Let me just start this review by stating how much I love Black women with so-called “respectable” professions coming out here and living their best authentic lives by writing smut. *see Stacey Abrams* In that vein, Tracey Livesay, the author of American Royalty, is a former criminal defense attorney. Who could have predicted a pivot from practicing law to writing unapologetically lustful content?
That being said, I was also hesitant to write this review because American Royalty stirred up so many uncomfortable things for me, and I hate writing negative book reviews so publically. However, I felt I had to challenge the racism in this romance.
American Royalty is a book about an American rapper, Duchess (or Dani to her friends), looking to get some good publicity to help her company Mela-Skin succeed on its own terms. Prince Jameson, meanwhile, has been roped into spearheading a charity concert for the royal family, and he accidentally chooses Duchess to be one of the performers. These two from completely different worlds find they are drawn to each other. But will these two worlds survive after they have collided?
Race is always the elephant in the room.
Interracial romance novels typically don’t go deep enough for me. Romances are supposed to be fun and light. We are supposed to love the love. But if there is too much heaviness, it becomes a drama, not a romance. And racism is definitely a turnoff.
American Royalty tries to tackle racism as gracefully as it can while still keeping things fun and light. We know that racism is the underlying conflict that prevents Jameson and Dani from being together. It is the thing that highlights their differences, and the book does not try to hide that. But neither does it try to address the more subtle and insidious aspects of this racism.
In American Royalty, we’re presented with the enemies-to-lovers trope, which is a classic. But what knocked two stars from my rating right off the bat was how racism infiltrated the story. The “hate” Jameson feels toward Dani at the beginning is grounded in racist assumptions rooted in the over-sexualization and assumed unintelligence of Black women. Every time the royal family says American in a derogatory way, they really mean to say Black.
The most disgusting part for me was how Jameson fetishized Dani. Lusting is a very normal part of the romance novel experience, but this felt like it crossed a line. The way he would objectify Dani in private but show disdain for her to her face felt so cringey. Lust by a white man toward a Black woman has the added power dynamic and context of racial privilege and carries with it the history of racialized sexual violence from white men toward Black women. And because she is a celebrity with this kind of brand and image, he feels entitled to access her body, going so far as to masturbate to her music videos (because he can’t have her physically) when she is rooms away under his roof.
Jameson knows nothing about Dani, nor points out anything positive about her that doesn’t have to do with her body. He finally recognizes her personality much later in the book. I didn’t really feel like Jameson liked Dani; he just liked her “creamy brown skin,” lips, and ass (his words).
Institutional vs. Interpersonal
There was a dissonance within this story. Sure, the racism of the institution that is the royal family feels like a given, and it’s unsurprising that they don’t accept Dani as someone who is respectable. But then we’re expected to conveniently ignore the racism within Prince Jameson (no matter how he differs from his family, he still internalized the racist aspects of his upbringing).
Not once did Jameson call Dani the N-word. In the end, Jameson even defends Dani’s honor. One could argue that Jameson is not objectively racist.
But it takes him time to recognize her humanity outside of how she can please him sexually. Again, his assumptions about and treatment of her are rooted in racism.
An Imaginative World
If the races of the characters were different, this story would have been a completely different experience for me. It could truly have been a simple American vs. English story if both characters had been white. Or it could have been an interesting thought experiment if they were both Black, and we got to learn more about race and institutions. It could even have been a different story if we were presented with a Black princess and a white musician (if he was a white rapper, that would have brought up other race-based things).
But we can’t adequately address race if we leave out that context on how it affects the power in the relationship.
Setting all those thoughts aside, I will say that Livesay is great at giving me what I need in the spicy sense, and she really is a talented writer. I always support Black women writing pleasure. I do recommend this story, but do keep in mind how power works, and that relationships should be based on equal power.