Race and M/M Romance

Thousands of demonstrators peacefully march down a street with members of the St. Louis County Police and Missouri Highway Patrol Thursday, Aug. 14, 2014, in Ferguson, Mo. The Missouri Highway Patrol seized control of a St. Louis suburb Thursday, stripping local police of their law-enforcement authority after four days of clashes between officers in riot gear and furious crowds protesting the death of an unarmed black teen shot by an officer. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

The tension is beginning to ease in Ferguson, Missouri after the shooting of Michael Brown.  But because of the events that took place there I’ve been thinking a lot about race.  It’s a complicated, tricky subject that can be very divisive.  I can’t even begin to scratch the surface of something so complex.  But it is something very personal to me.

When my husband and I bought our house it was because we loved the hardwood floors and trim, the original windows, and the fact that at nearly 90 years old it needed enough fixing up to be a good investment but was still liveable.  We didn’t think a lot about the neighborhood other than liking its proximity to the capitol and noticing that overall the houses were beautiful and well cared for.  Last night as we went for a walk we passed a house proudly flying a rainbow flag, stopped to chat with an elderly black gentleman and admire his landscaping (he’s lived in the neighborhood since 1972 so I feel better about the fact his looks so much better than mine!), stopped to talk to the Hispanic owner of a roofing company and ask if he could get us an estimate on re-roofing our house, and idly wondered if the delicious smelling grilled food was coming from the house across the street where an interracial gay couple lives.  It makes me happy to live in a place with that kind of diversity.  Of course I’ve noticed the looks I get when I say the name of the neighborhood where I live.

They’re condescending, almost pitying.  Over the years I get more and more angry at the reactions, more vehement when I tell people how much I love living there, what a great place it is. Fuck you for looking down on where I live.  You see that diversity as a negative thing? I sure as hell don’t!

Today while I was doing research on the area/neighborhood I was astonished to find that according to this site it has, “the distinction of housing more same sex couples living together than 98.9% of neighborhoods in the U.S.”  I never knew that! For comparison, the Castro district in San Francisco has “a higher proportion of same sex households than in 99.9% of the neighborhoods in America.”.  Well damn.  

In general, Lansing is a fairly diverse city and I work at a place that hires a variety of people.  The public I see on a daily basis are from all over the world and come in every shape, color, gender, ability, and orientation. I like that about my job.

This past weekend, we had a family reunion.  A good portion of my dad’s side of the family is black/bi-racial.  Looking back, it occurs to me that at that reunion I was actually in the minority as someone who is white and completely of Western European descent.  They’re all kind, intelligent, hard-working people I’m proud to call family but I know there are people who would never take the time to see that.

One of my second cousins spent a good portion of the time geeking out with my husband over tech stuff while they talked about their nerdy jobs.  Much like my husband, he grew up poor and worked to put himself through school.  Unfortunately, unlike my husband who grew up in a safe, rural area, my cousin lived in a rough neighborhood in a suburb of Detroit.  While he was working to pay for school and help out his family, he was aware of a constant threat of gun violence, and woke up one morning to find a bullet lodged in the porch siding from a driveby shooting.  He got his mother and sisters out of there as fast as he could and they now live in a much safer suburb.  He said it took a while to get used to how quiet it was and when he had a flat tire he was shocked to have a passerby stop and offer to help him fix it.  Shocked by kindness, isn’t that sad?

The statistics on gun deaths and race is sobering.   It breaks my heart to know that my cousin could have been headed home from work or school and shot, not because he was doing anything wrong, but because of his race.  He could have been in the wrong place at the wrong time and killed before anyone knew what a truly amazing person he is. It saddens me to think that anyone has to worry about something like that, much less my family, co-workers, or neighbors.

What does this have to do with M/M romance?  Well, there’s a distinct lack of racial diversity in books.  There are notable exceptions, Amy Lane’s phenominal Bolt Hole for one, where one of the main characters is black.  Rhys Ford writes a number of incredible books with Asian characters.  MM Good Book Reviews has a list of reviews tagged with GLBT Interracial Romance but that’s a handful in a sea of thousands.  

Last weekend, I finished Partners, the second in the Equals series and sent it off to my betas.  It follows Stephen and Russ as they go to the small town in Southern Georgia where Stephen grew up to bury his father.  Although I had an idea of where I was going with it, the plan for the story was fairly open ended when I began writing.  In particular, I hadn’t decided much about the one person in town Stephen is still close to, an elderly woman named Miss Esther.  As her character developed, I realized in my head, I was picturing her as black.  For all of the inclusion in the LGBT and M/M romance communities, there are problems.  Some (and I emphasize some, not all) view female writers-particularly the straight ones-of gay romance as interlopers.  As a bisexual, white woman writing about a black character in a M/M romance, it can be intimidating.  Will I get it right? Will I offend someone?

But you know what? Miss Esther spoke to me.  I modeled her a bit after one of the patients who comes in for appointments on a semi-regular basis.  Over the years she’s introduced me to her grandson, told me about her daughter who died, and shared her health woes.  She calls me baby and gives me a huge smile every time she sees me.  She’s a sweetheart and I bet she’s a wonderful grandmother.  She reminds me a bit of my own, actually.  So Miss Esther is near and dear to my heart.  I hope if you read the story you’ll enjoy her character.  I hope I “got it right”.  But if I didn’t, I’ll learn from my mistakes.  It’s what writers do.

Our world is imperfect and there’s a hell of a lot of work that needs to happen so the events that took place in Ferguson don’t happen again.  So people like my cousin never have to fear for their safety because of the color of their skin.  I believe that diversity of every kind is something to be cultivated, not shunned.

What can we do as M/M romance writers and readers to make our world-and hopefully the rest of it-a better place?

 

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