Race, The Hunger Games and Diversity in Romance

I’m sure some of you have seen the latest brouhaha over fans of the Hunger Games who were shocked to discover several key characters are black. I haven’t read the book, nor do I intend to see the movie, but one comment on Twitter stood out to me. Essentially the tweeter said he wasn’t as sad about the death of a character because she was black.

Now I’m not going to get into the racism and general fucknuttery of that statement. No, I’m going to use it as a jumping off point for another discussion. From time to time we get these discussions in Romancelandia decrying the lack of diversity. There’s much handwringing and many readers claim they’d be delighted with such books. Writers, of course, point out that they don’t sell. And we go back and forth for another couple hundred posts and nothing changes until the next ululation. As a writer I think it goes back to that disgustingly honest tweet: the pain of people who don’t look like me has less emotional impact. Writers are in the business of evoking emotions. If you know, and to be honest, who doesn’t know that a sizable percentage of the reading audience feels like that tweeter, why would you give your book such a monumental handicap? Most wouldn’t and that’s why most books lack any real diversity.

White is the default setting in this country, so that even though the author described the character as having “dark brown skin and eyes,” some readers still saw her as white and were angered and dismayed to discover otherwise. And this goes back to something I was told when Rock Star was released. It couldn’t have a lone white male on the cover, otherwise readers might buy it accidentally and get angry when they discovered it was an IR book. Every time we have a discussion about race and romance people ask why race is prominently featured, and this is why. I don’t want people buying my book by accident only to discover to their horror that it contains Negro sex and lots of it. Other writers have obscured the race of their characters and love to hear from fans who liked the book, but didn’t know the characters were black. I guess I’m a cynical bitch, but I wonder how many readers deleted the book upon their discovery?

ADDENDUM:

Gina, over at What About Our Daughters, can always be counted on to bring some perspective to all manner of fucknuttery. She linked to articles in her post that said that Rue’s death brought out gasps of horror in many audiences and that they cheered when her death was avenged even though it was against the rules.

This is good news indeed for those of us who prefer to write books about non-white characters. Clearly we do have an audience who have no trouble responding emotionally to characters who don’t look like them. So take heart sane people. We are not alone. It would behoove us to focus on like minded folks and let the dead bury the dead.

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7 thoughts on “Race, The Hunger Games and Diversity in Romance

  1. The things I see happening in this country are just shocking and sad…and bloody ridiculous. I enjoyed the books/movie .

    For years I read Jude,Nora etc etc why can’t people read books with great characters regardless of skin colour?

  2. Good evening Roslyn: I enjoy your books because you are a good writer period. I was born in the late seventies, I read eveything that I could get my hands on. Huge fan of James Clavell, Charalotte Lamb, M.M. Kaye, Robert Ludlum, Teresa Denys and many other writers. Over the years I found that people want something easy to read, they donot want to think at all. I was lucky that I was able to enjoy and cherish different writers who did not look like me. This did not stop me from falling in love with Octavia Butler and Frank Herbert. I avoid blogging and I dislike the internet somewhat. The only reason I come on your blog is to see what are you publishing so I can go and purchase your books. Thank yo.

  3. The Hunger Game complaints are exactly the reason emotional, fantasy-related, and romantic content doesn’t fly with the majority in this country.

    For each one of those people that tweeted, there were probably dozens that were silent. They were outraged that they were emotionally invested in a person who turned out to be black.

    Yes, if a person like this buys a romance, an emotional read by definition, and they find the characters were black when they didn’t think so initially, those readers will be upset. They cannot relate to blacks as fully human.

    So I believe are books should communicate exactly what they are on the covers and be shelved in the AA section. I still think the principle of racial segregation is wrong, but the situation is what it is.

    Americans being who they are, integration doesn’t always help us best.

  4. As I said before Delaney Diamond so strangely asked me to leave her blog for saying that book segregation is not for the benefit of blacks, but like all segregation for the benefit of whites, I think the question of shelving is pretty much moot. Bookstores are going the way of record stores and I, for one, say good riddance. When I managed a bookstore back more than twenty years ago I told them the Borders model was unsustainable. Turning bookstores into glorified coffee shops was a really bad idea. People came to browse, but seldom to buy. Book buyers want unlimited content and a quick shopping experience, not to wade through endless unrelated merchandise only to be told that the book they’re looking for has to be ordered Bookstores should have books.

    Paperbacks, which the industry has always hated, will soon become a mere memory, as will the ridiculous return system. New York publishing is, and always has been pretty much clueless. After all they claimed for decades that black people didn’t read. Nothing racial about that! Any wonder their asses are twisting in the wind as well?

  5. Sometimes I am ashamed of the people of the world. A person should just be sad that a child was killed. It shouldn’t matter what color their skin was. I love the book and the movie.

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