Earlier this week I asked how we should tag books where both leads are considered white. (I say considered because race is a social construct.) Ridley and Rameau find the tags useful for finding non-white reads. (Beks didn’t weigh in as she was off doing productive things that will pay her.) Ridley followed up on Twitter. I soon wondered if I was asking the wrong question. Should we be tagging books with ethnicity at all? Is this the blog equal to the bricks and mortar African American Fiction shelf in the far back corner of the store?
- Do not contribute to white as the default ethnicity in romance fiction.
- Do not treat books with non white characters as other.
- Maintain useful search markers for the site.
- Make no change.
- Stop ethnic tagging.
- Use a snarky tag for white leads, such as All White.
- Ignore supremacy overtones and tag White Romance.
On Twitter it appeared that authors don’t care for ethnic tagging but reviewers do. For the authors the issue seemed to be the same one that made me uncomfortable with not tagging white books in the first place. Why do we need to make a different area? Why is a contemporary romance either a contemporary romance or a contemporary romance featuring people who are not white? Does the tagging engage the reader who would not ordinarily step outside the white default or does it drive them away? Would the readers who want to seek out non white characters find the books just as easily if they were not placed at that remove from the other reviews?
Countering that, we don’t tag a book with ethnicity alone. We tag them the same way a default white book is tagged and add an ethnic tag to the list. By that measure adding a white tag does nothing, as readers are unlikely to use it as a sorting method. What does it mean when we add an ethnic tag? Our intentions may be good but do we inadvertently participate in the normalization of white as the correct ethnicity for a love story? (Well that was pompous of me. But no, really, do we?) Is part of rejecting white only as the standard definition for mainstream romance to stop tagging non white leads? Or should we be tagging white ones as well?
I’m still not sure what the answer is. I am sure that I don’t want to use the suggested tags Mainstream or Monocultural. Both of those contribute heavily to the concept that white is a default for both. What would a story about Cee-Lo Green and Andre Benjamin be if not both mainstream and monocultural? They’re famous black singers of a similar age from Georgia. There’s nothing white about Mainstream or Monocultural unless we accept the supremacist notion that either one should be. I could talk in circles about this all day so let me pass it over to the comments. Maybe we can figure it out there.
Edited on 8/1/2014 – We’ve made some minor changes to our tagging policy, as outlined here. I hope the discussion continues as we do consider this a work in progress, not a concrete position.