Multicultural Romance Tropes: When Keeping It Real Goes Wrong

(This post first appeared in the September issue of the RWA-NYC newsletter, Keynotes.)

As with any subgenre, multicultural romance has developed a few tropes of its own, some good, some not so good. Often, the not so good is added for a sense of verisimilitude, which I respect, but when reality teeters into the land of cliché, reader cringing and/or throwing of books may occur.

Here are my least favorite multicultural tropes:

1.) The strong independent woman who doesn’t need a man. This trope is not my cup of tea in whatever subgenre it appears, but I find it especially irksome in Af-Am/interracial romance. It can become the sole cause of conflict between the hero and heroine. “I can’t date you because I want to get a college degree/get a promotion/start a business and a boyfriend will keep me from doing that.” Um, no. Plenty of people navigate relationships and a whole slew of other responsibilities on top of education/career.

2.) The character who speaks in dialect. Okay, so you’re writing a multicultural romance. You want your characters to seem real, and you once watched a show where an Asian character screamed “You pay now!” or a black guy said “It bes like that,” so maybe your character should say these things, too?

danger

Just as with the Scottish burr in Highland romances, use your multiethnic equivalents of “dinna fash” and “lass” sparingly.

3.) Our complexions are different, let’s discuss this while we’re boning. Now, I’m not going to divulge how I know this, but the color of someone’s skin, the texture of their hair, and the shape of their eyes should be the last thing you’re thinking of while getting it on if you’re doing things right. While of course you need to describe your characters, veer away from fetishizing them as they’re getting frisky.
These are all in fun—I’ve seen writers pull off each of these pet peeves. When dealing with any trope, knowing what has been done before and how to give it a fun fresh, take is key.

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