Elizabeth: Can RWA be Saved?

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  The majority of the board has resigned, sponsors have withdrawn, and contests have been cancelled.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.

Sincerely, Lisa

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?

# # #

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!”

6 thoughts on “Elizabeth: Can RWA be Saved?

  1. I think it should be saved. Otherwise, the bigots will win and be able to boast that it couldn’t survive without them. I’d rather shut them up and have RWA thrive the way it should be.

  2. I think it should be saved, too. It’s done good advocacy work in the past (i.e., filing suit in the “Cockygate” suit, among others), and it’s developed and established solid mechanisms for delivering information and assistance to its members through the magazine, conferences, webinars, classes, and physical and online chapter organizations.

    That said, what to do? I saw on Twitter yesterday that one of the past presidents said that when she was in office, the board had a combined 50 years’ experience in running chapters and nonprofits; the current, non-quorum board (tainted by being appointed by deposed ex-president Damon Suede) has a combined 3.75 years experience, not enough to run a multi-million-dollar organization. She suggested that the board find and vet a qualified person to be president, then they all resign. Then the new president chooses a new board, then *she* resigns. Then hold elections to replace everybody. I think the hope is that the troublesome organizational DNA that has hung on for so many decades could at least be diluted in this way.

    I don’t know if that plan would work, but I do think we need to put a temporary president and board in place who can at least keep the lights on until August, when the next set of elections is scheduled to be held. That should give people some time to think about running for office. And in the meantime, we have the audit to look forward to. And let’s reconstitute that ethics committee to uncover racist practices and figure out a way to eliminate them.

    I bought Chuck Tingle’s novella satirizing the RWA implosion, but haven’t read it yet. I got too depressed after reading some of the RWA forums and will have to wait until I’ve recovered somewhat from that experience. But yes, you’d think RWA would have snapped up RomanceWritersOfAmerica.com!

    • That sounds like a reasonable plan, Kay. I do know that the organization is putting it’s non-profit status at risk by not having a president and secretary in place – at least according what I’ve read. I have also seen that there is a limited pool of writers who meet the qualifications for being president and it doesn’t sound like any of those folks have expressed any interest to serve.

      A real challenge.

      I do agree that the advocacy and information delivery components are worth saving.

  3. Oh, Elizabeth, I am loving your posts on diversity, and the links you include!

    What’s that old saying about leadership? People who want to be a leader probably shouldn’t be, and people who should be a leader don’t usually want to? It seems like, though, in the past and even as late as December 25, there were people in the RWA leadership position who cared about justice and helping their fellow writers.

    I don’t know if that’s enough for an organization. You also need to have the bureaucracy/staff onboard with the ideals of the organization, and you need members who are paying attention and also passionate about the ideals of the organization.

    For short-term, bottom-line capitalists, diversity looks like a game for suckers. You have to pay for accommodations, and in an us-vs.-them situation, helping “them” is helping the competition.

    But when all of us are “us” and there are no “them”, those accommodations are investments in the long-term. Ensuring a free flow of ideas and communication can be very good for creativity, and also opening up new possible avenues and markets.

    I used to be a voracious reader. I love a good story, and it’s bonus if I learn something during the story (and in 2020, it’s never been easier to look up an unfamiliar term or even get a whole translation done — Dorothy Sayers, the white woman who often included French phrases in her books, now has whole webpages dedicated to her French). And I know I’m not the only one. Organizations are one way to feed the reading habit, that’s for sure. And I think it’s a case of “the more, the merrier”.

    I do have to admit I’m a bystander commenting on the whole thing. I’m not in any writing organization right now, and the self-segregation that happens in our societies means that minorities in the organizations I belong to do not even approach 20 percent. (Not a lot of minorities want to teach English in Japan, it seems like — again, we can go back to the racism in the systems that make it seem like a very unpleasant option compared to staying at home and dealing with the racism we know, I guess.)

    And in the case of Eight Ladies, people who read Jennifer Crusie and decide to take the time and money to take a writing course with her through online means? It means we’ve got a VERY homogenous, self-selecting group. Heck, two of us even share a birthday!

    I don’t know what to do about that homogeneity in my life. The best I can do right now is support and read a diversity of authors and storytellers — and I’m really lucky that it’s easier than ever to find diverse authors who serve the kind of cup of tea that’s precisely what I like.

  4. I don’t know if RWA can be saved. My chapter meets today for the first time since the implosion to discuss what we want to do (hang in there? disaffiliate? go our separate ways? (NO!)

    As an indie author, having a heavy-weight like RWA available to advocate with Amazon has had some value and I’d hoped to see them even more engaged on behalf of indie authors in the future, but I only want to stay involved with them if they’re going to advocate equally for every member.

    I bought the book on white fragility. It arrives tomorrow. Hoping to become a better white person in 2020!

  5. Pingback: Elizabeth: RWA 2.0? – Eight Ladies Writing

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