I remember when I first started reading romance novels back in 8th grade. I’d tell you how long ago that was, but let’s just say dinosaurs were still roaming Earth. The covers of these books usually featured a blond-haired, blue-eyed heroine and a dark-haired, flinty-eyed hero who was generally much older than his ingénue love. Was it a reflection of real-life? I seriously doubt it was an accurate picture even way back then of their appearance or their ages.
Now is the point where I should step up on a politically correct soapbox to say race shouldn’t be a factor when it comes to romance writing. Maybe it shouldn’t be, but it is. Just yesterday, I was having a conversation with a highly-educated professional woman who happens to be single and African-American. I mention her race because it plays a role in our conversation. She was bemoaning the fact that it was difficult to find her male counterpart to date because a lot of them were dating white women.
That got me thinking. Was this actually true? I had to admit that when it came to interracial couples of my acquaintance, the preponderance were males of another race married to white females. According to research published in 2013 by the Pew Research Center, African-American men are twice as likely as African-American women to intermarry. Among Asians and Native Americans, the trend is just the opposite (Wang, 2015).
Now, I don’t want to go into a big dissertation on the trends in interracial couples and marriage. Let’s just say that you can check out US Census figures and the Pew research and find the following statistics: In 2013, more than one out of ten new marriages were among couples of differing races; nearly seven percent of all existing marriages were interracial.
So where is the diversity in romance? It’s coming. I’m not sure I would go so far as an article in TIME from May of 2014 which loudly proclaims in its headline: “Steamy Romance Novels Flush With Color,” and includes the subhead: “interracial relationships are a hot new trend in love lit.”(Sachs, 2014) However, I will say that the issue is coming out in the open for a lot more discussion. That happened at Romance Writers of America’s 2015 national convention. We’ve also had those discussions in my own RWA chapter.
I see women of color banding together to support one another’s careers. That’s fantastic. We should all be supportive of efforts to make our romance writing a truer reflection of love in all its many forms, no matter the race, gender, or number combinations.
Should the focus of interracial romance always be about race? First and foremost, they should be about love, about two people who are right for each other because they like and respect the other person. I do think we would be fooling ourselves, though, if we say it’s a non-issue.
I live and teach in an area that is split roughly down the middle between African-Americans and Caucasians. Just as my colleague’s concern about the number of black men dating white women came out in conversation, so have I heard people—both black and white—express concerns about interracial relationships. Prejudice is still out there. Personally, I prefer to address things head on rather than pretending it doesn’t exist. I’ve never been a proponent of what I call the “emperor’s new clothes” philosophy.
So, when you read the second novella in my series “Teacher’s Pets,” I don’t steer away from the fact that Ben’s a really hot white guy dating a really hot black woman, but I don’t feel I’ve made it the central conflict either. (Perfect Harmonie, Teacher's Pet #2, coming May 25!)
And I have to say to my sister of another mother…thanks for giving me the idea when you said, “Hey, put me in one of your books.”
Sachs, Andrea. (2014). “Steamy Romance Novels Flush With Color”. TIME. Retrieved from: http://time.com/43710/interracial-romance-novels/
Wang, Wendy. (2015). “Interracial Marriage: Who is ‘marrying out’?”. Pew Research Center. Retrieved From: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/06/12/interracial-marriage-who-is-marrying-out/