When I was growing up one of the women’s magazines my mother got each month had a “can this marriage be saved?” column. I don’t remember the specific issues that brought each of the couples to such a turning point, but I do remember that the answer to the question was always, “yes it can be saved.” Probably not a surprise; happy endings mean happy readers who are likely to keep buying magazines. What I also remember (vaguely) is that saving the marriage more often than not meant that the woman made changes to be more appealing or more attractive or more accommodating. Or, heaven forbid, not so sensitive.
Sounds a lot like some of the posts I’ve been reading in the RWA forums.
As we’ve been talking about on the blog recently, the RWA is at a crucial turning point after its spectacular implosion at the end of year. (See last week’s post for details.) The majority of the board has resigned, sponsors have withdrawn, and contests have been cancelled. There is an independent audit in progress, trust in the organization has taken a tremendous hit, and it’s hard to see a clear path forward.
Things have definitely reached the “can this organization be saved?” stage.
Thus, I’ve been doing a lot of reading – on Twitter, on blogs, and in the RWA forums – trying to get beyond the inciting incident that kicked off the implosion and get a better understanding of the underlying issues in the organization and what would need to change in order for it to rise from the ashes.
Here are some thoughts.
It’s not just RWA
The problems that RWA is currently experiencing are not unique to the organization. If you watch the news, follow current politics on Twitter, or just take a look at things going on in the world in general, you’ll see the same issues being discussed over and over. Whether it’s income inequality, health disparities, or profiling, we are not all treated equally.
Curious about what you can do to change that? The post How to Be a Better White Person in 2020 on The Root may give you some good food for thought.
“White Privilege is the absence of racism.
Everyone should be able to live in any neighborhood they can afford; shop in stores without being scrutinized or interact with law enforcement without fearing for their life. Employers should hire people according to their abilities. Schools should punish children according to their individual infractions.
But in America, only white people get to do this.”
For further reading, you might also want to check out Bustle’s 10 Books About Race To Read Instead Of Asking A Person Of Color To Explain Things To You.
I don’t see anything
In the forums the other day there was a post by a member of a marginalized group stating that she had never felt discriminated against or had any problems as a member of RWA. Whether she meant it or not, the subtext of her post clearly said, “I haven’t had any problems, so those of you who are complaining are just making things up and should just be quiet and stop causing trouble.”
Minimalizing (or ignoring) the experiences of others, just because you haven’t personally experienced them, doesn’t do anyone any good and it certainly doesn’t make problems go away. On the contrary, it can lead to even bigger problems.
What can you do? Listen and learn. And when you make a mistake – apologize, fix what you can, and try not to do it again. A good example of this is what author Lisa Kleypas did when she was called on racist stereotyping in her book Hello Stranger.
In my life, I’ve had a lot to learn AND unlearn. All I can say is, I’m sorry. Thank you for helping me to understand the lack of awareness I had about this issue. Obviously, I would never want to hurt anyone by perpetuating an offensive stereotype, especially about women from a culture I respect so tremendously, and I feel terrible about it. I will make changes to the book immediately, so all future editions will be culturally sensitive and mindful of how every single character is portrayed. Thank you again for making me aware of this and teaching me something I needed to understand, both as an author and as a person.
You broke it; you fix it
This is actually the idea that really got me to thinking this past week. If RWA is not supportive of marginalized writers, whose responsibility is it to fix that? Certainly not the writers who have been unsupported. For the organization to change and be as diverse and inclusive its talking points claim, those who were doing the marginalizing are the ones that are going to have to change.
As so clearly stated in the Root article I referenced above:
“To be clear, white people need to have a conversation about race. Black people in America have been actively engaged in an ongoing discussion about race since 1619, when twenty & odd negroes stepped onto the shores of Virginia, looked around and asked furtively in their native tongue:
“Umm…Can we talk about this?” “~ The Root article
I can’t imagine that today’s RWA is what founder Vivian Stephens had in mind back in 1980 when she and the other founders began the group.
Can the organization be saved? Maybe. With time and a lot of hard work.
The real question is: Should it be saved?
What do you think?
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A lighter note
Writers are a creative lot and even a weighty situation like this has its moments of lightness. If you want a laugh, check out author Chuck Tingle’s satirical Romance Wranglers of America site. The site is amusing, as is the fact that the domain www.RomanceWritersofAmerica.com was available. You’d think RWA would have snapped that one up.
“At Romance Wranglers of America, we’ve been working tirelessly over the last few weeks to bring you the latest in apologizing without actually saying we’re sorry!”