Love doesn’t always win in the end, as it turns out

I’m not at all involved in this ongoing meltdown of another organization, but wow, does this account of the chaos at Romance Writers of America sound familiar.

It’s interesting to watch a major organization collapse in real time. I’m not involved, thankfully, but seeing the fall of the Romance Writers of America has been something. Whether it truly does cease to be still remains to be seen—a lot of its members are not on social media, and probably have no idea what’s going on—but for the online writing community, it seems the RWA will come to an end, going the way of all dinosaurs.

But to those authors on Twitter who are aghast—AGHAST, I tell you—that there could racism and bigotry in the RWA, I have to ask: why is this news to you? Courtney Milan has been fighting for marginalized romance authors in the RWA for quite some time. What exactly do you think she’s been fighting against?

Yikes. That link has a comprehensive summary of the events, but in short: the woman who was chair of the ethics committee, Courtney Milan, complains about racism in some of the authors’ works, leading several people to file ethics complaints against her, and then everything blew up with a flurry of resignations, firings, retractions, total chaos. Even now further revelations about bias in the management of RWA are trickling out.

It’s rather obvious that bigotry was rife in the organization (as it is everywhere), and what’s driving much of the meltdown is that some peoples method for dealing with racism is to deny that it exists. Problem solved! I’ve seen the same thing happen with various atheist/skeptic groups, and I rarely see them outright ending, they’re more likely to reconstitute themselves. Unfortunately, it’s 50:50 whether they improve vs. ending up under the sway of the assholes.


  1. says

    Courtney Milan has been fighting for marginalized romance authors in the RWA for quite some time. What exactly do you think she’s been fighting against?

    Windmills. Windmills built from others’ frozen peaches. She’s obviously the Woman from La Mancha since racism doesn’t exist…. Oy.

    Y’know, sometimes I wonder about the looney toons that write about how fighting racism == NAZI TYRANNY and also the Nazis did nothing wrong b/c the mud races are clearly going to genocide all the good people and they only invaded agricultural Poland and drove their tanks over the Polish horse-cavalry in self-defense. I wonder, how did they get so divorced from reality?

    But it’s quotes like this one that reminds me that they aren’t any more divorced from reality than the average asshat. We deal with their kind every single day in every single medium-sized office. The difference isn’t that those average asshats are more attached to reality than the loony toons David Futrelle covers over at WeHuntedTheMammoth. It’s that they’re less attached than the loony toons to any particular fantasy cosplay setting.

    Neither group is remotely able to see the world for what it is. Neither group is responding reasonably to actual threats. But, as always, we pay more attention to the fantasies of tyrannical space race wizards controlling exobucks worth of resources who can be thrown down by the humble, young everywhiteman who is secretly special inside even though nobody ever recognized his world-changing potential.

    The average asshat is more pessimistic and less interested in spinning stories out of spittle, but their less grandiose goals of bringing down a co-worker are far harder to oppose. Not least because we have the media telling us that we can’t know it’s racism just because someone says they’re starting a war against the Jews and Blacks. The media screams at us for imagining the TERFs are somehow anti-trans, because how can we, without telecardiacy, ever really know that the TERFs and white supremacists and the incels and the David Silvermans and the Ben Shapiros and the whole damn IDW aren’t suppressing the ghetto out of prejudice but out of some more noble motive like pre-emptive self-defense? And then, as soon as you turn to an average asshat who screams “ch*nk” in the parking lot, we’re not allowed to think their behavior as justification to fight oppression, because they’re just having a bad day and they’re not the whole damn IDW, are they?

    The one plays off the other. The NY Times tells us that the incels have real concerns to which we must listen. Why? Because even if threatening violence – or committing mass murder! – is an “extreme” reaction, the concerns expressed overlap to a vast degree with the concerns of average asshats. The Washington Post says we should consider forcing women to marry the men who threaten violence (or even might possibly threaten violence in the future) because they aren’t getting laid … because of course if women are forced to live in the homes of such men then everyone will now be safe…???

    But then when BBQ Betty calls 911 because some Black family had the audacity to have a picnic, the reason we can’t freak out is because she isn’t one of those whacky internet-loons ranting about white genocide.

    The supposed vast overlap in outlook between loony toons and average asshats is used to legitimize the loony toons and treat their violence as something other than terrorism deserving of swift and utter destruction of their internet breeding grounds … because what if the millions of average asshats no longer had a place to go to call gender rebels trannies and scores of countries “shitholes”?

    But the supposed vast difference in outlook is used to legitimize the average asshat. Screaming n****r isn’t the same as actually lynching someone with your children picnicking under the dangling bodies of the uppity SJWs of color, is it? What if they didn’t scream racial slurs because they’re racist, but just because they were listening to the Hippity-Hop which so confuses the reasonable white folks these days?

    No, the average asshat and, yes, most media are just as disconnected from reality as the loony toons. None of them have a world view any more reasonable or internally consistent than the least-believable JJ Abrams movie.

    And when their denial of the actual dynamics of actual oppression results in average asshats belittling a Courtney Milan and slow-walking efforts to improve a group because they refuse to believe that anything that they like could be flawed in any way whatsoever, they should be on the receiving end of the same debunking efforts, the same attempts at diversion and persuasion, the same refusal to support their harmful delusions, and the same committed opposition as the loony toons genocide fantasists of the world.

    Yet, my deepest, darkest fear is that they already are.

  2. direlobo says

    My wife was a member of RWA until a few months ago. She says this has been building for some time (ie. racist attitudes about diversity of authors, etc., etc.). She holds no hope that the organization will survive as about half its members have quit now, she says.

  3. jeanletigre says

    Courtney Milan was apparently upset about a white author describing Chinese people as having bronze skin and Chinese women being complacent. As someone who is quite close to chinese culture myself, I can say that these are predominant cultural and phenotypic motifs in china. Submissiveness of women in particular is still truth now, much more so 20 years ago when the book was written.

  4. JoeBuddha says

    Wow. Seems like magical thinking has some downsides. Personally, if someone says I’m being an asshat, I take that under consideration rather than reacting to it. I’ve learned so much about how to be a good person by people showing me what an asshat I’m being. Oh, and that’s got to be the most awesome screed by Crip Dyke I’ve ever seen. Rock On!!

  5. lb says

    Wow. I’ve got a friend who is a member of RWA and often participates in their conventions when the come to the east coast. She writes m/m romance and it’s a subject that has met with a lot of rejection and discrimination. I’ll have to ask her about this.

  6. says

    jeanletigre @6 – Oh that’s it? Tempest in a teacup. I’m sure there was nothing else to this at all. Just one person being over-sensitive about someone just being realistic about races. Race realism, if you will. Galdurn dadblamed snowflakes.

  7. chrislawson says

    jeanletigre —

    ‘…apparently upset’? What it sounds like is you repeating narratives from Milan’s detractors without reading the tweets or the books she was criticising. Are you saying that the existence of cultural differences between the US and China means that American writers can’t create racist texts from those differences?

  8. Muz says

    As a complete aside, that organisation’s logo is horrifying. It’s bad enough when you can see what it is supposed to be. But at a reduced size or at a distance its colouring and sinewy representation makes it look like an anatomy model of a knee joint.

  9. Badland says

    I just lost two hours reading these threads and – yeah, bit of an eye opener. I’ve never before thought about the gatekeeper role played by Nice White Ladies

  10. xiuxiu says

    Okay so sometimes the white lady’s writing can be a bad thing. She writes like a foreigner describing Chinese people. So it’s a bad thing to read but….

    Courtney Milan is

    Born in california = AMERICAN.

    Says she is Chinese even though she never live in China = AMERICAN (lots of Americans do this, say they identify with their heritage lol.)

    Easily angered over race issues = AMERICAN. Most Chinese / Hong Kong people dont care about any of this! I dont like her saying she is chinese and speaking for asian people when she is not. Chinese people get upset if you say bad things about CHINA.

    Anyway live in California but moved here from China. Please listen to real Chinese. I dont see why describing chinese people is racist.

  11. Porivil Sorrens says

    You realize that Chinese people who don’t live in china still have to deal with cultural stereotypes and social oppression that a chinese person who lives in china might not, right?

  12. longdog says

    None of these recaps seem interested in linking or otherwise describing Courtney Milan’s initial complaint, which is a bit frustrating. Certainly the subsequent reactions seem to be the bigger story here, however.

  13. Erp says

    The link in the original post has been updated with what has fallen out since the 27th. I strongly suggest reading.

    The original twitter thread is
    From the biologist point of view the “blue-eyed half-Chinese woman” heroine of the book critiqued shows a lack of genetic knowledge that Encyclopedia Brown knew at least by the early 1970s. And things went downhill (for the book Milan was critiquing) from there.

    The real mess seems to be the behind the scenes actions to get rid of Milan including giving the board an edited version of the complaint (including charges Milan was not told about) and Milan’s defense (with some parts omitted); many of the board resigned after they found out they had been lied to and the censure of Milan overturned. Also the news that the RWA staff were not passing to the appropriate people valid complaints against a publishing house that wasn’t paying some of its authors (one of the main functions of the RWA is to defend authors against less than honest practices of publishing houses). Oddly enough the now president of the RWA and the person who seems to be the most directly responsible for the ouster of Milan may be one of the few authors that the publishing house did pay.

    Nora Roberts, the big author in Romance (over 200 weeks as the #1 author on the New York Times best seller list), has also weighed in and critiqued the RWA.

  14. longdog says

    I feel I should point out that Milan’s complaints are more numerous and broad than comment #6 suggests, and indeed she pretty much says she’s impartial to the description of Chinese skin as ‘bronze’.

  15. says

    @xiuxiu, #15:

    I encourage you to read the Courtney Milan critique in question. She’s primarily tackling two things, the first is that the experiences of all Chinese women were the same, including a universalizing of subservience as the entirety of women’s lives. While obviously being taught subservience (and valued for subservience) is a strong part of Chinese women’s experience, Milan was arguing that this is not the totality of Chinese women’s experience.

    The second was how the romantic heroine of the book was half-white/ half-chinese (with blue eyes). She argued that the portrayal of that character was both unrealistic and heavily reliant on stereotypes that repeat themselves over and over in US romance novels.

    While obviously it’s not bad to have any single character be white or straight or Chinese or poor or the town mayor, if an entire genre of writing becomes too dependent on too few character types, a false image is constructed. People who read a number of books that all draw on the same stereotypes can believe that they’ve learned what the “real experience” is of the people that resemble the characters. It’s the fact that certain characteristics are repeated over and over that makes it seem like those common characteristics must be true and truly universal – why else would they be repeated? the argument goes – when stereotypes obviously portray only a small part of the large breadth of experience of the group being portrayed.

    In what little I’ve read, Milan has been consistent about wanting characters portrayed as individuals, not stereotypes. She has also been consistent about describing herself racially as half-Chinese, half white-USA and have never (that I’ve observed) described herself as coming from China or having grown up in China.

    It may certainly be that some of her critiques are themselves worthy of criticism, but FWIW I don’t read her as speaking for Chinese people or arguing that you literally can’t describe Chinese people as they are without being racist.