The romance world is up in arms over RWA’s secretive (and inappropriate) handling of ethics complaints against Courtney Milan. The complaints were lodged by several author/editors whom Milan had called out for racism. RWA responded by
- Requesting that Milan resign from her position as chair of the Ethics Committee, rather than asking that she recuse herself, which would be the normal procedure (she did resign);
- Forming a second, secret ethics committee whose members remain unknown at the time of this writing… without letting the members of the standing Ethics Committee know anything at all;
- Voting to approve the secondary committee’s recommendation that Milan be suspended from membership for a year and banned for life from holding any national office in RWA. (Essentially, Milan was censured for publicly calling out racism on the part of several authors who are also editors/publishers. Ironic, since Milan has been at the forefront of efforts to eliminate racism and bigotry within RWA.) Note that a day after this went public, the Board rescinded the vote “pending a legal opinion.”
At this point, Milan was notified of the Board’s decision. Her friend and fellow author Alyssa Cole went public with it on Twitter on Dec. 23.
The resulting uproar has highlighted not only serious problems with RWA’s procedures and leadership, but also a history of systemic bigotry, as other authors of color and LGBTQ authors recount their own experiences. Eight POC RWA Board members resigned “because [they] no longer trust or have confidence in RWA’s leadership”, and feel the complaint should never have been referred to the Ethics Committee in the first place (let alone the secret alternative committee that was set up.) Several members of the official Ethics Committee also resigned. As a result of the brouhaha, the president, Carolyn Jewel, has also resigned. A number of authors have pulled their RITA entries from contention; several RITA judges have resigned; and a number of agents have said they will not attend RWA events. And there is growing support for a recall of Damon Suede, the president-elect (now acting president), based on his apparent involvement in the whole complaint/secret-committee process as well as other alleged irregularities.
It seems unlikely that RWA can weather this storm without a significant loss of both members and industry respect, unless meaningful changes are made. The organization has lost a great deal of trust and goodwill on the part of both writers and romance readers. What is needed is a thorough housecleaning and restructuring, along with a public acknowledgment of past wrongs and a true commitment to transparency and nondiscrimination going forward.
To get a clearer, broader overview of the whole story, read Claire Ryan’s post, The Implosion of the RWA, and All About Romance’s Has RWA Lost Its Way?, both of which contain many useful links to original documentation and tweet threads from various authors.
ETA 1/02/2020, 1:44 PM EST: Smart Bitches, Trashy Books has a frequently-updated post (with links) that contains much of what has gone on since I posted this: WTAF, RWA: Courtney Milan Banned, Suspended From RWA. TL;DR version: It’s still a mess. RWA’s acting/current president, Damon Suede, has still not resigned, despite a petition requesting he do so. An email from the board and staff requests members to stay “civil” in expressing their opinions about other writers’ work (raises hand: How do you “civilly” point out that someone’s work contains racist tropes, when they will take offense at the term “racist” regardless of what else is said?) And new board members have been appointed (not elected.)
Also, Mikki Kendall’s opinion piece for NBC News is worth reading: The Romance Writers of America racism row matters because the gatekeepers are watching.