AA Romance

I’ve read some AA romance and mysteries before, based on recommendations and reviews that I’ve found online. Picked up a few authors from the library stacks randomly: Adrienne Byrd, Sandra Kitt, Beverly Jenkins, Chassie West. Some were very good and others were poor, with pretty much the same degrees of goodness and awfulness as I find across the board in RomanceLand. I hadn’t spent a great deal of time thinking about AA romance as a sub-genre of romance until last month’s AAR At the Back Fence. If I had thought about it, I suppose I would have thought of the separate shelving of AA romance simply as a categorization, in much the same way that the library groups different types of category romances, regencies, romantic suspense and european historicals. It hadn’t occurred to me that anyone would think of the segregation of AA romance as an implicit statement about the worth or writing quality of AA romance until I read Monica Jackson’s comments. Like I wrote above, I’ve encountered good and bad writing, and I don’t think the quality of any writing is related to the color of the author’s skin or their ethnicity.Since reading the ATBF segment, I’ve become very conscious of the separation, especially after examining how the AA books are grouped at my local library. Monica Jackson’s paranormals are next to Beverly Jenkins’ historicals, which are all on the same shelf as Candice Poarch’s military-life romances. Which does present a problem for me: if “white” romances are separated by sub-genre, why aren’t AA romances also additionally split into sub-genres? The books I mentioned above have nothing in common, sub-genre-wise, other than the fact that they have AA characters and were written by black women. Now that I have thought about the separation, I believe that it is unconsciously racist. The intent may have been helpful — group AA romance together for shelving and audience convenience — but the underlying assumption is that only black people like AA romance. I think that underestimates the average romance reader in a major way. We are always looking for new, different stories, and I don’t think that the color of a character’s skin is a deal breaker for most of us. Give us a good story and we’re happy; ethnicity can be a piquant part of the story, as in Kim Welter Wong’s Buddha Baby and The Dim Sum of All Things, and Sujata Massey’s Rei Shimura mysteries. To misquote Shakespeare, the story is the thing.As an aside, that racism re: audience for AA romance is not a white-only thing. You cannot (or maybe you can) imagine the looks I get when I ask about AA books at the bookstore. White salespeople look at me oddly, but black salespeople scowl or roll their eyes. Their expressions seem to say, “What do you want with that? It’s none of your business, don’t you have enough of your own white books to read?” Which leads me to wonder: although AA romance authors may have a problem with the separate shelving, due to limitations of audience, etc., does the larger AA community have a problem with it? Or do they appreciate it?

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