Race and Loving in Romance

I’d been thinking about interracial romance over the weekend, while I was trying to draft a section for The Book (OMG The Whole Genre?!) {that’s a working title, obviously} that examined minorities in RomanceLandia. What a verdant, green – or white, perhaps – pasture of peaceful writing that was. Not a landmine in sight for my clodding feet to trip on. No, no. *head desk* So when a friend of mine forwarded me a news article that Mildred Loving, the Black woman whose marriage to a white man overturned laws against interracial marriage died today at the age of 68, I had to think how different the world is in 2008 vs. 1958. Before I move on – our condolences to her family. I always thought it was unspeakably awesome that the name of the court case that declared laws restricting marriage on basis of race unconstitutional was called “Loving v. Virginia.”

Since I count among my neighbors several interracial couples and families,  I have been spoiled with an experience that indicates interracial marriage as something that’s somewhat common. As the friend who forwarded me the article said to me over email, I’m nuts if I think that’s the rule across the US. It’s certainly not the case in romance – interracial couples in romance novels are still somewhat rare, though there are more of them of late. One writer of bestselling awesomeness told me recently that many romance writers, including herself, would love to write a romance that crosses racial lines – but those books are difficult to get into publication from established print romance publishers. In the e-format, there’s a more vigorous supply, but then, the “e” in romance is the one area that does tend to push the boundaries of the genre a little bit harder, giving the “nudge nudge” a more diverse meaning. Samhain has an entire section of interracial titles, featuring white heroes and Black heroines, and vice versa—and hero/hero, as well, so clearly someone or many someones are shopping for interracial romance specifically. 

On one hand, it’s difficult to ask the right question. Would the presence of an interracial couple stop someone from buying a romance? (Would it stop me? Nope.) Is interracial romance solely the domain – and by domain I mean “located in the bookshop section” – of Black romance, because the minute one half of a protagonist pair is Black, the book moves toward Black Romance as a subgenre marker? Speaking solely for myself, I’m curious why interracial romance appears to be mostly found in epubs, small presses, erotica, or within Black romance publishing lines. Brenda Jackson has written several for Silhouette Desire, but those seem to be an exception among the backlist of series romance – and yet another reason how the dismissed-as-staid category romances can sometimes not just push but shred the envelope of boundaries every now and again like nothing else.

I’m also curious whether it’s a target people shop for, a type of storyline that some really enjoy the same way I am a total and complete sucker for a certain plotlines, including one that is too embarrassing to mention. If people shop deliberately for interracial romances, then why aren’t there more of them in mainstream romance (unless they’re there and my Google-fu has failed me)? Is there a difficult barrier towards publication of a romance that takes place across cultural and racial lines?  And what counts as interracial, anyway? Does a Black woman and a Middle Eastern man count as interracial? (This reader thinks so.) Or is “interracial” code for solely white/black combinations? Hell, depending on what anti-Semite you ask, my marriage would be interracial.

Mostly I’m wondering simply why there aren’t more interracial couples in romance. There’s more than a few powerhouse examples in mainstream romance across several genres, so I am curious why there’s not more of it. For example, Ward’s Brotherhood plays with race, and the question’s been asked of her point blank whether the Brothers are Black (her answer was that they are not an identifiable human race so it’s impossible to say). Kleypas’ Mine Till Midnight also crossed a racial line in the historical sense, in that her hero was Rom and the heroine was white – a combination that caused me to question the endurance of their happy ending, given the social prejudice working against them. And someone will hunt me down and kick me in the knees if I don’t mention the multi-book subplot of Brockmann’s Sam & Alyssa. All three examples were holy crapping damn successful. Perhaps the problem is that what I perceive of as “few” needs to be adjusted. Someone else might think that’s plenty.

I’m not so much asking for a list of interracial romances, though feel free to suggest some that you’ve enjoyed, but more of a “Interracial romance: what’s up with that? How come there’s not more of it?” type of random musing. So? Your thought? Ha. I crack me up. I know you have more than one.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    sallahdog says:

    What I have found interesting is that most of the time, when an interracial couple is written, it is a white man and a black woman. Yet most of the interracial couples I know in real life, are black men married to white women…  I think sometimes interracial relationship books are hard, because the interracial part becomes THE book… and if I am reading a romance, I want a romance, thank you very much… I have read some good ones in the last year, but I think I will be happy when there is a day where an interracial couple in a book isn’t that big O deal…

  2. 2
    Denni says:

    IMO the larger publishers are afraid of them, don’t know quite how to handle them, and therefore leave the whole issue to smaller imprints to deal with.  In addition, the practice of shelving AA authors seperately makes them difficult to find and purchase.

    I love any well written romance, and interracial can add an interesting and fun element to a book.  Like many other readers I have heard on this subject, we don’t like preachy and we don’t like the race issue to be the only plot.  Tried to read Brenda Jackson, but her approach was so titty-fingered that I wasn’t really sure about the interracial aspect (or maybe the cover was just wrong).

    Crush by Crystal Hubbard is good.  Champagne Rules and Hot In Here by Susan Lyons are awesome!

  3. 3

    My belief is that interracial romances are harder to pigeonhole, so bigger publishers aren’t too enthused by them.  As for the readership, I think that is growing, as are the number of interracial couples.  Maybe it’s because I live in New York, but I see all kinds of pairings that make you wonder how these people even met.  LOL As far as black/white pairings go, bw/wm is on the rise.

    I also agree that interracial stories that are only about race are not enjoyable reading.  By the way, what does this mean?

    Tried to read Brenda Jackson, but her approach was so titty-fingered that

    Confused minds want to know.

    All the best,
    Dee

  4. 4
    rebyj says:

    I see the African American section at the bookstore, I always wonder why theose books aren’t integrated into ALL the books offered. Especially the fiction, non fiction I can understand it having it’s own place on the shelf.
    People are people, I wish they were all together and I think once they ARE all together then we’ll find more interracial stories where the story is more than race.
    I don’t know if I’m saying it well, I just think that it sets us back a few years to have segregation in bookstores when in life we’re much more diverse and integrated.
    Regardless of race,  romance readers are way ahead of a lot of the world in that we want good stories, prejudice isn’t an issue.

    If you write it, we will read it.

  5. 5
    Mollyscribbles says:

    In general, I don’t tend to read ‘Black’ romance, or novels for that matter, because once they get categorized in that way, it gives off the vibe that it’s going to be a book about Black People, rather than a novel where the characters just happen to be Black.  And this, as I see it, is a step away from equality rather than a step toward equality.

    The day that we’re all truly equal, regardless of skin colour, is the day that ‘African-American’ will only be a section in the bookstore as a subcatagory in the history section.

    If there’s a book that looks interesting to me, and one or both halves of the couple just happens to be non-white, I’ll pick it up.  But I’m not going to join Oprah’s book club.

  6. 6
    Lorelie says:

    we don’t like the race issue to be the only plot.

    Yep, I’m in this group.  I tried a couple and had that problem.  I’m sure there’s interracial books out there where there’s sustainable conflict but I don’t really know how to pick them out.

  7. 7
    Wirdald says:

    I agree with sallahdog; if an interracial romance becomes more about the “interracial” and less about the “romance,” I don’t think that would be a book I would want to read. Well, I would read it, but I wouldn’t be able to deal with a steady diet of it. Perhaps because I don’t want to deal with the unpleasant aspects of interracial romance, such as hateful bigots? My brother (white and Hispanic) and his wife (black) have had to deal with a lot of scary, hateful people on some military bases where he has been stationed. I would just be afraid that any interracial romance novels I picked up might have some frightening scenes in it that would give me nightmares—because some of those books will have to deal with hateful people, prejudice and the scare tactics that some bigots use to “run people off.” Just as I avoid romances that involve brutal rape, I would want to avoid interracial romances with hate-filled antagonists. Those things are just too real to me, and I don’t read romances so I can be reminded of all the horrific things that people do to others—I want to read about love.

    Wow, and the word “hate” showed up in there a lot. Hate is absolutely frightening to me; there’s enough of it in the real world that I don’t want it showing up in my free-time reading.

    It reads like I’m assuming that dealing with prejudice would have to be a major theme of an interracial romance, and I certainly don’t think that has to be the case. And honestly, dealing with ignorance and prejudice is one thing—scary but doable—but dealing with prejudice, ignorance and active hate? Something else entirely. Not a theme that would make me feel safe in the book-world in which I choose to immerse myself.

    Whew, long post. Hope it made sense. Thinking…like Shatner…now.

  8. 8
    Randi says:

    I recommend checking out Monica Jackson’s blog for more info on this topic. She has a slew of blog posts about this very topic, and as she is AA and a romance writer (though not strictly romance anymore-she’ll tell you why), comes from a viewpoint that I have not come across in any of the other blogs in Romanelandia (well, ok, I haven’t read EVERY blog in Romancelandia…). Some of what she says could come off as being..I was going to say mean, but that’s not it; it’s in your face, so be warned that it might make you uncomfortable (it doesn’t stop me from going back though); but if you really want to know about this subject, drop on by. http://monicajackson.com/blog/

  9. 9
    RStewie says:

    I read recently a book, Object of Love, which was interracial.  I didn’t even know it until I was almost 1/3 into the story.  It was great, though, and I have NO problem reading them.

    I wonder if the lack of them is because the vast majority of readers are white chicks, though?  This might not be the case (although judging from my year of experience hovering in the romance section, it bears out), but it’s a thought.

    I notice, too, that there aren’t very many women of ANY other ethnicity, Asain, Black, Hispanic, etc, and rarely are there any Russian or Eastern European heroines, as well.  Is this for the purpose of easier self-identification with the heroine on the part of the reader (or author?)?

    spamword somewhat69…NO!!  Definitely 69!!

  10. 10
    dillene says:

    Seriously!  End segregation now!  Anyway, it’s irritating that the bookselling world only recognizes two races.  What if you’re a Navajo with a soft spot for Polynesian girls?  What if you’re a Japanese chick and you really dig on Turkish men?  What if you’re a white American girl with the hots for Andy Lau?

    Where’s our section of Barnes & Noble?

  11. 11
    Wirdald says:

    Oh, and I forgot to ask, what is this plot line you love “that is too embarrassing to mention”? Come on, you can’t throw a teaser like that out and then not tell! I’ll tell you mine if you tell me yours…

  12. 12
    jill says:

    I’ve been branching out lately and reading more romances (lots of great recommendations from this site – thanks!), but haven’t run across an interracial one yet.  Like others already mentioned, it’s more about the story than the skin colors. I work in a very diverse company and live in a tolerant community and have been in an interracial marriage (b/w) for 20 years. My brother’s wife is Chinese and I have friends and co-workers in interracial marriages of different type.

    Probably it’s just the enviroment I live in, but I’ve never had any negative reactions to the fact that my husband and I don’t ‘match’. I did write an interracial relationship into a fantasy novel I wrote (not yet published), but the racial element doesn’t cause any difficulty for those characters.

    Looking forward to more diverse characters to come!

    less98? 98 less of what?

  13. 13
    Elle says:

    Well, my fiance is a full-blood Navajo, and I am the whitest woman ever.  Indian Romances, including those written by you-know-who, are certainly one very specific genre of interracial romances.

    Elle

  14. 14

    It seems to be a black/white issue in the US publishing industry, ‘cause I’ve seen numerous bestselling romances over the years with Asian/Anglo, Native American/Anglo (Thanks, Cassie!) and Hispanic/Anglo match-ups and no one blinks an eye.

    It would be interesting to get feedback on this from someone in the industry, telling us whether any marketing work was done to determine the benefits or downside of shelving AA romances separately, or why we don’t see more B/W storylines.

  15. 15
    corrine says:

    I’m writing an interracial Hispanic/Anglo right now and I love to see that there is an audience for this plotline.

    I agree, however, that if the interracial aspects consume the plot, I wouldn’t read it. The same way I steer clear of books about widow(er)s—because, in general, the plot tends to focus on how horribly guilty the hero/heroine is that they’ve moved on.

  16. 16
    Alison Kent says:

    Living in such a racially diverse city and not thinking twice about interracial relationships, it would never have occurred to me not to include them in my books.  (WARNING: Blatant pimping ahead.)

    Asian secondary heroine with Hispanic secondary hero
    African American secondary romance
    Caucasian hero with Asian heroine
    Caucasian heroine with Caribbean black hero
    Caucasian secondary heroine with African American secondary hero

    There’s talk about how accurately authors portray various races, but I just write the people as I see them.  If race is an issue for them in the story, I’ll include it.  If it’s not, I don’t, and then I hope they come across as the characters I intended them to be.

  17. 17

    Well, as a writer… Aside from any question of whether my pub would buy it or not, I feel that the racial stuff WOULD be an issue in the romance, though not much more than other social issues. For example, the high-powered lawyer falling for the mechanic or the older woman and the younger man. What will their friends/family think? Will both the h/h be able to overcome their preconceptions, etc.?

    But for me, personally, as someone who was in an interracial relationship for four years, it makes me tired thinking about revisiting those particular issues with my characters.  It’s a minefield I spent a lot of time in, you know? But I’ve never been a shy heiress dating an intimidating stable master, so that still sounds exciting to explore. Ha! Does that make any sense?

    All that said, Champagne Rules by Susan Lyons is a recent interracial romance I read. Good stuff! Great cover too.

  18. 18
    Ciar Cullen says:

    I’ll be interested to see more comments here. I took on a related topic on at Romancing the Blog a while back, and not only did it drop a big goose egg, I got hate mail. (Having grown up in an urban area and living on the East Coast, I thought it was all pretty benign material, or that I knew what kinds of responses I would get. Ha!) I asked whether books in which the protagonists were African American were the exclusive territory of AA writers. And why that section of the bookstore was segregated. One type of response was that “it’s hard enough for AA to get published, so hands off” and another was “the segregation in the bookstore helps sell to the right market.” Not what I expected! It was a bloody mess at the end of the day.

  19. 19

    But I forgot to mention that one of the ex-boyfriends of my contemp heroine is black. Actually, I don’t think I ever say that in the book, I just know it in my head. It would’ve been weird for her to THINK of him as her black ex-boyfriend, no?

  20. 20
    Stephanie says:

    This isn’t an issue confined to romance, either. Back in November, The New Yorker published a story, “Brooklyn Circle” that featured several characters that were the product of interracial relationships.  I remember thinking, “Huh. Now that’s something different!”

    I think one reason for the dirth of interracial romances may be attributable to the authors. A lot of writers I know feel uncomfortable writing from another class or race perspective, so doing it well from two perspectives (at least one of which may be foreign to said writer) could scare some folks off from the task.

  21. 21
    Robinjn says:

    I think that though it’s not strictly romance, C.E. Murphy does a great job of writing an AA heroine in a realistic way that doesn’t harp or preach in her Negotiator series (Heart of Stone, House of Cards). Her heritage is part of what makes Grit who she is, but it doesn’t define or confine her. And of course the hero is made of marble during the day so yep, pretty darned white.

    I agree that if a romance is marketed as a black romance (or whatever kind of novel) I’m not interested. If it’s marketed as a romance and happens to have an interracial couple, that’s cool.

    And I mean, come on. Different race/culture is a mainstream in romance. All those magically tall Greek Tycoons!

  22. 22
    Esri Rose says:

    Huh. Never thought of this. I would pick up an interracial romance for probably the same reasons I’d pick up any other romance:

    1) Someone told me it was a good book.

    2) I’d learn interesting stuff about a time, place, or in this case, cultural situation.

    3) It was funny. ‘Cause I love me a funny romance.

    Marta Acosta’s books feature a Latina heroine and her very WASPY fiance (who is a vampire). I’m not Latina, and seeing the world from the heroine’s brown-skinned perspective added to my enjoyment of a great book. I think, if publishers are turning down great books about interracial couples because they think people won’t want to read them, they’re missing out on sales.

  23. 23
  24. 24
    Lauren says:

    I haven’t been reading romance for that long, but I’ve been reading sci-fi / fantasy since I could hold them in my pudgy fingers.  This is also a problem over there – the only interracial romance in a sci-fi fantasy that I can think of off the top of my head is Le Guin’s Earthsea cycle – the protagonist is black (in fact, all the “good people” are black), while his eventual love interest is “white.”  The author has actually mentioned that she intentionally snuck it in there, because otherwise she didn’t think readers would accept and/or identify with him.  And then when the Sci-fi channel made it into a movie, they messed it up :/

  25. 25
    Krissie says:

    Cobblestone Press also has multi-cultural romance. I actually just read one, and the cultural differences were NOT a part of the story at all. It was refreshing. You may want to check Cobblestone Press for your multi-cultural romance needs.

  26. 26
    Kalen Hughes says:

    It seems to be a black/white issue in the US publishing industry, ‘cause I’ve seen numerous bestselling romances over the years with Asian/Anglo, Native American/Anglo (Thanks, Cassie!) and Hispanic/Anglo match-ups and no one blinks an eye.

    Not to mention all the “sheik” romances . . . it’s a whole bloody subgenre, with a substantial readership (or so I’m told).

    I was interested to see that no mention is made in the backcover copy of my upcoming book, LORD SCANDAL, that the hero is half-Turkish (and it comes up quite a bit in the book). It was nearly the only word that was removed from my suggested wording. *shrug* Guess they’re more worried about scaring off those it would an issue for than attracting those who are looking for it (and as the book is not “about” the racial differences, I don’t think it can really be categorized as something that would appeal to those looking for books that deal with interracial couples).

    Interestingly, I was just in B&N;yesterday and when was checking out the whole backsplash was “Urban Fiction” (or, what Black Books Direct calls hip-hop fiction, ghetto lit or gangster lit). THONGS ON FIRE was prominently featured.

  27. 27

    Writing interracial romance has the same pitfalls as writing Characters of Color in a fanfiction story. You have to keep the characters true to themselves, not turn them into “Julie Andrews in ManTan” nor make them walking talking ghetto stereotypes. Google “race in fandom” and it will cover the waterfront in terms of the debate.

    I venture into it now and then, always with trepidation.  A Cherokee trucker here, a Barbados black man there, an Arabian dancing boy or a Greek rabbi who now runs North America.

    As for segregated books stores, I have to agree that it’s purely marketing. If your audience wants something specific, they don’t want to have to root for it amid scores of books that are similar but not right.

  28. 28
    NHS says:

    Like you Sarah it’s not something I think twice about anymore in my day to day life. When I was in high school yes a little, but not with my daughter’s generation or the friends I have now.

    But this is a very timely topic for me because I recently finaled in a RWA chapter contest in the historical category with an interracial romance. I mean I guess it is.
    He’s European and she’s half European half Caribbean Indo-African. Would that still make it an interracial romance? Is it considered an interracial romance if, believe or not, her heritage is not the one of the major conflicts the story line is based on? (Great amounts of Money and a rather lawless setting can overcome many obstacles for your characters) Should I be worried that I’ve given the book a death sentence in terms of ever selling to NY by making the heroine who she is? Honestly that never crossed my mind. Damn was I hopelessly naive?
    It’s my hope that I wasn’t naïve but on the cutting edge of a trend that will become more and more popular.

  29. 29
    Mora says:

    I love Marjorie Liu because her books are probably the most diverse of any other writer out there.

    Book after book of white characters is pretty annoying, to me, because it doesn’t reflect the reality I live in.

    And also, I would really love more romances with Asian characters. Asian heroes, Asian heroines—whichever.

  30. 30
    Bonnie L. says:

    I think what you see in books is a reflection of what popular culture is producing.  How many sitcoms and dramas that you watch on a regular basis have interracial couples?  Heck, how many have AA couples at all (apart from CW’s line up)?

    Am I saying that it’s okay?  Heck NO! But don’t go thinking that Romancelandia is behind the times or anything.

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