Last Thursday, October 26th, was not a good day for AAR. By the day’s end, many on Twitter—romance authors among them—had tweeted and retweeted accusations that AAR and its readers are racist, sexist, and ablest.
The stated reason for this outpouring of loathing for AAR was the ask@AAR column we ran on Friday, October 18th, which asked “Does historical romance have a quality problem?” In response, readers/commenters suggested that historical romance is suffering from the use of tired tropes and stale prose. Others decried the lack of accuracy from titles to terminology, and that HR had become too message-y. Many bemoaned the plethora of dukes and earls. Readers argued with one another and name checked authors they thought did the genre well and those they felt, at times, did not.
At some point, almost a week after it went up, the column and its responses caught the eye of someone on Twitter who was offended by both the question and the comments. This individual posted about the blog and the anger quickly spread like wildfire on social media. This fury seems to be about two different things.
First, there are many on Twitter who found the comments readers posted offensive and who believed it was AAR’s job—I think that means mostly me, the publisher, but it may also mean reviewers who posted on the thread—to either (and I’m not sure about this) not publish those comments or to reprimand the posters of those comments. Second, there were a few comments I didn’t publish because they involved personal attacks. (“You are disgusting,” read two. Another accused all on the thread of only wishing to read “super white and right” books.) Those Twitterers upset at AAR called that censorship.
Were some of the comments offensive? Well, they did offend others. Does that mean they shouldn’t be published or that they should have been argued against by me or other AAR staff? I don’t think so.
The ask@AAR is a question we post each Friday. We started this for two reasons. One, we’re publishing so many reviews and blogs—552 reviews and 68 blogs thus far this year—we think our readers are hearing A LOT from us and we’d like to hear more from them. Second, we are committed to creating community and a weekly discussion seems like a good way to accomplish this. And that discussion is reader driven not staff/reviewer driven.
But wait, you say, isn’t AAR committed to an inclusive community? Yes. Yes, we are. And we feel that’s reflected in our reviews and in our Steals and Deals picks—in the content we create and curate.
Thus far in 2019, 15% of the books we’ve reviewed feature leads of color. 15% are by authors of color. 10% feature queer protagonists. In 2020, those numbers will increase.
According to an oft-cited 2018 study by The Ripped Bodice, 7.7% of romance books published by major houses are by authors of color. If you accept those numbers, that gives our number of 15% of our reviews by AoCs some context. We are nearly doubling the big names of the industry in terms of putting characters and authors of color before readers.
Additionally, some of our most popular blogs this year have been our AAR Loves lists. In these, AAR reviewers recommend books we love. Here’s what a few of our AAR loves lists look like in terms of inclusion:
Marriages in trouble: 19% by authors of color 19% non-hetero characters
Disability: 14% by authors of color 31% non-hetero characters
Seasoned romances: 20% by authors of color, 25% non-hetero characters
Musicians: 21% by authors of color, 25% non-hetero characters
Again, is it enough? Of course not. The obstacles to authors of color and to non-heteronormative stories are such that it will take more than any blog to turn the ship. But we are trying to do our part.
Well, OK, you say, but some of the comments made people of color feel erased. That’s a harder thing to deal with. I hate—HATE—that anyone who read the comments at AAR felt personally invalidated. But, as the publisher of a daily blog, I believe it is important to listen to the speech of others until that speech crosses the line into direct personal attacks. I also believe that having difficult conversations makes us more likely to better understand those with whom we disagree.
As for the accusations of censorship—I ultimately published all but the aforementioned comments—it’s clear to me I haven’t done a good job of stating what the rules are for commenting at AAR and that’s on me. I will not publish personal attacks but I haven’t stated that and I will this week.
Many of the people on Twitter who were part of this discussion and who believe AAR and its readers are racist believe this, in part, because of the tweets of Tessa Dare and other romance authors–several of whom were criticized in the thread and many whom we have reviewed.
On Thursday and Friday, Tessa took AAR and its readers—I’m assuming she meant the readers in the comments although other tweets seem to encompass AAR and its readers writ large—to task for being racist. Tessa has 35K followers so many people saw her tweets and retweeted them. Authors, other bloggers, and readers retweeted the Tweets stating AAR is racist and exclusionary—AAR’s missteps around our Readers Top 100 Romances poll were mentioned many times but so were things that are simply false. Many tweeted that we should be shut down, ignored, and shunned. Tessa suggested that authors deny us ARCs (advanced review copies).
I’m not interested in getting in a battle on Twitter–has anyone ever “won” one there? Nor do I wish to attack anyone, including Tessa Dare. But I will defend AAR, its staff, and its readers. I am fine with being personally attacked. I write the ask@AAR column, I am the publisher, nothing is published at AAR that I don’t OK. I am not happy however with authors attacking our readers or the AAR staff.
Who are AAR’s readers? They come from all over the world and they come to AAR because they love romance. If you read the comments they make at AAR, they are overwhelmingly measured, interested in better understanding the genre and its concerns. Do people occasionally say things that give me pause? Sure. But romance itself is a narrative of overcoming differences and finding connection. It routinely champions forgiveness and redemption. To be all about romance is to be here for all of you, those whose beliefs I share and those I don’t. I ask you to be kind but honest, true to yourselves but open to the perceptions of others. We can do this.
And the staff? AAR reviewers and staff are diverse. We are women of color, white women, straight women, queer women, married women, divorced women, widowed women, and disabled women. Few of us are wealthy and several of us live paycheck to paycheck. Almost all of us work. Some of us are parents and some are not. We live in Canada, in Europe, and in the US. Some of us are religious, others are not. The one thing we all are is willing, week in and week out, to share our love of reading romance without any compensation other than review books.
Lastly, this has felt to me like an argument that mostly white people are having about mostly people of color. That’s not where I want to spend my time. I’d rather spend my energy supporting those who feel excluded. If you are an author of color and you would like your book considered for review at AAR, please email me a blurb at dabneygrinnan@allaboutromance. If you are a reader of color and you have suggestions on how I can make AAR a more inclusive welcoming place, please email me the suggestions or put them in the comments below. If you identify as part of any marginalized group, I ask the same things of you too.
Publisher at AAR
Impenitent social media enthusiast. Relational trend spotter. Enjoys both carpe diem and the fish of the day.
This sounds familiar.
Wait, so she DOESN’T uplift AoC on her Twitter? People were wrong about that? Amazing.
Given that Tessa Dare has not bothered to engage whatsoever with the cogent, explanatory, detailed post and comments here that show AAR’s perspective and those of its readers tells on her so much, that she was simply creating a conflagration to get ally cookies and attention. She is a cishet white woman who primarily writes cishet white characters. I have rarely seen her uplift any marginalized authors’ books on Twitter. She no leg to stand on as a true ally. She was simply burnishing her image on Twitter–a performance for her 35k followers.
I used to enjoy Tessa Dare’s books, but the last few I’ve tried have disappointed me and I’ve ended up giving them away. This makes me want to not even try anymore of her books.
AAR has long been my fav site for reviews, and I’ve recently started looking at the blog part, as well. I think you do great work, and will continue to visit.
Thank you. That’s kind.
So this is interesting, and timely: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-50239261
“Mr Obama told the audience: “I get a sense among certain young people on social media that the way of making change is to be as judgmental as possible about other people.
“If I tweet or hashtag about how you didn’t do something right or used the wrong verb, then I can sit back and feel pretty good about myself because ‘Man did you see how woke I was? I called you out!'”
“That’s enough,” he said. “If all you’re doing is casting stones, you are probably not going to get that far.”
Mr Obama added that “people who do really good stuff have flaws”.
Ha! I was just reading a CNN article about this. I liked this quote by Obama:
“This idea of purity and you’re never compromised and you’re always politically ‘woke’ and all that stuff. You should get over that quickly. The world is messy, there are ambiguities. People who do really good stuff have flaws. People who you are fighting may love their kids. And share certain things with you.”
And, this by the author of the article:
“To be clear: What Obama is advocating for isn’t that people change their beliefs. Instead, he is reminding us all of our common humanity, that we have much more in common than politicians and partisans would like us to believe. Seeing people as less like cardboard cutouts and more like, well, people, would do us (and our politics) a world of good.”
Building upon what Obama said and the topic of intersectionality, I think this quote is a valid criticism (yes, I know Wiki isn’t always accurate, but as a starting point it is useful):
“Writer and political pro-Israel activist Chloé Valdary considers intersectionality “a rigid system for determining who is virtuous and who is not, based on traits like skin color, gender, and financial status”. Valdary also states:
Intersectionality’s greatest flaw is in reducing human beings to political abstractions, which is never a tendency that turns out well—in part because it so severely flattens our complex human experience, and therefore fails to adequately describe reality. As it turns out, one can be personally successful and still come from a historically oppressed community—or vice versa. The human experience is complex and multifaceted and deeper than the superficial ways in which intersectionalists describe it.”
In addition to listening to own voices stories, I think finding commonalities is important and does far more good than those things that divide and create resentments on all sides. By the way, Valdary is black.
From a Guardian article about the meaning and uses of intersectionality:
“Intersectionality is the buzzword to end all buzzwords, the term that launched a thousand hot-takes, a discursive sinkhole where political disputes go to die. Depending on who you ask, it’s the most important theoretical innovation in feminist history; the cancer that’s killing the left; a critical tool in on-the-ground organising; or a totally meaningless liberal shibboleth. I am not overly invested in trying to claw back some kind of clarity on what intersectionality “means”. Like much of the work done by feminists and queer theorists around the same time, there is a certain ambiguity to intersectionality, if only because many of the people interpreting it come from this poststructuralist milieu.
Rather, I see these disciplinary attempts as one in a large series of objects grouped together under the “tag” of intersectionality. It is vague enough to function as a Rorschach test, but specific enough for an outside observer to consider those who choose to use the word, whether to celebrate or disparage, as politically separated by only a few degrees.”
“Depending on who you ask” seems to be the key phrase here. Intersectionality, or intersectional feminism. examines the overlap of **multiple forms of diversity** and thus, multiple forms of oppression. You know, the issue that largely defined the conflict on the “historical quality” forum, for instance, the hand-wringing notion that a Muslim female character in a romance novel can’t also be in a wheelchair because the diversity is too much for a reader (presumably white, Christian, and able-bodied) to handle and historically inaccurate. Intersectionality is distinctly different from “white feminism” because it disputes whiteness as a norm from which we can adequately understand women’s oppression. The word “overdetermined” was often used years ago to explain the extra burdens a woman of color faced in a racist and patriarchal society.
I can give a great example of intersectionality, though a personally fraught one. I volunteered to work on the organizing committee for the Portland, Ore. Women’s March in Jan. 2017. We expected and hoped and planned for 5,000 and got 20,000 women marching on the actual day in our city. During the planning though women of color felt excluded from leadership on the organizing committee and anyone who studies or has studied women’s movements probably knows that there is a long history of exclusion of women of color from feminist activism. Rather than accept the criticism and engage in some self-reflection, the debates got ugly, many white women walked away in anger, and many women of color were reported to Facebook and banned for using words like “racist,” since we had our own FB organizing group. LGBTQ women of color also though felt that their specific concerns were overlooked. So, yes, it’s a messy concept and we live messy and complicated existences.
It also made me as aware as I’ve ever been that existing as a white woman myself in white spaces is not a place I can ever feel comfortable again. I will take intersectionality any day over white bubbles.
Thank you for this explanation; and for all the time you’ve taken over the last couple of weeks to comment. I’ve truly appreciated your recommendations and comments over the last few years as well. I haven’t always agreed, but you always give me something to think about. :-)
Gah . . . wish we could edit these! Should have written I usually agree – but even when I don’t, you always give me something to think about!
Chloe Valdary, the anti-black lives matter, pro-Israel conservative writer for the Wall Street Journal is critical of intersectionality? Big surprise!
Perhaps I should not have quoted her, since I don’t know more than what is on Wikipedia about her, but I found the quote interesting since I like exploring all sides of an issue.
There are so many non-fictional books putting intersectionality into practice, but one of the best ones, in my opinion, is Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist. She’s a Haitian-American writer and is funny and brilliant and makes the concepts clear and very accessible, partly by using contemporary examples found in movies, shows, and American culture. I’ve had much success incorporating her writings in classes and students seem to enjoy reading her.
“We don’t all have to believe in the same feminism. Feminism can be pluralistic so long as we respect the different feminisms we carry with us, so long as we give enough of a damn to try to minimize the fractures among us.”
Roxane Gay, Bad Feminist: Essays
Yes, that’s a great quote, and Gay works at reaching out to create collaboration so that feminism is wide reaching and can include women from many cultural backgrounds. The quote supports pluralism (i.e. “multiple diversities”) as well as “respect,” the foundations of intersectioality, a term for which she is always wonderful at demonstrating how uncomplicated it actually is. Thanks for posting this!
Did the authors on Twitter respect different feminisms of people at AAR? Or does many different cultural backgrounds only work for some people?
I think these questions almost completely miss the point of intersectional feminism. It’s not that ALL women are embraced and welcome just because they are women, even though all women benefit from the hard-fought gains of feminism. Instead, it’s “pluralistic,” intersectional feminism that welcomes *feminists* willing to work collaboratively from a perspective of engaging with multiple diversities. I’ve written this up-thread but I’ll state it again here, there are plenty of women who support and bolster patriarchy, just like there are plenty of white feminists who undercut women of color, even within feminism. If you read the Intro. to Gay’s book from which the quote you posted appeared, then you would have read that she goes over this in great detail. For instance, see the passage a paragraph up from where you quoted:
“Women of color, queer women, and transgender women need to be better included in the feminist project. Women from these groups have been shamefully abandoned by Capital-F Feminism, time and again. This is a hard, painful truth. This is where a lot of people run into resisting feminism, trying to create distance between the movement and where they stand. Believe me, I understand, For years, I decided feminism wasn’t for me as a black woman, as a woman who has been queer identified, at varying points in her life, because feminism has, historically, been far more invested in improving the lives of heterosexual white women to the detriment of others.”
There may (or may not) be feminists at AAR, and that’s a whole different issue, but the authors on Twitter who protested the racially insensitive posts on AAR’s blog were largely rejecting the dismissal of women and fictional characters like themselves who identify as more than one type of diversity.
I should add too though that Gay wants women to listen intently to each other’s different versions of feminism because feminism has been viewed as something white women have claimed, which is exclusionary. The collaboration Gay articulates in the quote you provided is needed to offset the many different forms of discrimination women often face. It’s a great quote!
You do know that the WSJ is actually a centrist paper, do you not?
I have, duh, been thinking a lot about the role of freedom of expression in spaces like AAR. I liked this article from Better Angels a lot. This paragraph especially jumped out at me.
“Freedom of expression. Were it not for the space for people to say what’s on their minds freely and openly, without fear of immediate or eventual reprisal, the workshop format would not work. We live in an age where this kind of radical free expression is under attack in certain quarters: on some college campuses, in some sections of the internet, on some streets by groups such as Antifa. There are those who would have people believe that some opinions are dangerous and tantamount to violence, and that these opinions should be curbed or forcefully pressured out of existence.
Better Angels should fight this sentiment wherever it occurs, and advocate for the right of people to speak their minds—most especially for the freedom to be wrong or offensive. We should take a stand that words are not violence, except for the rare instances in which they’re explicitly and specifically calling for it. This principle, this unqualified support for the First Amendment, would further ground our advocacy, and give us a more coherent and tangible intellectual and moral framework.”
The writer grounds this in the notion that it isn’t fair to ask Americans–this is an American political advocacy group–to all agree on ideas or even be unified. He points out that asking people to come together when they can’t agree is profoundly unAmerican.
I’ll always try and bring people together–we are stronger together–but I get that there are many who don’t want to bond with those they think are in the wrong and I must support that impulse as well.
Food for thought.
Very well stated, Ms. Grinnan. Thank you for quoting from that article. Sometimes people forget that the First Amendment isn’t in place to protect *nice* speech, or speech we want to hear. It is there specifically to guarantee the freedom to express dissenting viewpoints. And yes, even troubling or hateful ones. (Not that people shouldn’t exercise manners, but that is a separate issue.)
Obviously, private websites, enterprises, etc., have the right to decide which kinds of speech they will or will not allow. But what worries me is how a lot of people calling for censorship really want there to be legal punishment for those who express controversial opinions. I read somewhere yesterday that according to some poll or another, 51% of Americans want to be able to make some speech ILLEGAL. And I’m not talking about the kind of speech that already is like yelling “fire!” in a crowded theater, libel/slander, or inciting violence. I mean the kind of unpleasant speech that the First Amendment is designed to protect. It’s really scary, because a time will come when someone will want to silence those now calling for silence from others.
As an example, I can’t remember where I read it, but some city wants to make the use of the word “b***h” illegal in public, punishable by a fine. (If the story is true. You never know.) Now, I agree it’s not a nice word by any means, but proposing that uttering a rude word should be a legally PUNISHABLE OFFENSE? Dare I say that Lenny Bruce is rolling in his grave right now?
I know bringing up a deceased, politically incorrect comedian feels odd for a romance site, but the man set a lot of precedents that allow us greater freedom of expression today than he and his contemporaries enjoyed. It sounds prudish now to think he was arrested on stage just for using the word “c********r,” but are today’s cries for censorship really any different? Sure, I doubt a comedian or author is going to get arrested in the 21st for “indecency” merely for using foul language. But will there come a time where expressing a thought that doesn’t toe a specific party line be declared a crime? Let’s hope not.
Well said my friend, makes you think of that famous quote by Voltaires friend.Ms E B Hall
“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death
Your right to say it””
One thing I have learned from many painful Thanksgiving dinners with my very conservative family members is you’re never going to change anyone’s mind when they feel passionately about something.
If I can’t “talk sense” into my parents who I love with all of my heart, a vindictive twitter thread or a faceless internet comment sure isn’t going to do anything to change a person’s mind. It’s very self-serving to assume otherwise.
I’ve really appreciated that I’m face of all this negative attention, you’ve managed to keep your side of the conversation civil. I haven’t been a Tessa Dare fan for while, and I don’t think I’m even going to be able to stomach any re-reads of “a week to be wicked” now.
What somebody reads and how they process information is so subjective. There is no reason to expect that everybody will appreciate the same stories and details. Just because I have an opinion on a book doesn’t mean someone else’s different opinion to invalidated.
I just want to find books that i like and that give me that warm and fuzzy “wow! this book really worked for me” feeling. I really look forward to finding more recommendation on this site and Goodreads — my go tos. And I really hope you post more of these discussions.
I grew up in a very conservative and prejudiced family. I never, even as a young child, agreed with their opinions. But I was never able to change them. Mom finally kind of began to see people as individuals, but barely. She wouldn’t let my gay cousin, whom she loved, rent an apartment in her home because of the ‘things he might do there’. Never mind that he would have looked after her and her home in her final years as if he were her own son.
All of my family are gone now, but if I couldn’t make a dent in 60+ years of trying, a Twitter post sure won’t do it either. Social media is just bullies rallying bullies, imo, and I ignore it. A place like this where you can actually write complete sentences is much more comfortable for me, and I enjoy the differing perspectives as long as we are all civil. I’m a work in progress, as are we all, and I want to learn about (and from) others and the realities of their lives.
Even if I strongly disagree with a comment, I try very hard to be objective and really hear what’s being said. I still may disagree, but I respect your right to say it.
Reading these responses, I wanted to reflect on the role AAR played for me over about a decade and a half of reading,
WoCs and LGBTQ+ and other underrepresented groups frequently call for white cis women (I know that’s not all of AAR but it’s kind of the vibe) to “do the work.” That black women can’t always have to carry the burden of educating white women. That trans people don’t need the extra labor of being someone’s teachable moment.
But people who are just stretching out – just beginning to branch into more diverse reading – are more likely to do that through a relationship. When a web site they’ve been reading for decades tells them “This M/M mystery series is AMAZING,” they’re more likely to say, well, what the heck, I’ve never read gay men before but I’ll try it. And yes, I’m speaking personally here, because this was my journey. The wonderful, diverse book review sites like WOC in Romance are awesome, and I use them often now, but I know that getting myself to the point where that site was a fit for me as a reader involved a journey through a more centrist site first.
And one reason for needing that transition site? Exploring, largely cis-white readers are going to make mistakes (say, in using dated terminology) or still hold attitudes that can be hurtful. I’ve said some dumb things. I try to say fewer of them now. I’m still, often, dumb. I didn’t want to hurt people with that dumbness, and I also didn’t want to be the target of a pile-on for a mistake I didn’t even see coming.
So when PoCs say “I don’t feel safe here, and I’m going somewhere else,” that may be… well, ok? Not that they felt hurt, but that they’re making the choice to be on another site where they won’t be subjected to it and burdened with addressing it. And the queer and PoC reviewers and readers here at AAR who choose to do the work of reaching out? Well, bless you, and thank you, because I don’t want to live in a society where this work doesn’t get done. I’m a better person, and I’m hopefully paying that forward, because people did it for me.
I think there’s a role for a site – which is, for me, was, AAR – that helps people who are curious about learning about more people and perspectives. Someone needs to be introducing white readers to Asian authors. Someone needs to be sharing F/F stories with heterosexual (and maybe even somewhat homophobic) readers. People who are tired of doing the labor of that process, and who don’t want the strain of seeing people saying problematic things, shouldn’t feel obligated to be on that site doing that work.
Maybe everybody here won’t go on to have reading lists that are 60% diverse. But if they just go on to throw a few more book purchases at diverse authors and stories, and maybe to treat someone in their life a little better because a character brought that story to life… well, that would be a good thing.
Thank you, yes.
You describe a journey similar to mine, beautifully.
I would not have discovered K.J. Charles, Cat Sebastian, Alyssa Cole, Alisha Rai without this site. And many more.
Great post, Nana. I think AAR tries to be a “centrist” site where everyone can come together and post their ideas, if not in harmony, then at least in courteous discourse. In theory, minority groups and feminists are welcome here to embrace diversity and progressive changes for women in fiction, while culturally conservative and traditionalist readers are also welcome to share nostalgia for romances of the past and longing for tales that promote escapism. However, ideas like intersectionality clash with ideas expressing discontent with “checklists” and multiple types of diversity taking place in a single book. There is not a middle ground in this debate because these ideas are by definition antithetical to each other. AAR tries to support “both side-ism,” but I doubt that mission will succeed in the long run because my sense is that the emerging authors today are highly activated by their political leanings. I don’t post on Twitter but I do follow romance authors there and I am aware that many, especially a large number of up-and-coming authors, see their writing as a contribution to necessary cultural changes. In fact, it seems as if many of the most vibrant and exciting new authors today are doing this writing in their novels. AAR on the surface seems to want to review and interview and support these authors and their readers, but the site itself is not succeeding. I keep seeing the “all about racism” moniker on Twitter accounts, and that’s not a good look. Maybe in the end, as Nana states, that’s okay though; diverse authors and their readership move on to other sites. I can’t help thinking though about the words “the wrong side of history” and wonder how long the status quo can hold on. But I think about this issue all the time in other contexts as well :)
AAR is on the wrong side of history? How?
Have you been reading the threads here on diversity?
Yes. I don’t see AAR being on the wrong side of history. Have you read the above article? Isn’t Dare on Avon? That published less than 5% diverse romance last year? How is AAR on the wrong side? For someone who spends so much time here, you don’t like them, do you?
I like some of the things here, and some things are problematic, and so for me, the issues are more complex than not “liking them.” And also, this isn’t about me or any one person, and so maybe avoiding ad hominem arguments in the forums would be better. I personally do not read Tessa Dare and so I can’t respond to a question about where she publishes. I do though read a number of the own voice authors and authors publishing intersectional romances today and have been more interested in following their thoughts on the debates here. And on Twitter, they’ve been quite cogent and articulate and in very few words.
Can you show an intersectional romance reviewed here in the past two years that hasn’t been liked here? This isn’t Twitter.
Ok, it’s a deal, but first I would ask you to provide your definition of intersectionality and explain why intersectional stories and intersectional feminism is important and should be supported here at AAR.
People shouldn’t need to provide paragraph long essays to receive information.
Then people shouldn’t ask bad faith questions or troll here. Moving on!
Please avoid personal attacks.
Blackjack: Have they been trolling? Is this a regular thing with them?
Dabney I don’t think that was a personal attack but I will stop.
I’d like us to not call asking questions trolling. I’d like for the discussion to be about the issues rather than about the beliefs and statements of commenters. And thanks.
That was my impression of the situation too. Thank you.
A truth about cultural change, Blackjack is that culture is always evolving. The 90s were a different time from the 00’s, and the 10s are a different time from and the 20s are going to be something entirely different. I watched all of the strides the country made during the Obama years be blown all to hell by the Trump administration after living through abuses visited on my family by the Bush administration, Don’t get me started on the Trump administration’s choices and what they have done to my family.
What attracts authors and readers right now will change – hopefully (God I hope not) not undoing what small progress we’ve made it when it comes to diverse heroines and heroes and ownvoices authors. But cultural atmospheres on websites like this one and the motives of writers will roll with the times and grow and change or die in the process.
I’d like to think AAR is having birthing pangs that are a preview of its rebirth into a better place. I’m staying here because I want to fight for change and if I don’t, the Nice White Ladies will talk for me and after this week I’m done with that.
I’ve appreciated your insights over the past week!
Thank you. It’s nice to hear that.
I’ve appreciated your thoughts too Blackjack!
Thank you, Maria!
We hope to do a better job every day. Thanks for your perspective.
I’ve read AAR since it was Laurie Likes Books. Back then, it and The Romance Reader were two of the only places where readers could actually have in depth discussions of what they liked and didn’t like about romance novels. And even then, you had authors and some of their fans trying to limit what could be criticized or even discussed. Romance authors and readers all too often have been put on the defensive for what they choose to write and read. Questions phrased like the original “quality of historical romance” question was bring out that defensiveness. You make a comment you think something is low quality, I hear it as an attack on me, what I enjoy, and sometimes even who I am. I may not enjoy a particular trope (in my case, title and wealth mega-inflation in both historicals and contemporaries) but that doesn’t mean that authors who write stories using it are bad or that readers who enjoy it are less discerning of quality. Authors who write about what they personally know and authors who research topics and stretch their imagination and empathy can both write an amazing range of heroines, heroes, and supporting characters. Some of their storytelling may resonate with me, some won’t. Is that lack of resonance a matter of “quality”? Most of the time, in my opinion, it’s not. Poor grammar and proofreading anchor one end of the “quality” spectrum. Most everything else, including “historical accuracy” in characters and their choices is a matter of individual taste. I value AAR for being open to discussions. But how those discussions get initiated can affect whether they open gateways or slam doors between readers, other readers, and authors. By the way, I had looked forward to that survey of romance readers discussed in the summer. Whatever happened to that?
What I find very illustrative in this debate is that here are a lot of people reinforcing y‘all‘s opinion how inclusive you’re being, and those get all the upvotes or smiley faces. And then you have a few people who are actually trying to explain why people feel excluded, and they get downvoted.
I view the sad face as a sad face, not a down vote. At least that’s how I’ve been using it. It doesn’t mean I disagree with the comment. (Maybe I’ve been doing it wrong!)
So how much value do you attach to likes on Twitter versus comments or retweets?
Just as it is with some others here, it’s the US-centricity that’s driving me up the wall. It always is in romance, but especially in historical romance. Yes, a couple of comments WERE shocking, but the overall discussion would have had a lot more support if Dare hadn’t taken personal offence to worthy criticisms of her books.
One of the biggest – if not THE biggest – complaints about the historical romance subgenre is how overly Americanised it is. Remember, this is a subgenre set almost exclusively in someone else’s country, on someone else’s continent, using someone else’s culture and past.
The club of authors who turned this into A Big Drama on Twitter are, coincidentally, all US authors who were justifiably criticised in the initial discussion for their “Disney princess in pretty dress” books. (Other than Milan, whose books ARE badly done these days – there’s social justice, and then there’s telling everyone they have to feel awful when they read because obviously they’re to blame for every one of the world’s injustices).
MacLean was another one who got upset. I’m sorry, but one look at the appalling yellow-corseted-American-beauty-queen (and she said the model is literally an American beauty queen!) cover she just revealed in Entertainment Weekly tells me everything I need to know about the level of respect she has for the HISTORICAL in her historical romance.
The percentage of Avon authors stirring up trouble on Twitter, with Avon being THE (infamously inaccurate) historical romance publisher, tells a normal person everything they need to know.
Thank you for hitting the nail on the head.
As a long time AAR reader I want to say that I value your site and the quality of your book reviews. I saw some of the tweets trashing AAR last week and thought that many of them were vicious and untrue. And no I am not a white woman- I am a minority- and it’s sad that I need to call this out to validate my opinions! If anyone has ever read the comments on any news site people know that the comments section can be super inflammatory and divisive and it doesn’t seem like there is a lot of censoring happening even on major news sites. People have a right to their opinions and I don’t think that AAR crossed the line by letting those comments be posted.
Please don’t be disheartened by the mob of authors and readers on Twitter! I for one was flabbergasted by the breadth of misinformation and bad-faith reading there. I’ve tried Facebook groups and a variety of romance blogs, but AAR has always been my #1 place to read excellent, non-biased (as much as possible) reviews.
My friends and I – we all happen to be women of colors in our early 20s – have discussed the very same issue of HR declining in the past couple of years. We were ecstatic to see that AAR raised the question and by the volume of responses, many readers also felt the same way. While I did not agree with all the comments, I learned from the range of comments and perspectives on that thread, and I did not feel in any way shape or form that AAR was being ‘racist’. I feel like most of the authors did not read the original thread and decided to skip over 90% of the thoughtful feedback readers were giving. Honestly, you guys (AAR) deserve an apology from these authors, especially Tessa Dare for fanning the flames.
Keep calm, carry on! Much love <3
If you don’t like it here, why are you here? If the only reason is to tell other people how to be better, go on Twitter. This site and the posts aren’t about you although several of you appear to believe AAR exists and puts up with all this just so you can lecture other people. What gives you the right? And this isn’t for a specific poster.
Here, here, Bunny Planet Babe. Well and succinctly said.
I can only say that that thread was a breath of fresh air. I focused on the topic – the problem of quality with romance novels – since in fact I’ve been having problems finding new good romance. And I think the discussion and the comments were spot on on the cause of this situation. Exactly as Disney is doing, romance too is too much concerned with sending messages rather than telling a good story. I’m all about using books to deliver good and progressive messages, but the story comes first. Otherwise the book feels like an ad for an idea and ends up not giving the message it’s concerned about the resonance and depth it should have.
Twitter is so American in his reaction (this comes from a non american reader).. And I must say I definitely lost some respect for Tessa Dare, whose books actually I had stopped buying well before this debate.
Keep doing what you are doing, AAR. You are doing it well.
I posted it under a different post but then realised this comment properly belongs here, so sorry for a long repeat. I’d delete the other post if I could (or happy to have the staff delete it elsewhere) I, too, read romance for escapism and want my HEAs. But I am afraid that the recent threads here at AAR made me realize that I no longer feel safe on the site and this has been reflected in my recent behavior. I have been reading AAR for close to 20 years, since it began as “Laurie Likes Books”. I used to check for new reviews all the time and add As and DIKs to my TBR lists. I just realised that I have stopped this in the last year and that it is tied to my unease on how issues related to diversity get handled on the site. I am a woman working in a heavily male-dominated field so these are not abstract to me. I dealt with open discrimination in my home country where the expectations for women were more restrictive than in the West. It’s better in Europe in that I don’t experience quite so much direct discrimination, and yet I still get “death by a thousand cuts”. It’s a constant streams or small problems and mistakes of being “forgotten”, where everyone swears that they have good intent and it believe that it is not intentional but over and over something happens and then eventually men with less experience get promoted and my bosses shrug and say that these guys had the evidence and I didn’t. And then guys telling me that women have it better than men because everyone wants diversity, and why do we want to talk about diversity anyway, we are all here to have fun, do good work and change the world. I am still successful in my field but sometimes it is very hard and I really, really don’t want to deal with that in my reading space as well. When I see the latest discussions about race, that’s the feeling I get – someone pointed out the issue but commenters and the site immediately went into “but we have good intent/but historical accuracy/but I don’t want preachiness, I am here for escapism” in a way that made me uncomfortable. I can easily imagine a person of color getting really mad over this in the same way as I get mad at people around me hiding behind good intent and ignoring the actual results of their actions. And then when they express this emotion they get told that they would get better results if they weren’t so angry – yeah, been there as well. There were other issues – I remember a review where someone pointed out to the reviewer that they said something transphobic and the reviewer immediately started defending themselves saying that there were no issue. And then other threads where people were saying about “what about our sons, life is hard for them and dangerous with #MeToo” – when I have seen what actually happens when someone brings it up and the outcome is, the woman loses her career, the man gets censured but is eventually back on track. This has been persistent enough that I gradually reduced my involvement with the site. It means that I trust SBTB more because it’s a lot more obvious to me that they try to be pro-diversity and therefore I feel safer reading the books they recommend and trusting that it will indeed be escapism and not trigger something that is a little bit too real (even if no fiction is perfect, etc., etc.). It also means that I comment less. I noticed the threads because I am still subscribed to a RSS feed but I am at the point of deciding that this is too uncomfortable and maybe I should unsubscribe because it doesn’t seem a site for me anymore. A commenter said somewhere something along the lines of “there are a number of socially conservative commenters who seem to be uncomfortable with how the society is changing and it comes out in the tone. That sounds about right. Nothing wrong with that, necessarily – we all need our safe spaces. But it feels like it would be more honest for the site to own up to the underlying views, let people like me self-select out, and take whatever disagreement there is on Twitter or social media – rather than insist that there… Read more »
Wonderful post and I couldn’t agree more. And yes, the “Barely Woke” blog right after the #MeToo Movement when women here rushed in to re-center men as victims was just horrendous and depressing, and yet one more example of the prejudice that pervades discussions here. I can see too here on this thread alone that anyone who posts to dissent has lots of unhappy emojis checked off whereas anyone who posts patting themselves on the back and for doubling down on their views gets so many happy face checks. It is just so telling about the participants here, but it’s also indicative of the culture in which we live. Are romance writers and readers wrong to boycott the site and perhaps even deny arcs? I don’t know, but I do feel strongly that prejudice should be challenged always, even though I often don’t do enough myself in that respect.
I presumed that some people who learned this can’t disentangle what they learned from their books, so they want to make change through fiction. I learned spots of it through tumblr as a not politics affiliated person. And from there, I just gotten some of the impression of basic sociology as tumblr nonsense.
But given that this is impacting an industry, I don’t know what to do with this information since I’m poor with my politics. Do I keep reading politics books? Do I try to enable more people to get into fiction? Do I just listen and not use a search engine from Urbandictionary to learn from context? Do I read books and review them as needed? I’m doing that, but I’m feeling like a confused dancer at times when it comes to sociology.
Because I feel like this sink or swim thing is indicating people who’s mindsets aren’t familiarized with Sociology and have other people get upset somehow. One book I found was this one.
I think you’re asking great questions! As an educator, I always am on the side of educating oneself on an issue and the book link you provided looks great. I’ve posted repeatedly here for anyone accused of posting racially insensitive posts to listen and reflect first rather than rush to defend. Notice that commenters posting about their beliefs that this site promotes racial insensitivity are largely receiving the majority of frown emojis? Is it because they are all in the wrong? No, it’s because the majority of commenters here are invested in the status quo and feel unsettled by the accusations. As an educator though, I tend to believe that being unsettled can be a good thing in the end.
I agree. No change ever comes from complacency.
There are a lot of people commenting on AAR who are more conservative than I am (which, yeah, isn’t hard – I’m pretty far left). But I still struggle with the question of what, on any given post, AAR should actually do if these voices are making people uncomfortable. Like, if I ran AAR, I don’t know what I’d do differently tomorrow, or on the next post that gets comments I consider intolerant.
I’ve been made aware of Ravelry’s decision to ban politics and shoot a subsection of LSG that focused on conservative politics into oblivion. But as for how that culture changed beyond that, I’m not sure.
My veterinarian’s office now bans racism, sexism, and homophobia with posters in the store window with a hastag in support of #BlackLivesMatter – such are the times in which we live that it’s necessary for merchants to do this publicly. As a teacher, I don’t allow discriminatory language in the classroom and per departmental policy now am required to issue zeros to students who employ it.
On further reflection, why doesn’t AAR take a public stance on these issues if they want to be known as an inclusive site? And then, follow through on blog sites. Once management takes a clear and persuasive stance on an issue and people really believe they mean it, there are many fewer problems.
As an ex-community college instructor, this is scary to me. Zeros for “discriminatory language”? I wrote my thesis on censorship. What you are describing here is that.
Well, on the other hand, hate speech rarely creates an environment where people, particularly marginalized students, feel able to speak. Having class discussions devolve into the vitriol that happens just like here or on Twitter, for instance, is unproductive and demoralizing. But, I do post clear expectations on why words like “reverse racism” or “checkpoints” are not appropriate and students who contest those ideas can speak to me privately for understanding.
I too don’t think the answer is to have reviewers step in and censure people’s posts, except when they become personal attacks. I still see those posts above in this thread and wonder why they are permitted.
What can AAR do though to improve the culture of this site? For one thing, the blog prompts are typically written in such a way as to be accepting of prejudice if not actually flat out inviting it. For instance, the fairly recent “Not Woke Enough” blog was anti-Me Too and pro re-centering male power, and it was fairly divisive in its responses and based on the content of people posting there, a good reminder that sexism is alive and well here. We had a few years ago blogs using derogatory names for women in the title, supposedly meant to be funny, and they caused a fair amount of outrage on social media. Race and diversity though are even more divisive than gender bias and I don’t see many blogs that ask readers to consider *why* diversity is beneficial in romances, just as an example. Maybe a blog that invites readers to consider the power of diversity from authors of color and characters of color would shift the responses and enable marginalized communities to feel more welcome to show up here and in bigger numbers. The previous blog was attempting that, maybe?, but it asked more for titles than it did to invite people to reflect on diversity as a benefit to our changing world.
This is not just an AAR problem though. A recent poll from the League of Women Voters in the U.S found that 70% of Americans feel we are on the verge of civil war in America.
As a woman of color, I’m a marginalized person. So if someone takes my words out of context or keeps misinterpreting something I said, can I be offended?
The one question in this mess that no one has bothered to answer or will bother themselves to answer.
Even as a grand daughter of a marginalized family, I am not sure. Am my grandparents able to be offended? Can my aunt get offended since she has a Res card and an American Indian/native/tan guy husband? I don’t know, but can I say her man can get offended? Can I speak over him if he is actually from the Bronx instead of the Res?
I really dislike quote mining, which is what happened to another commentator.
And I’m not good enough at Sociology to answer any of my own questions as a tanned White lady.
I’m sorry to hear that this has happened. I’ve been a follower of AAR since the mid 1990s when it was called Laurie Likes Books. I have a couple dozen different romance review sites bookmarked and I can honestly say most of them do not do as good a job as AAR at providing honest, well thought out reviews of a wide variety of romances. And it is hard work keeping a site like this running. Just in the past couple years, two of my other favorite review sites have either shut down or have announced that they will be shutting down soon (I still miss Historical Romance Reviews(?) and will be just as sad to see Rakes and Rascals close). I trust the reviews at AAR. I can’t say that about some of the other sites. Too many of the other sites seem to give all of the books stellar 5 star reviews without providing an in depth look at what works and what doesn’t.
As for the criticisms lobbed by the Twitterverse, well I am a fat 60 year old heterosexual single white woman so yes, I fit the profile they were complaining about. But I live in a county that is 80% African American, have two African American brother in laws, a Phillipino sister in law, nieces and nephews of color, first and second cousins who are Latin American, and several close friends who are of other sexual orientations and religious backgrounds. We have big happy diverse family reunions and get togethers with friends. The world is not just one viewpoint, and I do believe AAR represents that well. I do wish an author would write a (good) historical romance with a fat 60 year old heroine, but I kinda know that’s not going to happen unless it’s written as a comedy.
Twitter is a useful tool for advertising and getting out general information quickly, but it’s a horrible tool for providing meaningful, intelligent discussions. I would not pay too much attention to what passes for commentary there. People on twitter tend to make being offended into an art form. My favorite saying for the past 10 years has been “only twits tweet.“
“People on twitter tend to make being offended into an art form.” Perfectly stated. Dare I say this should be a tweet?
“The world is not just one viewpoint, and I do believe AAR represents that well.” I would go as far as to argue this is one of the few forums I have ever encountered that encourages the expression of diverse viewpoints. Of all the types of diversity out there, it is often diversity of thought that is despised the most. But if we don’t encourage debate, dialogue, disagreement, we are agents in our own potential destruction. There are parts of the world today where expressing a controversial opinion can be fatal. So it hurts to see calls for censorship from outside sources. Because this kind of thought policing from the sidelines could be a big, scary step toward true censorship. And I don’t think anyone, even the critics themselves, wants that to happen.
“I do wish an author would write a (good) historical romance with a fat 60 year old heroine, but I kinda know that’s not going to happen unless it’s written as a comedy.” I hope a talented HR writer makes that happen. Despite what some outraged people said on Twitter in response to my (admittedly) controversial comments, I truly do believe there is lots and lots of room for protagonists of all shapes, sizes, colors, (dis)abilities, and so forth- in HR and other genres. But like you, I want those stories to be written *well* with believable, three-dimensional protagonists. And their stories shouldn’t *have* to be comedies in order to get written. (Not that there’s anything wrong with comedy!)
Do you write, KarenG? I only ask because I’m not certain how much overlap there is between romance readers and writers. A lot of people have told me, “I love to read, but writing? Blech!”
I’ve taken some writing classes, but I’m good at coming up with ideas and not so good at the execution. Working on it. Maybe a story about a fat, gray haired, retired lady finding love in rehab after breaking her hip while walking one of her cats? :)
Sounds like a good story. Good luck!
“I’m good at coming up with ideas and not so good at the execution.” This is usually the case with me as well, probably one of the reasons why I’ve written short stories and novellas but not full-blown novels. I have an embarrassing number of partially finished stories all over the place. And many of my positive rejections have come with the note, “I love your characters, their voices, and your writing style, but the plot is weak/just doesn’t do it for me.” So it sounds like we’re maybe in the same boat here.
But from one writer to another, hang in there!
I’m a fat 63 year old white woman and I wanna read that book, too! And I bet we’re not the only ones…
I now so want to read that book!
And, I don’t know if you’ve read Dee Ernst. But she’s written lots of 50+ heroines.
Mary Balogh has written a few with older love interests, though I think most of those characters were in their mid 40s and 50s. I haven’t read any Dee Ernst so I’ll have to check her out. With so many active senior communities popping up around the country and the exploding std rates there, I would think there is a market for romances geared to mature adults.
Older heroines are important to me, but older fat heroines would be catnip. Especially in an historical where the H is a somewhat younger, sought-after type. Maybe a rich landowner, or a poor country doctor who also happens to be hot. If I could write it, I would. But alas, I am not that gifted.
There is an older fat heroine in the Rogue anthology – Cover Me by Olivia Dade. 40+ heroine. It is a contemp, though.
“Especially in an historical where the H is a somewhat younger, sought-after type. Maybe a rich landowner, or a poor country doctor who also happens to be hot.” I would totally be on board with this, but leaning more toward the poor country doctor. (Just a personal preference.)
“If I could write it, I would. But alas, I am not that gifted.” Aw, I bet you could. I like reading historical fiction, but I think writing it would drain me just because of all the research involved.
“I like reading historical fiction, but I think writing it would drain me just because of all the research involved.”
If I ever go back in time, there are only three things I have to take with me – a camera, a pen, and the thickest notebook ever.
I’m not American and for both personal and cultural reasons I often feel indifferent to issues that seem to preoccupy commenters on sites like this and DA, SBTB, etc. Actually, the fact that authors of doubtful historical accuracy choose to focus on perceived racism, etc. in the comments rather than the lack of quality in HR, which was the topic of the post, is an example of exactly what I’m talking about….
I’m here to find out about books I might like. Anything else I can skim over. By which I don’t mean sigh and hold my nose but literally skim over and forget about. I would have thought authors still need publicity provided by sites like this since not everyone is on social media.
So you approve of AAR speaking over WOC and queer people? Because that’s exactly what you’d say they were doing if they’d picked Tweets by any marginalized person and addressed them. Addressing a white woman’s concerns is.at least not engaging in the act of speaking over a marginalized person.
Details on the queer erasure? Details on the bigotry when it comes to m/m romance? I’ve never seen either take place here, especially the transphobia.
“So you approve of AAR speaking over WOC and queer people? Because that’s exactly what you’d say they were doing if they’d picked Tweets by any marginalized person and addressed them. Addressing a white woman’s concerns is.at least not engaging in the act of speaking over a marginalized person.”
Or: AAR could apologize. Uplift the voices of the criticizing authors of color and queer authors. Acknowledge the prejudiced comments. AND APOLOGIZE with an unequivocal apology without defensiveness.
But the only specifically prejudiced comment I can find was… from a WOC? And was deliberately misinterpreted by a white lady to stir this all up?
Nope! There was lots of nonsense all over the thread. I’m not going to do the research for you. (You can look through the thread for disdainful sarcasm about a hypothetical Muslim wheelchair using character, someone who compares reading historical fiction to visiting an impoverished country and not wanting to think about the impoverished locals, and more!) Also the general disdain for diversity, and the implication that books with diversity are not “fun” and general tone deafness.
Ahh, the classic “I won’t prove my argument because doing any linking is emotional labor”
Still waiting for the receipts on staff transphobia, queer erasure and m/m bigotry.
Is this person upset because there’s mxm novels on here?
If they don’t want idealized relationships, they can look for literary fiction with gay men involves. I’m not getting it, but maybe I’m missing something like some oblique social studies papers on why gay men can’t enjoy relationship porn. let me know.
This is about anonymous above saying
“one of the reviewers here saying something queer erasing and transphobic and refusing to apologise for it, to predominantly white top 100 lists, to bigotry over m/m romance”
The site has discussed the top 100 list but I’ve never heard of the other two things.
It’s been over 24 hours since I left this comment and still no links.
OK I’m wrong and I’m three hours early. I’m a nurse, it’s flu season and time has no meaning for me anymore.
By mentioning my comment on poor countries, and making me reread and see what I had written, instead of what I thought I had, you helped me see how insensitive and ugly it was.
I just want to say an honest thanks.
By making your criticism so specific, you make me rethink, and I can apologize for it.
Sorry, it was thoughtless and inappropriate.
What Jayne said. AAR has apologized numerous times to numerous people. And it’s impossible to uplift the voices of authors who have said they want nothing to do with you.
AAR has led me to every single diverse romance I’ve read. I don’t hear about them anywhere else, aside from very occasional mentions in more mainstream media. I can’t speak to the comments – I am more interested in the reviewers’ opinions – but it seems harsh to condemn a site doing the work to bring more diversity to the front because it won’t put blinders on about how much more work there is to be done as a society.
I think AAR has improved over the years in terms of adding diverse authors to their daily reviews as well as a number of reviewers who seek out diversity in reading content for review. However, the readership here at AAR has not felt concomitantly diverse, and I’ve been coming here for years. The forum discussions still feel very rooted in bias that support whiteness, patriarchy, heterosexuality, etc – overwhelmingly so, actually. Anytime there is a blog question that touches upon these issues, there is a blow up, some bigger than others. This recent blow up was pretty big, but it’s not a surprise at all to me that it happened or will continue to happen as long as ideas posted here continue to espouse prejudice.
I find it disingenuous to say that most of the complaints on twitter were from white people. I saw dozens of different accounts tweeting about this from authors of color, LGBTQ authors, and other diverse accounts. And their voices matter !!
If a marginalized person says that you offended them, you can’t say that they’re wrong. You especially can’t profess offense towards the marginalized person who you just insulted, craft a narrative that is self-serving and self-pitying, and then claim you care about diversity.
I’m just… completely flabbergasted.
I didn’t invalidate any authors on Twitter and I’m not doing it here. If any of those authors wishes to come here and express their feelings, then I will respond.
All those voices have the right to express their rage on Twitter and I’m not going to call them out here where readers are.
You’re right. That’s a bad word choice. How about “their concerns about AAR and its readers and staff.”
I don’t do Twitter, so this is surprising to me. I am really disappointed in Tessa Dare who I feel like is trying capitalize on people’s internet comments to sell an image of herself..
I read romance for fun and to relax. With work, kids, volunteering, and the general state of the world, I want my reading to be fun and easy – this is my leisure activity. And all this score keeping just drags it down for me. I don’t want to read authors or review sites that are trying to stuff an agenda down my throat. I want to escape into a different world where I know everything will end perfectly. I don’t mind reading about social issues in my historical or contemporary books, but not so much that their heavy-handedness is smacking me over the head. This is one of the main reasons I can no longer read Dare or Milan (who I used to love) – subtlety is your friend.
Not everyone is going to be looking for the same thing out of their reading experience, and that’s fine! But demonizing people commenting on a website – or the website itself – because they don’t agree with you, is not a good look.
I was really excited about the AAR facebook group, but I don’t see much action on there. I would love a place that talks about more of a love for the books, the stories, and the characters. I am always looking for book recommendations, and I love romance talk. It’s not really something I can talk about much in my day to day life. I think I will keep away from Twitter though ;)
Love this… “subtlety is your friend”. The story, plot and characters, should come first. The message, if there is one, should be interwoven into the story so that it feels organic. Unfortunately, some authors put the message first and skimp when it comes to having a compelling story.
I think the Facebook page will pick up eventually. It’s new, but there have been some good discussions already. There are also a lot of people who don’t do Facebook or other types of social media. The whole tweet storm business just reconfirms my decision to avoid twitter like the plague.
Thank you, Ms. Grinnan, for writing this thorough follow-up blog post topic, and dissecting what occurred over the past few days.
I applaud your continued commitment to uphold the First Amendment, and your willingness to invite alternative viewpoints into your blog. This is sadly rare in the world today. And frankly, I think it’s a lot of nerve that people told you- in rather brutal terms- what you and your readers should and shouldn’t be allowed to say on YOUR website. I don’t think you go around telling them what to say on THEIR websites, Twitter feeds, and so forth. And yet there have been a lot of cries for you to bend to their sensibilities under threat of censure. It goes back to what I have said before about people being pilloried on Twitter rather than demonstrating a willingness to engage in conversations. You know the old joke, “Everyone is entitled to MY opinion.”
As for the comments accusing me of being insensitive, I *have* given them a lot of thought. I have said more than once that I do not have a reputation for being diplomatic, often express myself through exaggerated fictional examples in order to make points, and am generally not the embodiment of congeniality. I.e. I can be a bit rough around the edges without malicious intent- and somewhat of a loudmouth as well. But despite my failings in personality, and this is a big BUT, that doesn’t mean I have to *agree* with my accusers. And they don’t have to agree with me. But I don’t think comments like “OMG you’re so racist!” do anybody any good in the long run, and are no substitute for forming a cogent rebuttal.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Is AAR Congress? Or the Government? Or is it a privately owned site? My colleague, who literally teaches the first amendment doctrines with new lawyers, would like you to know that the first amendment applies to the government and governmental entities. Not to a internet forum owned by a private entity. If you want free expression, cool. Just say you want the forum to be open to all ideas, even one’s that tiptoe towards bias, hate speech etc. But don’t couch it under some banner of first amendment protections.
To quote Ashley Ford (of Twitter) who said it brilliantly this morning – “Y’all want answers without asking questions, knowledge without doing research, and grace when you dump all that wrong into the public sphere. Sometimes you’ll get it, sometimes you won’t. But the only person who can control how often you find yourself in this situation, is you.”
You are quite correct, SJC. I did indeed misuse the term “First Amendment.” I should have separated my comment thusly: “Ms. Grinnan, I am glad you support the First Amendment, as do I. [This is in reference to an earlier comment she made on a different post]. And I am *also* glad that you and the team at AAR invite debate on your private website.”
My apologies for the conflated fallacy I presented. Thanks for your comment.
I’m thinking that means I use the term incorrectly too. I’ll stick with freedom of expression from now on.
SJC: THANK YOU you’re amazing
You bothered your colleague the first amendment expect for qualifications on an argument on a romance reviewing website?
I don’t have to say anything else. The fact that you did it says everything.
Sorry, I meant expert
My colleague and I were having lunch and discussing first amendment protections. But thank you for asking. Your comment also says a lot about you.
Oh, I’m sure it does, and I’m sure this just conveniently came up today, just when you needed the information. Funny, isn’t it?
I also went the dentist, hugged a student I mentored who came into tell me her major, read three articles in a hammock by the lake and had a lunch meeting with the aforementioned colleague while we planned a faculty community on cultural competence. Welcome to academia. Any other questions about my day or my own expertise?
Of course not.
Good for you and your hyperdefensiveness. May you live many years of real happiness together.
Honey, the only person who has been defensive in this exchange is you. You didn’t have anything substantive to add to what I said earlier, so you made the choice to snark. I responded to your rhetorical and ultimately bad faith question. Again you responded to my factual statement with bad faith snark and then pivoted to an even more mean spirited statement. Look above and track what was actually said and stop making yourself a victim, it is tiresome and childish.
Oh no, snark! How will you cope with a little mild snark in your life!
Sorry, I’m not going to run around slapping my professor creds on the table for a debate on a romance reviewing website. No one cares about your qualifications and it makes you sound like a snob.
And thank you for victim shaming me. You don’t know anything about me but if you did that’s something you wouldn’t say to me.
Give me something substantive to reply to and I’ll reply to it. Otherwise, yawn.
Please refrain from personal attacks.
I spend a lot of time on Twitter, and I’ve spent many years reading AAR’s reviews and message boards, all the way back to when Laurie Gold was running the site and there was a very active message board that could get incredibly contentious. But, at least the contentiousness was on the board where posters could follow the debate and know who was responding to whom and understand everyone’s point.. I’m not a fan of being off a blog or board and addressing a conversation to that board/blog from another platform, only because it’s unfair to both parties. Twitter is a wonderful place to get quick news, to post quick takes, or to get quick responses, but it’s not a place to have nuanced discussions. Plus, it’s so amorphous. I honestly have no idea what the first tweet was in response to AAR, who they were addressing, and whether any of the follow-on tweeters had gone back to the original source and read it. I’m sure some did, but I wouldn’t be surprised if others just retweeted based only on the twitter thread. I don’t think we serve ourselves well by not responding directly at the source and to the person with whom one disagrees.
Yes! Twitter is about speed and reacting – content accurate or not, thoughtful or not. I did read the first tweet (linked below) and Dare tweeted something very much out of context IMHO, and to my sorrow. Why is it always the bad stuff that “goes viral”? There is so much to be celebrated here, even when we respectfully disagree.
Like many others who have taken the time to post here, on all three related blogs, I have been a long time reader of AAR content. I appreciate the time everyone gives, staffers and commenters alike, to help me find books I might enjoy reading. I can’t afford to buy as many books as I’d like – and I don’t shop at Amazon either – so I make a very small, but regular contribution to the site every month because it is my favorite place to talk about romances with other romance readers. I appreciate the conversations and different points of view. I have no problem with those who respectfully disagree – and very much appreciate the time it takes to explain why, when commenters choose to do so.
I can’t begin to count the number of books and authors I’ve read because someone chose to either review or comment about a book they enjoyed, or put it in a “best of” list. I’ve been around AAR long enough to have seen the changes made (and continuing to be made) by Dabney and AAR staffers concerning diversity and inclusivity, and I’m the richer for it in my reading choices. Looking forward to even more as we all (as a community) continue to work to include everyone’s story – in books that are well-written, with interesting characters, plots, and settings; by authors who will be well-compensated for the time and effort it takes to create them. A happy ending for all, I hope.
Remain Calm And Read (and write and review) On!
If I was to look up the definition of ‘gaslighting’ I’d be surprised if this post wasn’t listed as example of it. You don’t get to hurt people and then play the victim when the people you hurt say ouch.
I think it’s… really very telling that Tessa Dare is the one who is quoted, while conveniently ignoring the fact numerous POC and queer people also spoke up. To make this out to be about white people fighting about POC is gross and problematic on a number of levels.
It’s also funny (and by funny I actually mean appalling) how this post says it’s important to listen to the speech of others while at the same time invalidating anyone speaking up about or against what was said.
AAR—from its publisher, to its reviewers, to its commenters—has a massive problem when it’s comes to inherent biases surrounding POC and queer people (if some want to say it’s straight-up bigotry then I’m not going to argue). And the thing is—the most depressing, unsurprising thing is—what happened in the comments on that historical quality post wasn’t an exception. It wasn’t a surprise. It was just another in a long line of examples where the people here tell on themselves. From reviews with thinly-disguised racism/racial bias, to one of the reviewers here saying something queer erasing and transphobic and refusing to apologise for it, to predominantly white top 100 lists, to bigotry over m/m romance—this has become a place where all of the above happens because people feel safe enough here to say it. Ask yourself how and why AAR is okay for that to be the case.
I’ll leave things with this: If anyone on this site objects to what is being/has been said about them, then may I suggest you maybe don’t gaslight? And don’t say racist or transphobic things? Or erase identities? Or say to those who speak up about their anger and hurt to “get a fucking life”? Or don’t compare the aspects that make someone who they are to items on a checklist? Or imply that the existence of someone who is marginalised is unrealistic? Maybe learn to accept that non cis white het people exist and deserve to be treated with respect and care and compassion? And understand that those people deserve to see themselves in love and happy and thriving in stories too? Maybe listen? Maybe check your privilege? Maybe try to be a better person?
I included only Tessa because it’s not my job to police people on Twitter. Tessa specifically called AAR out by name in a way I thought justified responding to her.
I think it’s clear we believe that non cis white het people exist–did you not see our review statistics? Or the fact that we have non cis white het reviewers? Check out all the DIKS we’ve reviewed this year by authors of color, all the DIKS we’ve given to queer romance and romance that showcases all kinds of people.
As I said, can AAR do better? Yes. And we are committed to doing so.
Thank you, Anonymous! You are 100% right.
Good Morning from windy high fire risk Southern California.
I think it takes lots of bravery to do what you do here on AAR in the face of a society that has forgotten about a guaranteed freedom of expression. We are all different in our values, culture, lifestyle and our just being us! Twitter and all those social media outlets are to me menacing, senseless, empty and do not add worth to my life. That this has become a way of imposing an inflexible and narrow set of values is disturbing. Who wants that? I appreciate and congratulate you for your courage in voicing your opinions in the face of so much anger by those who want to crush our ability to be free thinkers and have an opinion that is different from theirs. Daring and Spunk is what I applaud you for. Thank you for being there for all of us who enjoy AAR.
Thank you. I hope you and yours are safe. I send hope to your state and all who are menaced by fire today. I know it’s terrifying.
Color me not shocked Dare wants AAR to stop reviewing–if AAR doesn’t get ARCs they can’t review them. Cracks me up that she’s all up about censorship–worse than pot/kettle.
AAR could probably get books from the library or purchase them on our own. But it is true that encouraging authors to not allow AAR to get review copies would limit our ability to review new releases.
And let me add that authors have every right to refuse a free book to anyone. That too is part of freedom of expression.
Again, not to open another can of worms, and I’m truly not being disingenuous here, but did Dare or anyone else cite specific examples from the original post or comment threads that were considered racist? I seem to remember a negative comment about Beverly Jenkins being “boring,” but other than that the main thrust of the comments seemed to be about how so much HR is just “contemporaries in corsets” with the mind-sets and world views of the characters being distinctly 21st century.
Spotted this one searching her name.
And her asking the website to clean house. But even the staff mentioned stuff they had to repress to stop insults against other commentators.
Yeah, here’s the complete comment that Dare called out:
Note how she cuts the part where that commenter is a POC. Thank goodness we have Tessa Dare, white lady, to tell POC they’re racist and need to be shut down.
Did you see her follow-up Tweets when she realized the argument had gotten out of hand and turned back on her?
Poor girl didn’t realize she was voting for the leopards eating faces party when she raised her hand for Good White Girl duty. But that’s what you get when you lie for backpats.
I’ll just say I think that Twitter is a hard place to express nuance. My bet is Dare truly does want to make the publishing world better for authors of color. It’s unfortunate that the way she decided to do that was to attack AAR.
That would be nice, but she failed in the execution of her idea.
It would also be nice if she didn’t just write white heroes and heroines.
Thank you, NT for posting the link. I don’t use Twitter, so some of the references to it yesterday confused me. As many commenters on this thread have said, Twitter is not a productive place to make coherent arguments. I believe this is largely, if not mostly due, to the highly restrictive character count.
Looks like I was smack in the middle of a firestorm there.
There were complaints about Courtney Millan’s work as well. They and Jenkins were the only non-white authors who were criticized in the thread.
A lot of the controversy centers around the idea that the majority of the thread consisted of people claiming that historicals featuring happy endings for non gender conforming, queer, non-white or non-Christian heroes and heroines was historically anachronistic. That was a bad faith reading of the post, aside from two or three people in the thread who actually were floating such ideas, which is also two or three people too many.
As multiple people pointed out though, Tessa made a big boo boo in that she quoted Marian but edited her comment to make it look like a white woman speaking from a place of whiteness – just like she does (sshh). Tha’s the only way she can get her outrage heard – pretend AAR is filled with evil white ladies, the only group she can speak out against with any authority as a white lady herself. That she picked Marian’s comment out of the many on the page when she’s a WOC is a startling lapse of judgement and shows she didn’t do her homework.
I’m not going to pretend there weren’t racist voices speaking up from the pile, but I’m also not going to praise McLean and Dare for asking AAR to clean their house when they do the bare minimum with their own work.
I should add that the major faces outside of Dare (who has only thus far written non-nerurotypical characters) and Jenkins and Charles in this controversy don’t even approach writing diversely in their own books.
It’s not just that they’re criticizing WOC critics, they don’t even bother to diversify their own output.
I will say, in Dare’s defense, that the heroine in “The Governess Game” is mixed raced. I do believe that one heroine out of all the ones she’s written isn’t the best ratio, especially given the way she talks about matters of representation, but I do think it should be acknowledged.
Yes. We gave that one a B+. The heroine is half-Filipina.
I will admit that I forgot about the Governess Game. I’ll give her credit for writing one mixed-race heroine and several non-neurotypical ones.
But yes, you’re correct – one mixed-race heroine in a sea of white ones does not make for a diverse output.
I just checked her Goodreads page and unless I’m wrong, she’s published 29 stories and out of those 29, there is one diverse protagonist and one non-neurotypical one.
So I think my argument still stands, but please correct me if it doesn’t.
I think it’s a challenge for white romance authors to write PoC characters in that many of them–which is great–are trying to support the Own Voices movement.
While I appreciate that effort, I don’t believe it’s hard to write books about people who don’t share your race. I’m a human being just like any other person – I’m flawed but kind, I have problems, regrets and hobbies.
If an author is afraid of making a mistake when it comes to a language they don’t speak or culture they aren’t a part of they could hire a sensitivity reader who’s a part of that culture to make sure they aren’t being insulting.
Yes–that seems like the way to go.
“While I appreciate that effort, I don’t believe it’s hard to write books about people who don’t share your race.” I suppose that depends on the author in question. Every writer experiences different challenges/comfort levels in her writing. Sometimes the difficulty is a fear of “messing up” and then being lambasted online- whether that’s writing from the perspective of a character who is a different sex, race, ethnicity, orientation, etc. Often, this fear alone can scare an author into saying to herself, “Forget it. I’ll just stay in my lane.” Is this right; is this wrong? In my opinion, it’s complicated. Personally, I prefer to critique writers’ work upon what they have actually written rather than what they haven’t written.
As an example of this phenomenon, Amy Tan was asked by an audience member at a book talk, “Would you ever write a principal character who wasn’t Chinese?” She replied something along the lines of, “I suppose I could but why would I want to?” Elaborating upon this statement, she explained that she writes primarily female Chinese characters because it is a culture she knows intimately. Likewise, she mentioned, she would be unlikely to write from the POV from a man- even though she was sure she could and would do a good job. This does not necessarily mean that Ms. Tan has a problem with men or non-Chinese characters. But she chooses to write from a place of familiarity. And, coming from the camp of “writers should write what they want to write,” I have no problem with this. Incidentally, I greatly enjoyed reading two of her novels: “The Joy Luck Club” and “The Valley of Amazement.” (This reminds me. I should look into her other novels too. So much to read, so little time.)
“I’m a human being just like any other person – I’m flawed but kind, I have problems, regrets and hobbies.” I completely agree. We are all messy, complicated individuals. If we weren’t, I don’t think novels would exist.
“If an author is afraid of making a mistake when it comes to a language they don’t speak or culture they aren’t a part of they could hire a sensitivity reader who’s a part of that culture to make sure they aren’t being insulting.” I have mixed feelings about the use of sensitivity readers. Like anything a writer chooses to do, she is more than welcome to hire one if she pleases. There are even publishing houses that do this as a matter of policy. But sensitivity readers are individuals, just like everyone else. They may find something innocuous that another member of their group may find deeply offensive. And I don’t believe self-published writers in particular should be pressured to hire someone when finances may already be tight. I realize this may come across as insensitive, and I can just hear the rebuttal that self-published authors need to hire an editor, so how is this any different? Well, again, it depends on the writer, genre, and individual circumstances. Self-published erotica writers, for example, usually don’t hire *anybody* because readers of this genre are generally not as particular about editing, cover design, and characterization. (Not that there aren’t discerning erotica readers. I am just describing a general trend based on observation.)
As an author, I do get a little bristly when it comes to people saying what writers can/can’t or should/shouldn’t write. I *do* think that the more writers and varied stories there are in the world, the better. And traditional publishing is sorely outdated in many ways and can bungle things in acquisitions (i.e. not taking chances, not promoting unique stories, etc.) This can be a serious obstacle in breaking out of the old tired tropes, as a lot of us commented in the previous AAR topic.
Are you an author, Nah? I ask because I thought I read a previous comment of yours saying you are an #ownvoices writer. If so, are you traditionally published, self-published, or hybrid? Do you write romance? I am always curious to hear about fellow authors’ writing projects, writing processes, and other insights related to the trade of the written word.
I think there’s a very thick line between wanting only to write about people like yourself and speaking over or in the stead of people whose voices one ought to be amplifying. In Dare and McLean’s cases, they had no leg to stand on.
And honestly,some authors shouldn’t approach diversity if they don’t think they can handle the topic correctly. I can think of several terrible examples in which white, cis or ablebodied authors have written ableist, transphobic or racist content in recent months. But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t or couldn’t try.to do better.
I’d actually disagree when it comes to erotica authors. Some of them are Chuck Tingle and some of them are churning out cheap books for cheap profits.
I’m fully supportive of writing whatever you feel like writing. And I’m currently unpublished but looking for a publisher.
Thank you, Nah, for replying to my comment.
I agree that Ms. Dare’s reaction was startling. And I was surprised she didn’t make a comment on AAR directly if she felt that way about it. Also, I wonder how many people who responded to her Tweet in agreement only read her reaction to AAR’s blog topic versus actually reading it from the original source.
Since I don’t use Twitter, I didn’t realize for about two days that she made a screen capture of one of my controversial comments- which drew a lot of ire. And when I did see it, I noticed her screen capture did not include my entire quote, which I think is telling. I believe you said she was similarly selective when quoting and criticizing one of Marian Perera’s remarks and then back peddled. Even though she vehemently disagreed with our comments, I think she should have at least exercised the courtesy of quoting or screen capturing the entire quotes for context. Reading through the replies on her Tweet feed, I think only one person mentioned that she thought the quotes may have needed additional context before making a judgment.
Yes, I supposed I’m biased when it comes to my experiences with erotica. There are so many results for self-published books/short stories in the genre, that it is easy to forget there is a wide range of story quality and character development, just like any genre. I’m not going to pretend to be above the “cheap books for cheap profits” scheme. I crank out some of that smut myself in between my ongoing m/m erotic romance novella series. (I use the term “smut” with the utmost respect.) Although I would like to see more on the profit end of my ventures. It’s hard out here for a (literary) pimp…
Ah, Mr. Tingle. What can one say about his work? I heard a hysterical reading of one of his meta within meta stories on YouTube. It really cheered me up one day.
Good luck finding a publisher! When you get published, please let us know on AAR.
Dare did a few things during this argument that ruined her main point. But commenting here would be engaging with the enemy and get her less attention from her Nice White Lady audience. But editing the screen caps was a bush league Twitter troll level move, and kind of embarrassing.
Good luck to you too.
I agree with so many things others have said. I’m not on Twitter. I think it fuels a lot of discontent, hate and anger. It reminds me of an old SF novel (can’t remember the title or author) where a telepath goes insane from the inability to filter out the noise of everyone’s petty thoughts (let’s face it, we ALL have petty thoughts). Twitter seems to me a lot like that. In small doses it may be okay, but to be on it as much as some people are just isn’t healthy, and it’s a breeding ground for all those petty thoughts. In my own personal life I learned a long time ago that comparing myself to others, keeping score over who has it better or worse, or more advantages in life, etc., is a toxic exercise.
I also think there has been progress with marginalized groups getting more representation. Is it enough? Not yet, but as strides are made in the film and television industries, I can’t help but feel that publishing will eventually loosen up. I think there is a lot of potential and a big untapped market for marginalized people to tell their stories and their own side of history. I’m interested in reading them.
I’m just a reader, lower-middle class, with no ties to publishing, marketing, or authors. I come to AAR and a few other book-related review sites to get ideas on what to read. I like finding books that aren’t the current trend, that are off the beaten path, and that are about people different from me. Occasionally I’m looking for a familiar-feeling comfort read, too. I have room in my reading life for all kinds of books. I don’t meet many people in my real life that read as widely as I do, so I’m always looking for ideas. However, there are a lot of books that have been popular that I haven’t read. I don’t just primarily read romance. I read broadly and unfortunately don’t have enough time or money to read as deeply as I would like. But, that is life for you. I’ve watched a lot of forums and review sites die out over the years. I think AAR provides a valuable service. I appreciate the effort that goes into keeping it running.
I like having a balance of opinions. But asking people to change their views without some suggestions feels weird.
One of my favorite comic reviewers is just some guy. And I like how he tries to dissect why this title doesn’t work, how roughly the politics play out in story and some jokes about the writer, like Mark Waid’s accidental erasure of his black identity as a black guy and Kwanza’s comic being effected by bad editing and spotty writing.
I want to improve romance things as a whole without stepping on toes, but sometimes I end up finding someone finding toes to step on.
Then I had a thought. Some discourse came up with the AAR list and some WOC authors popped up because the authors voted for them. There wasn’t like a tournament voting thing, it was more like an user poll. But I’m not managing the website so I can’t change stuff there.
How do you make a small scholarship for English learners? I have like 200 dollars in savings and the idea of trying to bridge more voices into book writing sounds nice, but I have never made a scholarship before. And letting authors make fiction or make trade manuals on their own sounds like a way to enable more writers.
Oh. I just remembered to check how old this site is. And it was made in 1996? Whoa. It’s younger than I’m am.
Of course there’s going to be weird reviews on there. They were written over two decades of trying to change stuff over time. There’s even time stamps of when stuff was reviewed here.
Oh right. What am I doing? Here’s a real good example of his reviews. He discusses SJW stuff and where they are coming from to an extent, but he feels earnest and approachable like a dagger or a Tanto. It’s inspired me to read from comixology.
I feel sad over this situation. There isn’t one single person in the whole planet that can be physically and psychologically 100% the same as someone else, so why are people so admired different readers have different opinions?
I applaud your courage to keep going, to go ahead with the task of having a platform for readers.
If it were me, I’d have made a post saying the site would just close. If I feel offended/sad over something, I try to stay away from it, just read my books and have my thoughts to myself.
With so much confusion, entitlement in what should be correct or not, the fun in reading for pleasure is disappearing.
I’ll keep reading your reviews, please don’t give up but if you do, I’d definitely understand.
‘Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!’,
I’m with DiscoDollyDeb, Dabney ,seems to me folks should make sure of their facts before they state them. I think you do an excellent job.
I really enjoy this site and will continue to do so,
I’ve been reading your reviews pretty much as long as I’ve been reading romance and have always found it a balanced resource for finding new books. Of course I don’t always agree with your reviewers, but if I were reviewing, no one would always agree with me because tastes differ. I don’t know of a site that is as balanced and thorough as this one.
As for Twitter — to be honest, I don’t know why anyone pays any attention to the ranters there.
I’ve been reading AAR for year, since I was a teenager and I tend to stay away from your forums because they are an echo chamber that reflect a very specific demographic. And if I could, as a response to this post, I would post that Principal Skinner meme from the Simpsons. “Am I out of touch? — No, it’s the children who are wrong”. Labeling the problem as “Twitter” without engaging with the substantive arguments that were made feels like patting yourself on the back. Especially when some of the writers you claim as “the good ones” in that mess of HR, state that you are wrong. People can read. They can look at the chain of comments (like I did) feel disgusted by them (like I did) and walk away and/or engage with them in a public manner.
A question: why did you not change the echo chamber instead of standing outside of it? You can’t fix a demographic problem unless you speak up.
I have the skill to go into a long history of the term emotional labor and the toll it takes on black women (and FYI, I am a black woman) but I am going to reply by simply saying, “It is not my job to “fix demographic problems”. I am not a demographic. I don’t get paid to police forums that are not for me and are unwelcome to me. I stay in and inhabit places that are welcoming to me and mine” and keep it moving.
And I’m Jewish, Latina and Bi. Nice to meet you. Want me to talk about the emotional toll the romance community has taken on me even in places deemed ‘safe’? Because I could. I’m not a demographic either but isn’t it funny how this situation has reduced us to nothing but. Sad, too.
SJC: Thank you for saying that. I agree 100%
I was browsing another site a couple of days ago, and I came across a review of a historical with a heroine of color, set in an Asian country. The reviewer said although she enjoyed the book in general, at one point, she found it difficult to understand the heroine’s reasons for doing something. But she (the reviewer) also felt her lack of connection with the heroine in this aspect was influenced by her Western perspective.
One of the comments from a reader was that this indicated white supremacy.
To me, the review was respectful and balanced. At no point did it ever, IMO, suggest a Western perspective was superior to an Asian one. However, it didn’t show the reviewer in complete harmony with a heroine of color, nor did the reviewer consider the book perfect, so that might have been a problem for the reader.
Reading that, as well as reading comments here, has made me wary of reviewing diverse books (though since I was born in Sri Lanka and grew up in the Middle East, it might be an interesting experience to be accused of being a white supremacist). I also feel that if criticism is equated with racism, and if accusations of racism are allowed to fly freely, it shuts down balanced discourse.
I’ll still read any book that catches my eye, but I’d prefer to review books where I’m not at risk of being attacked or name-called for doing so.
“I also feel that if criticism is equated with racism, and if accusations of racism are allowed to fly freely, it shuts down balanced discourse.” Perfectly stated.
“though since I was born in Sri Lanka and grew up in the Middle East, it might be an interesting experience to be accused of being a white supremacist.” Sadly, I think the term “white supremacist” is often used today as a general ad hominem attack rather than a gateway into a productive conversation. I’ve read a lot of comments on the internet in general that can easily be described as, “You disagree with me on (insert issue). You must be a white supremacist!” And on the internet where people can remain somewhat hidden, I have seen examples of people calling others “white supremacists-” when the person in question isn’t even remotely white. Which begs the question, should the validity of a person’s arguments be based on the color of their skin or any other rubric besides the content of the argument itself? (And with that question, I can feel the next firestorm coming.)
People of color can support and endorse white supremacy — just read Toni Morrison incredible novels, such as The Bluest Eye, if you have doubts. Likewise, women can align themselves with patriarchy. For instance, my mother believed women were subservient to men and that my father deserved to be head of the household because he was a man. She endorsed patriarchy and was perplexed when her daughters identified as feminists. These are ideological issues rather than “essentialist” ones, meaning that biology does not determine or determine alone our responses to our world. White people can endorse anti-racism, or white people can endorse racism, though all white people benefit from the privileges of whiteness. There are lots of reading materials out there on critical race and gender studies that distinguish among these ideas. But in short, to say that someone is a person of color and therefore cannot possibly advocate racist beliefs is inaccurate.
Thank you, Nan! I agree, certain accusations are just used as attacks. It’s got to the point where they don’t register with me because they’re disrespectful, inaccurate and usually contain misinterpretations, so the best thing to do is allow people their say but not engage with them or try to have a discussion.
Hi, AAR. Since you so kindly asked that any members of marginalized groups put their suggestions in the comments, here is mine.
I was deeply hurt by your choice to platform Kristan Higgins during the “Good Luck with that” **controversy.** That book was extremely damaging and caused one of the most violent and terrible relapses I’ve ever had on my bulimia. As a fat woman who struggled with these issues all my life, to see you, a website that I trusted, basically giving her a pat on the back for something so harmful, after people had said it was harmful and explained why…that fundamentally broke the trust and faith I had in you. I could no longer choose to believe that you had your readers’ best interests at heart.
This is just an example of my own personal experience based on my own marginalizations. My suggestion is that if you want people to feel included and recognized and supported and acknowledged on your site…maybe don’t platform people who are harmful and have done harm. This includes authors, reviewers, bloggers and, yes, even your own commenters.
Just my two cents.
A disappointed former fan.
Thank you for your feedback. I know that book made many unhappy. (For readers curious what we’re discussing here, it is an interview I did with Kristan Higgins about her book Good Luck with That.) Anne, I am sorry our work was damaging to you. That book hit many in many different ways and I pushed Kristan to talk about the controversial choices she made.
Again, if you want to help, help by reading and buying works by diverse authors. As I said, we’ve reviewed lots and over a third of the ones we’ve reviewed in 2019 are DIKs! Here’s a link to books we’ve tagged as by authors of color.
I read the entire original post and all the comment threads (and posted a couple of comments myself), and while there were a couple of comments (I’ll refrain from naming names) that caused me to raise my eyebrows, I found nothing overtly racist (or any other kind of negative *ist). I’m baffled as to Dare’s response. Where is her anger coming from? Where is she reading the racist content? Perhaps she didn’t like specific comments about her books or those of Courtney Milan, but not liking someone’s work is not the same as racism. I’m completely gobsmacked by her reaction. Every day that passes makes me happy I’m not on social media, especially Twitter.
Hello, DiscoDollyDeb. I think a lot of the anger was directed at me for one of my comments. Ms. Dare made a screen capture here: https://twitter.com/TessaDare/status/1187468666981404673.
I won’t rehash the kerfuffle here, as I have made several elaborations/clarifications/explanations of my controversial post both on this thread and the quality of HR one.
Incidentally, my far more innocuous comments are no longer being accepted at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. They simply don’t appear. So I’m wondering if they’re blocking me because of what went down at AAR. I wasn’t given a warning or explanation, but that is their decision, of course. I’m just glad AAR hasn’t thrown me out on my ear yet.
Oh my. If SBTB is blocking you there because of AAR, I am so sorry. I respect their right to limit who can or can’t interact with their site of course. Let me tell you, you are in no danger of being thrown out here. I don’t think we’ve ever, in my tenure, with AAR, blocked anyone. We reserve the right to limit comments when they cross a line (We are working on clear comment rules this week, FYI.) but we’ve never kicked anyone off AAR and I hope we never will.
Thank you for your kind words, Ms. Grinnan. I can’t say for certain if that is the reason my posts are disappearing or just never showing up at all. At this point, I only suspect. I sincerely hope it is an oversight like some glitch in the program, because Christina Dalcher, the author of “Vox,” (the book we were discussing when my comment disappeared), replied to my comment which disappeared before I had a chance to read and reply. So frustrating! I am saddened if I am really being blocked there though, because I had some good times with a lot of up votes and follow-up comments. And like AAR, I’ve found good book recs there and offered a few of my own. So disappointing!
Let’s hope it’s just a glitch!
You should also get a note that your comment is awaiting moderation as all comments there autopublish.
Good news, everyone. It turned out to be a glitch like I thought. Yes, my comment about AAR was intentionally removed because SBTB didn’t want to be involved in that kerfuffle (and I don’t blame them!), but it was my link that turned out to be the issue. (I don’t have a website for my books, so I linked to Amazon. Apparently, the auto spam filters didn’t like that.) So I’m back in business commenting on SBTB, and they were very kind about it. I just wanted to let you know that the issue is resolved with (hopefully!) no hard feelings from anyone about it.
I am happy to hear that. I couldn’t imagine SBTB being so petty.
Try using a new nick and see what happens Nan De Plume, Sounds like it might be a glitch. There are dissenting voices being published on the Bound in Flame review, for instance, so if they’re persona non grataing you should confront them.
Hi, CuriousCat. I tried posting comments on other posts, but the same thing happened. My comment simply doesn’t register. In the past I have gotten the “comment is awaiting review” message, but not this time. And I have never had a comment rejected before. I have written to Sarah on the contact form, so we’ll see what happens
And oh, a new nickname? I haven’t tried that, but I think the comments would be linked to my e-mail anyhow.
Twitter is full of angry people looking for something to shout about. I rarely go there these days.
That thread was right. And I rarely go anywhere else for informed reviews. Amazon is useless, the system is broken, so this is the most reliable source for me. I don’t always agree with you, but you always give reasons for it, and so I can make my own judgment. Keep on trucking!
Wow, had no idea about the Twitter backlash…
TBH, I’m confused.
AAR posed the question “Does Historical Romance have a quality problem?” Then you allowed readers to respond, as usual.
Tons of folks posted their thoughts, mostly agreeing that HR does have a problem. Lots of issues were mentioned.
Along the way, as might be expected, some posters disagreed with other posters about whether something was an issue, what could/should be done to fix said issue, and so on. Some posters also said that AAR wasn’t doing a good enough job advocating/supporting diversity in the romance genre, and that this counted as an issue.
It was interesting to see so many diverse points of view and the reasoning behind them. Very educational and enlightening. (I happen to think that’s a good thing.)
But now that I’ve looked at some of the Twitter stuff from Tessa Dare and others…. the ranting/attacks actually confused me.
Are these folks saying that AAR should have “curated” the free-for-all discussion? And perhaps removed all posts that did not past 2019 SJW muster?
Or are they saying that the question should not have been asked in the first place, because everyone was allowed to respond, and only certain social/demographic groups should have been accorded that right?
Or are they saying something else?
I don’t mean to be dense, but I’m actually baffled about what the problem is that Dare and others are having with the original post here on AAR.
Could it really be that the “problem” is that AAR allows diversity of opinion when it’s readers post?
What am I missing?
I think some people were advocating a boycott of AAR. But, I think many instead were speculating on the silence and lack of response around racially insensitive posts. The more egregious posts were copied and pasted on Twitter and sat there for thousands of people to view, I thought it was problematic that when I went back to the AAR forum, few if any readers were challenging them. In that context, it did look like this is a site filled with as Dabney said, “mostly white people.” I don’t think it’s necessarily reviewers’ job to censor prejudiced ideas, but the absence of readers responding in culturally sensitive ways troubles me and does give me pause to be here anymore.
Blackjack, thanks for that response, I appreciate the clarification.
I understand your comment, but why didn’t the readers on Twitter who were concerned about the comments come to the blog where they were actually made and respond to them? Wouldn’t that be more productive than just posting on Twitter where some of the people you disagree with might not be … or even if they were on Twitter, are not always going to see the comments? (Frankly, even though I frequently visit AAR, I don’t read all of the blog posts and their attending comments. I’m here for the book reviews and the wonky message board with the challenges thread, before it disappeared. ;-) So, this whole discussion went right past me until I stumbled across some tweets on Twitter, but *not* the original tweet.)
I agree, Sandlynn. I wish those who feel hurt and frustrated with AAR reader comments would post here, but maybe for many, it feels like entering enemy territory. Contrary to some of the views expressed here, I found many of the Twitter comments illuminating. Romance author Alexis Daria posted on her account. “intersectionality is not a checklist,” and that was starkly stated and powerful. Courtney Milan posted all of the normative categories that are taken for granted and never even considered a “checklist,” such as “white, heterosexual, able-bodied, cis” etc. I suspect authors though are not keen to dispute with readership, especially readers who express ideas that oppose their own creative works.
What checklist? Did anyone post a checklist?
The word “Checklist,” which is why I put it in quotes, is a term used by some of the commenters who argued that writers today have a checklist or quota of diverse categories they include in their books to “virtue signal.”
I’ve been here on and off since the early 00’s. I’m also a POC and I’ve never felt marginalized or offended here. I come here for the well thought out reviews and I can’t even tell you how many authors I’ve found through this site. I’ve actually stopped frequenting other blogs because of how strident they’ve become. Keep up the good work.
That’s nice to hear. Thank you.
Dare called out AAR and AAR answered. Daria’s books get great press here just like most of Milan’s.
There’s the missing key that no one’s mentioning – most romances by #ownvoices authors and featuring diverse protagonists reviewed here have gotten a B or higher.
The exceptions have been few and far between which is normal in the reviewing field because no author will be letter perfect in every single book they release.
Yes, that irony hasn’t escaped me.
The mean and hateful comments are so sad to me. I love AAR and appreciate the hard work these reviewers are doing for FREE. I have found so many wonderful books here. I must admit that I usually don’t know whether the author is a PoC, identifies as LGBTQ or what their political or religious views are. It really doesn’t matter to me as long as the writing is good and story makes me feel. I read and enjoy almost every genre as long as there is an HEA.
If anyone thinks they can do better, then they need to volunteer to help this wonderful staff. Give your time and genius to broaden the range of books reviewed, so we can all support books we may not hear about otherwise.
Again, please try to remember these reviewers do this for NOTHING but the enjoyment they get from reading and sharing with others what they thought about the book. Don’t put the burden on them to include what you want to read about, and by whom. Join them and others will learn and grow from your great recommendations and positive voice on new books and new authors about all kinds of romance.
I feel so exasperated by this but in today’s climate I suppose it was only a matter of time before you came on to the radar. I seem to remember reading years ago that Tessa Dare and Courtney Milan are very good friends. Given some comments were made about Courtney in the discussion I have to wonder if that motivated Tessa’s outburst.
You must be feeling completely miserable about all this. Take heart from this quote from an article by Canon Dr Giles Fraser writing about another contentious vote about Brexit. He was defending the Labour MP Lisa Nandy.
“shouting … from the side lines , condemning those who are tasked with the sort of moral decision making from which most of us are spared – that is one of the most spectacular forms of self-righteousness you can imagine, and built on the luxury position of not having to face the fact that the world is a much more complicated place than we would like it to be.
Twitter is the home of cost-free wisdom…it is a place where people parade their own innocence. Ignore the lot of them. You did good, even if I know it probably doesn’t feel that way…”
I wish you all the very best – this will pass – and keep up the good work.
I’ve been coming to AAR for over 10 years, although mostly as a lurker than a poster. Aside from the honest reviews, I especially enjoy reading readers interactions with each other on the message boards or comments section. It is, by far, the most restrained, honest, yet respectful online discussions I’ve seen, and the main reason why I keep coming back to AAR daily. I suspect the moderator of this board has a lot to do with ensuring these online discussions from easily going downhill.
Reading is a personal taste, and one shouldn’t be shamed for liking or disliking a book. It also can’t be faked: you either connect with a book, or you don’t, and no amount of shaming or peer pressure can change that.
The trend to shun or ban something or someone for voicing something unpopular is deeply childish. How are we going to learn from one another if everyone must conform to ‘approved’ opinions?
Thank you AAR, for allowing discussions and protecting freedom of speech when it is threatened on all sides. This is why I have started trying to comment here, when I am still too afraid to comment on other romance sites.
This culture of enforcing a single, rigid, extremely narrow “right” set of values and ideas is frightening to me. We lose all critical thinking, instead we must toe the party line or risk being piled on on twitter, silenced and “cancelled”. I don’t know how this can be seen as progress, when we are losing the ability to think for ourselves, to choose our values because we truly believe in them and not because we are told that they are the only virtuous and acceptable ones.
I will continue to stay away from the toxic culture on twitter. This also reaffirms my decision to never follow author social media, and stick to newsletters only. Knowing the petty behaviour of authors would ruin their books for me. I’d rather not know anything about an author and enjoy their books.
Thanks for the support. Another way AAR is promoting diverse romance is through our Amazon storefront. This list, which we add to weekly, is full of diverse reads AAR loves.
I made my comments on why AAR is good for me, how much I learn and how much I expand into reading and learning about PoC, different sexual orientation, etc., on the last blog. I appreciate this romance book review community that seems to struggle with a rapidly changing world and tries to learn about it – and this is how AAR feels to me. A journey we do, not a perfect goal achieved. Good books, fun and a feel good time with books are at the core of AAR’s mission. This core is done in a way that I see as soft change, as showing not preaching, as showcasing good books, from many diverse people, and offering many diverse stories, AAR is consciously looking for good books outside a narrow margin of traditional romance. I like that, I support that. I am grateful that Dabney and the reviewers offer their spare time to give us this service. Thank you AAR, you are an important treasure for me, my reading life is different because you exist. I am not sure what I should repeat here. Most of what I said in that last blog I would wish to repeat. It took courage to write those comments, and I appreciate that some people took the time to react positively to my post – it is important to be reassured if putting myself out there. I hope we can do that for each other, no matter if we agree or disagree. I admire you all who are commenting, and I am sad and frightened at how hard it has become to have a dialogue. I honestly feel helpless, in the face of all this communication difficulties, and anger and personal attacks. I try to reflect, I try to learn, I try to understand, I try to “walk in another’s shoes”. As best I can. And yes, the last two – three- five years have been a steep learning curve, because I am a middle aged white woman living in a country in Europe in which we are nearly all white. So I try. I probably fail regularly. One of the reasons why I fail: More and more, I am becoming frightened of even asking any questions I may have, or mentioning my lack of understanding for a problem that I have never had. Defensive? probably, it is hard not to feel defensive when experiencing strong emotions towards me. I get that I am privileged – but how specifically, what I should do about it, and how to be sensitive, and what is right and wrong, and how to look from another side – if I cannot ask, I cannot learn. If the reaction is “I should have known already”, well, I hated that one as a small child – well, I do not know, and I honestly want to learn, to understand, to find a fair and inclusive way forward. And I feel that this seriously compromised if my lack of knowledge, my lack of sensitivity, my lack of understanding is already the reason for anger. Then I will be silent. And not learn. I hope that AAR will not be silent, its slow but steady development to being more inclusive, and towards offering me diverse good books is a treasure for me. I would not read so many diverse books if I did not get recommendations here, from people I trust. I want to live in a world where we all have a good and fair place, which cannot happen if I cannot come to the table from where I am today. I am a thinking being, I need to understand, to learn. That is a vulnerable space. I certainly have habits of thought that are not right, and I need to change them. I do my best, but unfortunately, I need the forbearance of those who are in a worse place, otherwise I will not be able to leave my “privileged” mental space. To help me, I compare this to being a woman in a man’s world. Which I always was, and still am. I need(ed) to be patient with men who were willing but did not know, and harsh with men who did not want to know. And the balance was always difficult. and exhausting. And sometimes, I felt that I was bringing hurt on myself, because I continued to try and discern, instead of just walking away and/or attacking. And often, I only knew looking back if I… Read more »
Very well said.
Lovely post, Lieselotte. Everyone needs to draw breath and relax a bit. Consideration and kindness on ALL sides will permit learning, acceptance and enjoyment of what we celebrate here: romantic fiction.
Lieselotte, I’m a white woman myself and I have one recommendation for you: In order to not place the burden of explaining (probably over and over again) on marginalized people by asking them (potentially) insensitive questions, there is one very valuable thing you can do, and that’s listening. And I mean exactly that. There was a good thread on Twitter a while ago (it can be a very informative place if you curate it) that recommended simply following members of marginalized communities on Twitter and reading their tweets. Not badgering them with questions, not demanding explanations, just reading. LISTENING.
You will learn so much this way, I promise. Without ever having to ask a question, without taking up even more space than we already do. That doesn’t mean you should never ask a question, but maybe try to ask yourself first: Can I google that? Are there personal essays/articles/books by people that I can read to educate myself? There is a WEALTH of information out there.
So just listen. Read. Retweet, recommend, and amplify the voices of marginalized authors (and readers) without centering yourself in the conversation.
That’s of course not the be-all and end-all of all advice (I am still learning myself and making mistakes), but it is a starting point.
You say that having a dialogue has become hard – I disagree. The problem is that the “white voice” side of the dialogue is far too loud, far too ignorant and often really hurtful (I am not excluding myself from that). The solution isn’t to get upset when someone calls you out for a problematic (and again, probably hurtful) comment or stance – the solution is to not be so aggressively loud. Lower your voice. Listen. Because the anger is entirely justified.
And please look up intersectionality – comparing this situation to “being a woman in a man’s world” is really not appropriate.
Thank you for posting this! Intersectionality is the perfect term needed for these debates and so missing here!
Louise said: “The problem is that the “white voice” side of the dialogue is far too loud, far too ignorant and often really hurtful (I am not excluding myself from that). The solution isn’t to get upset when someone calls you out for a problematic (and again, probably hurtful) comment or stance – the solution is to not be so aggressively loud. Lower your voice. Listen. Because the anger is entirely justified.”
I am afraid I can’t accept criticism of any voice, be it white, black, blue or purple simply based on the criteria of the “colour” of that voice. We are all entitled voice an opinion as long as it’s courteous and considered. It now seems that there is an expectation that we self-monitor lest we offend anyone who identifies as marginalised or a victim. And who defines either marginal or victim for there are surely many variations of meaning? And if a person self-defines in this way does it perpetuate an argument that modern (and I assume we may mean) western society is so awful that the concept of equality is simply impossible in the next thousand years or until a certain cadre die off? I find that sad. If I hadn’t identified myself as white, educated and middle class in an earlier post, how would (or should) anyone know exactly who or what I am? I find it really hard to understand disparagement of anyone’s colour including mine. It really does not matter to me what colour anyone is and, I expect, neither does it to 99.9% of those who visit AAR. Personally I enjoy coming here for reasons I have stated elsewhere and not to enrol in Sociology 101. And I don’t wish to be judgmental here but for me Twitter (and most social media) is about the last place I would look for fact or rational discourse on pretty much anything.
Thanks elaine s, I see that part of it as well. The risk of silencing anyone who is engaging from wherever they happen to be, courteously.
However, I hear Louise and many others and prefer to stop now.
I do not wish to show myself on these topics, anymore.
Causing pain and anger is not my goal.
Neither to others, nor to myself.
Apologies to all.
Yes, I hear you. Appreciate you taking the time to give a thoughtful answer.
I think it takes a lot of guts to create and maintain a place where people can be so open about their opinions. Freedom of expression is, to me, a fundamental right of humanity. I only think we need to have a care about how we speak to and about others.
Good on you, Dabney. I look at various other romance sites but always come back to AAR. I will always carefully consider what others have to say but my reading choices are mine alone and if they offend others that’s their problem and not mine. AAR is a wonderful tool and I appreciate that your presentation and choices always seem fair and don’t have an agenda. If I don’t feel attracted to a story with LGBTQ+ characters, for example, it’s not because AAR dissed, recommended or exalted it but because it was my decision which I am freely allowed to make. I am a white, educated, middle class woman and just turned 70. But I believe that it matters no more than being a WoC, aged 25, poor and unemployed because we are at AAR because we like romantic fiction and not because we feel compelled to criticise others’ choices, change the world to conform to our personal POV or apologise for who and what we are. Thank you again for all that you and your team do and long may you do it. With best wishes always!!