Alyssa Cole reported on Twitter that RWA had notified Courtney Milan "they'd agreed with ethics complaints filed against her for calling out racism." As reported at Smart Bitches Trashy Books (who link to the various documents in the case)
RWA has “moved to accept the findings of the Ethics Committee” and has recommended as penalty that Milan be suspended from RWA for a year, and be banned from holding any leadership positions on the national or chapter level.One complaint was filed by Suzan Tisdale, who wrote that "Recently, someone on twitter accused one of my acquisition editors –Sue Grimshaw --of being a racist. This happened after they discovered Sue Grimshaw had liked a tweet on twitter." The circumstances surrounding this were discussed at length, at the time, here at TMT. Another key part of Tisdale's complaint was that
Ms. Milan began tweeting screenshots from a book that Kathryn Lynn Davis wrote in the 1990’s titled Somewhere Lies the Moon. [...] In these tweets, Courtney alleges the book is racist, inaccurate [...] Her allegations of racism are not based in any kind of fact or truth. Ms. Davis has a master’s degree in History and immersed herself into the Chinese culture for six years before she even began to write the aforementioned novel. Keep in mind, this book was written and published in the 1990’s.The allegations clearly are based on a "kind of fact" since Milan was performing literary criticism of a text, and she provided screenshots of the parts of the text in question which she felt perpetuated racist tropes/stereotypes. Quotations from a primary text constitute a "fact" in literary criticism.
It is suggestive that Tisdale felt the need to ask the RWA to "keep in mind" the publication date of the novel. The implication here is that novels from this period should not be held to the same standard as novels with a more recent publication date. Could this be a tacit admission that novels published in the 1990s, including this one, were more likely to include racist elements? [Edited to add: perhaps Tisdale was echoing Kathryn Lynn Davis's complaint to the RWA, in which Davis defends her book by stating that "The book [....] was written in the 1990s and is historically accurate, which makes it both immune from and irrelevant to current judgments of racist literature." Davis is wrong regarding both immunity and irrelevance: here's just one example, by Hsu-Ming Teo, of analysis of a romance novel from the past which discusses its racism and outlines its ongoing relevance in the decades following its publication.]
Since Tisdale mentions Davis's degree, it's also worth pointing out that, as recent debates about racism in medievalism and academia more widely make all too clear, academic credentials are no guarantee of an absence of bias.
So, Courtney Milan has been highlighting racist behaviour and racism in the text of romance novels. As a result, the RWA's Ethics Committee
determined that Ms. Milan’s comments were in violation of the organization’s expressed purpose of creating a “safe and respectful environment” for its community of writers. Most particularly, the committee considered the legal phrase of “invidious discrimination,” defined as “By word or deed likely to arouse, inflame,or incur resentment or anger in others; tending to cause discontent, animosity, envy; words that created an unjust comparison or were unfairly discriminating,” as being applicable to this case.Considering the imbalance in the RITA awards, which are supposed to reward excellence in the romance genre, one might well ask whether promotion of these awards has included a great many "words that created an unjust comparison or were unfairly discriminating."
Certainly, as many people (including May Peterson) have pointed out, racism in the RWA means it has not been a "safe and respectful environment" for many writers and "that racism, both covert and overt, institutional and individual, absolutely expose[s] RWA members of color to hostile and unsafe conditions and potential damage to career and reputation."
Since I am not, and have never been, a member of the RWA, I don't feel it's my place to offer suggestions to those who are. However, I do want to point out that the RWA awards academic grants and
The objectives of the program are:
In the context of this ruling by the RWA Board, in which criticism of racism in a text was part of the evidence against Milan, I'm not sure how academics can "encourage a well-informed public discourse" about romance fiction without running the risk of the RWA deciding that the research is lacking in respect towards its members. I have never applied for one of these grants and had not thought of doing so in the future, but this latest episode in the RWA's history makes me wonder if romance scholars as a whole need to consider whether receipt of one of these grants will henceforth involve tacit approval of the RWA's stance with respect to Milan and criticism of romance authors and novels.
- To support theoretical and substantive academic research about genre romance texts and literacy practices.
- To encourage a well-informed public discourse about genre romance texts and literacy practices.
[Edited to add: I'm not sure how many romance scholars are still using the RITA awards when trying to create a corpus for study, but given the biases which have been revealed in the competition's procedures, we probably shouldn't be doing so, at least not unless we take them into account/are wanting to investigate those biases.]
[Edited again to add that Caitlyn Lynch has brought up an interesting point: in the future, in the light of this decision by the RWA Board,
Are RWA going to take into account the applicant's history of critique of issues like racism, homophobia, ableism etc when considering who to award grants to? Will applicants be eliminated if they have previously been critical of RWA members, and IF NOT, would members ... have a case against the org itself, for 'contributing to the unsafe environment' by KNOWINGLY giving a grant to applicants with a known history of critiquing RWA members? Catch-22.]
[And I'm going to add a few more links, for posterity:
Copied from SBTB and Alyssa Cole's thread:
- The formal complaint from Suzan Tisdale
- Part II of complaint
- Courtney Milan's response to Suzan Tisdale's complaint
- Formal complaint from Kathryn Lynn Davis
- Courtney Milan's response to Kathryn Lynn Davis's complaint
- RWA’s Ethics Committee Report
- Result of RWA Board’s vote on the report (this one's saved at the Internet Archive here)
The Wrap's Writeup:
Which is reported by Kirkus.
And another edit, to add the latest comment from RWA:
At a meeting today that identified a gap between policy and process, RWA’s Board of Directors rescinded its vote accepting the findings of the Ethics Committee report and the consequent penalties against Courtney Milan pending a legal opinion.Various people have pointed out on Twitter that this is not an apology. It is not clear what type of legal advice RWA are seeking, or why they are seeking it.
RWA reiterates its support for diversity, inclusivity and equity and its commitment to provide an open environment for all members.
I have posted a further update in a new post.