It’s been an interesting few days for the M/M Romance Group on Goodreads. Basically, people of color were hurt by the racism in a historical master/slave story that was written as part of the Don’t Read in the Closet event. A white master/black slave story set in the United States around the time of the civil war.
Hey, who remembers the uproar over the concentration camp “romance”? Frankly, if anyone couldn’t see that a master/slave story set during the American Civil War was a terrible idea, I’m not sure anyone can help them.
Here’s the thing. It is absolutely beyond question that the writer of the story did not mean to cause harm. Nobody is accusing her of that. Nevertheless, people were harmed by this story, because the effects of slavery are still felt today. Racism is a thing. Institutionalised racism is a thing. And so is privilege. And if you can’t see that people are still harmed every day in absolutely tangible ways by racism, then you need to check your privilege.
I’m a white Australian woman. When it comes to privilege, I win some and I lose some. But I always do try to be aware that because I’m white, I’m Western, and I’m middle-class, then there are a hell of a lot of prejudices out there that other people face, that I simply don’t. I recognise that I have privilege, and that sometimes I need to shut up and listen to what other people are saying, rather than dismissing their concerns as something that just doesn’t happen because it’s never happened to me.
For truly excellent reviews of the story in question, I suggest you read Emma Sea’s review, or Mmeguillotine’s review.
The issues with the story aside for now, let’s turn instead to the response from the M/M Romance Group. When people of color stated that they were harmed by this story, I would have thought that the response from a group that so fervently defends LGBTQ rights would have been different than what amounted to: If you don’t like it, leave.
Let’s just repeat that: People were harmed, and instead of the mods apologising for that harm, they threw out the old red herring about censorship, and told people that if they were unhappy in the group then they should go.
Firstly, smarter people than me have pointed out that rejecting a prompt or a story is not censorship. And secondly, telling already marginalised people who are complaining about being marginalised again in a group they thought was a safe place that they’re over-reacting, or they’re too sensitive, or they’re making a big deal out of nothing -- excuse me, that loud bang was the sound of my irony meter exploding.
I have written three stories for the DRitC event, and I have enjoyed doing it. But I have asked that this year my story Hellion be removed from the anthology. It will still be available on the M/M Romance Group site for anyone who wishes to read it. However, I have left the group and will not be writing for the event again. On a professional level, I do not wish to have my work publicly associated with the group whose response to this incident has been tone deaf at best, and racist at worst. On a personal level, I do not wish to be part of a group where others are made to feel unsafe, unwelcome, or unwanted.
And while I know I run the risk of being labelled a sycophant, as others have already been, I assure you that I can and do think for myself. And if anyone wants to label me a badly behaving author, as others have already been, because I believe in taking a stand in this matter, then if that’s easier to do than checking your own privilege, go for it.