Media Consumers for Entertainment Equality
Over the past few months, Bloomsbury has been under scrutiny for using racebending tactics for the cover images of their young adult genre novels. What blogs across the web have been discovering, this practice is not uncommon. Various other publishers make the decision to whitewash characters of colour for the cover images of teenaged- and adolescent-themed books.
Editors have told me that their sales departments say black covers don’t sell. Sales reps have told me that many of their accounts won’t take books with black covers. Booksellers have told me that they can’t give away YAs with black covers. Authors have told me that their books with black covers are frequently not shelved in the same part of the library as other YA—they’re exiled to the Urban Fiction section—and many bookshops simply don’t stock them at all.
How welcome is a black teen going to feel in the YA section when all the covers are white? Why would she pick up Liar when it has a cover that so explicitly excludes her?”
— Ain’t That a Shame, justinelarbalestier.com [emphasis added]
It’s almost as though the publishers responsible for these decisions think that people of color are so shocking and distasteful that we have to hide them from casual view, and reveal their existence only to those who have already committed to spending money on the book and therefore aren’t likely to take it back.”
–RJ Anderson, commenting on Bookshelves of Doom
Lit blog Into the Wardrobe also noticed that Dragons Can be Whitewashed Too:
The Dragon and the Stars (DAW, May 2010) is a science fiction and fantasy anthology featuring Chinese writers from all over the world. The cover is of a Western dragon, not a Chinese dragon. Click here and here to read blog posts and comments about the cover.
Just how serious are publishing companies about ensuring that Caucasian models are the focal point of young adult lit covers? The blog The Ya Ya Yas did extensive research over the past recent years, to end at one unnerving conclusion: “it’s not as if it’s unusual for Asian-American characters to have their race obscured on book covers.”
Jacket Whys looked at a total of 775 young adult novels, and found that:
80% of them had people on them. A full 25% of all book covers had white girls pictured on them, and 10% had white boys. Only 2% of the titles I looked at had African American boys or girls pictured on the covers – a sad state of affairs.”
How much can publishing companies get away with this? With most publishing companies, authors have little to no say in the cover of their book, particularly for first-time published authors. Book covers are tied in with marketing – the more appealing the cover, the more units will sell. What sort of message is being sent to teenagers when publishing companies blatantly whitewash their covers in the name of financial gain?
As Blooomsbury has demonstrated (twice), your opinion can make a difference. If it wasn’t for people speaking out about Liar and Magic Under Glass, discussing it on their blogs and writing letters to the publishers, the changes would have never happened. If you find another case of a whitewashed cover:
Categories: Current Diversity Highlights, History and Concepts
Tags: american indian, asian, asian american, avatar the last airbender, Bloomsbury, book covers, books, boycott, controversy, film, inuit, literature, m night shyamalan, movie, native american, nickelodeon, paramount pictures, protest, the last airbender, whitewashing, yellowface, young adult