'Twas the day* before Christmas and all through the feeds,
People were Tweeting their holiday deeds.
Their wrapping, their shopping, the presents they found,
Plus book sales and gratitude posts did abound.
When all of a sudden, (or shrewdly on cue),
Dropped a ruling that Romanclandia did eschew.
Where ethics were cited to have been forgot
But all knew the true crime had just dropped from the top.
With dismay and disbelief the news did spread
Until all of Romancelandia jumped from our beds.
Did you think we would gasp and clutch at our pearls? That we're all wide-eyed damsels or rake-hell earls?
Did you think that we couldn't wrap and decry?**
That we wouldn't yell foul because Santa is nigh?
Did you think we'd be fine with your Google doc?
That all would be well with that big pile of crock?
No, rally we shall, and share we will,
Because romance will not swallow this pill.
The good that has come of this dumpster fire
Is that now we are talking, and see things are dire.
And together we shall make changes yet,
Toward love, fairness, and a 2020 mindset.
For injustice and discrimination don't make an HEA,
And you are #NotMyRWA.
If you are a casual reader of romance it would be very easy to not know that a great dumpster fire occurred in the Romancelandia community on December 23rd. But on that day (conveniently the day before they shut down for two days for the holiday), Romance Writers of America (RWA) sent an ethics ruling to author and former RWA Ethics Committee Chairperson Courtney Milan.
Personally, I think it's hard to say they ruled against her, because in my opinion, they just plain ruled crazy. The "facts" of the complaint are the whingings of a indignant white woman, reminiscent of a bad sitcom where a character is on an obvious tirade about the fact she ordered a HALF-CAFF, THREE pump sugar-free vanilla latte and she got FULL CAFF with FOUR pumps, drank half of it, and now she demands another and a refund. Oh, and the barista should be FIRED.
Perhaps it’s unfair to distill this situation down to something that is so much smaller than it is - but I said the above to emphasize how ridiculous I found her claims to be. But somehow (the other articles I reference below can bring great insight as to the “how” in “somehow”), what happened is that the RWA sided with her and condemned Courtney Milan for calling out racism.
I was livid, disgusted, and dismayed. Something about this really, really stank.
Luckily, I wasn't far from the only one who felt this way. Romancelandia was in this together. And with this terrible, awful, no-good ruling, the community came forth with more stories of discrimination, ethics violations, and sweeping-stuff-under-the-rug by RWA. It seems that all the work that Milan and others had put into making the RWA a safer, more diverse space was quietly (and now not-so-quietly) being squashed.
While RWA has rescinded their original ruling against Courtney Milan "pending legal review," there is so much more craziness that's happened since that announcement that is legally dubious (to put it mildly) including deactivating memberships without refunds (immediately blocking them from the RWA site) and deactivating memberships of members who simply wrote to RWA to say that they wouldn't be renewing (this may have been a misunderstanding, see the original Twitter thread), and other ambiguities that have come to light about the Ethics Committee case handling in general. The whole situation has led to a storm of resignations, both from leadership and board positions in RWA and from RITA judging.
Lots of people have written about the events that have transpired. I highly suggest that you check out the article on Smart Bitches, Trashy Books (and review the official documents, linked within), read the very comprehensive compiling of all the events by date on author Claire Ryan's blog, check out what the Associated Press had to say about it, or if you'd like to hear an opinion from an RWA member who has a great and storied history with RWA, here's what Nora Roberts had to say. And if Twitter is your thing you can also catch up via Cate Eland's thread below:
But what I'd like to focus on here is my own relationship (or lack thereof) with the RWA and my own experiences in the romance community. I want to speak of what I know and what I feel.
Before August of this year, my relationship with Romancelandia was peripheral. I was a reader. I loved romance. It was practically all I read. And then, I had the idea to pair my love of romance and my love of podcasts and to do something fun with the two - thus Tea & Strumpets was born.
I did an appallingly low amount of research about the Romance community before diving in. So low, and so inadequate it was that I actually thought that there were no other Romance Podcasts at all! Pffffffffft how I could be so demented as to 1) think I had an oRiGiNaL iDeA™ and 2) that there wasn't a thriving community already doing great things in this space? Well, needless to say I am properly chastised and so happy to have been wrong at first. Because the romance community is warm, wonderful, and welcoming. What all that is to say in this context though, is that as of four months ago I had never heard of RWA. But in this four-month crash-course of Romancelandia, RWA became a prerequisite I had to pass. My short brush and education with it was thus:
I heard from multiple authors about their good experiences and how RWA helped launch their careers.
I heard that that was not the case for everyone.
I went to a local RWA chapter event where I had a lovely time and discovered that my high school dance teacher was the outgoing chapter president.
I planned on joining my chapter.
I planned to attend the RWA conference in July 2020. I even had the date tickets went on sale on my calendar. I was very excited for it.
Then this all happened, and RWA went from a promise to a pariah, and I admit I was crushed.
I was crushed because RWA did something I found reprehensible.
I was crushed because they did that reprehensible thing to an author that I truly love, respect, and admire.
I was crushed because I learned that that author had been fighting to make the RWA a better place.
I was crushed because I had heard about the good things that RWA had done for people, and I hoped to become part of that kind of community.
I was crushed because I kept discovering that the RWA is not a safe space for everyone, and that's not the kind of community I want to be a part of.
I was crushed because I learned that the RWA was started by a black woman who was a pioneer for diversity and representation in the romance industry, and there is no way that this was the future she saw for the organization she founded.
I was crushed because many people said this was the end of the RWA.
But I sincerely hope it isn't. I hope it's the end of this RWA, but there seems to me that there's something special about an organization by and for Romance. I don't think that there can be any half measures, and I do believe there's a way to rebuild. But we have fumigate and start fresh; racism and bigotry have no place in any organization that I could ever support.
I have always felt that romance is important, empowering, feminist, and for everyone. Seeing A get their HEA when you've had A happen to you, or if B looks like you and gets swept off by the person of their/your dreams - that matters. As Maya Rodale states in her book Dangerous Books For Girls:
[Romance] declares, via the happy ending, that love is the most important thing, and that love can exist between people, no matter how they identify or whom they love. And love doesn’t care about any rules….it seductively suggests that you, dear reader, might want to try this at home.
So at the end of this emotional ride, after reading so many stories and statements, what I know for sure is that I trust, respect, and admire Courtney Milan. When the dust settles, I'll be standing on whatever side she is on. But what I hope is that this Romancelandia army is standing inside the lobby of RWA, ready to rebuild it together. While Courtney has stated that she isn't inclined to spend any more personal effort within RWA, there are plenty of awesome warriors out there fighting today to make things better. They're doing the very important work of organizing petitions, rallying supporters, and cataloguing information. They (and I) are demanding change. I believe that we have something here that's worth protecting, and worth making better. And I believe that we can because we are strong, we are smart, and we are ready to fight for our happily ever afters.
Looking for something you can do right now? Try these:
Donate to Bookstore Romance Day, who parted ties with the RWA (one of their largest donors) during this situation
Read and share good romance!
Keep your eyes out for more RWA news.
*It was actually the 23rd, but day before Christmas had a better ring to it ;)
** Big ups to Shannon Stacey for her fantastic tweet inspiring me to interpret it into couplet form.
***I want to iterate here that I am aware of the many awesome authors that are writing diverse historicals, but if you have a recommendation, I would love to hear about it! Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org