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.