Has RWA Lost Its Way?

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From All About Romance:

Many readers have been busy with celebrations for various holidays this week and many more do not spend much time on Twitter, so some may have missed the news that dropped on December 23, 2019. To get started, I would recommend checking out this thread of tweets from Alyssa Cole. Here Cole lets the public know that RWA (Romance Writers of America) has taken action to suspend author Courtney Milan as a result of an alleged ethics violation. Even with many people getting ready to take breaks for their holidays, this news had an instant ripple effect. Clearly RWA underestimated the ability of romance authors and readers to multitask.

So, what happened? Well, back in August Courtney Milan tweeted about a 1999 novel by Kathryn Lynn Davis which contained what she and many others would describe as fairly egregious stereotyping, and she called the book out as problematic and racist. So, why did it matter that a twenty year old book was called racist? Well, Davis had recently been hired as an editor by Glenfinnan Publishing, a company owned by one Suzan Tisdale, and presumably these folks did not appreciate having the word “racist” associated with someone at the business. Tisdale and Davis responded by each filing ethics complaints against Courtney Milan.

. . . .

Now, at the time these particular complaints were filed, Courtney Milan was the chair of the ethics committee of RWA. Did she get a chance to recuse so that the investigation could go forward? No. It has come out that she was reportedly told to resign her position (which she did). Someone at RWA apparently then decided to bypass the entire ethics committee and form a second ethics committee just for the purpose of considering the Milan complaints. Oh, and the composition of that second ethics committee was – and still is – secret. Because that doesn’t look suspicious at all.

Just as a side note, I’ll mention that in the non-Romancelandia side of my life I have served and continue to serve on a variety of nonprofit and professional boards. Most have an ethics committee, and for those that do, the identity of every committee member is not only known to the accused, it’s a matter of public record. No one has his or her case considered by an anonymous judge. Not only does the accused know who they are facing, but they know who voted which way. This is basic transparency, folks, and it’s essential to building trust in organizations.

The secret ethics committee found Ms. Milan in violation on only one(1) of the grounds of complaint brought forward by Tisdale and Davis, but they recommended that she be suspended from RWA for 1 year, be censured, and that she be banned for life from holding any national or chapter position of leadership. Supposedly this was a unanimous recommendation. However, it is still unknown how many people were on the secret alternate ethics committee nor who they are. While several members of the original ethics committee have come forward to state that they did not receive the Milan complaint, to my knowledge no one who considered these complaints has identified themselves.

Next stop? The RWA Board of Directors. Initially, the Board of Directors, upon motion of President-Elect Damon Suede, voted 10-5 to adopt the recommendation of the ethics committee.

As many are aware, the Board of Directors met and rescinded their vote the very next day (December 24, 2019, if you’re keeping track). So, what happened in the meantime? Well, social media exploded just for starters. When the decision broke, members of the real ethics committee apparently learned for the first time of the existence of the super-secret alternate ethics committee that considered the complaints against Ms. Milan.

. . . .

Since Courtney Milan has been an outspoken voice in favor of diversity and inclusion in an organization which has had a problematic history with regard to race, seeing her censured essentially for speaking up about racism feels like a betrayal for many of us who had hoped that RWA was working to become more inclusive.

. . . .

Added into these concerns are accounts from various current and former RWA members stating that the board did not have oversight of staff and that staff, not the board, at least sometimes decided which complaints got to the ethics committee.

. . . .

Needless to say, these actions have not been received positively by RWA members or by the romance community as a whole. On Twitter, one can find numerous tweets from authors who have pulled their work from RITA consideration and from RITA judges who are resigning. Many calls have been made for transparency and for RWA to provide a full, complete explanation of what transpired and who was involved at each point along the way. These have been met with silence. In addition, no less than 28 RWA chapter presidents have submitted a letter calling for the resignations of the President, President-Elect and Executive Director of RWA.

And it’s not just the RITA judges resigning. On December 24, Board member Chanta Reed stepped down, citing RWA’s handing of the Milan complaint as the deciding factor in her decision. On December 26, board members Priscilla Oliveras, Seressia Glass, Adrienne Mishel, Farrah Rochon, Pintip Dunn, Erica Ridley, Tracey Livesay, and Denny S. Bryce all resigned from the Board of RWA, Each issued a statement on Twitter that they “no longer trust or have confidence in RWA’s leadership.” Later on, it was confirmed by RWA that the President, Carolyn Jewel, has also resigned.

. . . .

It’s obvious at this point that RWA screwed up. Frankly, as more information becomes available, it appears obvious that they made more than just one mistake. Their internal procedures are clearly flawed and while Courtney Milan is an author with a high enough profile to draw attention to the problems, one can only imagine how many people who are not so well-known may have been treated equally poorly by the organization. Story after story after story of alleged irregularities and bias at RWA(some going back to the early days of the organization) have been pouring out ever since this particular story broke and I can only imagine that will continue.

Link to the rest at All About Romance

PG is against racism and has been since he was six years old and his best friend was the son of American citizens, immigrants from Japan, who were interned during World War II.

One day, a man stopped at our small farm to ask for driving directions to a nearby location. He said the “japs” who lived down the road had given him directions, but, evidently, he wasn’t certain they were accurate.

It was not uncommon in those days to hear soldiers and sailors who had fought in the Pacific theater during the war refer to Japanese as “japs”. When PG asked his father, who had served in the Philippines during World War II, about that term, he was informed that he was never to refer to Japanese that way.

That memory returned for PG when he read the OP. It has been decades since he has heard anyone use the term “japs”.

PG is not acquainted with either Ms. Davis or Ms. Milan and, to the best of his knowledge, has not read books written by either woman.

Twenty years is a long time. PG doesn’t believe that anyone was “woke” in 1999 and he is pretty certain one of his least favorite words, “problematic,” was not in common use either.

For all its benefits, one of the drawbacks of the almost-universal use of the internet is that anything dumb that appears there never disappears.

Well before the internet left academia, PG enjoyed free access to Lexis and Nexis, online repositories of court opinions and statutes (Lexis) and every large and small publication, journal, etc., that could be imagined (Nexis).

One of the groups who purchased the very expensive subscriptions to Nexis were political consultants, advisors to politicians, etc. Nexis (which had a search engine that was far more powerful and precise than Google’s is today) was sometimes used by political types to locate embarrassing statements, articles, quotes, etc., about political opponents. Such statements sometimes found their way into political advertisements, criticisms, etc.

In his litigation practice, when he was preparing a written brief or another form of legal argument on behalf of a client, PG would sometimes search Lexis for a statement in a court opinion anywhere in the United States which was an ideal argument for or summary of a position that would aid his client’s case. On a few occasions, he found a court opinion from an unlikely location that matched his dream statement or was something close to it.

Given the manner in which court opinions are written, if the opinion he discovered didn’t quite do the job, it was invariably thick with references to other cases, statues, etc., that would allow PG to quickly jump to a variety of other opinions, statues, etc., that were quite helpful for the position PG was arguing for his clients.

While Lexis and its competitor, WestLaw, were quite capable, they were also quite expensive and, when PG was enjoying his complimentary access to Lexis, most of the lawyers and law firms on the other side of disputes either didn’t have access to either service or used the service on rare occasions (and weren’t very skilled in doing so because of their lack of practice).

Of course, today, everything lives forever somewhere online and “gotcha” tweets, posts, etc., regularly pop up to discredit, embarrass, condemn, etc., someone else for a careless or purposeful statement or post or Instagram message, Tweet, etc.

Another legal concept that enters PG’s thoughts about the OP is a Statute of Limitations. Here’s a definition from The Legal Information Institute:

Any law that bars claims after a certain period of time passes after an injury. The period of time varies depending on the jurisdiction and the type of claim.

Statutes of limitations exist for both civil and criminal causes of action, and begin to run from the date of the injury, or the date it was discovered, or the date on which it would have been discovered with reasonable efforts. Many statutes of limitations are actual legislative statutes, while others may come from judicial common law.

Here are a couple examples of statutes of limitations from LegalDictionary.net:

Example 1:

If Bob steals candy from a convenience store in Minnesota, prosecutors have two years to charge him for the crime. If those two years passes with no criminal charges being filed, Bob cannot be criminally charged or prosecuted.

Example 2:

If John commits murder in the state of Texas, there is no statute of limitations for that crime. If enough evidence is discovered to prosecute John, even after 20 years has passed, the state can still file criminal charges for the crime, and proceed with the prosecution.

What’s the purpose of a statute of limitations? Again from Legal Dictionary.net:

The purpose of the statute of limitations in criminal matters is to ensure diligent prosecution of crimes, while evidence, and witness testimony, is fresh. Similar goals hold true for civil matters, as the time limitations help ensure people are not blindsided by civil lawsuits many years after some issue or incident occurred.

Again, while PG doesn’t know the nature, extent, etc., of the allegedly improper “problematic and racist” elements of Ms. Davis’ book, he wonders if the world would be a better place if there were some equivalent to a statute of limitations for statements or writings that do not conform to the exquisite and continually evolving sensitivities of today’s woke generation.

One of the traditional drawbacks of small-town living was that nobody ever forgot anything. More than a few people migrated from small towns to the relative anonymity of a larger city to put a youthful error behind them and interact with people with a clean slate instead of as the person who had done this or that embarrassing/shameful/horrible thing many years in the past.

If the internet’s small-town characteristics come to predominate discussions of a group or sub-group or organization, PG thinks that won’t always be a good thing.

3 thoughts on “Has RWA Lost Its Way?”

  1. Sigh. I would have to read the novel in question, and I don’t have a dog in this fight. After just a quick look at Amazon, though – it appears to revolve around three daughters of a 19th Century noble – two of whom are illegitimate, and were fathered on two different women – one Chinese, and one Indian.

    England in the 19th Century. Illegitimate “half-breeds.” Writing in this background without a majority of characters that are highly prejudiced would be a dishonest farce.

    (By the way, your father was an unusual man, PG – and you are rightly very proud of him. But writing a novel set in WW2 America would be just as much a dishonest farce without the use of the term “Japs” by even the most virtuous of characters. In fact, it would be difficult to make it realistic without some characters using FAR more derogatory labels – which I shall not repeat here.)

    (My maternal grandfather, DESPITE being of nearly pure German descent himself, called the people he fought in WW1 “Huns” to his dying day – which was also the “nice” label.)

  2. In fairness to Ms. Milan, the Amazon page for the book in question gave a publishing date of 2014. So yes, while the book was originally published in the 90s, republishing it is a separate act. I also just verified that Amazon says: Publication Date: May 17, 2014. So.

    Here’s a timeline of what’s going on: https://www.claireryanauthor.com/blog/2019/12/27/the-implosion-of-the-rwa – and it has some definite interesting points, but is missing one I’ve heard: that the complaint was filed as a publisher, and publishers were not allowed to file complaints against authors. And yet it happened.

    (Also, as a side note, Ms. Milan, in her former career, clerked for the 9th Circuit and for two US Supreme Court justices.)

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