Long story short, we can all do better. Everyone. But as a cis het white person who holds a professional job that confers some privilege of its own, I felt that I really had to do better. How? I can’t say the words any more eloquently than the statements provided by all of the AOC and some of the chapters. Examples here and here and here. There are numerous other examples that can easily be searched for and found as well.
I am but a small writer in a pool of larger, fabulous writers. The safe thing to do for my career would be keep my head down, have no opinion, make no waves, and take advantage of those golden speaking opportunities. How weak was I that I feared regarding speaking out against discrimination?? Unfortunately, that’s the reaction that happens in the real world all the time, and it’s not okay. But you know what? I had one advantage: my background and speaker skillset has allowed me to create a niche where I have been invited to give workshops at various conferences and for all-day engagements. I could leverage the demand for my services. But the exposure and the snowball effect of more speaking gigs to follow a presentation – those are also good reasons to accept these invitations. But.
That’s why I’m ashamed to say that I hesitated even for a second regarding whether or not to insist on accountability: Should I keep my head down and take the job (that I had already accepted months ago) and enjoy the extra exposure that it brings? Or should I do the right thing and use what little leverage I possess to insist on parity and support for all – and likely harm my career? And let’s throw in the last confounding element: I HATE CONFRONTATION. Hate it. Like, I’ve had to take courses about how to have very difficult conversations with disruptive or dangerous physicians that have led to their being fired. Do you even know how much I hate these meetings and had to be coached the first few times? My stomach hurts, just thinking about rocking any proverbial boat.
But at the end of the day, I am not willing to enjoy success that others cannot access due to biases regarding race or gender or disability, etc. And my success will not be predicated on the discrimination of others. So I performed due diligence and checked all of the RWA chapters where I had speaking engagements to confirm that their position on bias, racism, and discrimination was publicly and vehemently stated. Silence or posting bland items that had zero to do with the current RWA crisis = no credit. Of the upcoming conferences and workshops planned, one organization remained conspicuously silent. I searched social media for this organization’s leaders to see what they said individually. I found lots of posts about everything EXCEPT the storm breaking loose through all of RWA. I question that one can lead an RWA chapter yet remain oblivious or without opinion as to the dismantling of the organization that supports that chapter.
In the interest of transparency, I will simply list the correspondence between myself and this chapter. I have sanitized the documents so there are no identifiers. Frankly, the location isn’t the point. The fact that a chapter or its leader could remain silent in the face of blatant discrimination within the organization IS the point.
My words are not perfect and in no way encompass all that is going on in RWA, but it’s a small step that, as a speaker who is a subject matter expert, I was in a position to take. I also appreciate my good writing friends who acted as blunt, caring sounding boards as I worked through this issue and crafted the response.
(I should also mention that I waited until this chapter had its January meeting, hoping that they would discuss, vote for, and then post that strong opposition to racism, bias, and discrimination. No such thing occurred.) My initial email:
I've been organizing my projects for this year including the all-day workshop planned with your chapter. I'm working hard to make it an informative, high-quality experience for participants.
One of the commitments I've made is to ensure that my speaking engagements support groups which have taken a powerful stance against discrimination. With the recent implosion of RWA and subsequent exposure of ingrained racism within its ranks, it's clear that we all have to do better. I'm sure your chapter has been discussing these issues as well. Supporting all members and eliminating racism is challenging but crucial work.
As part of my vetting process, I am trying to get a sense of each group's position on this topic. I want to be confident that my voice is shared with groups that advocate for inclusive, safe spaces for all members and groups that advocate to actively recognize and eliminate systemic bias. Oftentimes, this position is made clear in a statement on a chapter's website or social media posts or in a letter signed by multiple chapters. Would you point me in the direction of your chapter's recent response to the RWA situation so I can complete this important step in preparing for your workshop? Or if a response is forthcoming, please let me know when it will be available to view.
If you have any questions or clarifications, please don't hesitate to ask. I look forward to meeting you all!
My name is MARY. I’m the current president and will also be hosting you in MONTH if you decide to make the trip. ANN forwarded your questions to me and I will do my best to answer your concerns.
Our chapter is AN EARLY chapter to be formed under the RWA Corporation. As a result, its members have experienced many changes over the years. Members have come and gone and the face of our chapter has changed. At the present time, we are a diverse group of writers who hail from all walks of life. The chapter welcomes anyone who wishes to write and learn, no matter their choice of romantic sub-genre or genre. So, if you are kindly asking if we are a group of pearl-clutching nice white ladies, I assure you, we are not.
We strive to make all CHAPTER functions a free and safe writing enviroment. Our members and speakers are asked to refrain from the use of political or defamatory language that prohibits inclusion and/or maybe interpreted to exhibit a bias toward a group or an individual due to race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, gender, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, or religion.
I’m sorry, but you won’t find any comments about the RWA situation on our social media sites or in written letters as we strive to maintain a free and safe learning environment. It’s not that we don’t have strong opinions, we do. However, the chapter as a whole does not agree with the nasty nature of others on social media and has seen the end of writing careers take place in a few days. No one in our chapter wishes this type of treatment for anyone and we feel that type of behavior goes against everything we have strived to build as a chapter. We are here to help new and more experienced writers thrive in the publishing field, not tear them down. As a chapter, we have chosen to stand strong through the example of openness.
As for the recent events which have taken place within RWA, our membership voted to allow RWA time to make changes within the organization before our chapter needed to decide on our future. At this point, CHAPTER is financially viable and can wait up to one year before taking a stronger stance.
I’m available to respond to any other concerns on issues that may arise in the near future, as we don’t know what decision RWA will make that may affect our chapter and how our chapter may decide to move forward. If our chapter’s situation changes before you are scheduled to arrive, we will keep you informed with as much notice as possible. However, I’m confident any of our potential future plans will not take place until 2021.
I hope this response meets with your satisfaction and you will plan on keeping your scheduled date in MONTH. Feel free to contact me per phone if you wish, XXX-XXX-XXXX
Thank you for taking time to provide your thoughts. Your response is very informative.
Recent RWA events pulled the curtain back on systemic bias and revealed wholesale denial of discriminatory experiences happening to underrepresented authors. These activities have been going on far longer than this most recent event, and awaiting further investigation won't change that fact. One of the things I learned as a physician caring for patients is that when we are in positions of influence we can make a choice to use our voices to advocate for those who are not in the same position. When disparity of privilege and power exists, silence becomes a deliberate decision. In many situations including the current one with RWA, taking no position makes us complicit in downplaying the systemic issues.
Sometimes we don't even recognize our own biases -- I certainly have erred in this manner numerous times. None of us are perfect, and we all can do better. My belief is that your chapter can reach the point of sending a strong, uniform message of intolerance of bias and discrimination. But it's concerning that RWA CHAPTER has instead decided not to respond to abuse of privilege and power in recent RWA happenings. That choice sends a different kind of message.
It's important that I share my voice in ways that build up the writing community -- and everyone in it equally. At the risk of harming my own career, I will graciously decline the invitation to speak at RWA CHAPTER during MONTH. My hope is that when your chapter creates that strong message shouting out against bias and discrimination, we might revisit this speaking engagement.
If you have any questions or if I may clarify my statement, please don't hesitate to ask.
Thank you for responding and I’m sad to hear of your choice, but I will respect it and fully understand your position. Good luck.