Talia Hibbert writes amazing romance novels. Every time I read one, I am left feeling flushed. They have everything I need in a romance novel. Black women trying to figure out the world. Beautiful men. And very sexy scenes.
But there is something seriously lacking for me: the nuance around interracial relationships.
All of the Talia Hibbert novels I have read have an interracial relationship between a Black woman and white man. On the one hand, I get it. I appreciate Hibbert going against the grain. Black love is magical, but not the end all, be all. I have my own hang ups that challenge the Black American Dream of Black Love.
But on the other hand, Hibbert’s relationships just lack critical conversations, experiences, and insight that comes with being in an interracial relationship. It’s a Black woman and a white man, and it’s as if that doesn’t matter to them or the rest of the world. It’s like that in so many other interracial relationships I have read about. We are being fed the lie of colorblindness.
Real Interracial Relationships
As someone who has been in an interracial (and intercultural) relationship, I know how impossible it is that race never comes up in the relationship. No matter how much you have in common or how much chemistry you have, it is not something that you can just ignore.
The way people stare at you when you are together, scrutinizing and questioning the relationship. Inevitably there will be a microaggression or an opportunity for education for each other’s experiences. Racism rears its ugly head even in love.
In just about all romance novels, the main conflict is usually a misunderstanding; something a simple conversation can clear up. I’m always more interested in conflict that needs real compromise and/or sacrifice.
Books that do them right
There were two books I gave me a more nuanced look into interracial relationships: Ties That Tether by Jane Igharo and If You Come Softly by Jaqueline Woodson.
In Ties That Tether, we see Azere and Rafael instantly fall in love, but Azere made a promise to her dying father that she would marry a Nigerian man, which Rafael is not. In the story we see Azere struggle with her feelings for Rafael and her loyalty to her culture, and the guilt she feels as she is woven into his world easier than he could be woven into hers.
I loved how race and culture was the central conflict. Not because I have to make everything about race (but I actually do), but because the pressure, internally and externally, felt realistic and insurmountable. I felt invested in watching Azere and Rafael see their way through. I wrote an in depth book review here.
In If You Come Softly, Ellie, a Jewish girl, and Miah, a Black boy, don’t fit in their private high school, but they fit together. Most of the story is about the complication of telling their friends and family about their relationships because of their different races and cultures.
SPOILER ALERT (skip this paragraph if you don’t like spoilers). At the end of the story, the police shoots and kills Miah because he was running in Ellie’s white neighborhood, something his father told him never to do. Racism literally kills him and ends their blossoming love.
More Nuanced Stories
These are the stories I want to hear about interracial relationships. I don’t need the whole story about addressing cliché microagressions every second, or some explicit story set in the 1960s or during slavery. I just want a more complex narrative that mirrors what happens in real life.
I don’t need any more interracial romances that gloss over race.
I’ll still keep reading Talia Hibbert, though…