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Hey, Tillie Cole: Maybe Don’t Write Romance Novels About the KKK?

By Kayleigh Donaldson | Books | November 7, 2023 |

By Kayleigh Donaldson | Books | November 7, 2023 |


Over the past week, the romance community exploded after a series of TikToks brought attention to a novel centred on a hero who is a member of the KKK. Darkness Embraced by English best-selling author Tillie Cole is part of a series of dark romance novels focused on motorcycle gangs. This particular book was centred on Tanner Ayers, who the blurb described as being ‘the heir of the Texas Ku Klux Klan.’ His romantic partner is ‘Adelita Quintana, the daughter of the most brutal cartel boss in Mexico.’


Social media responded accordingly, with many noting the sheer tastelessness of romanticizing a literal white cloak-wearing Klansman.

After initially resisting pushback, Cole removed the book from sale and issued a weak apology, focusing more on thanking her fans for supporting her than the fact that she published a literal KKK romance novel.

I wish stuff like this surprised me but trends like this are dishearteningly common in romance. If someone in the romance world asks you about that time someone wrote a book where the hero was a Nazi, you have to respond, ‘which one?’ The genre has long had an issue of pushing racism under the guise of love. In 2021, the Vivian Awards, the romance world’s biggest honour, came under figure for giving one of its awards to a historical inspirational romance about a Confederate officer who participated in the massacre at Wounded Knee. In 2015, a finalist for the Best Inspirational Romance featured a Nazi concentration camp commandment falling for a Jewish prisoner, with both converting to Christianity as part of their happy-ever-after.

Dark romance is a thing, and it’s grown in popularity over the past couple of years in large part due to TikTok. The subgenre is typically categorized by its willingness to embrace taboos and delve into highly adult themes and kinks. Expect lots of BDSM, abduction fantasies, and wavering concepts of consent. Dark romance is all about embracing a less palatable kind of emotional catharsis and playing around with desires and ideas that more mainstream romance tends to shy away from. It’s not really my thing, personally, but I get the appeal. This genre, after all, is so potent because of its ability to delve into our innermost passions and explore that which we’re often told is wrong. Fiction has an important role in exploring everything that humanity has to offer.

But romanticizing straight-up Nazis and white supremacists isn’t the same thing. Not even close. Spinning sexualized narratives out of the long-established racist dominance of literal lynchers and genocidal maniacs is gross in a way that goes well beyond a mere book. Historically speaking, we’ve had to deal with a lot of cultural whitewashing of fascism, from The Birth of a Nation turning the Klan into virtuous heroes to recent revivals of Nazi imagery and rhetoric in hate movements being downplayed by the media at large. Whiteness loves to smudge out the past in the name of so-called nuance, insisting that not all slave-owners were bad people or that there must have been some ‘good’ Nazis in the concentration camps. There are plenty of white abolitionists and anti-fascists over the centuries they could celebrate, yet they always land on fetishizing inaccurate narratives where those who cracked the whip might have had a sweet side. This is how you get people writing romances about Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings, the woman he literally owned.

And this doesn’t even get into the trend in ‘inspirational’ Christian romances where Confederates, Nazi officers, and all manner of racists are ‘saved’ by love and Jesus in the end. I’m an atheist so it’s not my place to decide how religious salvation works, but the sheer optics of faith-based romance novels where men who fought in favour of slavery are positioned as the desirable romantic ideal in any form is ghoulish. When the Vivian committee faced backlash over At Love’s Command, their non-apology defined the inspirational romance genre as requiring ‘a redemptive arc as a genre convention. Essentially, the character can’t be redeemed by human means; only through their spiritual/religious awakening can they find redemption for their moral failings and or crimes against humanity.’ Reducing stories of faith down to ‘bad person must convert’ is bad enough, but this blanket justification for turning murderers, slave owners, and LITERAL NAZIS into heroes is especially insidious.

Romance is all about the happy-ever-after. It’s the guarantee that comes with the genre. Every story ends happily, with a kiss at the end or the promise of a loving future. That’s why we like romance. There’s hope in that. But frankly, some people don’t deserve it, and literal white supremacists are part of that. Fuck off. They do not get to have happy romance endings where they’re healed by a woman into not wanting to kill people of colour. This isn’t a kink or ‘dark romance’: this is white supremacy.

And plenty of people have rushed to Tillie Cole’s defence, insisting that she’s being punished by cancel culture scolds who just can’t take her dark romance prowess. Nope, piss off. There is literally no context where a Klansman can be a romantic hero. The KKK still exist. They’re still a powerful hate group that targets people of colour! In case you haven’t noticed, white supremacy is having kind of a moment thanks to Donald Trump and the alt-right. Who looks at that and thinks, ‘you know what, I bet a nice girl could fix those sweet boys’? Cole is British but that’s no excuse, and her non-apology where she pleads ignorance despite being a traditional and self-published best-selling author is embarrassing. Oh, you’re ‘always learning’? You’re a literal adult whose KKK fetish book can’t even be properly shared online without being labelled as hate speech. The time for your hand-holding lessons is well over.

Burn it all to the ground and start again.

Header Image Source: Book Thingo // Flickr (Creative Commons Licence)