You probably looked at the description on my home page and thought, "Hmm, I know what romance is, and I know what women's fiction is, but what is aspirational women's fiction? And why do I want to read it?"
With my first blog post, I'll do my best to answer that question for you. But first, allow me to introduce myself.
I am Adrienne. My ethnic background is culturally mixed, and I might be what some consider a "Blaxican" That means a mixture of Black and Mexican.
I have long been a believer in romance and women's fiction, but as a young woman I was often disappointed to find that most romance novels out there either ignored Women of Color like me, or painted us in an unflattering light (has anyone heard of the "angry Black woman" or the "sassy Black friend" tropes?). It's difficult to express how much this hurt my spirit at a time in my life when I was trying to come into my own and explore my femininity. I believed in romance, but the novels I was exposed to presented a narrative that told me women like me don't matter. A narrative that said we don't deserve to be the heroine, especially not in a story that includes a hero from another culture or race.
After living my life, I now know that those misconceptions simply are not true. Now, as a romance writer, I feel it my artistic duty to write stories that highlight the beauty of Women of Color while bridging the racial divide. I pair my heroines with men of all cultural backgrounds, yes even White men. I'm not sure why this was ever considered to be taboo, but I'm pretty sure that the Black woman/White man pairing is trending toward total social acceptance...hopefully within my life time.
I have been asked if I am okay with risking alienating potential White woman readers because I chose to make my heroines Black.
My response is simple.
I spent countless hours in junior high and high school reading books that focused solely on White protagonists. I enjoyed the stories and the romance. I do not think that White readers are prejudiced enough to bypass books simply on the basis of the protagonist's skin color. Just as I enjoyed reading books with a White heroine (Johanna Lindsey, anyone?), White women can get the same enjoyment out of a book with a Black heroine.
Readers are better than you think, especially romance readers.
The very foundation of fiction is the ability to transport the reader from their experience and place them in a world where they can learn to sympathize with and care about a character that exists outside the reader's normal social sphere.
We reinforce our own humanity by embracing the humanity of those who are different from ourselves.
Now that I've introduced myself, read on to learn about aspirational women's fiction...
To understand the definition of aspirational women's fiction, it is necessary to break down the meaning and cultural significance of the term 'aspirational.'
According to Oxford University Press, aspirational is defined as:
"Having or characterized by aspirations to achieve social prestige and material success: young, aspirational, and independent women"
'Aspirational' is an adverb which has greater cultural significance to historically oppressed groups such as People of Color and women than it does to those who have inherited dominant positions in society (we all know who the doms are--not throwing shade, just stating facts). There was a time in our history when Black people had to aspire to be free from slavery. When Black people had to aspire to have equal rights. There was a time when women had to aspire to work outside the home. When women had to aspire to vote. We can all agree that the cultural shifts that got us to our current level of equality were monumental, and they were NOT sudden (those dominant ancestors really wanted to keep their power). These shifts were the result of decades of labor. Social labor. Political labor. And artistic labor.
One important pillar of support for advancements in social equality is the ability of artists and writers (Black and White) to dream of a world in which everyone's ambitions are achievable. A world in which equality is the norm. Sometimes, these fictional worlds seem like a foolish dream, but still they seep into the reader's subconscious mind and begin to unravel some of the tangled messages from the world in which we currently live. When the real world says, "This isn't something women/PoC are allowed to do," the world of aspirational fiction replies, "Dare to imagine a world in which women/PoC are not only allowed to do those things, but are doing them exceptionally well."
Aspirational fiction is the very embodiment of Buckminster Fuller's quote, “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”
By writing aspirational women's fiction, I am using my creative expression to build a new model--a model which renders the old system of racial and gender inequality obsolete.
If my heroines can make even one young woman let go of the gender norms that have been ingrained into her psyche since birth and dare to achieve something that women currently aren't "allowed" or "supposed" to do, then I've done my job as an author. If my stories can make even one young man question his expectations on how women should be treated and engage in a more feminist worldview, then I've done my job as an author.
Why is aspirational fiction culturally significant within interracial romance?
In the case of African American people in pop culture, there has long been a necessity to transform the field and rectify the deeply ingrained social hierarchies of privilege. To do this, authors and entertainment producers must challenge the most prevalent depictions of African Americans. We must acknowledge and challenge the implicit bias against those with darker skin. This bias tells us that dark-skinned people are criminal, unattractive, and "thuggish." To level the field, we must consistently put out television shows, movies, and literature that replace the established narrative which tells us that dark-skinned people are inferior. We must provide a narrative that is more in keeping with reality while augmenting that narrative with some aspirational magic. The same magic that led a young Barack Obama to believe it was possible for him to run for president and win. The same magic that led a young Misty Copeland to dream of a career in ballet. Within fiction, the more we depict People of Color achieving things that the old narrative tells us are impossible, the more we make those achievements possible.
We don't like the narrative that traditional entertainment has provided for People of Color, so it is up to us, People of Color, to take charge of that narrative and mold it into something that benefits future generations (Black and White). We must make the narrative about People of Color into one of hope. We must make it a narrative which gives those who experience it the will to reach into the future with optimism. We must make it aspirational.
What are my goals within each book?
I take the one segment of society that has been culturally held underfoot the most--the Black woman. I give her a story in which she can see the beauty inherent in her dark features and fluffy hair. I give her a story in which her career aspirations do not seem foolish because, in my stories, it is not outside the norm for a Black woman to have a fulfilling career that has nothing to do with going to beauty school. I challenge existing stereotypes by providing an aspirational narrative that the reader can carry forward and build on in their daily life. I also provide insight into the mind of women who do not fit the typical mold assigned to Black women in the United States. My goal is to uplift the Black woman, to give her a place of honor among the other types of women who have long held a strong position in the world of romance. I take the woman that has typically been fetishized and considered as 'other,' and I make her the desired, the cherished, and the respected. I make her the heroine, not just the sassy Black friend.