I have been struggling for weeks now about something that is happening in Romancelandia and how to deal with it.
Someone I worked with who I liked and respected professionally has recently been the subject of a lot of scrutiny, of both her present and past behaviour. My struggle is multi-faceted—how to reconcile the person I thought I knew with her beliefs and the actions she took; how to be an ally to authors of colour and maintain a relationship with this person; do I want to maintain a relationship with this person? Should I speak up or stay out of it? I'm not impacted personally, but what kind of ally am I if I stay quiet? And the uncomfortable realization that staying quiet is using (abusing) my privilege when others have been hurt.
Can you still care about someone who did bad things?
To try to understand my feelings, I read articles about how women were feeling after men they knew and loved were accused of sexual assault. Experts referred to this as a "secondary trauma", since these women weren't harassed or assaulted, but they experienced a deep sense of betrayal by someone they cared about. Now, it's not exactly the same thing—I don't "love" this individual; we were not especially close, and no longer have even a professional relationship, but I do like her and I'm grateful for the support she's given my career. Her behaviour wasn't violent, but it was hurtful. And I learned that these women felt the same kinds of things I'm feeling now, and I gained some insights.
I learned that it's important not to make excuses for the person's behaviour.
I could talk about my own positive experiences working with this person—but that's irrelevant. What matters right now are the people who've been hurt by her actions.
We could consider how society was different in past decades, where African American romance authors had their books shelved in the "African American" section of bookstores, rather than romance. We can't blame one person for that; we can't change the past. But we can acknowledge that was wrong, and unquestionably hurt Black romance authors. We can apologize for that. We can do better.
I also learned we shouldn’t put their actions into a hierarchy of badness. Yes, this wasn't violent behaviour against other people, but it did negatively impact other people. So trying to put this on a scale of 1 to heinous racism doesn't matter. Trying to figure "what's worse—this or that?" can minimize the actions or even deny them.
I'm a member of RWA and we recently went through a painful examination of how past actions have hurt authors of color and LGBTQ authors. I learned so much from that intense discussion, and as uncomfortable as that was for many of us, it had to happen. It hurts and it's hard and it's ugly. We discovered awful things about people we respected, people we admired and looked up to as role models. We may have learned some painful things about ourselves. But this difficult conversation is necessary for us to move forward and be better. People must be held accountable for their actions.
So…can you still care about someone who did bad things? Someone’s whose beliefs are profoundly different than yours?
I would like to believe so. The world needs more caring and empathy. I write about love. I believe in the power of love.
One of the articles I read offered an opinion from experts that "The best chance of saving a relationship is if a person offers a sincere apology both to the victims and secondary victims, is generally remorseful and works to make amends to the people they’ve hurt."
This is what I need. I need to see acknowledgement of the hurts that were done. I need to see contrition. I need to see remorse. I need to see an honest effort to make amends.
I apologize for staying silent so long. It often takes me time to process things, and my inner conflicts and fears paralyzed me until I put my fingers to the keyboard to write about my feelings. I'm trying to learn and do better.