just picked a few descriptors and phrases out of context and screeched “racist!!!”.
Pointing out racist representations in a textual passage is an “examination” of a textual passage. In literary terminology, it’s called a “close reading.” It doesn’t matter if a reader bought the passage or got a free sample.
Nora’s point is that she didn’t do it to “examine a textural passage.” She did it because she was looking for ammunition on the author she was arguing with.
In other places this is called “digging up receipts.”
You are posting speculation on Milan and what you perceive to be her motivations – that’s an ad hominem argument. The result of her examination is that the passages of the book she examined are racist. She can “dig” or she can “examine.” The results are that the passages are racist.
If you think I’m making ad hominem attacks (I’m not), why are you engaging with them?
Intent has a lot to do with action. Would she have looked into this person’s history had she not been in an argument with them?
It’s naturally speculation, but logic suggests Nora is right. Millan has a history of doing this. She’s friends with Winter “Requires Hate” Fox, and this behavior is typical of the Twitter cancel culture to which she belongs.
You are making ad hominem arguments because the term means that you are attacking the character or perceived motivations of a person rather than attacking the actual argument or issues. It’s a common strategy. Note that our current U.S. president does it routinely. There is a reason why logical fallacies are taught in the first weeks on English 101 in college and it is because writers should understand the distinction between substantive arguments that require verifiable evidence to support assertions on an issue as opposed to opinions or character assassinations. Nothing you have posted her yet goes beyond an attempt to attack a person rather than engage substantively with any of the issues posted.
Sorry, this is a blog about a romance novel controversy, not a tort requiring I “engage substantively” with the text I’m being given as if this is a college course and not another public discussion of a Milan Tantrum.
The RWA was incorrect in their course of action and has a serious racism problem. But Milan is still Milan and will always be Milan.
Yes, you are correct that this blog is about a controversy over fiction. Part of this blog is about how a reader responded to passages in a novel that included racist representations. Your posts deviate from the issues to focus on how you feel about the person who examined the texts, which is an ad hominem argument. Ad hominem arguments are invalid because they are considered logical fallacies. They are socially harmful because they engage in character assassination and lead people to believe that if you attack the person rather than the issue, you have presented a cogent explanation. You have not.
The filed complaint includes Milan’s tweets in which she states she expressly targeted Davis’ book because Davis (not at all part of the original Tisdale/Grimshaw situation) was also listed as an editor at Glenfinnan. It’s not ad hominem to point that out in the context of this situation.
“An ad hominem argument is often a personal attack on someone’s character or motive, rather than an attempt to address the actual issue at hand. This type of fallacy is often witnessed in debates in courtrooms and politics. Often, the attack is based on a person’s social, political, or religious views.”
I know what an ad hominem argument is. I am pointing out that when someone accurately describes the timeline and motivation behind an incident, that is not ad hominem. It’s correctly pointing out context.
@Nora – Milan’s motives, real or imagined, are not relevant to her interpretation of racism in a text. Note that alluding to “motives” is considered a logical fallacy. See the dictionary definition above and note the word “motive.” It cannot be clearer.
No. When the topic being argued is the actual motivation, pointing out the actual motivation is not ad hominem.
Providing factually accurate evidence for one’s argument is not ad hominem.
You’re quite wrong.
I teach rhetorical strategies and Aristotle’s classical logic in college writing courses and speculating on or alluding to a person’s motivations as evidence when formulating an argument is not considered logical reasoning. I see that you are doubling down on this but you only offer your opinion. Opinion is not evidence. I would love to see you cite a credible source to prove that a person’s “motivations” is valid argumentation for discrediting their argument.
For example, Courtney Milan could have had every evil motivation under the sun to motivate her to examine racism in a romance novel, and it would not speak to the issue of racism in the evidence she uncovered.
As I said originally, Milan’s own twitter thread on Davis’ work included her motivations — she stated that Davis was the OTHER editor listed at Glenfinnan, therefore she went through the free Amazon sample of one of Davis’ books and so forth. That’s her own stated motivation behind an action we are discussing. The topic is Milan being censured by RWA for actions not in keeping with RWA ethics code. Pointing out that she sought out an author to rip to pieces because of that author’s affiliations is an appropriate argument to make in this case.
I’m curious as to why you continue to discuss your credentials — am I supposed to be impressed? Concede because you claim to have certain credentials? Does having those credentials make you de facto right…in this discussion of logical fallacies, no less…?
@Nora – If you have a credible source to support your assertion that attacking a person’s motivations is grounds for logical argumentation and not ad hominem, please provide it. I would love to see this.
That’s not the topic. The topic is Milan’s behavior, which is about what her motivations were in targeting an author, as well as how she attacked that author.
You say pointing out motivation is always an ad hominem argument.
That’s not true.
When motivation _is_ the topic, it’s supportive argument.
If the motivation behind her behavior was not part and parcel of the complaints filed against her, and if she herself had not stated her motivation quite clearly, then _speculating_ about her motivation would not be appropriate argument.
Making a mistake isn’t humiliating. We all make mistakes. It’s how you act after you’ve received correction/criticism that shows who you are.
If by “right” way, you mean not racist than yes, not being racist is the right way.
Are the comments usually like this here? So many quick to be so dismissive of valid concerns and issues with so much proof. Even if you don’t love Twitter, I encourage you to join and read the details
You may notice it’s pretty much the same people posting a lot Bunny Planet tried a similar comment up thread and nobody bit on it so she came down here to try again.
You’re right that she doesn’t owe me an explanation (not that I was asking for one). But as I have said many times on this thread, my problem is that this kerfuffle has allegedly cost an author a three-book deal. *This* is what I have a problem with. And if it weren’t for this issue, I wouldn’t give two hoots about what Ms. Milan had to say, what the RWA was doing, etc.
Maybe the author’s book wasn’t profitable given public denunciation of racist stereotyping? Capitalism is a rough business.
“Maybe the author’s book wasn’t profitable given public denunciation of racist stereotyping?” Either that, or the publisher is giving into an extremely vocal minority view rather than what a big chunk of readers might actually buy.
“Capitalism is a rough business.” No kidding! On this we absolutely agree.
Or even white people are fed up with racism and don’t want the product. I like my reality better.
Maybe the publication agrees that the authors views are racist and therefore don’t want to be associated with her?
Did it occur to you that the publisher read the criticisms of a recently re-issued book and decided that that author was not a fit for their organization? If that is so, the kerfuffle did not cost her the book contract, her own writing did? I assume that she had not already signed a contract or that there existed a clause that allowed the publisher to retract the offer based on certain criteria. The author chose to fight the criticism instead of agreeing to re-work the book. The consequences of that are loss of readership.
Good explanation, Lynn! I have some quick thoughts on this fiasco.
What. a deeply American story this is right now. White people in power censure a person of color for calling out racism. And then sit back in shock as their house burns down.
Apparently, for some, calling out racism is worse than actual…racism.
It occurs to me that white people could reflect, apologize, pledge to do better. But no, destroying yourself and your organization seems to make more sense.
Identifying racism in a text is an act of literary interpretation and texts are not sacrosanct objects safe from criticism.
The energy and excitement in romance writing today is diversity-centric. A radically inclusive writer’s guild is needed, finally, to support these authors.
Twiiter and other public spaces where people have the ability to voice their ideas is clearly threatening to many whose world views are being challenged. This includes both the right and the left. Twitter I see sometimes defined as a lefty space, but Donald Trump posts there more than anyone (apparently. over 400 posts in one weekend recently), and his fans are avid followers of his tweets and very active. I smile a little when I see words like “mob” and “bully” used because it reveals unease some feel with the power of democracy, and apparently for some this is scarier than a white-centric organization struggling mightily to retain power for whiteness..
Nearly every romance author I read has resigned, either as writers or as members holding official positions in the RWA, and so that is personally satisfying. On the other hand though, these authors are now left trying to construct a democratic and inclusive organization from the ground up. As a reader, I will do what I can in 2020 to support their efforts.
“Identifying racism in a text is an act of literary interpretation and texts are not sacrosanct objects safe from criticism.”
I would argue the word “racism” is also often used as an ad hominem attack without sufficient backing. Regardless of what anyone here thinks of Condoleezza Rice, I think she made an important point when she said that bandying about the word “racism” is unhelpful at best and offensive at worst. She went on to say that she had childhood friends who were *murdered* because of real racism, not the kind of petty name calling that goes on today.
As for Ms. Milan’s critique of Ms. Davis’s allegedly racist work, I think her use of the word “racism” is overly harsh when applied to the passages she posted. Are they stereotypical? Perhaps. But are they really so terrible that they’re worth digging up 20 years later and causing a stink about them? Aren’t there more current pressing issues than something written from the lens of the end of the last century?
The word “racist” is ad hominem; the word “racism” in the context of examining a cultural product is not.
I disagree that Milan’s interpretation of Chinese-American female stereotypes is harsh from the fiction she examined. And if they are stereotypes, as. you just claimed, they are problematic by definition. That’s the negative power of stereotypes.
Milan has every right to examine a book written in the 1990s, as do we all. However, she read and examined the recently re-editioned work, with stereotypes intact, as was her right.
Are there more pressing issues than racism? That’s a strawman argument. Milan never said that racist stereotyping of Asian American women was “the most pressing” issue.
And as I stated above – the book was a reissue. The author and editor/publishers chose not to revisit this work in light of two decades of social change.
So, is a book never allowed to be reissued in its original form without being run through an SJW wringer? What about people who want to be able to read it as it appeared when it was first published?
No matter what gets published, whether revised or not, someone is going to find something to complain about. So who gets to decide which, if any, criticisms to listen to? As a bristly independent author, I say that should be up to the author and, if applicable, her publisher.
SJW is not an insult. Or at least it shouldn’t be. Do you realize that you are using it as such? Or are you?
To me it sounds like the dismissive way people accuse others of being politically correct. There is nothing wrong with being passionate about protecting and promoting the rights of the marginalized
SJWs hold many views that I find repugnant. I am especially angry at those who want to legally silence others or otherwise infringe upon the life, liberty, and justly acquired property of others. (That is not what is happening here with the RWA scandal. I am speaking generally.)
This is not to say there aren’t some equally ugly attacks from the right, but I have found in recent years that the loudest cries for censorship today come from the left- many of whom call themselves SJWs. But in all fairness, I agree with whoever said the left and the right are just different wings of the same bird of prey.
“There is nothing wrong with being passionate about protecting and promoting the rights of the marginalized.” I too, am a passionate person, as many of my admittedly loudmouth posts demonstrate. But I am passionate about protecting and promoting the rights of the INDIVIDUAL. This is a critical distinction for me.
As for my previous comment, I believe a book shouldn’t have to go through political correctness checks in order to be published or reissued. My primary concern as both a writer and reader is whether or not a book is well-written and entertaining. Personally, I don’t sit around obsessively analyzing books to death. I write and read for pleasure. Part of that pleasure is becoming immersed in a world of complex, believable characters who *gasp* may have different opinions from my own- perhaps even uncomfortable ones. Naturally, this is a subjective rubric. Everyone’s tolerance level for non-politically correct stories and characters is different. But I think it sums up one of my views of enjoying and creating art for art’s sake.
“I believe a book shouldn’t have to go through political correctness checks in order to be published or reissued. ”
It shouldn’t have to. But you are obscuring what systemic forces are at work here. A publisher *can* by law reissue the book as it was originally published. But you are mistaking market forces for legal ones. A publisher has the right to make money. Readers have the right to say what we think about the book. The publisher has the right to request changes based on what they think will sell. Readers have the right to buy books or not buy books as they prefer. We do not have a government (yet) that publicizes our buying choices or library borrowing practices or tells us what we can buy.
“A publisher *can* by law reissue the book as it was originally published.” Of course. I didn’t mean to imply otherwise. But I do see disturbing trends toward censorship in the Western world. One city I read about, for example, wants to make it a legally punishable offense to say the word “b***h” in public. I believe it is in Toronto that a person can be punished for deliberately referring to someone by a gender pronoun not of that person’s choosing. And when I see book contracts being pulled (not just in this case, but in others as well), I become worried that the trend could potentially grow to the point where we *will* have government censorship. True, you might think I am overacting or paranoid, but history follows certain patterns. And writers historically get the shaft right before things like freedom of speech really go down the toilet.
So, no. I’m sorry if I made it sound like someone was legally stopping someone from publishing a book on the grounds it isn’t politically correct. But I believe there is a disturbing trend moving in that direction.
A great article that looks at the balance between art that is good and art that is good for us is here. I like this part:
A disagreement over one piece of culture points to where our discourse has arrived when it comes to talking about all culture — at a roiling impasse. The conversations are exasperated, the verdicts swift, conclusive and seemingly absolute. The goal is to protect and condemn work, not for its quality, per se, but for its values. Is this art or artist, this character, this joke bad for women, gays, trans people, nonwhites? Are the casts diverse enough? Is this museum show inclusive of enough different kinds of artists? Does the race of the curators correspond with the subject of the show or collection? Increasingly, these questions stand in for a discussion of the art itself.
A lot of this zealous police work makes sense. Groups who have been previously marginalized can now see that they don’t have to remain marginal. Spending time with work that insults or alienates them has never felt acceptable. Now they can do something about it. They’ve demanded to be taken seriously, and now that they kind of are, they can’t not act. This territory was so hard won that it must be defended at all times, at any cost. Wrongs have to be righted. They can’t affect social policy — not directly. They can, however, amend the culture. But as urgent as these correctives, cancellations, pre-emptions and proscriptions may be, they do start to take a toll. It can be hard to tell when we’re consuming art and when we’re conducting H.R.
I believe it is in Toronto that a person can be punished for deliberately referring to someone by a gender pronoun not of that person’s choosing.
What in God’s name are you even talking about? What do you think we do? Flog them?
My apologies, Mojo, I was misinformed on that count. I was referring to a Jordan Peterson kerfuffle which I mistakenly thought had to do with a legal battle.
“I believe it is in Toronto that a person can be punished for deliberately referring to someone by a gender pronoun not of that person’s choosing.”
I only wish that were true. Instead, people who identify as trans are murdered in their own apartments.
Maybe you will correct me if I am reading your comment wrong, but it sounds like you believe that authors should be able to publish what amounts to racist content without criticism or repercussions.. There is nothing stopping anyone from publishing whatever they want, but as the public is the audience/judge of a product they put out in the marketplace for public consumption, the public has a right to judge that book, Businesses fail every day because they did not know or understand their market. I do not owe anyone who is in business an obligation to purchase their product and I am free to state publicly that a certain food tastes like wallpaper even if that criticism puts the company that produces that food out of business. Writing is a business and it is incumbent upon authors to know their audience if they want to sell books. If they just want to publish for art’s sake, then what should it matter who says what about their books?
I just checked and the book in question is still available for purchase from amazon. With the advent of ebooks, books can always be readily available for reading because a bricks and mortar publisher is no longer necessary, nor are books created from paper. So authors have an advantage that many business owners do not. They can create and get their product out in the public eye with very little capital. This kind of negates the proposition that art is somehow being denied by SJW’s. I will not shop at Hobby Lobby because of their stance on birth control. I do not donate to the Salvation Army because of a long history of discrimination against LGBTQ individuals. I have the right to protest with my pocketbook as well as my voice. What is the difference between my social conscience decisions concerning products I will buy and social conscience decisions about what books I will buy? Hobby Lobby and Salvation Army are still in existence despite my tiny, little protests. There are readers out there for all types of books. No one is stopping anyone from writing. But we do have the right and the power to publicly decide that a book is not worthy of our time or money.
I am *absolutely* a fan of consumer choice and believe in no sacred cows. Of course everything is open to criticism and protest. Boycotts on the individual level are fine! As I have said many, many times on this thread, I grow concerned when I see the kinds of trends Em described in her post as well as statistics like this: https://www.forbes.com/sites/tomlindsay/2019/05/31/new-report-most-college-students-agree-that-campus-free-speech-is-waning/#9d420301433c.
Now, I actually gave your comment a happy face because I *do* agree with everything you wrote. But just as you are free to boycott Hobby Lobby, Salvation Army, etc., I am free to share that I know a lot of people who have been financially hurt or driven into scared silence because of online and in-person hostility to alternative viewpoints. That was my big beef from the get-go. If it’s true that Ms. Davis lost a three-book contract because of online complaints, that is certainly within the publisher’s rights. I never argued otherwise. But it is also my right not to like their alleged response to controversy and to say so.
I could rehash this to death, but I’ve said all I care to say on the subject. The only reason I am still on this thread is because people keep replying to my posts.
” Of course everything is open to criticism and protest. Boycotts on the individual level are fine!”
I believe coordinated boycotts are fine as well. Evangelical Christians (led by Focus on the Family and the Southern Baptist Convention) engineered a boycott on Disney World for their stance on homosexual relationships and offering benefits to partners who worked for the organization. While I vehemently disagreed with FOF and SBC’s stance, I support their right to organize and collectively protest something they disagree with. Just as I support organized labor’s right to collect representation. Women collectively railed against taxation without representation associated with their inability to vote. I am sure that those who wanted to protect the status quo thought women should not be able to protest as a group (in fact laws pretty much were used against them to prevent just that). We all know there are power in numbers, which is why group boycotts work. If there are enough people who feel strongly enough about an issue to band together to affect change, then maybe those who resist it should listen.
Oof! By individual boycotts, I didn’t mean to exclude people or organizations working together. I meant as opposed to government mandated boycotts such as the classic “Americans aren’t allowed to travel to Cuba or have Cuban cigars.” Sorry for being vague.