The parallels between paranormal romance and black romance

Posted on | April 2, 2015

There is a kerfluffle in the romance writer’s community over JR Ward’s use of (Hollywood-esque) “black” language whenever her vampires talk. These are, as one commentor put it, “lily-white guys play-acting at being thugs and talking all ghetto.”

When my job sends me down to the main office in San Francisco, which it does once or twice a year, there’s a bookstore near the hotel I use that specializes in books by African American authors, and it has a huge romance section. And I’m a huge romance reader, so out of curiosity I bought a few. The entire romance section was modern day; I could not find, and I did try, to find SF, fantasty, paranormal or historical romance novels in that particular section.

On the one hand, the stories were a slog; I’m not a big fan of modern day romance, and the language wasn’t entirely my own. (Indeed, it was a bit like reading Alan Garner, where so much is said by not being said, the writer assumes you share her understanding of culture, and various patois intermingle with casual difficulty.) On the other, it was clear that the characters in these books are constantly worrying about “their men” being in jail, or getting into trouble with the cops, or facing the extra complications their skin color entails when getting a job or applying for college, constantly managing their outward appearance to thread the maze of stares and surveillance, to avoid “causing trouble” just by being black.

I haven’t read Ward, but having read (a few) romance novels by black writers, and (many more) paranormal romances, I’ve come to a conclusion: Paranormal romance creates for white writers and readers fictional worlds of immanent, anarchic existential threat from vast and powerful forces mostly beyond the protagonists’ control. Black romance writers already live in such a world, and feel no need to add vampires and werewolves to their characters’ already overwhelmingly complicated lives.

Vampire and werewolf characters are always talking about how hard it is to navigate a world that doesn’t understand them, and how they feel marginalized by their minority status and lack of privilege. Normal characters often feel threatened by the inherent power and immanent threat of the supernaturally empowered Other.

Which, if you think about it, sounds an awful lot like the way black Americans talk about America, and how the innate racism in America often manifests itself when conservatives talk about race.

I think the reason there aren’t more paranormal romance writers of color is that they don’t see the point. They’d just be writing in a genre where, in the end, that immanent, anarchic threat is beaten back, often with finality. To someone who already lives that life, such a victory is more childish fantasy than it is a thrilling conclusion.

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One Response to “The parallels between paranormal romance and black romance”

  1. Can an African-American character even go on The Hero’s Journey? : Pendorwriting
    September 13th, 2015 @ 6:22 pm

    […] my last post of black writers and Paranormal Romance, I wrote that black writers “already live in a world of immanent, anarchic threat from vast […]

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