Sunday, January 12, 2020

The RWA mess

This is a long post, so bear with me.

There's a bunch of furor in Romance Land right now, which perhaps you've caught a whiff of. It's all being played out on Twitter so I suspect we're not seeing the whole picture, only the picture that's being painted loudly.

In essence: RWA (Romance Writers of America, the "face" of romance authors) has been accused of systematic racism and exclusion for people of color and other cultural and disenfranchised groups. This is an ongoing issue that bubbled up publicly years ago. The organization formed committees to try to address the problems and struggled to explain what they were doing to solve the problem.

This all blew up on Twitter recently because of one author accusing another of racism. Very publicly with lots of blunt language. RWA got involved because the accused author filed a complaint and the accuser was reprimanded, but then the reprimand was rescinded. Twitter blew up BIG TIME in support of the accuser. Some members quit RWA because they felt the process used for all this was shady and didn't follow the rules. Accusations have flown about that this is a coup by the President (because the former one resigned). The current President was called on to resign. Members of the Board resigned. New members were instated.

Then a petition was circulated to demand a vote on the President, and the President resigned. Now there is no President and a very minimal Board.

And all of this is being discussed on Twitter. If you're not on Twitter, supposedly you aren't getting the full story, you're only getting the "official" version that RWA puts out. I seldom venture onto Twitter because of precisely this: I'm not sure who to believe. I don't personally know any of these people, although I've met a few of them at conferences. As we all know, a LOUD voice can get a lot of traction whether it's a truthful voice or not. Who's right? Who's wrong? I don't know.

One side effect of this is that many authors (myself included) are now concerned that our past work may be judged to be racist or biased. Heck, I've had minority characters. I've used settings that might offend someone. I did my research, I based characters on people I know and settings on places where I've been, but I may not have been sensitive to nuances in culture.

Nora Roberts and a few others noted this, saying (among other things): hey, I wrote a lot of books, many of them years ago, that now may have cringe-worthy settings or characters. I'm sorry and I'll try to do better going forward. Thank you, Nora. You expressed what many of us feel.

So where's it all stand right now? I'm not really sure. There's a lot of speculation that RWA may fold. Maybe some of the authors who have left will form a separate group (although good luck with that -- an organization of that size requires a LOT of work to manage).

My concern with all this is that my local RWA chapter may fold. I have many friends in that chapter and it provides a lot of support to me and other authors. I get some benefits from the national group, but my local chapter is the one that has my true allegiance. I went to MN this past weekend to attend our monthly writer's meeting and got a lot of good information. An independent audit is being done to determine what happened when and by who. When that's published, we will have the full story. I think many people will be surprised.

There's a lot of work to be done to keep RWA going. Will they succeed? Time will tell. So if you read about a big schism in Romance Land, that's the gist of it. Without Twitter, this would never have escalated the way it has. Social media is a boon and a curse and this is a great example of that.