I sent this letter early this morning, regarding this situation. I may have further to say about this, but this is a start.
To the members of the board of Romance Writers of America:
I joined RWA because I felt hopeful that the organization was taking steps to be more inclusive & address the widespread issues of racism, queer oppression and perhaps even trans oppression in the organization. That hope was partly because of the efforts of Courtney Milan.
The actions of the RWA Board yesterday have made it clear that the organization is not genuinely invested in taking steps towards addressing these endemic problems, but instead is creating an environment where criticizing oppression in the industry and in romance books is punished. The message behind this choice is clear: marginalized people are not wanted in RWA & will be targeted for speaking out against the oppression they experience. In particular, women of color who openly criticize the racism of white women will be shut down by the organization.
I used to hope that RWA might be changing, that I might someday be welcome in the organization, that change was in the works and I was glad to be a part of an organization that was invested in changing. The current RWA Board has destroyed the hope I had left by their actions yesterday.
I am a disabled trans queer Jewish autistic writer who has been part of many organizational change efforts in my lifetime & I know the patterns, can identify backlash when I see it, know when organizational change is being shut down. That is my read of the RWA Board decision regarding the complaint about Courtney Milan, and what it means, particularly given her role in pushing for change in the organization.
I have very limited capacities as a disabled chronically ill writer & very limited funds & cannot stomach spending either on an organization that would choose to punish a woman of color member for naming racism on the part of white women. I stand with Courtney Milan, and will be withdrawing my membership. I do not withdraw my membership to RWA lightly, especially given the circumstances of my particular experience seeking membership to your organization.
It is clear to me that the processes set up by RWA around obtaining membership, the RITAs, the handling of ethics complaints, the way the organization makes space in the newsletter to promote bigotry, all of these show a clear pattern of racism, queer oppression, and trans oppression, that I no longer believe that the organization is attempting to change in good faith. Yesterday’s action shows that the current board would rather support the weaponization of the ethics complaints process in the service of racist bigotry than act in accordance with the values of inclusion that it gives lip service to. I no longer want to be associated with an organization whose Board would make this kind of choice.
Welp… This is the storm, or perhaps, the smaller storm before the bigger storm.
A friend told me that Samuel R. Delaney himself once said that authors of color and readers of color in a genre are initially tolerated when we are few. When we reach a population point where there are enough of us that the white authors/editors can’t ignore us anymore, that’s when we start seeing people axed from organizations, and organizational newsletters supporting open white supremacy.
And that either leads to conflagrations like RaceFail ’09 in SFF that eventually lead to better change and more inclusion, or the organization involved bleeds out membership when they inevitably evoke the Streisand effect, though I’ve only seen that happen to smaller conventions.
Romance hit the tipping point for people of color. And the thing about the tipping point is that no matter how white supremacy tries, the horses have long left the barn. The only way to rewind the clock is far bigger than any organization can manage outside of national/state governments.
And yeah, I’m not discounting that the current state of affairs vis a vis the current administration is a big factor in why RWA is being way more open about support for white supremacy than in previous years. It makes their chances of surviving this a tiny bit more possible.
All of the above applies to other marginalizations as well.
Anyways, I think RWA can either change or die at this point, unless they have enough politicians in pocket to start state-sanctioned oppressive measures specifically targeted at the romance market yesterday.
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Note: “is a big factor” should be “is probably a big factor”; I unfortunately can’t edit my comments here, so this post note will have to do.
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