This is not about the accuracy of covers on books.
It’s not about blonde when the character is brunette, it’s not about the wrong length hair, or the wrong colour dress, it’s not even about thin for fat. Yes, that is another damaging representation, but that is another conversation, which only serves to derail this conversation.
The one about race and representation.
Sticking a white girl on the cover of a book about a brown girl is not merely inaccurate, it is part of a long history of marginalisaton and misrepresentation. Publishers don’t randomly pick white models. It happens within a context of racism.
Back in the late 1960s, Nichelle Nichols was asked by Martin Luther King to stay on Star Trek, even though she was sick of the boring, constrained part of Uhura. She was one of the few black faces on network TV. She was inspiring thousands of young black girls all over the USA, possibly the world. Nichols playing Uhura was changing lives and so he asked her to stay and she did.
I’m sure you can’t imagine what it’s like to wander through the teen section of a bookstore and only see one or two books with people of color on them. Do you know how much that hurts? Are we so worthless that the few books that do feature people of color don’t have covers with people of color? It’s upsetting, it makes me angry and it makes me sad. Can you imagine growing up as a little girl and wanting to be white because not only do you not see people who look like you on TV, you don’t see them in your favorite books either. You get discouraged and you want to be beautiful and be like the characters in the books you read and you start to believe that you can’t be that certain character because you don’t look like them. I love the books I grew up with, but none of them featured people of color. I found those later, when I was older and I started looking for them. 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.
That is what this is about: pervasive racism in every aspect of our world so that young kids grow up thinking they are inferior because they see so few reflections of themselves.
This is not merely about book covers.
- Journalists would do better to interview the people most adversely affected by whitewashed covers—readers like Ari of Reading in Color. [↩]
- Well, two. Stop blaming the author, Jaclyn Dolamore. This is her debut. Take it from me, she’d rather people were talking about her book than about her cover. Also I am very suspicious of this approach. It feels like derailing. “Let’s not talk about race, let’s talk about bad authors!” Hey, let’s not. [↩]