Yes, Karen, there is racism in romance: M. Jane Colette’s formal-gone-uninhibited CaRWA & RWA Resignation Letter

Below is my formal resignation letter from the Board and Membership of the Calgary Association of Romance Writers of America (CaRWA), embedded in which is my intent of resignation from the national Romance Writers of America (RWA) organization.

For context, I refer you to my post, “You’re welcome here. So long as you don’t remind us, too often, ever, that you’re not one of us.”

And, the Smart Bitches Trashy Books podcast with Courtney Milan.

At one point, this letter becomes a personal, angry rant. But first. Business-like.

* * *

On Sunday, February 16, 2020, the Board of CaRWA approved a multi-stage resignation-transition plan, in which all current board members, as well as CaRWA’s diversity liaison, membership liaison, and webmistress, are tendering their resignations from CaRWA and RWA. CaRWA President Emily Varga communicated the resignations and the transition plan to membership during our regular monthly meeting on Tuesday, February 18; a written communication has also been sent to all CaRWA members.

AN ORDERED TRANSITION, IF POSSIBLE

As part of this plan, the resigning board members ask that those CaRWA members who are remaining RWA (and CaRWA) members and who want CaRWA to continue as a chapter of RWA step forward by March 31, 2020 as willing to serve on the CaRWA board. For CaRWA to continue as an RWA chapter, three positions must be filled: President, Treasurer, and Secretary. The elected, voting positions of VP Programing and VP Communications, and the appointed, non-voting positions of diversity liaison, membership liaison, and PAN/PRO liaison do not have to be filled for the chapter to continue as an RWA affiliate.

Once these members come forward, the current board will provide full transition support and training throughout April, and the new board will take office on May 1, 2020. Between May 1 and 8, the outgoing board will execute all necessary paperwork to transition leadership, responsibility and signing authority to the new board—upon which tasks being completed, we will cease being CaRWA members, and be free to terminate our RWA memberships without violating either national or local bylaws.

A PLAN FOR ORDERED DISSOLUTION, IF NECESSARY

If no CaRWA members who wish to remain RWA members step forward to serve on the board by March 31, 2020, the current Board will begin the CaRWA chapter dissolution process, which will be completed by end of 2020. RWA bylaws make disaffiliation virtually impossible; additionally, the current CaRWA board members do not wish to continue to serve or to be members of CaRWA.

MUCH GRATITUDE

I would like to express my appreciation for the immense effort the 2019 CaRWA Board (Emily Varga as President, Ava Hayden as Treasurer, Win Day as Secretary, Alyssa Linn Palmer as VP Communications (and diversity liaison), myself as VP Programming) and 2020 CaRWA Board (Emily Varga as President, Ava Hayden as Treasurer, Elizabeth Kelly as Secretary, Mimi Grace as VP Communications, myself as VP Programming—and, Alyssa Linn Palmer as diversity liaison) members have put into serving this organization, locally and nationally.

The last year has not been easy; the last two months have been, not to put too fine a point on it, fucking hell. My particular gratitude to Win “I may be an old white lady but I’m not a nice white lady” Day, both for stepping into the Secretary position after our elected secretary Jill Flanagan had to step down for personal reasons, and for the countless hours she has put in over the years as CaRWA’s webmistress. I’d also like to recognize Win for her work on behalf of CaRWA during her time as President, in particular, for her commitment to Diversity-Equity-Inclusion issues, creating the CaRWA Code of Ethics, and implementing the diversity liaison position.

Both Win and Ava Hayden have spent HOURS on banking/Paypal/registration issues, the complexity of which simply makes me grateful it was in their competent hands and not mine.

I’d also really like to acknowledge Elizabeth Kelly and Mimi Grace, who both live in Edmonton and who’ve stepped forward to serve on the board remotely, just in time for the epic RWA crisis to hit.

My gratitude to and appreciation of Alyssa Linn Palmer, CaRWA’s first diversity liaison—and one of the first in the RWA—is impossible to quantify and hard to express. Alyssa tried really hard to raise awareness about DEI issues in our chapter through the radical act of sharing such links as

She has been demonized and abused as a result (I do not use those words lightly; it breaks my heart that the people engaging in this abuse genuinely believe they were “just” expressing their opinions).

Alyssa, I would not have joined, or remained in, CaRWA if it hadn’t been for your quiet, supportive presence and consistent advocacy. Getting to know you, both professionally and personally, has been one of the greatest rewards for me for stepping out of my comfort zone and being the Other in CaRWA for three and a half years.

Finally, I would like to bow my head—go down on my knees, frankly—in front of Emily Varga. There are two reasons I joined CaRWA after my first meeting. Alyssa identifying herself as writing lesbian romance was the first—as I’ve said, it’s really hard to be the only Other in the room, and one gets tired of it. The presence of Emily in the room—young, enthusiastic and brown—I see colour, and it matters—was another. I remember thinking, “If this person thinks this a worthwhile group, if she can actually be that one brown person in the room—then I can be the one queer person in the room. I will give it a shot.”

It has been my immense privilege to benefit from Emily’s contributions to CaRWA, as a writer, as the most incredible VP Programming (whose shoes it has been intimidating to fill), as the only President of this organization I could imagine serving under, and simply as a human.

It has been heartbreaking to witness, over the past six months and in particular over the past seven weeks, the shocking lack of respect with which a not insignificant chunk of the CaRWA membership has treated her… while being convinced that they were actually being “nice” and reasonable.

Which brings me to my personal reasons for my resignation, from the board, from CaRWA, and from RWA.

A PASSIONATE BEGINNING

I volunteered to serve on the CaRWA board in November 2018 because I felt I had benefited a lot from the work of previous volunteers (i.e. board members), and, after two years of receiving, it was my turn to give and serve. I was committed to raising the profile of the local romance community, and to building the reputation of the romance genre in the city. I do believe love is the thing that’s gonna save us all—and my personal motto is that I’m smashing the patriarchy one literary orgasm at a time. To that end, I organized events such as:

  • the More Than A Guilty Pleasure event at Owl’s Nest and When Words Collide (both with Alyssa Linn Palmer)
  • the Sultry and Sweet Summer Reads Festival (including a CBC interview highlighting the festival, Calgary’s romance authors, and the romance genre in general),
  • the romance programming at When Words Collide (including organizing the What is RWA and what can it do for you—a bittersweet… no, mostly, a bitter, recollection now—and the Kink, BDSM, Consent and Feminism in Romance panels), and,
  • CaRWA’s participation in the first-ever Independent Bookstore Romance Day

Additionally, in my role as the organization’s VP Programming, I arranged speakers for our monthly meetings and spring and fall workshops.

MILITANT LESBIAN ACTIVISM

Apparently, I did all this in pursuit of a personal, combative lesbian agenda, with the intent of turning CaRWA into a lesbian book club. (To give credit where credit is due, I’m pretty sureI didn’t do this alone; Alyssa clearly helped. Because, as I’ve written before: if you’re homophobic, one queer person in a room is too much, and two are a conspiracy.)

 

Thus spoke a not-insignificant portion of CaRWA membership in the anonymous survey the board sent out to members as we were trying to figure out what the future of CaRWA would be in the wake of the national RWA-crisis, set in motion by the “WTF RWA?” judgement on the ethics complaint against Courtney Milan.

Despite everything that has happened, I do not wish to dox anyone, nor to tar the entirety of CaRWA membership with the same racist, bigoted, homophobic brush.

So let me be clear. Not everyone in CaRWA thinks like this. Clearly, the members of the current board do not think like this. I have met beautiful people in CaRWA and made friendships that I know will endure a lifetime.

But, by the numbers—about a third of the members who responded to the January survey expressed sentiments that to me, and to the members of the current board, were blatantly discriminatory. Either homophobic, racist… or, in most cases, both. (Funny how that happens.)

And heartbreaking.

Because what do you do with people who say, in the same breath, “I absolutely believe and want to be part of an inclusive community. But I don’t want to be educated on diversity. I’ve never seen any racism or discrimination in CaRWA. Stop posting all those articles about LGBTQ issues—you’re shoving diversity down our throats”?

What do you do with people who commit an act of racism, casual racial slut included, while they are telling you that they don’t see how you can legitimately say you’ve seen/experienced such a thing?

I’ve seen racism, homophobia and discrimination in CaRWA from my first meeting. I’ve navigated it as matter of course, because CaRWA is no different—no worse, no better—than Calgary, Alberta, Canada, the First World. I had my YYC Queer Writers group as my safer space. I had my family, friends, and lovers as my safest space. I could be the Other and endure this micro-aggression or that one. I could wince at a member’s casual racism or homophobia, commiserate with a more like-minded member about it… attempt to address it privately… too often, decide, to my current shame, that it just wasn’t worth it.

It was no different, no worse, than any place other than my safest bubbles.

But you know what I won’t do? I won’t work my ass off for people who feel free, under the cover of anonymity, to spew hate and vitriol… and then accuse its organization’s diversity liaison and overall leadership of being “toxic” for saying, “Um, that thing you just said? It comes from a place of privilege and not seeing that the experience of a marginalized person is different from your own.”

As I say that—along with the entire outgoing board, I’m still working for people who’ve treated me—us—like shit. We have none of us been ruled by our hearts and passions. (If I had acted by my personal, selfish inclination, I would have left CaRWA and RWA sometime between Christmas and New Year’s Day.) We are providing uninterrupted programming: a fabulous evening workshop with Angela Ackerman on Tuesday, March 17, and an all-day workshop with romance superstar Skye Warren on Saturday, April 25. We are planning and facilitating a graduated leadership transition. We, frankly, hope that those members who want CaRWA to continue with RWA step up and take over—because that option is easier than presiding over a responsible dissolution of an organization.

But we will stay through that dissolution if we have to.

Because we feel a sense of responsibility to the entire membership.

Even that part of the membership that thinks our existence, and the fact that we dare speak about the challenges of our existence, is the problem.

AND SO, GOODBYE, RWA

As soon as my responsibility to the CaRWA membership is fulfilled—whether through a transition of leadership or a dissolution of the chapter—I will be resigning from the RWA. And I will be resigning from the RWA because, as I’ve said repeatedly elsewhere, it hurts my personal and professional brand to be associated with racist, homophobic, transphobic, ableist and otherwise discriminatory organizations.

And individuals.

It pains me—it genuinely pains me—that the gap between the authors of colour, queer authors and allies leaving RWA and its affiliates, and the Nice White Ladies who don’t get what the big deal is seems, right now, insurmountable.

Because, you see, the first step in addressing a problem is acknowledging that there is no problem.

There is a problem.

If you’re straight, cis, white, able-bodied etc… I totally believe that you haven’t experienced it.

But that doesn’t mean that the people who aren’t like you… haven’t.

Why is that so hard to believe, to imagine?

Especially for a group of… fiction writers? Who imagine entire worlds?

A WORD TO THE “NEUTRAL,” SILENT MIDDLE

This is, of course, only a goodbye to the people who will neither read this letter/post nor miss me when I’m gone… nor, should they by any chance read this, understand any of my issues. They’ve always been absolutely lovely to Emily. They like Emily. They think Alyssa is a sweetie. A bit misguided and posts way too many LGBTQ articles (she was the fucking diversity liaison people, it was her job, people!). They’ve never said anything mean to me. Of course they haven’t. What the heck (they don’t say hell, much less fuck) am I talking about? What’s my problem?

This is my problem:

This is my battle line:

This is everyone’s future:

Photo Credit: Lizzy the Lezzy

And this is my request to… those who would be Switzerland. Daniel José Older (in that radical article referenced above about writing the other) writes:

“We can’t keep promoting hetero/cis-normative sexist and racist ideas in our literature. That is the default setting. If you aren’t consciously working against it, you are working for it. Neutrality is not an option, and the luxury of thinking it is has to go.”

This is also the default setting in our organizations. Racism is the default setting.

Neutrality enables racism. Homophobia. Transphobia. Ableism. All the things you oppose—because you are a good person.

But you enable them when you choose neutrality.

You enable them when you choose comfort and being nice and civil to the people spewing hate instead of protecting, standing up for their targets, and working to effect institutional change that will protect them.

Don’t be neutral.

M. Jane Colette
VP Programming, CaRWA

* * *

I’d also like to append to this resignation the full “personal” section of the resignation of CaRWA’s current president, Emily Varga:

On a personal note, I shared with those who were present at the February meeting my reasons for resigning from CaRWA. This has been a very difficult few months for me as President of CaRWA and I have been inundated with emails, messages, phone calls regarding our “issues” with diversity. I have heard our group is toxic, that we should never post anything about the RWA at all, that we are too political, that the board is militant and combative, that there is no such thing as white privilege, that we talk too much about ‘gay things’ and that we never talk about writing. Members on the surveys stated some fairly bigoted things, multiple members stated they do not believe discrimination ever happened in CaRWA. This writing group has become an unsafe space for me as a result.

If you tell me you are surprised that I have been called a ‘paki’ and don’t know why I would receive racist comments because I don’t look brown to you, that makes me uncomfortable. If you don’t believe white privilege exists, then it is likely because you have white privilege. Your denial of it also makes me uncomfortable. White privilege is never having to experience someone calling you the ‘p’ word in road rage, it is never having to be asked in mid-labour why you are brown but your mother is white, it is never having to be spoken to slowly as if you don’t speak English by a health care professional who is calling you by the name Navneet, or not hired as a lawyer because the person they “didn’t know you were Mexican and didn’t want a Mexican lawyer”. It means never having to wonder if you were uninvited from the writing retreat you always used to be invited to  because you have brown skin. I also have white privilege as a bi-racial person too, so I know its power, and I know when I have it and when I don’t.

If you ‘believe in diversity’ and have the luxury to bow out of the conversation because it is too toxic for you, but still leave me to do all the emotional labour on that front, then I don’t think you do believe in diversity. I do not speak about this often and I know I was very upset at the meeting, but it’s because I AM upset. I’m upset that it has come to this, when all I want to do is write. I want to share articles and information about diversity and craft and publishing without having people constantly complain to me as if it doesn’t chip away a little bit every time they do. I want to write with like-minded people, who care about the current state of publishing, who show up, do the work and want to grow as authors together. But I didn’t get to do that here.

I’m sure you will likely forget all about this and go about your writing career in blissful ignorance. But I won’t. I will always remember.

Emily Varga
President
Calgary Association of Romance Writers of America

Alyssa Linn Palmer’s full resignation letter is here:

My resignation from RWA, and from Calgary RWA (CaRWA)

This is the full text of the resignation letter of Win Day, who served as CaRWA’s president in 2017 and 2018, and as its secretary in 2019:

This letter serves as my resignation from CaRWA. I can no longer belong to an organization whose racist and homophobic actions contradict its professed values of diversity and inclusion.

Before I continue, I want to apologize to the CaRWA members who are part of any marginalized community, or who write about marginalized characters. I have not been as good at sensing and identifying micro-aggressions as I want to be. I can offer two reasons, but they are not excuses. First, because I am always involved in set up and take down at meetings and workshops, I’m not able to participate in or even observe the before and after event socialization. So I haven’t seen those patterns or undercurrents where micro-aggressions occur. Second, my hearing isn’t all that good. Even hearing aids only go so far. If you don’t speak directly to me, if you don’t catch my attention before speaking, I likely won’t hear you. Again, those are reasons, not excuses. And I apologize to any of you who may have been hurt because I as a board member didn’t step in and stop something.

It’s time for me to stop being nice, to stop being kind. Being nice and being kind is what got us here. Being nice and being kind is what those targeted members have been because they were hesitant to file formal complaints. The directive to be nice and be kind certainly didn’t stop some members from committing micro-aggressions, and some more blatant aggressions, against other members or potential members.

I joined CaRWA in 2013, and I was first elected to the board for the 2015 term. I have served continuously ever since: as VP Communications and Webmistress in 2015/2016; as President and Webmistress in 2017/2018; as Secretary (appointed to replace Jill Flanagan when she had to step down and no one else volunteered despite a vigorous recruiting campaign), and Webmistress in 2019; and currently as Membership Chair and Webmistress.

It was in 2017 that, as President, I had to deal with the aftermath of a member who chose to go on a racist rant in a public place where a number of clearly identified CaRWA members had gathered. And except for the one member who disagreed and argued back, her remarks went unchallenged by several other members who were party to the discussion. I don’t know what those other members were thinking. I don’t even know who all of them were, because the member who argued back was too nice to file a complaint. But by not acting, they gave their tacit support to the racist rant.

We came very close to losing the Delta as a workshop venue that day. They had every right to tell us to leave and never come back. That they didn’t is more a reflection on their generosity than on CaRWA’s behaviour.

One aftermath result of that incident was that I shortly thereafter established the position of Diversity Liaison. And I pushed RWA for a chapter-level Code of Ethics, which they eventually provided. We were one of the first chapters to do both those things. I was very proud of CaRWA then.

Another aftermath result was the series of private messages — through Facebook Messenger, through email, even through texts to my cell phone — telling me how appalled some members were at those actions we had taken as a board. My all-time favourite remark was the statement that I was a traitor to my race and that I had forgotten that “white is also a colour”.

For those of you who think this “whole RWA mess” is indicative of a US-specific problem? Not hardly. We have racists and bigots right here in Canada, in Alberta, and in CaRWA.

Case in point: we spent a good deal of time at our February 18, 2020 meeting talking about why the board and volunteers were resigning, and Emily related some personal incidents where she had been targeted as a woman of colour. Our presenter was a black comedienne who spent her hour talking to us about racism and dating in Calgary 2020. And still, given all that, one of our members thought it appropriate to approach our President after the meeting and say something about being surprised she gets called {insert racial slur here} because she “didn’t look like…”, and then the words trailed off. Racism is alive and well in CaRWA.

It has become very clear to me over the last two months that it is not physically possible for an organization to be welcoming and tolerant of absolutely everyone. It can’t support both the racists and bigots, and their targets and allies. It just can’t.

I collated the results of the first survey CaRWA sent to members in January 2020. I read the collated results of the second survey, sent in February. And I was so disappointed. There is a core of CaRWA membership who do not accept and support those who are not cisgender, heterosexual, abled, Christian, and white; who do not accept and support those who write about anything other than one cisgender, heterosexual, abled, Christian, white women loving one cisgender, heterosexual, abled, Christian, white man; and who do not accept and support the allies of those two groups.

You are absolutely entitled to your beliefs. I cannot agree with them. I cannot support them. I will not belong to an organization that believes and acts that way. And I certainly am not willing to spend my time and effort and energy and expertise volunteering to serve that organization.

And to the member who complained that the current board is a bunch of lesbian activists? My husband of forty years laughed so hard at that one he had to sit down. While I am not a lesbian, I am very much an activist for LGBTQ+ folks. And for other marginalized groups. Social Justice Warrior isn’t an epithet; it’s a badge of honour.

My RWA membership is due in February every year, and I just renewed for one more year. I belong to two online chapters, Contemporary Romance and FF&P (Fantasy, Futuristic, & Paranormal). Both are considering disaffiliation, and I want to vote in those decisions. I want to keep those connections. And I want to vote in the upcoming interim RWA elections and whatever decisions are made after that.

As CaRWA’s current President explained, those who choose to stay in CaRWA must now step up and run it. If there are not sufficient volunteers by March 30, the current board will be forced to start the process of dissolution.

It is my fiduciary duty, and my intent, to leave this chapter in as good shape as I can. I am writing up expanded task lists for all of the work I’ve been doing as a volunteer. All lists are being posted into the chapter board file library in myRWA. I will remain a volunteer for the chapter until either the entire board and set of essential volunteers are replaced, or the current board works through dissolution.

I wish you luck in your individual careers. I do not think RWA will survive, although I am more hopeful than I was a week ago. I don’t know if CaRWA will, or in what form, but I will not be a part of it.

Win Day

I will add links to the personal resignation letters of other board members as/if they become public.

I’m really sorry it ends like this.

 

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About mjanecolette

Writer. Reader. Angster. Reformed Bohemian (not). Author of the erotic romance TELL ME, the erotic tragedy (with a happy ending) CONSEQUENCES (of defensive adultery), the award-winning rom-com (she's versatile) CHERRY PIE CURE, and TEXT ME, CUPID--a (slightly dirty) love story for 21st century adults who don't believe in love... but want it anyway. A sought-after speaker and presenter, Colette is also the author of the Dirty Writing Secrets Series, which includes the non-fiction collection of essays ROUGH DRAFT CONFESSIONS: not a guide to writing and selling erotica and romance but full of inside inside anyway, 101 FLIRTY WRITING PROMPTS TO SEDUCE YOUR MUSE, and ORGANIZED CREATIVE. She's also the curator of the fab YYC Queer Writers anthologies Queer Christmas in Cowtown, Screw Chocolate, and A Queer Summer Night's in Cowtown. Releasing Spring 2020: CUPID IN MONTE CARLO.

2 comments

  1. Pingback: The Amazing Angela Ackerman #writingtips #yycevent #yycliterary | m jane colette

  2. Pingback: And now, something completely different: Murder and Mayhem, or, learning while in bed during the apocalypse | m jane colette

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