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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Thesis on I/R romance novels

THE RESOLUTION OF RACIAL DIFFERENCE, through Google Scholar Search. The author is Cristen Blanding, and in it she analyzes 26 interracial novels (BW/WM) published between 1995 and 2005, starting with Sandra Kitt's watershed I/R novel, Color of Love. You can download the full thesis here.

Some of the author's more salient observations:

"In almost all of the novels that I analyze, the primary problem to be solved is that of racial difference. Most of the novels feature black heroines who are reluctant to enter into a relationship with the white hero, and use the theme of racial difference as the primary external influence that causes problems for the characters. The dilemma for the heroine is not a solely personal one, as the conflict often is in more traditional romance novels. The heroines in these novels must face and, to a certain extent, defeat a society in which race matters. Unlike other romance novels that position the hero as the object to be conquered, the hero in these novels is already on the heroine’s side, and her project in the novel is to learn to believe in his (often naïve) understanding of society and its attitudes about race."

"Additionally, the novels position black characters as the ones with the reservations about the implications of their romances, making white characters necessarily more progressive and more willing to embark on a relationship that has political consequences. This allows for a romanticized image of the white hero as someone who is willing to fight injustice to be with the black heroine, but it gives a less than flattering view of the black heroine and other black characters in the novel."

Noting that most readers of I/R romances featuring black women/white men are black women, the author notes: "It logically follows that a hero who showed reluctance to be romantically involved with a black woman would be harder for a black female reader to accept than a heroine who showed reservations about being involved with a white man. The heroine’s reservations are naturalized, because they are familiar to the reader and echo much of society’s understanding of the problems in dating outside one’s racial category. The hero’s dilemma, however, forms the core of the narrative, simply because it offers a different way of looking at the politics of race than that offered by the black heroine who reiterates the views of the larger society. Many of the novels depict the heroine’s changing attitudes towards the relationship with the hero as a sign of personal growth. By depicting the heroine as the character who has to learn to overcome her prejudices, the novels present the heroes as paragons of open-minded virtue. The heroines must live up to the standard set by the heroes, who have no problems with letting love conquer all."

The above observations remind me of the movie Something New, in which the heroine, Kenya, is clearly the resistant partner and the white hero apparently has no racial qualms whatsoever; she is the one who has to learn to "let go, let flow" and see him as a man and not just a "white man." Unlike a mainstream romance, the full context of the movie's relationship revolves around the racial makeup of the couple and the reaction of family and friends, so it becomes more of a social experiment competing with the complexities of a basic male/female sexual/romatic interaction. Everything is primarily "colored" by the lovers' skin complexions, their clashing personalities follows a close second.

The full thesis examines some of the more popular I/R books published in that designated period, including Karyn Langhorne's A Personal Matter (2004) and Gwynne Forster's Against the Wind. The observations are on point for these earlier publications, but I see a trend arising in these last few years where the dynamics of race aren't played out the same way in current novels. In some, race is taking a back seat if not becoming an outright non-issue. Many readers (from some of the boards I frequent) appear to want a romance and not a fictionalized treatise on race relations. In other words, boy meets girl, man romances woman, skin color nothwithstanding. Conflict will no longer be whether the couple can overcome their racial differences but whether they are compatible on other levels.

Who knows - by broadening the conflict, by de-emphasing the treatise treatment, this sub-genre may open up to a broader audience.

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Sharon Cullars Coffee Talk at 2/27/2007 06:24:00 PM Permanent Link     | | Home


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