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Pet Sins November 2004

Native American characters in paperback romances

I was passing through the romance paperback aisle in a supermarket when I noticed a couple of book covers with Native American man/white woman couples. I didn't stop to think of it at that time but later it came to my mind that it wasn't the first time I've seen this pairing on paperback romance book covers. Then the next thing that came to my mind was "Why aren't there any paperback romances with black man/white woman, Asian man/white woman or Latino man/white woman couples on the cover?"

I dunno. Maybe I just haven't seen them. I kinda understand why there are no Native American women/any-kind-of-man romance book covers, or any-woman-of-color/any-man romance book covers - the romance paperbook aisle in supermarkets is mostly targeting a white female audience. But why aren't there white woman/any-man-of-color-other-than-Native American book covers?

I suspect maybe because Native Americans are too small a proportion of the population for white men to find threatening - the Native American population is the smallest minority population. White men may not like to see black or Latino or Asian man/white woman images on romance book covers cos' it is uncomfortably close to what may happen in real life? Or maybe the Native American occupies a special romanticized spot in the white American imagination?

So the next time I passed the aisle, I picked up one of those Native American man/white woman romances titled "Savage Destiny". I don't know about the choice of title... you know what I'm saying. Then I read the blurb on the back. So it turns out that the hero of the story is not a full Indian, but the son of a wealthy white Louisiana planter and an Indian woman. The boy was raised white, and married the heroine - a white woman. But the picture in the back of the book shows them both in Indian garb, riding bareback among teepees. Kind of like an exotic vacation for the white woman - experiencing another culture without really being part of it? Her only tenuous link to Indian culture is her husband, whom, the blurb said, was raised white. Since then, I've found a number of other titles which also feature a white-Native American mixed race hero paired with a white woman.

The romance novel hero's mixed background also reminds me of some lines from the movie "The Business of Fancy Dancing", written by acclaimed Native American author Sherman Alexie. In one scene, a Native American man talks sarcastically about "How to write the great Native American novel". The Indian woman must fall in love with a white man, he says. If she falls in love with an Indian, he must be a half-breed, preferably one with a white father.

It is still not acceptable to show full-blooded men of color in the same romantic situations as white men.


Comment from 'JB'
The problem with the romance novels is obvious from the start. The cover art. It seems men from the northern plains (and practically ALL these romance novels are set in the northern plains) wear the same clothing all year 'round: A loin cloth and fringed leggings, sometimes even without the leggings. Let's look at the area we're talking about here: Temperatures swing from subzero to over 100 degrees Fahrenheit (40C). Would you go shirtless in the winter?

Also, the models are clearly not Indian. Most Plains Indians are ectomorphic, and definitely DON'T have blue eyes. The Southwestern tribes tend to be more mesomorphic and endomorphic. As for the "content" itself, and I use the term loosely, they're typically clueless about traditional gender roles, and indeed pretty much all other things traditional.

The worst, though, was Hanta Yo in the 70s. Though it didn't involve any interracial relationships, it described basically a society run by Ayn Rand's ideas.


Comment from 'JB'

I notice several things looking at the cover of Indian-themed romance novels:

1. The man looks like he spends too much time at the gym. Does that look like something a 19th-century Lakota would do?

2. He also looks like he's in his 30s, yet no previous or concurrent marriages are mentioned in the typical romance novel. In fact, modern Western concepts of kinship are generally superimposed onto an Indian backdrop.

3. And he's typically wearing only a loin cloth on the cover, with a snowy background. Does that seem like appropriate dress to you?

And that's just the cover.

Feb 05