author – activist – faculty – mom
Whether or not we acknowledge it, we the people of the United States are actually part of the British Empire. Sure, we broke away in our revolutionary war, and we have different accents and cultural nuances, but nowhere is our colonial subjectivity more evident than our collective fascination with the British royal family. Did you know that Europe has 10 other monarchies? But most people in the US can’t name them and don’t care. The British monarchy is our special group of God’s chosen people, and as a society, we govern ourselves accordingly. The monarchy represents the root of classism, the notion that one group of people is inherently superior and should have more power and resources than others. In our current political situation, we are seeing the profoundly destructive effects of classism in the US and internationally, but the sense of magic about these British royals persists.
In the African American community, even as many of us oppose classism, we have historically declared our value by saying “we were kings and queens in Africa before slavery.” Which is true, but not everybody was a king or queen. By definition, the majority of the people are subjects, not royals. But the notion of royalty as conferring value is very compelling.
So it makes sense that when multi-racial African American Megan Markle married Prince Harry, it was a big deal for many of us. I didn’t watch #TheRoyalWedding because I was with my young daughter when it was televised, and I DEFINITELY didn’t want her to see/hear that romantic fairytale stuff. Like many feminists, I’ve written extensively about the dangers of these myths for girls. But I did enjoy twitter commentary about the wedding. I rarely enjoy weddings because the symbolism of sexism is like a ghostly reminder of the history of the institution as one where men owned women. But I understand people’s delight in the Royal Wedding, especially black women. We are so unchosen via racism/sexism. What a contradiction to be lovingly chosen by the historically/symbolically most powerful white people in the world. Even beyond that, two individuals choosing to love each other is a powerful emotional trope, which is why I write people of color (POC) romance novels.
My new novel #THEACCIDENTALMISTRESS comes out next Tuesday 5/29. The protagonist, Violet, is a West Indian immigrant to the US, and her people were formerly colonized by the British. In Violet, we see the impact of British colonization and then the impact of having to assimilate in the US when she arrives for boarding school in New England. There is a sharp contrast between the protagonist Violet and her sister Lily. Lily is also an immigrant, but she arrives undocumented, doesn’t assimilate, and works as a stripper and later a sex work union organizer. They embody the good immigrant/bad immigrant myth. Violet is the good immigrant. She’s successful in education and on the brink of marrying an African American millionaire. She even has a connection to the British royal family.
Before a case of mistaken identity leads Violet to lose everything, she’s on the makeup team for a British royal wedding. It’s a symbol of her upwardly mobile status, and we see her mother calling from Trinidad, pressing for details about the royals. The book also ends with a high profile wedding scene. I’m playing with trope of stories ending in marriage, but of course putting in several feminist twists. Weddings are supposed to be the most wonderful day of a woman’s life, and the higher the profile of the wedding the more momentous the woman’s success in nabbing such a powerful man.
But throughout my Justice Hustlers series, and unlike this Royal Wedding, my romances are between men and women of the same cultural communities. To be clear, my books contain interracial relationships and queer relationships–a same sex female couple is actually the moral compass for relationships in the book–but there’s something distinctly anti-colonial that I am exploring or pursuing in this series. One of the legacies of colonization is that we, as a group of colonized people, are traumatized in a way that makes it difficult for us to love each other. Something about our relationships grates against that intergenerational trauma, and it becomes too difficult to maintain caring, stable, long-term relationships. I see this with many different people of color. Given the levels of trauma in our world today, I’m pleased for people to be able to develop a loving, supportive relationship with anyone, regardless of race. Yet in my novels, I am using romance as a way to push against the colonization and slavery trauma that tells us we are broken people, incapable of loving each other. So in these romances, I employ that trope of women being chosen by men in their own communities. And my men have their own trope. These men of color love powerful and complicated women whom they cannot control. The men face a choice between getting to be with the woman they love, and their allegiance to the patriarchy. In each book, in one way or another, it is these women’s unruliness that leads the man to doubt and falter. He has to stop clinging to his own victimization by racism/classism/colonization if he wants the woman he loves. And my books are romances, so he makes the right choice, picking his lady love over patriarchy. The books are also feminist heists. So the women are busy doing other things for a lot of the novel, and having big lives doesn’t mean that they don’t get to have the love of the men in their communities.
I have my own history of obsession with weddings. In my late 20s, I was single and without a romantic prospect on the horizon, so I married myself. I had a wedding on the beach and even a Yoruba priest to officiate. A few years later, I held several mass self-marriage ceremonies. In these, I married large groups of people–mostly women–to themselves. While being chosen by someone else is powerful, choosing ourselves is equally powerful. And for women of color, I believe it is crucial.
As for the #RoyalWedding, it’s sweet to have a black woman being publicly loved and chosen, however little that will change the lives of the masses of black women. And despite how pale and not-my-type her man might be. This union won’t fix colonization but I’m not mad if black women feel affirmed. Yet in my own work, I’m not writing princesses. On the contrary, my protagonists are usually robbing the 1%.
The royal wedding is the origin of the trope of the ordinary girl who marries the prince, the lord or the duke. These days it’s the immortal vampire or the kinky billionaire. In contrast, I’m writing about women who partner with the men in their communities and they must triumph over sexism. To me, this is a more accurate blueprint of romantic aspiration for heterosexual women of color. Can we find men in our communities who will respect our ambitions for our lives, and not demand domination as a prerequisite to intimacy? This is what I personally aspire to, and work towards in my own partnership with an Afro-Caribbean man. It is beautiful to see men choose loyalty to women, but in my fictional world, as in many parts of my real life, the women also must choose loyalty to themselves and their crew of women in order for their relationships to work with their men. Years later, I’m still married to myself, and when things get challenging in my “second” marriage, I always fall back on my commitment to love, honor, and cherish myself.