History, in Technicolor
Close your eyes. Wait, you need them to read this post…okay, just use your imagination, then. When I say the words “historical romance” what comes to mind? Sexy Scottish highlanders? Delicious dukes? Heroines with flame red hair and milky skin, right? Historical romance, more than any other subgenre, is automatically equated with white heroes and heroines. Why is this? Most of the earth’s population is some shade or other of brown, and they have been so for time immemorial. People of color have been traveling the world, freely and by force, and part of many historical societies (check out Medieval POC if you doubt me). So why is it that mainstream historical romance seems to be reserved for those who pass the (white) paper bag test?
I know some of you will say, “But what about the Lord so-and so’s man-servants and Lady Fiddle-dee-dee’s maids?” Stop right there. The token magical Negroes, mystical South Asians, and Noble Savages that grace the pages of many a historical don’t count. We don’t need historical romances in which the people of color are only there to clumsily shore up historical reality; we need romances in which they are historical reality. Well-rounded, smart, strong characters with lives, loves, and adventures of their own.
What about Beverly Jenkins, you might ask. The woman is a godsend and I worship at her alter, but she shouldn’t have to shoulder the burden of multicultural historical romance alone. And readers should have easy access to more than one person’s vision of history for people of color.
I’m not writing this to disparage historical romance—I love it dearly. I just want to encourage more diversity in historical romance. History, American history in particular, is chock-a-block with AMAZING real-life people and settings that would make for wonderful, vivid historical romance, yet these stories are generally overlooked, leaving readers to believe that people of color were…somewhere else?…while all of the action was happening.
To remedy this, I’ve started writing historical fiction that features characters of color. My first endeavor is Be Not Afraid, a story in the Revolutionary War anthology For Love & Liberty: Untold Love Stories of the American Revolution. It follows Elijah Sutton, a black slave fighting for the Patriots, and Kate Foster, a runaway who has thrown in her lot with the British. With this story, I hoped to entertain the reader, but also provide a view that isn’t often represented: that of the enslaved people in this country who fought and bled for the Colonies and were then written out of the history books for their troubles.
The other authors on the anthology, Lena Hart (who kicked off the blog-a-thon by writing about our book), Kate McMurray, and Stacey Agdern, are also committed to providing a more diverse view, and their tales follow a Native woman and the British soldier she falls for; a white man and his mixed race valet who must decide where the war will take them; and a Jewish couple struggling to stay united when the coming war would tear them apart.
For those of you who love historical romance and wish that you could see more reflections of yourself in the genre: your time is coming! Learn more about For Love & Liberty, here. Also, leave a comment with your thoughts on multicultural historical romances to win a copy of Beverly Jenkins’s NightHawk!
About the Author
Alyssa Cole is a Brooklyn-based romance writer; she hosts a Romance Book Club and teaches romance writing at the Jefferson Market Library in NYC. www.alyssacole.com