i dream of being possible

the problem of racism and diversity in m/m

So. My main thing these days is listening to m/m audiobooks. I”ve written in the past about how this is a problematic genre and this is another contribution. Today”s topic: Diverse characters and racism. Now, I don”t know for certain that all of these authors are white, but I do think it”s fairly clear that they are not whatever race they are representing in these books (and in most of their other books have only white characters).

I”m reasonably certain that these writers have seen various discussions about racial diversity and probably wrote these in good faith. Which makes it all the worse for me to point out how these are largely mega-fails as far as writing the Other is concerned. Pretty much all of them rely on stereotypes as a way to create the character, rather than, you know, actually developing a fully formed character.

I keep picking out these books to listen to, however, because, yeah I do want to listen to stories with characters of colour. But I want to read good stories where the characters of colour aren”t stereotypes. Or where the white character isn”t… some mighty whitey and somehow above it all. It”d also be nice to see some books where it wasn”t a white character with a character of colour (note to writers: ‘interracial” does not have to mean white-with-poc and ‘monracial” does not have to mean white-with-white).

While I do get, to an extent, that it can be difficult to (I imagine) write a character of colour as a white person… That balancing the need to ensure that they aren”t just a white person in brown skin and the need to avoid reducing them to a stereotype… I just. You need to do better. All of you.

Bc I”m petty, let”s dig into some examples and discuss why they are bad.

Bolt-Hole by Amy Lane

This is actually one of the rare books where both of the protags are Black men. Great, right? I know I was totally excited to start listening to it. I think I got about five minutes into the story before the horrendously awful AAVE made me ragequit. I don”t even know what the rest of the book is about or how good/bad it is re: race/anti-Blackness. This one element alone was enough for me to say “no”.

Now, I”m not Black. So by no means is AAVE a language I speak. However, the author is also not Black and AAVE is not a language she speaks. As such, she really shouldn”t have tried to use it as a way to ‘colour” her characters. This isn”t the same as giving a character an accent as a way to mark them, since AAVE is a dialect of its own.

If you aren”t Black and you think that you need to make your characters ‘sound Black” in order to establish their Blackness, not only is this anti-Black to begin with, but you”ve already failed to create a character that doesn”t rely on stereotyping.

Canning the Center by Tara Lain

Another Black character. A football player this time named Jamal. To an extent, I can”t quite tell if this is a problem inherent in the writing or a problem of the audiobook… but the reader”s attempt to make ‘Black sounding” voices was…. atrocious.

But I will quote one review:

Can authors PLEASE, for the love of maple bacon cupcakes stop naming their Black male characters Jamal, Leroy, Darquan or whatever “ethnic sounding” name in their limited vocabulary? We DO have Black men named Steve, John, Robert, Michael and Kevin (and some of them are actually FOOTBALL PLAYERS). Really, it”s okay to name a Black hero like you”d name a White one.

One thing I did appreciate about the character, however, was that he was an out bisexual and accepted by his family (who bc of the plot ends up doing the DL thing but anyway). It was nice to see a family of colour not portrayed as the extra super mega homophobic family (which regretably happens all the fucking time).

Blue Days by Mary Calmes

Sigh. This was actually one of the better ones? Idk. Not that this is saying much because the bar is really low. The main issue I had with this is that, as always, the stereotypes. The cultural elements tossed in for ‘spice” were all stereotypical things about Japan and their work culture (white ppl seem *really * convinced that no Asian parents actually want their kids to be happy. Only to be miserable and successful.).

That the Takeo was an awkward, socially inept man who eventually found his niche in serving white people was a hard thing to swallow.

As far as the audiobook is concerned… I saw one review that was like “this narrator is a white man who can really do ~Asian~ voices”. And I”m like… sure, if you think a generic ~Asian~ voice with no actual accent relating to the character”s mother tongue is ‘good”.

Although, I”m kind of laughing bc the author doomed any narrator who isn”t Japanese from faithfully recreating the accent because the white characters name is ‘Dwyer”. Why would you do this? Lmao.

Fair Game by Josh Lanyon

This book gets special mention in this list bc it actually doesn”t have a main character of colour. Instead, it has a side character who is such a fucking awful stereotype that the writing deserves a punch in the throat.

This is basically the stereotype of the Black welfare mother who is sassy, bossy, and controlling (or something like this). You know which character I”m talking about. It was awful.

But you know what made this worse? Josh Lanyon is an interesting writer bc I don”t recall her ever having a main character of colour. But she is probably the most viciously overt racist out of any of the authors I”m discussing. Why?

Because the main character is is a white ex-cop makes sure to tell us that this Sapphire is racist against white people. Yup. REVERSE RACISM everyone. lol.

FYI for white authors who want to include poc in any capacity in their books? Reverse racism doesn”t exist and if you think it does, you automatically move beyond the default racist position to white supremacist.

The Knave of Broken Hearts by Tara Lain

Oops. Just notice that this author is getting two of her books on this list. Sigh. It”s nice that she tries, I guess? But she fails so spectacularly. This is a sentence in the blurb: “Then Jim goes in for a physical for his new job and his yaoi dream comes to life in the form of cardiologist Ken Tanaka”.

Yes. Really. And then the white character (who is the predominant POV) literally makes this comparison all the time. Should I have to point out how this sort of fetishizing yellow fever stuff is super gross?

And… adding onto it, is the Japanese family drama. Literally everything is about honour, filial piety, and family duty. I just… no. Like at one point, they have some other Japanese people over and the visiting mom is wearing a kimono. Why? Who knows. Maybe Japanese women in Orange County regularly wear kimonos to social events (I have serious doubts).

The Good Fight by Andrew Grey

This gets to go last because it is the worse (although I think it is tied with Bolt-Hole for having the same problem as this book, but I didn”t get as far in Bolt-Hole so I”m basing this from reviews). The shared problem? A white author trying very hard to portray the oppressive parts of being Indigenous and/or Black (depending on the book).

In my opinion, this is worse than the stereotyping. Why? Because… these are attempts not to tell stories with diversity but an attempt to speak for the Other. To tell their/our stories. And it not only feels fake, but actively takes up space that these white ppl do not belong in. Diversity is a good thing but trying to speak for others? Not so much.

Last, where this particular book ends up being worse than Bolt-Hole is that the main POV is the white guy (recall that Bolt-Hole and two Black men as the protags). And. This white guy is, of course, a mighty whitey! He is super open minded and totally A Good White™. I was done with this book after the one scene, nearish the beginning where they contrast the Good White™ with the Actual Racist White™ neighbour who lives next door. Who, of course, is also an old d00d ‘stuck in his ways”. The contrast happens bc the Good White™ defends the Indigenous character against the Actual Racist White™. Puke.

(Then came the adoption thing and I”ve ragequit. Just no.)

And I”m done, lol

Okay. This was partially me just ranting about these books bc they make me mad. But also as a way to… give examples for well-intentioned white ppl trying to diversity but spectacularly failing. Please. Do beter.

Next I”ll probably do one for femme gay boys and one for disability. Because there are also REALLY big fucking problems with each.