Friday, March 22, 2019

The Sorry State of Diversity in the RWA's RITA Awards: 2019 edition

Yesterday, Romance Writers of America® announced the list of finalists for its RITA Awards, which the organization bestows in recognition of excellence in publishing romance writing. So it's also time for the annual RNFF blog post with data on the state of racial diversity amongst the RITA finalists, with added info on the race/ethnicity and sexuality of the characters of the finalist books.

For the second year in a row, all RITA contest entrants were required to submit a pdf copy, rather than print copies, of their books. Entrants could also submit either an epub or a kindle mobi file as well, for the convenience of judges. As this was not a change that changed the basic demographics of the entrants pool, as the switch from all print to pdf was in 2017, it's not surprising that a similar number of self-published books were chosen as finalists this year as last (22, by my count).

Representation of queer characters is a bit down from last year, although there is one lesbian romance, as compared to no lesbian romances last year.

What about representation of race/ethnicity? What do those numbers look like?

Not good. Not good at all.


Many books, and many author bios, don't explicitly state protagonists' or authors' race. So the calculations below are based on the following:

• In cases where I'd read the book, I knew the race of the protagonists, either by being directly told in the narrative, or from context clues in the book

• In cases where I had not read the book, I examined book covers, book descriptions, Goodreads book reviews, and character names for hints about protagonists' racial and ethnic backgrounds, and made my best guess. Major room for error here, so if you see any mistakes below, please let me know!

• Similarly, for authors with whom I was familiar, and/or who had discussed their own racial backgrounds in public, I went with self-represented racial identities. I had to rely on author photographs and my best guesses for the rest. Two finalists do not include author photos on their web sites, so I classified them as white. Again, room for error (and correction) here.


Overall Statistics:

# of finalists:
  2018: 74
  2017: 78
  2016: 85

# of authors of color:
  2018: 3***
  2017: 5-6
  2016: 4-6

% of authors of color:
  2018: 4%***
  2017: 6-7.7%
  2016: 4-7%


Overall # of protagonists: 149 (73 * 2, 1 * 3 [one erotic romance features a ménage-a-trois])

# of protagonists of color
  2018: 8
  2017: 13
  2016: 5

% of protagonists of color
  2018: 5.3%
  2017: 8.3%
  2018: 2.9%


of queer protagonists:
  2018: 10 (8 in m/m romances, 2 in a lesbian romance)
  2017: 12
  2016: 8

% of queer protagonists:
  2018: 6.7%
  2017: 7.6%
  2016: 4%


Individual Sub-Genre Numbers:

Contemporary Romance Long
# of finalists: 7
# of authors of color: 0
# of protagonists of color: 2
# of queer protagonists: 0

Contemporary Romance: Mid-Length
# of finalists: 11
# of authors of color: 0
# of protagonists of color: 0
# of queer protagonists: 4

Contemporary Romance: Short
# of finalists: 8
# of authors of color: 0
# of protagonists of color: 0*
# of queer protagonists: 2

Erotic Romance:
# of finalists: 4
# of authors of color: 0
# of protagonists of color: 0
# of queer protagonists: 0

Historical Romance: Long
# of finalists: 4
# of authors of color: 0
# of characters of color: 0
# of queer protagonists: 0

Historical Romance: Short
# of finalists: 6
# of authors of color: 0
# of characters of color: 0
# of queer protagonists: 0

Mainstream Fiction with a Central Romance
# of finalists: 5
# of authors of color: 0
# of characters of color: 1
# of queer protagonists: 0

Paranormal Romance
# of finalists: 7
# of authors of color: 0
# of characters of color: 0
# of queer protagonists: 0

Romance Novella
# of finalists: 7
# of authors of color: 1
# of characters of color: 1
# of queer protagonists: 2

Romance with Religious or Spiritual Elements
# of finalists: 4
# of authors of color: 0
# of characters of color: 0
# of queer protagonists: 0

Romantic Suspense
# of finalists: 7
# of authors of color: 0
# of characters of color: 1
# of queer protagonists: 0

Young Adult Romance
# of finalists: 4
# of authors of color: 1
# of characters of color: 4**
# of queer protagonists: 0


It's more than depressing that the representation of authors of color in the RITA finalist pool has decreased, despite recent efforts by the organization to better support its members of color. What else can RWA do to begin to address what is a glaringly obvious problem of bias in its judging system?

More than a year ago, RWA stated that it was in the process of polling its membership about demographic issues, but to date I don't believe that information has been made public. Does RWA have any sense of how the demographics of RWA membership compares to the demographics of the U. S. as a whole? And how its overall demographics compare to the demographics of the finalists and the judges? Compiling and sharing such information with its membership would be a good place to start.

Another intervention would be to begin asking entrants for demographic information about themselves and about the characters in the books they are submitting. Percentages could then be compared to the percentages in the finalist pool.

Or RWA could consider revamping the way the entire contest is judged, and create a process in which systemic racism could be, if not entirely eliminated, at least majorly curtailed. I'd strongly urge the Board to create a committee or working group to study the issue in the coming year.

I know more than a few authors who would be interested in serving...



US Census data on race/ethnicity (2016)
White: 61.3%
POC: 40.9%

2018 RITA Finalists by race/ethnicity
White: 97.3%
POC: 4%



* Caitlin Crews' A Baby to Bind His Bride includes this description of its hero: "amalgam of everything that was beautiful in him. His Greek mother. His Spanish father. His Brazilian grandparents on one side, his French and Persian grandparents on the other." I'm not counting this hero as a POC.

** one of these books, written by a white author, features Latinx characters, one of whom is a gang member. I have counted these characters as POC, despite some concern that this representation may be problematic. I have not yet read the book in question.

*** My original post listed 2 authors of color, not 3. I've updated the numbers accordingly, given the comments below.

8 comments:

  1. I saw that Corey Alexander had:

    "recognized these books by authors of color:
    Long Shot by Kennedy Ryan
    Bad Blood by M. Malone
    My So-Called Bollywood Life by Nisha Sharma"

    https://twitter.com/TGStoneButch/status/1108855190684262400

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Laura. I wasn't sure about Kennedy Ryan's book. I'll update my post accordingly.

      Delete
  2. The statistics below are missing a crucial piece of information vital to your assertions:
    Exactly how many entrants were there TOTAL.
    How many of those entrants were NOT of color?
    How many of each category, both of color and not of color, did NOT final? What percentage?
    Then compare the data.
    Did ALL finalists of color make the contest? If not, what percentage of the finalists of color made the contest vs. those of non-color?
    You need *both* sets of data for your blog to make the assertion, which you do not have.

    Also, the RITA is judged on the best BOOK not the best author. Any other criteria imposed changes the purpose of the contest, and searching out the entrants for their color, is, in and of itself, racist.

    Best,
    A Reader and concerned industry professional

    Overall Statistics:
    # of finalists:
    2018: 74
    2017: 78
    2016: 85

    # of authors of color:
    2018: 3***
    2017: 5-6
    2016: 4-6

    % of authors of color:
    2018: 4%***
    2017: 6-7.7%
    2016: 4-7%

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thank you for posting these helpful statistics, Jackie. As the previous poster noted, we need a sense for how many authors of color entered this year, and how many books per author, in order to understand this year's contest with better precision. I won't deny that more data will create a clearer picture, but let's not discredit what this data does tell us:

    --That a very low percentage of authors of color are making the finals. If authors of color are entering en masse, and not reaching the finals, that's a problem. Conversely, if authors of color are giving up because they're sick of 20+ years worth of egregious snubs, that's also a problem. No matter what the cause, a low percentage of finalists who are AoCs = bad.

    --That the % of AoCs in the finals has declined since 2016.

    --That there's a lack of Own Voices representation--the few characters of color are generally not written by AoCs, an issue unto itself.

    --That there has been an increase in characters of color at the same time as there's been a decrease in finalists written by AoCs, a counterintuitive trend and another aspect of the Own Voices issue.

    --That there has been an increase in queer protagonists over time.

    --That finalists with queer protagonists outnumber finalists with characters of color.

    To dismiss everything that we do know because there are things we still don't know would be to miss the point. Thanks again to Jackie for compiling.

    K

    ReplyDelete
  4. Very revealing. Thanks for doing this.

    ReplyDelete
  5. This article makes me think. The statistics is awesome (3 % AOC, when the population is 40.9 % POC). I'd like to know how many AOC are there in the RWA. Moreover, the important fact should be how many books written by AOC have been submitted. Perhaps no more than 3 %? 10 %? Those are the data I wish to see. Perhaps there are very few AOC in RWA. Or it could be that maybe they are members but, as they have to pay for each entry, knowing the judges, they prefer not to waste money. It looks like there's a little but of racism in RWA judges BUT I wish I had all those data that I mention to really make an accurate assesment of the situation.
    I have to recognize that, when I saw the finalists, I was not thinking about the etnicity of the authors, only that the majority of the nominees are not really novels with good reviews —at least in the blogs that I follow. For instance, 'The Kiss Quotient' is not there, perhaps the author does not belong to RWA? The same question I ask myself about 'A Princess in Theory' or 'A Duke by Default' by Alyssa Cole. What about 'The Sins of Lord Lockwood' or 'Hello, Stranger'? Those were some of the best novels of 2018, great reviews and the favourite of many bloggers. Have they not been submitted? Because perhaps there's not only a problem of racism, but also that the judge's tastes are not the same as the majority of readers and bloggers. If they want to recognizes excellence with this award, I have this feeling that they don't have a good way to find said excellence.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Helen Hoang has said she didn't enter The Kiss Quotient in the RITAs.

      Delete
  6. It's impossible to answer many of these questions, alas, since until this past year, RWA has not collected any demographic data on its members. And it still, as far as I know, is not collecting demographic data on the entrants to its contests, nor on whether the characters within their books are POC. I'd like to do more intense scrutiny of these issues, but unless RWA does more work to collect it, that simply isn't possible.

    I second what Kilby writes above: though it is impossible to answer certain questions without more data, what the data does show should not be dismissed because it is incomplete.

    ReplyDelete