Reblog: Author Sugar Jamison on Romance Novels and a Post Racial America

I’m a cRAZy deadline so I apologize for my lack of blogging. But here is a post I wrote for Heroes and Heartbreakers that I wrote a few weeks ago. I’m rather proud of it.

Too see the original post and comments click here.

A post-racial America. That term has been thrown around a lot since the election of President Barack Obama in 2008. Post-racial means a society devoid of prejudice, preference, and discrimination. That all men are finally created equal.

But as Americans are we really there yet? Are we really judged by the content of our character and not by the color of our skin?

In my opinion, we’re not post-racial. I don’t think we ever will be. Because the first thing a person sees when they look at somebody is their skin color, then their sex, then their clothing. And with those things humans make snap judgments of how they think a person is going to be.

I could go deeply into the sociological, economical, and historical aspects of why America will never truly be post-racial, but I won’t. I’m going to talk about romance novels because that’s what I know.

I’m a single twenty-something. I’m college educated. In my real life I teach elementary school in a nice town in Connecticut. My favorite authors are Elizabeth Hoyt, Mary Balogh, and Susan Elizabeth Phillips. I love going to Maine and have a serious addiction to Project Runway.

Are you starting to form a picture of me in your mind?

Now what if I told you I was black, or African American, for the politically correct? Would your picture of me change? Good for you if it doesn’t. But for a lot of people it does. Especially when people find out I’m a writer. One of the first things my good friend, a white male, said to me when he found out I was being published was, “I can’t wait to read all your sassy black lady books.”

I didn’t respond to his comment because I didn’t want to explain that the heroines in my books are sassy, but they aren’t all black ladies. My books aren’t just for black readers.

When my brother saw the cover of my second book he said, “Why aren’t these people black?”

I looked over to his red-haired, fair-skinned, longtime girlfriend, whom I adore, then back to him and said, “Your girlfriend’s not black either. You don’t see me questioning you about that!”

And then I got an e-mail from a reader who told how much she loved my first book but wished that my heroine was black. She asked me if I planned to write African American romances or interracial romances. That one made me feel guilty. I scrambled to answer that in my third book in that series the heroine is a woman of color and that I do write interracial romances for another publisher.

It almost felt like my blackness was being questioned: ”You’re black. Why don’t you write about black people?“

The simple answer to that is I do. The complicated answer to that is when I sit down to write my books I don’t plan on writing black or white characters. I write the story of the person who is making the most noise in my head at the moment.

Does Sherry Thomas get those questions? “You’re Asian. Why don’t you write about Asian people?” She writes historicals. Not a person of color in them. Are people questioning her?

I don’t think so.

I never went out seeking romance novels. They found me when I was a teenager working in a rest stop on a highway. There was a little stand with maybe ten books on it. Catherine Coulter’s Night Fire was the first one I picked up. Then Jude Deveraux’s The Summer House. Then Susan Elizabeth Phillips’s This Heart of Mine. I never thought about the characters being white or black. I never felt shafted because the heroine didn’t look like me. I wanted a good story. I wanted to get lost in a world that wasn’t my own.

When I decided I wanted to become a writer, I knew I had romantic comedy in my blood. It was authors such as Jennifer Crusie, Kristan Higgins, and Susan Donovan from whom I studied and learned. I haven’t come upon an African American author who specializes in romantic comedies yet. Brenda Jackson and Rochelle Alers were my first role models. It wasn’t until years later that I learned about the great Francis Ray. And while their books are hot and moving and thought-provoking, they aren’t really funny. That makes me wonder—why aren’t more African American writers writing rom-com?

And why don’t we see more white writers crossing the lines and writing more main characters of color? Is that because white readers don’t read books about minorities?

Why can’t I name any Hispanic romance writers off the top of my head?

Why aren’t more ethnic and multicultural books rushing to the top of the best seller charts?

America is changing.

Shouldn’t the color of the authors we see at the top be changing too?

If we were really as post-racial as we’d like to think we are, then it wouldn’t matter who wrote what. We would see all kinds of beautiful mixing and matching in romance novels. Nothing would get in the way of wanting a good story.

Am I wrong? Enlighten me. What are some of your favorite multicultural books?

 

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4 thoughts on “Reblog: Author Sugar Jamison on Romance Novels and a Post Racial America”

  1. I don’t recall reading any multi-racial books, Sugar. And you’re right, there aren’t many (if any) romantic comedy writers writing about African American heroines. I love what you said about writing the characters who speak loudest in your head. In my Chronicles of Lily Carmichael trilogy, there are several characters of color. Simply because that’s who came into my head and fit the story in a post-apocalyptic world. I imagine with 3/4 of the population wiped out by plague, ethnic diversity would take on new meaning. Although my main characters Lily and Will are white, we have the Johnson brothers Josh, Luke and Tyler who are black, as well as Lily’s friend and the town butcher, Rudy Sinclair. I didn’t plan it. They just came to me that way. I say, just keep writing fabulous characters and maybe someday, as in life, the color of their skin won’t matter.

  2. Great post Sugar. I loved it the first time and it’s even better the second time. There may not be a lot of racial diversity in romance,but I’ve encountered it in other genres like science fiction and urban fantasy.

  3. Sugar, I haven’t read enough books to know the track record of writing multi-racial romances. The historical character that fascinates me is abolitionist Harriet Tubman, who was black. What a great story that could be, using the base and creating a romance.

  4. Some very good points. When I read your first novel, I was expecting the main character to be an African-American heroine. I was a little disappointed when she wasn’t but then, it was a good story nevertheless. I read a lot of books (not romance) in Spanish and Portuguese, and there are usually characters of different races in them. I never really thought about this with respect to books written in English in the U.S.A. because I’m so used to reading multiracial novels (in other languages). Sadly, I think it reflects the culture of the U.S.A. There are still many people who live in a reality of just one race or ethnicity. It doesn’t come natural to write about (or think of writing about) a reality that you don’t know of first hand. On the other hand, some writers do it, but it means research, if that’s not something you live through yourself.

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