Goodbye, CaRWA.

Goodbye on POST-ITToday I resigned from CaRWA, the Calgary Association of Romance Writers of America. I can no longer belong to an organization whose racist and homophobic actions contradict its professed values of diversity and inclusion.

Before I continue, I want to apologize to the CaRWA members who are part of any marginalized community, or who write about marginalized characters. I have not been as good at sensing and identifying micro-aggressions as I want to be. I can offer two reasons, but they are not excuses. First, because I am always involved in set up and take down at meetings and workshops, I’m not able to participate in or even observe the before and after event socialization. So I haven’t seen those patterns or undercurrents where micro-aggressions occur. Second, my hearing isn’t all that good. Even hearing aids only go so far. If you don’t speak directly to me, if you don’t catch my attention before speaking, I likely won’t hear you. Again, those are reasons, not excuses. And I apologize to any of you who may have been hurt because I as a board member didn’t step in and stop something.

It’s time for me to stop being nice, to stop being kind. Being nice and being kind is what got us here. Being nice and being kind is what those targeted members have been because they were hesitant to file formal complaints. The directive to be nice and be kind certainly didn’t stop some members from committing micro-aggressions, and some more blatant aggressions, against other members or potential members.

I joined CaRWA in 2013, and I was first elected to the board for the 2015 term. I have served continuously ever since: as VP Communications and Webmistress in 2015/2016; as President and Webmistress in 2017/2018; as Secretary (appointed to replace the elected Secretary when she had to step down and no one else volunteered despite a vigorous recruiting campaign), and Webmistress in 2019; and currently as Membership Chair and Webmistress.

It was in 2017 that, as President, I had to deal with the aftermath of a member who chose to go on a racist rant in a public place where a number of clearly identified CaRWA members had gathered. And except for the one member who disagreed and argued back, her remarks went unchallenged by several other members who were party to the discussion. I don’t know what those other members were thinking. I don’t even know who all of them were, because the member who argued back was too nice to file a complaint. But by not acting, they gave their tacit support to the racist rant.

We came very close to losing the hotel as a workshop venue that day. They had every right to tell us to leave and never come back. That they didn’t is more a reflection on their generosity than on CaRWA’s behaviour.

One aftermath result of that incident was that I shortly thereafter established the position of Diversity Liaison. And I pushed RWA for a chapter-level Code of Ethics, which they eventually provided. We were one of the first chapters to do both those things. I was very proud of CaRWA then.

Another aftermath result was the series of private messages — through Facebook Messenger, through email, even through texts to my cell phone — telling me how appalled some members were at those actions we had taken as a board. My all-time favourite remark was the statement that I was a traitor to my race and that I had forgotten that “white is also a colour”.

For those of you who think this “whole RWA mess” is indicative of a US-specific problem? Not hardly. We have racists and bigots right here in Canada, in Alberta, and in CaRWA.

Case in point: we spent a good deal of time at our February 18, 2020 meeting talking about why the board and volunteers were resigning, and our President related some personal incidents where she had been targeted as a woman of colour. Our presenter was a black comedienne who spent her hour talking to us about racism and dating in Calgary 2020. And still, given all that, one of our members thought it appropriate to approach our President after the meeting and say something about being surprised she gets called {insert racial slur here} because she “didn’t look like…”, and then the words trailed off. Racism is alive and well in CaRWA.

It has become very clear to me over the last two months that it is not physically possible for an organization to be welcoming and tolerant of absolutely everyone. It can’t support both the racists and bigots, and their targets and allies. It just can’t.

I collated the results of the first survey CaRWA sent to members in January 2020. I read the collated results of the second survey, sent in February. And I was so disappointed. There is a core of CaRWA membership who do not accept and support those who are not cisgender, heterosexual, abled, Christian, and white; who do not accept and support those who write about anything other than one cisgender, heterosexual, abled, Christian, white women loving one cisgender, heterosexual, abled, Christian, white man; and who do not accept and support the allies of those two groups.

We are only going to get browner & queerer & witchier & louder & stronger & prouder, & we are going to watch the dinosaurs die out.
Photo credit Lizzy the Lezzy

You are absolutely entitled to your beliefs. I cannot agree with them. I cannot support them. I will not belong to an organization that believes and acts that way. And I certainly am not willing to spend my time and effort and energy and expertise volunteering to serve that organization.

And to the member who complained that the current board is a bunch of lesbian activists? My husband of forty years laughed so hard at that one he had to sit down. While I am not a lesbian, I am very much an activist for LGBTQ+ folks. And for other marginalized groups. Social Justice Warrior isn’t an epithet; it’s a badge of honour.

My RWA membership is due in February every year, and I just renewed for one more year. I belong to two online chapters, Contemporary Romance and FF&P (Fantasy, Futuristic, & Paranormal). Both are considering disaffiliation, and I want to vote in those decisions. I want to keep those connections. And I want to vote in the upcoming interim RWA elections and whatever decisions are made after that.

As CaRWA’s current President explained, those who choose to stay in CaRWA must now step up and run it. If there are not sufficient volunteers by March 30, the current board will be forced to start the process of dissolution.

It is my fiduciary duty, and my intent, to leave this chapter in as good shape as I can. I am writing up expanded task lists for all of the work I’ve been doing as a volunteer. All lists are being posted into the chapter board file library in myRWA. I will remain a volunteer for the chapter until either the entire board and set of essential volunteers are replaced, or the current board works through dissolution.

I wish you luck in your individual careers. I do not think RWA will survive, although I am more hopeful than I was a week ago. I don’t know if CaRWA will, or in what form, but I will not be a part of it.

6 Responses

  1. Thank you for your e-mail Win and thank you for having the courage to step back and say “Enough”.

    As much as I like to think that the world is getting better and more accepting of diversity, there are days like today when I realize that we still have a LONG way to go.

    I often find myself quoting Bertrand Russell where he said that if we want a better world we need to stop teaching our children to hate and stop teaching them to be afraid.

    Sadly such a dark part of humanity as you are having to deal with right now exists because some ignorant, close minded parent raised their own children with the same beliefs as their parents forced on them at a tender age.

    The only hope for humanity is that more people like yourself refuse to endorse and accept this ignorant behavior. Then maybe in time these old ‘isms will die out and the world can move on.

    We have so much potential as a species if we can only lay aside these beliefs that some of us are less than others because of the color of our skin or whom we choose to love.

    Your decision to take a stand is but one voice among the masses, but it is a light in the darkness and we all thank you for it.

    1. Thank you, Charles.

      I’m still in the fight at the level of the parent organization. But the local chapter is a lost cause. It will be interesting to see if enough of the Nice White Ladies stop clutching their pearls long enough to step up into board roles. If they don’t, the chapter dissolves.

  2. I’m glad you are standing up for what you believe in. No matter what your personal beliefs are, every person deserves respect. It’s one of the reasons I left RWA when they disrespected a gentleman who wrote LGBTQ love stories. I didn’t make a fuss about it but did resign with a simple note that I can’t belong to a group who doesn’t accept all people including those who write for a group they don’t agree with along with the prejudice I was getting for self-publishing at the time. As an organization, they lost my respect back then and I have no intention of ever joining them again.

    1. Since the mess came to light in late December, I have waffled back and forth over whether RWA is salvageable, or even worth saving. Some days I have more hope than others. But my local chapter is not, and I am not willing to expend more time and effort trying to drag them to supporting diversity and inclusion.

  3. Thank you for your e-mail. I have no knowledge of the workings of the organisations referred to but am shocked and angry that such attitudes survive today. I admire your decision and hope some good may come from it. Yes everyone is entitled to their opinion but such bigotry and prejudice has no place in modern societies. I wish you well in the future. I have read both On A Whim and Treasure In The Library both of which I loved.Looking forward to future stories from you.

    1. Thanks, Marilyne, both for your kind words about my books and for your support. At the end of the day, it was an easy decision, but it does make me sad.