Is Some IR Romance Just the Magic Negro Trope in Disguise?
I know it's a provocative question, but seriously. I'm asking.
Let me start by acknowledging my bias: I don't particularly enjoy IR romance that takes pains to label itself as such. I get that the labeling may arguably be necessary because we live in a race-conscious society; and: 1) some readers view that label tantamount to a trigger waring and defintiely don't want to be caught off-guard if their protagonists are not of the same race, and 2) some readers prefer IR romance and want to be sure that their protagonists are not of the same race. In short, some people just need to know what they're getting into, and that makes some sense, I guess.
But here's my issue. All too often, I've read IR romance where the racial difference between the characters becomes both the transformational device, and/or the bonding agent between the characters. Racist white dude meets ample bosomed Black woman and rethinks white supremacy, is a popular device. As is white dude who engages in stereotypically white dude things----cowboy, trucker, biker gang member, lumberjack to name a few---meets Black woman and has his eyes opened to love from a "real woman". In both cases, Blackness is fetishized. And for real, for real? Some of those books read like a weird wish fulfillment thing ... as though only with white male affirmation can Black women receive the ultimate confirmation of their desirability. Not just for sex---because we know that sadly, Black women have no trouble at all being viewed merely as sexual objects---but as loving, and complete and equal partners.
Another day, we can talk about IR romance where Black men are paired with white women. The conundrum is different, but still there. Black men, too, are viewed as highly sexual. But for men, sexuality and virility are closely aligned with strength, and the ability to protect and provide so the dilemma is different. Black man/white woman IR romances I find, also sometimes devolve into a trope where the supporting cast of Black women---even if they are mothers, sisters, grandmothers---possess emasculating characteristics that make the white female lead more desirable by contrast. And in opposing the romance, these angry Black women bond the Black male character more closely to his white partner. Sigh.
But back to the more common white male/Black female structure of IR romance ... The magic Negro thing enters the equation when, as in the transformed racist trope, a white person, usually the guy learns to confront his racism as well as a host of other flaws, through the loving attention of a Black woman. She becomes in some ways a sexualized mammy, the vessel through which a white person becomes a whole and fully actualized human being, who is free from bias. What's especially icky about that for me, is the level of personal compromise that is required (but rarely ever discussed in this trope) for the Black woman to either want or accept a racist (or formerly racist, whatever that is) white partner.
I know some people reading this are pissed already, and probably view this blog as a screed against races mixing, or against folks who enjoy the swirl. I don't mean that at all ... I've written interracial couples in two of my books and am not opposed to it. But what I do wish we (speaking to Black writers now) could be more mindful of is that like everything else in America where people of different races are implicated, even romance novels can convey meaning and intention. Maybe it's worth stopping a moment to check in on our own meaning and intention, and simply asking: is my Black protagonist a magic Negro?