Drama in Romancelandia: On the Courtney Milan post about Bobbi Dumas

Posted on January 30, 2016 by Richard Goulter
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One doesn’t tend to think of romancelandia as discordant.
Perhaps I’ve not been reading romances long enough. You’d also think that a genre set on characters having Happily Ever Afters, where characters get along after conflicting disagreeing with each other (& where the problem is almost always “poor communication”), wouldn’t have a problem with authors getting along with each other.

What drama?
The RWA so daintily describes the conflict:

Romance Writers of America’s Board of Directors is aware of a difference in opinion regarding a column from a well-known reviewer on the subject of diversity and members of RWA who did not agree with the reviewer’s treatment of the subject.

(RWA then goes on to say that ‘kids fighting in the playground’ (paraphrase) isn’t their business, unless it violates their Code of Ethics. Fair enough).

The “column from a well known reviewer” responsible for the drama being this, from Bobbi Dumas, wherein Dumas celebrates diversity in the romance genre, and recommends various diverse romance novels.
Take the time to spot what’s problematic about it.

A prominent example of “difference of opinion” from a member of the RWA here, Courtney Milan’s post “Speaking Up Against Systematic Racism in the Publishing Industry”, wherein Milan completely blasts Dumas for her post, particularly a quote stating “Kirkus doesn’t review enough diverse novels”, or so. The post also includes whispers and rumours of bad behaviour of the target, without providing an evidence/examples of this, as well as a “call to arms” to join in the good fight.
Milan’s inferences here seem a little disingenuous to me, but anyway.

For some added context, here’re various glimpses of various Twitter conversations. (I hope these are representative, and aren’t cherry-picking):

The above tweets are just a brief (& clearly incomplete) scan of twitterspace. (And with my remarks, you see how I feel about them). Don’t be offended if your tweets were left out, or if your tweets were included. I suspect a glance at the profiles of usual suspects would lead to a better understanding of the context.

That drama.
A prominent author calls out a prominent reviewer, based on one wild inferences from odd statements. A surrounding community of those interested in diversity in romance see the virtue of Milan’s statements, and the heresy in Dumas’. (At a glance, most of the replies I saw were more “thank you for saying this” than “isn’t this a little excessive?”. Maybe the smart people who dissent are keeping their heads down, and I am not a clever man).

Perhaps the most interesting part of all this is the righteous tone of “she deserves it” as to the harassment/bullying Dumas is receiving; that those doing the bullying aren’t the bad people here.
I don’t think anyone is socially conscious of the need for diversity in romance novels, without also being concerned about things like online harassment of women.
This dissonance isn’t so hard to understand, though. It seems to be an activist thing.. So cries of “that’s bullying” is met with “yes, I’m not being ‘nice’, this is important”; cries of “this is disproportionate; you’re killing a fly with a howitzer” aren’t met with sympathy, either. (Aside from the note in aforementioned link, I suppose it’s that there’d be no need to be “angry” if things improved without the anger).
– It’s also not hard to sympathise with. – If anyone knows a cure for righteous anger, I’d love to hear it, as quickly as your fingers allow.

My concern isn’t so much “Milan & community are bullying a ‘bad’ person for the greater good.”:
While that’s fun in itself to discuss, I think the greater concern is why the target was lambasted. The hate seems to miss the general message (“hey, diversity in romance isn’t as good as it could be; here are some good, diverse romances”) and instead focus on the sins of (inferences from!) specific sentences!
– Whatsmore, while the repeated drumline for diversity in romance is “everyone deserves to get their HEA”, it doesn’t seem all that inclusive to bully-out of your in-group someone who transgresses by a sentence or two?
Surely this is arbitrary condemnation? I tend to think the angry reviewers who write “Well, the book was nice, except for this one sentence about female sexuality…” are immature. This is like that, times 100. – Moreover, is it more .. beneficial to the ’cause of diversity in romance to attack a prominent figure promoting diversity?
(Sorry, activists, but cooperation wins out over division).

– If one wants hints for a more “collaborative” diversity effort: aside from the reminder that reading is good, and that reading has the amazing ability to get into someone else’s head.. how can one be against it? If people are writing books you don’t like, it’s no skin off your nose, y’know.

Personally, I’m not particularly persuaded by rumours/hearsay of “Dumas is a bad person”, if encounters like this, wherein Dumas is criticised for using the phrase “namaste” while being white, are the crimes. – I’ve not seen all of twittersphere, though.

Some of the above tweets make use of terminology like “ally”. Unfortunately, it seems in these domains of the socially-conscious, similar incidents of friendly-fire aren’t unheard of.

If one is brave, one could also draw comparison between this divide in romancelandia, and the recent controversies in other entertainment media, wherein each side yells at the other “we care more about diversity / LGBTQ+ than they do”. Strange times. (I think it’d cause more upset to discuss than not; I’m not so brave, then).

I do tend to think Dumas isn’t guilty of anything.
But if I can further make explicit some of the political beliefs at play here: Even if Dumas weren’t in favour of diversity, so what? There seems to be this nice thought that what’s “fair” and “equal” should win. (And anger will get us there).

It seems to be a moral imperative to this crowd that Dumas, as a prominent reviewer, do everything in her power for the cause. Why? In a free market, the disruptor’s need neither permission nor help from those at the top in order to make money doing things in an improved way.
Similarly, it’s understood (grudgingly) that what books are “popular” aren’t necessarily the same as what books “good quality”. Sometimes things aren’t fair.
(Of course, I guess such thinking also sees there’s no need to be “fair” about bullying anyone, either, so).

One doesn’t tend to think of romancelandia as discordant.
You’d also think that a genre set on characters having Happily Ever Afters wouldn’t have a problem with authors getting along with each other. – I guess if the present drama were in a RN, you’d probably rate it 2-stars, for how flat the characters seem to be, and how they don’t talk respectively to one another.

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