Book I: All the Women are White
She meets him.
She loves him.
He can’t love her back… but then he does.
Hi my name is Erin and I read romance novels.
The historical-fiction romance sub-genre of mass market paperbacks was not created with me in mind. In fact, for companies like Penguin, harlequin, and Random House sales are dependent on my complete and total absence. These books erase any evidence of black skin, black struggle, or black presence. Leaving black female readers expunged.
NO BLACKS ALLOWED. Some exceptions. Moors and gypsies only.
In the white woman’s imaginings, black struggle doesn’t even exist in the background of her grand adventure into Womanhood. In her fantasy, blacks barely play supporting roles.
The covers of these books do more that just offer sexual titillation through pastel colored ultra-soft porn, they signify to readers the zeitgeist of the world between those outermost pages. These images advertise a race-free and, by proxy, complication-free world of sexually repressed buxom blondes and their rough-hewn, hardy lovers. The historical fantasy these images offer is the same fantasy of erasure that white women have shared collectively since Seneca Falls in 1848.
Book II: Ain't I a Woman?
“well, children, whar dar is so much rackect dar must be something out o’ kilter. I tink dat ‘twixt de niggers of de Souf and de women of de Norf all talkin’ bout rights, de white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But whats all di here talkin’ ‘bout? Dat man ober dar say dat women needs to be helped into carriages, and lifter ober ditches, and to have de best places… and ain’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm!... I have plowed, and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me—and ain’t I a woman? I could work as much as any man (when I could get it), and bear de lash as well—and ain’t I a woman? I have borne five children and I seen ‘em mos all sold off into slavery, and when I cried out with a mother’s grief, none but Jesus hear—and ain’t I a woman?
-Sojourner Truth, 1852
Erasure from history is not something new for Black women. And our exclusion from historical fiction romance novels is only a symptom of a greater more disturbing trend. Black American women have been systematically excluded from another history and that is the dialogue about the struggle for equal rights during both the women’s suffrage struggle and the Women’s Liberation Movement.
Racism has so informed American history that the efforts of Black women to advance the causes of all sisters as well as those struggles specific to women of color tend to be overlooked.
Book III: what chou mean we, white girl?
The Women’s Liberation Movement was not started with Black women in mind. Although the movement relied on the work and support of black and brown women, the narrative of that struggle excludes us. The feminist fiction erases any evidence of black skin, black struggle, or black presence. Leaving black females expunged.
“Let it be stated unequivocally that the American white woman has had a better opportunity to live a free and fulfilling life, both mentally and physically, than any other group in the United States, excluding her white husband. Thus any attempt to analogize black oppression with the plight of American white women has all the validity of comparing the neck of a hanged man with the rope burned hands of and amateur mountain climber.”
-Linda La Rue, “Black Liberation and Women’s Lib,” 1970
“Oh but wait!”
She held her breath hanging on every word.
“Y’all ain’t tha only ones.”
Book IV: And we stay behind the rope
Black women read romance novels too. We also write them. We consume voraciously, so much so that Harlequin created Kimani Press, and Kimani Romance whose releases boast “sophisticated, soulful and sensual African-American and multicultural heroes and heroines who develop fulfilling relationships as they lead lives full of drama, glamour and passion.”
In flipping through Kimani’s offerings there is not a blonde strand, blue eye, or a historical reference to be found. These book covers too present a distinct lack. A lack of white women. While white authors are busy erasing black presence in history, Black authors spend their time constructing modern temporalities where things are marked by melanin and uncomplicated by difference.
And as before, life imitates art and vice versa.
In a reaction to the black power movement and feminism’s exclusionary policies, Black women self-segregated to champion their own causes and offer their own critiques. While condemning the anti-black racism of white feminists, black women inadvertently let their anti-white racism show.
Womanism: lavender with more color, feminism with less white.
If women want a feminist revolution—ours is a world that is crying out for a feminist revolution—then we must assume responsibility for drawing women together in political solidarity. That means we must assume responsibility for eliminating all the forces that divide women. Racism is one such force. Women all women are accountable to racism continuing to divide us… more obstacles are created if we simply engage in an endless debate as to who put it there.
-Bell Hooks, Ain’t I A Woman, 1981
Book V: When the image of God is... Parian and Ebony
Let woman’s claim be as broad in the concrete as the abstract we take our stand in the solidarity of humanity, the oneness of life, and the unnaturalness and injustice if all special favoritism, whether of sex, race, country, or condition. If one link in the chain is broken, the chain is broken. A bridge is no stronger than its weakest part, and a cause is no worthier than its weakest element. Least of all can women’s cause afford to decry the weak. We want, then as toilers for the universal triumph of justice and human rights, to go to our homes from this congress demanding and entrance not through a gateway for ourselves, our race, our sex, or our sect, but a grand highway for humanity. The colored woman feels that woman’s cause is one and universal; and that not till the image of God whether in parian or ebony, is sacred and inviolable; not till race, color, sex, and condition are seen as accidents, and not the substance of life; not till the universal title of humanity to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness Is conceded to be inalienable to all; not till then is woman’s cause won—not the white woman’s , not the black woman’s, nor the red woman’s, but the cause of every man and of every woman who has writhed silently under a mighty wrong.
-Anna Cooper, 1892
Feminism must be made relevant to ALL WOMEN. We Should All Be Feminists.
Advanced praise for And then there was Beverly
Setting my books where I do and why is tied to re-stitching the pieces of the American history quilt that have been left out…I place my stories where African-Americans actually walked…
… it’s history…you can’t gloss over it, but, you know, you do it in a way that, that, that people are proud of not only the, the, the horror but, but proud of the beauty as well.
Hooks, Bell. Ain’t I a Woman Black Women and Feminism. Routledge: New York, NY, 2015.