Note that this Letter to the Author contains graphic descriptions of racism and racist violence (sexual and otherwise) as it relates to the reality of white supremacy in history and historical romances.
Dear Afton Locke,
I could write you about a bunch of things in your Oyster Harbor series. I could talk about your constant use of food terms to describe Black characters (“butterscotch” and “light mocha” stand out). I could complain about how your heroine in Cali’s Hurricane is a vodou practitioner and how it’s so mishandled. I could even point out that the plot in and of itself is supremely flawed and in no way as accurate as you think.
But you know what, everything pales in the face of the one main question that I’ve had for you since the moment I read anything of yours: What on Earth possessed you to write a series of historical interracial romance novels where (at least) two of your “heroes” belong to their local branch of the Klan?
In your Oyster Harbor series, we’re presented with a quiet town that’s known for its oysters and the rampant white supremacists that populated it during the 1930s. (Seriously, one of the taglines associated with this series calls Oyster Harbor “a place where passion and race collide”.)
Yeah, it’s a book set in the 1930s and there’s some expectation of racism cropping up to rear its ugly white head, but not in the main characters.
Not in the “heroes” that are supposed to sweep all of your readers off of their feet.
There’s a difference between writing an Alpha Male Asshole and writing a character that would be complicit in violence perpetuated against Black people, something that your “heroes” don’t seem to shy away from.
Your “heroes” are full on cross burning, sheet wearing, hate-slinging members of the Klan, lady.
There’s nothing romantic about their existence.
I don’t care how rugged their jaws are or how they do come to care for the Black women on your covers, you’re writing about the Klan and painting positive portrayals of your “heroes” as men who take part in it as a response to incidents they’ve had in their childhood. You’ve framed them as good guys because they’ve got a reason for joining one of the most wide-spread instruments of hate and violence in history.
I get it; You’ve probably watched Neo Ned and American History X a bunch of times and decided that you too could give nuance and romance to the good people of the Klan while reminding your audience that “hate breeds hate” and the love of a good Black person will make everything better.
Look, Locke: I don’t know that much about you personally. I’ve read exactly one of your books and it was because I swore that the blurb was having me on or that I’d misread something.
One thing I do know, though, is that there’s nothing sexy or redeeming about the Klan or someone that is a member of it.
There is nothing redeeming about the men and women who would band together to lynch, rape, and torture Black people en masse for the fun of it. There is nothing on this earth that can excuse the fact that the Klan used to make it possible for white people from miles around to watch the violent deaths of Black people – including pregnant Black women who had their babies torn out of their bodies as they hung, swaying in the breeze.
There are white people right now with bits of bone, teeth, and dried skin from lynchings in their houses right now because they/their families attended lynchings in America’s rather recent history and they took home souvenirs in order to remember what was for them, a joyous moment of fun. Right now, you can buy postcards with images of lynched Bodies on them and don’t forget how Black people eating at Joe’s Crab Shack were shocked and disgusted to find an image of a lynching right in the “decorations” of the restaurant and embedded right into the tabletop. (That was this year!)
The violent murder, torture, and assault of Black people was entertainment to the Klan and no amount of romanticizing can erase their very bloody history or how it often centered on punishing and violating Black bodies for fun.
There’s no romance there.
There’s nothing sexy about reading a book where Black woman winds up with a man who, by being a member of the Klan in the first damn place, clearly hates people like her, and sees her as subhuman until she proves her humanity. Historically, white men have loved fucking (raping) Black women. They painted us as sexually free (because we were akin to beasts in the field) and hypersexual. We always wanted sex even if we said that we didn’t.
Fucking (raping) a Black woman didn’t make slaveowners less racist. Taking multiracial Black women as mistresses didn’t make wealthy white men in New Orleans progressive for their time. Sleeping with someone from a group of marginalized people you hate doesn’t make you stop hating them.
A racist won’t stop being a racist just because he gets that first taste of some bomb ass Black pussy and realizes that Black women are good for something other than cleaning their houses.
(Seriously, the “hero” in Cali’s Hurricane, Jonathan Carter, legit mentions how hard she makes his dick while also thinking that he didn’t trust her not to steal from him… Like this is a thought that he has early on while also fussing because a light-skinned biracial Black woman tried to kiss him once upon a time ago.)
Just as misogynists clearly continue to hate women even while in relationships with them, racists manage to be in relationships with Black people all the time.
Most racists in interracial relationships, however, aren’t members of the KKK.
Your “heroic” Klansmen all fall in love with Black women at the same time that they’re trying to come to terms with their racist legacies and connections to the hateful KKK.
You even have one of these “heroes” feeling pressured into joining the Klan in his family’s footsteps. Another “hero”, Jonathan Carter again, comes to hate Black people after (I believe) his sister is raped by a Black man (Black men?) and therefore wants nothing more than the continued existence of the “organization” literally responsible for his love interest being a widow now. (Yes, you read that right: the Klan (sort of indirectly) kills the heroine’s husband and the author hooks the widow up with a Klansman…)
And we’re supposed to care about these white guys’ hurt feelings and their exploration of Black women’s humanity?
No matter how much childhood trauma they experienced or how many Black women they claim to love, your Klansmen characters aren’t redeemable.
Forcing that narrative in order to make people sympathize with a character that was complicit in spreading hate and violence towards Black people is wrong. It does a disservice to what Black women went through during the KKK’s most powerful periods and how our bodies weren’t even our own when we were in bed.
A couple months ago in Urban Fantasy 101: Issues of Immortal Morality I wrote about how sympathizing and empathizing with characters would have hurt me and support violence against me because of my race is a thing I am never going to try and do. I wrote about how the second I found out that Bill Compton was a soldier on the side of the Confederacy, I felt uncomfortable.
I also wrote this:
When you introduce a character whose historical background or backstory revolves around him being actually awful (with regard to race) as not only your main character, but the sympathetic lover getting the girl/boy/non-binary babe (even if it’s just for a little while), it sends a message.
It can pull readers straight out of the story and maybe even ruin their day or experience reading your work because it’s almost always unexpected AND handled poorly. Seriously, your drive for “historical accuracy” shouldn’t come at the expense of readers who would for once, just like to read stories where they’re not told to empathize with someone that would’ve owned them a couple hundred years ago.
The Klan killed people.
The Klan probably still kills people.
You can twist it all the way around in order to have your romanticized history and your racism too, but the reality is that the Klan isn’t just a prop you can use to make your white “heroes” interesting. It remains to this day a source of fear for Black people in America because these people are still active. This isn’t a long-dead group of people who have faded into obscurity, taking their symbols along with them.
They still exist and operate in much of the same way that they did in the 1930s. Sure, you don’t see lynchings and other killings referenced in the news every day, but they are still happening. Don’t let that Kamau W. Bell interview with some of those people fool you.
To gloss over the history and horror the group has inspired in order to provide an undoubtedly romanticized view of what it would be like to be in an interracial relationship with members of the goddamn Klan in the 1930s is messed up on multiple levels.
In the dedication for Cali’s Hurricane, you mention trying to balance a love story and likable characters with the realities of racial conflict in the 1930s. You mention the violence of 2015 in incredibly vague terms as if it’s so difficult to bring up and name recent victims of violence — particularly racist violence that plagued Black people in America last year at staggering numbers.
(And okay: I mean, you dedicate your book about what appears to be a legacy Klansman falling in love with a Black woman to the people who were dealing with hate and violence in 2015. How did you ever think that was a good idea?)
You also talk about how you feel as though a book should contain realism instead of simply being an escape into fantasy.
Why is it that Black people aren’t allowed this escape unless we write it ourselves?
The only reality that whiteness wants from us centers our suffering (often sexualized) and sanitizing racism in a way that almost always ends with the white racist learning how to be a better person.
Look at how the death of Lexa on The 100 was met with pro-LGBT protests, petitions, and articles from around the Internet because it disrupted the fantasy and reinforced the “Bury Your Gays” trope. Meanwhile, when Poussey Washington was killed on Orange Is the New Black in the same way that Eric Garner was killed, the same fandom that fought for representation for queer (white) women stayed mostly silent.
Lexa’s death was disruptive and painful. It poked holes in the fantasy of queer women living together and loving each other.
Poussey’s death was an opportunity for (white) fandom to learn a valid lesson. It was a necessary dose of reality. It had to be done.
That’s the same thing I get from you, that the fantasy where Black women are wholeheartedly loved and treated respectfully can’t exist because of ~reality~. You know, because historical accuracy only ever seems to matter to writers when they’re explaining why they’ve written yet another book about the past where Black women were barely treated as human.
I don’t know if you’re a Black woman, Afton Locke, but even if you were, there’s nothing about your series that is acceptable. You position Black women as love interests to card carrying, flag burning members of an “organization” that has a history of violence towards them. By writing your “heroes” as members of the Klan and still expecting us (and your heroines) to fall for them, you’re ignoring the history of violence that still exists to this day.
There are Black romance writers who tackle nuanced topics concerning history and race on a level I don’t think you’re capable of from what I’ve read of your work.
Your “hot take” on race relations and interracial relationships pales when compared to authors like Alyssa Cole, Beverly Jenkins, and Lena Hart who you know… manage to paint vivid pictures of what life was like for Black women in times of incredible and violent racism without making their leading man a Klansman
In addition to being incredibly tone deaf, your book series is just plain unnecessary considering that you aren’t bringing anything new to the table when it comes to interracial relationships, historical fiction, or Klan-focused literature.
So I ask again: Why did you write a series of historical interracial romance novels where (at least) two of your “heroes” belong to their local branch of the Klan?
And what made you think that you were the best person for the job?