Shadows and Silhouettes: The Racial Politics of Category Romance

Publication year
Para.doxa: Studies in World Literary Genres

At first glance, Silhouette Desire romances seem about as de-racinated as a loaf of Wonder Bread, populated by heros and heroines that are, for the most part, white poster children for the American melting pot [...], these titles seem unencumbered by any kind of racial politics. My aim is to destabilize this notion, to examine how racially encoded language, trope, and ideology function in "white" category romance. I will look at the figural and symbolic uses of darkness in a popular Desire mini-series, B. J. James' Men of the Black Watch. As the mini-series title suggests, all of the heroes, none of whom would be described as Black or African American, are associated with various notions of "darkness," both in terms of their physical traits and the symbolic language that describes their moods, thoughts, and motives. The heroines, in comparison, are consistently represented as lighter and whiter than their counterparts. I will argue that these associations of heroes with darkness and heroines with whiteness are indeed connected to culturally current ideologies of race, ethnicity, and otherness in 20th century America, and propose that these chromatic associations are central to the way that white audiences make sense of and desire these texts. (324)