Yet another whitewashed book cover

Ari at Reading in Color blogs about the latest YA fantasy novel with a whitewashed cover. Yep, it's yet another instance of Bloomsbury US taking a novel with a dark-skinned protagonist and putting a white-looking model on the American cover.

This bit is particularly heartbreaking:

Do you know how sad I feel when my middle school age sister tells me she would rather read a book about a white teen than a person of color because "we aren't as pretty or interesting." She doesn't know the few books that do exist out there about people of color because publishing houses like yourself, don't put people of color on the covers. And my little brother doesn't even like to read, he wants to read about cool people who look like him, but he doesn't see those books in bookstores and now he rarely reads.

The book's author has indicated that Bloomsbury put together this cover before the controversy last summer over Justine's cover. (By the way, even aside from skin-color issues, I like Justine's revised US cover way better than the original.) So at least this may not be a case of Bloomsbury blatantly ignoring what one might hope they had learned during last summer's discussion.

But even so, they (and all the other publishers that do this) have had decades to learn this lesson. Le Guin once said: "I have fought many cover departments on this issue, and mostly lost." (Quoted in a Salon article, among many other places I've seen this.) Many others, both authors of color and white authors, have had the same experience. Authors—even those as well-known as Le Guin—rarely have any say in what their covers look like.

But I've been really pleased in recent years to see some changes in this area. Nalo Hopkinson gets people of color on her covers; so does Nnedi Okorafor; so do at least some of Tobias Buckell's books. Mary Anne's Bodies in Motion, of course (though there were other issues with that cover, and I think the situation is kinda different for Literary Fiction). And several other authors lately have had book covers showing people of color, or at least people who aren't blatantly white. I especially like the covers of the second and third of Le Guin's recent Annals of the Western Shore trilogy.

So I'm sad to see that despite such progress, the problem still hasn't gone away. It's 2010, people. Why are publishers still doing this?

Here are a few things to consider doing to help improve things:

  • Write to publishers when you see this problem. I agree with Justine that boycotting this book hurts the author (who, after all, wrote a book featuring a character of color) rather than the publisher; but as we saw with Justine's book, raising enough of a fuss can make a difference. Tell publishers that you object to whitewashed covers; tell them that you buy books with people of color on the covers.
  • Speaking of which: the more we buy books with people of color on the covers, the less power the old "nobody buys these books" excuse has.
  • Read books by and about people of color. For example, you could take the POC Reading Challenge.
  • Read relevant blogs, like Color Online and the abovelinked Reading in Color.
  • Join and support the Carl Brandon Society. Note that they give awards (including thousand-dollar cash prizes!) to works of speculative fiction by people of color, and to works about race and ethnicity. Nominate works for the prizes, and read the works that win (and the ones that get shortlisted). Oh, and they also have a wiki featuring reading lists and such.

Btw, Ari also has another good post listing a bunch of links to reviews and discussion of the new book, along with some further suggestions for things you can do to help. For example, she links to the Bloomsbury Kids contact page, which includes email and papermail addresses for the publisher.

[Added a couple days later: Bloomsbury has made a public statement that they're changing the cover! Super cool!]

4 Responses to “Yet another whitewashed book cover”

  1. Anonymous

    I was just wondering about this in regards to Justina Chen Headley’s North of Beautiful (Little, Brown). The product description clearly states the main character is Asian, and the girl on the cover is… not.

  2. tobias Buckell

    “at least some”

    Actually all, so far. He was just very tiny on the first book because the blimp was showcased 🙂

  3. Jed

    Anonymous: Interesting question. The author’s page says:

    From behind, you’d think Terra Cooper had it all: she’s tall but not too tall, has a figure to kill for, and boasts naturally blonde hair. But the palm-sized birthmark on her face might as well be her fate map. Everyone in her small, touristy town knows what’s hidden beneath the heavy makeup she’s worn since birth.

    And in an interview with the author, she says: “Terra started out as an Asian-American girl. But I realized that the story would be more profound if Terra embodied our society’s concept of beauty—tall, willowy, blond—except for her ‘flaw.'”

    So I think that the description you saw may have been outdated or in error. It looks like Headley’s other books may feature Asian-descended protagonists, and it looks like there’s a prominent Asian-American character in North of Beautiful, but I’m not seeing any indication that the protagonist of that book is Asian.

    Tobias: Cool! I couldn’t tell for sure from the cover images I saw online, and the Halo book appears to have a person in a space suit whose skin color is therefore hidden, and I was in too much of a rush to write you to ask for more info, so I figured I would hedge my bets with “at least some.” 🙂 Thanks for clarifying!

  4. Tobias Buckell

    Jed: np, good hedge. The Halo book is somewhat different, though it features a mixed crew, the power armor does take it all off the table, so ‘somewhat all’ would be actually more correct. All my original universe books have characters of color on the cover 🙂


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