Breaking the Cardinal Rule…

It’s taken me a full day to decide if I wanted to break the cardinal rule and post this response to a recent review I got for one of my historical novellas.

Now, I’m a big believer of not responding to reviews—good or bad—and I typically never do unless it involves a technical issue, but the fact that said “reviewer” felt the need to open his/her review with: “This was a perfect example of how people of color are still fully capable of cultural appropriation and erasure/oppression.” makes me wonder how much my being an author of color influenced his/her bigoted comments. I also wonder how my story specifically illustrated her claims of “cultural appropriation” and “oppression,” because those accusations were still very unclear to me, even at the end of her “review.”

So faced with this mountain of ignorance, I couldn’t help but right this wrong…

Below, you’ll find italicized quotations of the reviewers opinion of my story, A SWEET SURRENDER, and my response to her opinionated assumptions and narrow-minded commentary.

“The heroine was an Iroquois woman (actually half black through her father) who finds a British soldier injured and dying in the woods somewhere. She builds a shelter and nurses him back to health, but their sexual attraction to each other (which is handled in a hamfisted way with little chemistry between the characters) is hindered by the heroine's forced engagement to a Native man she doesn't care for and who attempts to dominate her.”


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That’s one way to summarize the story. I would just like to point out that the Iroquois were made up of 6 separate tribes. I think this is important to note (since the reviewer continues to reference the heroine as Iroquois while ignoring the part where she is of the Oneida nation) that each tribe had their own unique cultures, customs, and traditions. I won’t turn this into a history lesson (you can read more on the Oneida tribe and their role in the Revolutionary War in Forgotten Allies by Joseph T. Glatthaar and James Kirby Martin), but uninformed comments like this reminds me of those people who still call Africa a country.

“Unfortunately, very little of this is plausible in the least. As my bullshit radar started pinging, I started Googling. The pervasive myth of Native American and African mixing has been largely shown to be just that--a myth--with a greater likelihood in certain slaveholding southern tribes, such as the Cherokee and the Seminole. So while it is, in theory, not impossible that some random Black man found himself adopted into a Native tribe in New York state, it's incredibly unlikely, and genetic research seems to back this up.”


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From chapter 1 in Forgotten Allies:


I’m going to assume that the reviewer didn’t get far in their Google research—or their library is filled with lots of old historical romances where the “savage” warrior conquered the white maiden and that was the only "mixing" that went down—because she would have known, as many Americans do, that slavery was everywhere in America, not just the south. Almost everyone owned slaves, even Native Americans. The difference was that Natives weren’t as averse to “mixing” the races as colonists were and they adopted outsiders into their tribe so long as they were worthy. In my story, the heroine’s father (an African runaway) was actually inspired by actual events documented in one of my sources. Unlike the reviewer, I don’t have genetic research at my disposable but there is documented proof that Native Americans throughout the country adopted outsiders into their tribe—even random Black dudes.


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“The forced marriage is also a complete fabrication.” 

 Yes. It’s called fiction.


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“Iroquois women had a great deal of autonomy and chose their own partners from other tribes (Hart did get that detail correct--that the man was from another tribe). The husband did not have authority over the wife, however, putting lie to the main character's stubborn assertion that her future husband might be able to exert his authority over her soon, but not until they were formally wed. And in addition to not being forced to marry, Iroquois women were also actually allowed to initiate a divorce if they were unsatisfied with their marriage. So much for losing all her freedom forever.”


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More like, I don’t even know where to start... *sigh* I can’t begin to address this without going into a lengthy explanation about the social and cultural dynamic of the Oneida tribe, but needless to say it went like this: men hunted, women cared for the home. Like it's been since the beginning of man. Though the Oneida tribe were more progressive in that women’s opinions in politics and community issues were valued, it was men who were appointed to serve as head counsels and other diplomatic functions. Because customs and traditions changed with the social/political climate of their time, it's hard to determine what the dynamic had been like for this small tribe during wartime. Since my story is set during the biggest battle this tribe has ever seen—and my heroine was a young, unattached woman under the guardianship of the head matriarch in her clan—it's safe to assume she didn’t have as much “freedom” as a more mature woman in her clan and thus was arranged to be married to one of the tribes warriors. (Again, more of the tribe's culture and customs can be read in Forgotten Allies.)

“The story itself was not engaging enough to ignore the blatant abuse of Native culture. The woman is portrayed as a saintly healer who can do no harm while the hero is shown to be a Troubled Gentleman who can barely control his Manly Urges when the beautiful, dark-skinned savage (yeah, he calls her a savage once) is around.”


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*sigh*
Yet another arbitrary comment that makes me wonder if this “reviewer” was reading with any comprehension. Below is an excerpt from chapter 3 in A SWEET SURRENDER where the hero uses the word “savage”—as did many colonists and settlers of that time—when referring to the way he was dressed:
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“You too tall,” she said, shaking her head as she stared at him in his ankle-baring trousers.
He found her amusement contagious and couldn’t contain a quick smile. “A blessing and a curse, it appears,” he muttered. He didn’t bother to put on the shirt. One look at it told him it would be a snug fit. She realized it too and took the shirt from him.
“I find you another.”
“I would appreciate it,” he said, smiling ruefully. “It wouldn’t do for me to walk back to my regime clothed like an ill-dressed savage.”
Disappointed anger and resentment clouded her dark eyes and he regretted the thoughtless words as soon as they left him. 
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Note to Reviewer: If you’re going to state something as fact—and so adamantly, I might add—please have the decency to be accurate in your allegations.


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“The chemistry feels forced and icky, the characters feel wooden, and the babyish broken English spoken by the heroine makes me roll my eyes. Is it necessary, on top of everything else, to make her sound like a child or a painful cliche?” 

 As you can read from the excerpt above, the heroine does speak in "broken English" but it wasn’t like I had her using words like, you know, “icky...”


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Contrary to narrow-minded belief, English WAS NOT the native language of Native Americans. In fact, many Native Americans had their own language depending on the tribe and DID NOT speak any English. Because the Oneida tribe had decided to side with the colonists during the Revolutionary War, many of the chiefs and council members were learning the language and encouraging their people, particularly their warriors, to learn English. However, many Native American women and children did not speak English so to have my heroine speaking perfect English would have been historically inaccurate and just plain dumb.


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And speaking of “cultural appropriation and erasure/oppression,” I very much resent that speaking “broken English” is equated with sounding or being “babyish.” I come from a family where English is not our first language and I have taught students who spoke English as their second language. It’s this kind of insensitivity and ignorance that makes someone who isn’t fluent in English feel small and stupid. And that really ticks me off. Not speaking English fluently, or in the way you're used to hearing it, has nothing to do with that person's intelligence. Frankly, the “reviewers” aversion to my heroine’s “broken English” says more about the fishbowl world he/she lives in.

“I'm not Native and I don't know where else this story might have stomped on Iroquois culture, but if even a quick Googling reveals how badly handled the historical and cultural research was, I'm afraid to find out. Ultimately, the only positive thing I can say about this story is that it encouraged me to learn more about history, if only to see for myself what Ms. Hart got very wrong.” 


Funny how admitting to doing little to no research on the subject suddenly makes this reviewer an expert on Native American culture. But I guess, if nothing else, I’ll just have to be content that they found enough interest to further their “research.” I would just implore them—and everyone—to seek out credible sources and not rely solely on Google for their information. Enough historical inaccuracies have taken up precious virtual space already.

Now, if you made it this far down the post—you’re a champ!


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Just please don’t mistaken this post as an attack. It’s more like a crisp response—okay, maybe a snarky rant. But I hope you pick up A SWEET SURRENDER and judge the story for yourself. And if you find something off with my research, please tell me—so long as it's backed up with actual FACTS and credible sources, of course. I really want to know when/where I've made mistakes. My ego isn’t so big that I would object to being righted when I’m wrong.

 Now, back to my Hamilton soundtrack…and following the “authorly rules.”


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Comments

Nice response! I loved every word.
Chanta said…
As an historical author of color, the comments the reviewer made left a bad taste in my mouth.

1) The sentence, “This was a perfect example of how people of color are still fully capable of cultural appropriation and erasure/oppression" is problematic for me. It automatically throws suspicion on the reviewer. Forgive me for making assumptions, but I'm assuming the reviewer is referring to the author being a person of color. If the reviewer truly has an issue with anything in the book, what does it matter the race of the author? Would the same concerns still exist if the author was not a person of color?

2) The following comment shows a disrespectful tone and an obvious ignorance on the part of the reviewer: “Unfortunately, very little of this is plausible in the least. As my bullshit radar started pinging, I started Googling. The pervasive myth of Native American and African mixing has been largely shown to be just that--a myth--with a greater likelihood in certain slaveholding southern tribes, such as the Cherokee and the Seminole. So while it is, in theory, not impossible that some random Black man found himself adopted into a Native tribe in New York state, it's incredibly unlikely, and genetic research seems to back this up.”

A review should be a straight reiteration of facts. It is uncouth and totally classless for a reviewer to say things like "my bullshit radar started pinging." It makes you look as if you have a hidden agenda or some sort of bias toward the author. The reviewer simply could have said that based on her research (Once again I'm assuming--it's a she), some of the facts were not correct. There is no need to be disrespectful or try to put anyone in their place.

Also, it's very hard for me to put any credibility into a statement that says "I Googled it" when it comes to historical accuracy. One does not Google to prove a point. Reference material / sources need to be cited if your review is going to contradict the majority of the content in an historical novel.

In addition, the reviewer's assertion that racemixing between African Americans and Native Americans was is myth is simply FALSE. There is no other way to put it. It sounds ignorant, especially to millions of people who can trace their ancestors back to marriages and relationships between these two cultures. My mother's great great grandparents were part black and part Native American. They lived on a reservation. So, yes, "racemixing" as the reviewer so uneloquently referred to it did exist.

As you can see it is important for not only authors but reviewers to do their research as well before spewing what sounds like hatred and vitriol from their mouths. Even though based on historical facts, this is a work of romantic fiction. It's a book, meant to inform and entertain.

Readers and authors all want the same thing. To indulge in great storytelling. If, as a reader, you feel the story wasn't that great, it's fine to leave a review or comment, but watch your tone, have your facts straight, and never, never, bash the author personally. It ain't that critical.

Lena Hart said…
Agreed Chanta. There's so many ways to express your opinion/disagreement about something and this was not it. I've gotten negative reviews before but this one really left a bad taste in my mouth.