The skeletal remains of this little book lay untouched for a decade on my computer. Like the ghostly memories of the personal and social histories that brought me to the academy, this manuscript hovered at the edges of my awareness and on my desktop for over a decade, at times a visceral reminder of the tyranny white supremacy can and does wield so thoroughly on Black, Brown, Asian, and Indigenous minds and bodies. The manuscript has resurfaced. Its scriptoral body marginally repaired with trembling muscles and a faintly beating heart because there are academic peers and friends who believed I had silenced my scholar’s voice long enough. In its original version, Race and Romance: Coloring the Past was nearly three hundred pages excluding notes — the type of monograph expected of someone seeking promotion to full professor. This is not that book, although it stands in fulfillment of a promise made. This is a messy book because of the personal and non-personal events that made it difficult to complete: white supremacy, COVID-19, the deaths of two siblings, the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives in the United States because of one white man’s narcissism, and, because it bears repeating, white supremacy. That Race and Romance came into existence amid all of this is a testament to the weight of a promise.
During the writing and re-writing of this book, I chose to shed the coat of “citational authority.” In the original manuscript, Chapter One had over eighty footnotes, a third were explanatory or served as justifications for assertions made in my analysis. In my first effort to “revise” the original manuscript, I left these discursive and citational footnotes intact. I also stopped working on the manuscript for a while. Once a draft was completed, I understood why I stopped. When I took on emerita status, I embraced the actual mode of writing I always wanted to do, romance fiction. Scholarly writing took away from that, even though my academic research feeds the world-building I undertake in my romance novels. Once I embarked on fiction writing, I realized that for much of my career in higher education I had held myself to a presumed standard of perfectionism that many white academics simply do not adhere to, or at least not in the same way.
At the time I entered the profession as a “Renaissance English Literature and Shakespearean” scholar, the number of Black Americans at the assistant professor level at R1 institutions was tiny. I recall walking into my first Shakespeare Association of America annual conference, and feeling a sense of relief when I spied two or three dark-skinned faces among the hundreds of white Shakespeareans in the room. With each successive conference, this scenario never really changed despite a small yet steady increase in the number of Black, Indigenous, Brown, and People of Color who embarked on the study of Shakespeare or early modern English culture. Even so, there is the struggle to publish, to have your scholarship respected or even acknowledged, to have your identity recognized (I will forever be Kim Hall as she will be me as I will be Joyce Green MacDonald as she will be me as Ayanna Thompson will be me as she will be Kim Hall). The lessons I learned from a number of my white Shakespeare and early modern peers is that you don’t see me as the person and subject Margo Hendricks; rather, I am one of a half dozen Black Shakespeareans who move among you unrecognizable as individual subjects not because of a political humanist belief in equality but because white supremacy are the glasses you wear and refuse to remove. What this experience taught me was that “looking” and “seeing” are two quite different epistemological operations.
It is the combined practice of looking and seeing that informs the narrative of Race and Romance: Coloring the Past. Except for Beverly Jenkins’s Forbidden and Indigo, all of the literary texts subject to my musing are early modern romances and ones that appear to center white characters. Appear, of course, being the operative term. What you can expect in reading this book is a set of musings on colorism and racism, on white passing and white presenting, on the romance genre, on Aphra Behn and Black romance author Beverly Jenkins, on Heliodorus’s Aethiopica and its literary descendants. This is a book I wanted to write in 2008 but couldn’t because I didn’t fully grasp the insidiousness of academic white supremacy until I retired. There will be critiques; some readers wishing I had gone deeper into analysis, others that I had played the “scholar’s part.” There are areas where I could perhaps have done far more citational homage but I do not have to write a book or article to maintain my status as an emerita professor. I also firmly believe that the generation of premodern critical race studies and critical indigenous studies scholars currently shaping the field have so much to teach me and others, I should not get in their way.
Finally, I am not certain this book would exist in its present form or even written had I not retired. However, without gentle nudges from Kim F. Hall, Ayanna Thompson, Arthur Little, Ambereen Dadabhoy, and Lehua Yim, I would be sitting comfortably agonizing over writing paranormal, historical, and contemporary romance novels that center Black women’s happily ever afters. Instead, I thank these amazing friends, the Folger Library, RaceB4Race, and ACMRS Press, especially Roy Rukkila and Geoffrey Way, for their encouragement. Whatever is problematic about this book is on me as this is the only single-author academic book I will write.