Sunday, January 17, 2010

More whitewashing, just in time for MLK Day...

Remember the Liar cover controversy?

Well, we've got another whitewashing instance on our hands and guess what? It's the same publisher!

Bloomsbury USA published the December debut Magic Under Glass with a white girl on the cover when the character in question is described as a dark-skinned girl from the Far East. Mmmhmmm.

The Book Smugglers brought this up in December,  Bookshop urges us to stop buying Bloomsbury titles, Editorial Anonymous writes an open letter to Bloomsbury, Reading in Color asks "Where is all the outrage?" (I suspect that it's about to be unleashed in a big way...). Bookish Blather says that bloggers "have an obligation to comment when a cover egregiously doesn't match the main character".

And while I agree with all that and Bloomsbury really should have learned their lesson, I can't help but think that this is still all a symptom. Why is Bloomsbury publishing this book with this cover? Because they think it will sell more copies.

We vote every day with our credit cards and we need to be the change we want to see*. So we should all keep that in mind the next time we're at the book store and the next time we're choosing which book to publicize on our blogs. I'm not any better than anyone else when it comes to promoting books by and about people of color, but it's time for a change.

* ETA (8:43pm) Let me clarify this - I'm not suggesting that we boycott a particular publisher or author. I hate that this controversy might adversely affect the sales of a debut author, especially since I know that oftentimes authors have little-to-no say about their covers. What I'm trying to say is that if we, as a community of readers, PURCHASE BOOKS by and about people of color, that is a surefire way to get publishers to publish books by and about people of color. We vote with our credit cards. I'm not urging you to vote against any particular titles, publishers, or book covers. I'm simply urging you to vote for books that feature people of color if you are, in fact, as outraged by this cover controversy as you claim to be.

(And yes, contacting the publisher may be an effective way to let them know you're outraged about this particular title, but until we are able to change publishers' ideas about what will sell, reacting on a book-by-book basis is only a bandaid.)  

Wondering where to start? Here are some blogs to add to your reader:

Reading in Color
Color Online
Black-Eyed Susan's
Paper Tigers
BrownGirl Speaks
The Happy Nappy Bookseller
The Brown Bookshelf

ETA (8:52pm) - And, AND the post at Jacket Whys reminded me that I don't even like this cover that much! To me, it looks like dozens of other teen fantasy books. I had seen reviews and talk about this title around and I hadn't bothered to find out more about it because it just didn't look interesting. If it had had a dark-skinned girl on the cover, you can bet I would have paid more attention. Especially because the story and book trailer actually sound pretty intriguing.

(Boy, am I filled with opinions tonight, or what?)


a. fortis said...

Great, Abby--THANK YOU for drawing attention to the fact that this is continuing to happen. As you said, it's critical for us all as readers and, especially, as book buyers, to demonstrate that this type of marketing ploy DOES NOT work. Especially in difficult economic times when publishers are struggling, and therefore probably doing their best to sell books in whatever ways seem to work, readers can show our opinions by "voting with our dollars." However, I DO worry that that will affect the author negatively--who most likely has little say over what appears on the cover of their book.

Angela Craft said...

Thanks for continuing the conversation, Abby, and for linking to my blog!

a. fortis - I think one potential way to vote with our dollars without hurting an author (hopefully) is to purposefully buy books that accurately portray characters of color on the cover - and then let the publisher know why you're supporting them and thanking them for not whitewashing.

La Coccinelle said...

Boycotting the publisher will really only hurt the author. If the book doesn't sell, the publisher won't necessarily know it's because people don't think the cover is appropriate. They might just think it's not people's cup of tea, and will hesitate to publish any more of that author's books.

Direct communication with the publisher is probably the best way to go about getting things changed. After all, this is a publisher issue... not an author issue. From what I've heard, authors have little to no say about the covers of their books; if they did, this wouldn't keep happening.

StableGranny said...

As an author I will tell you that the author has no say in the cover. And I would like to point out a different example of whitewashing ... Lee & Low has a writing contest every year and the guidelines state for an author of color... excuse me, I am a color... I'm white! But I was told that I could not enter. I'm sorry to be the bearer of bad news but whitewashing goes both ways.
I've not read Jaclyn Dolamore book but I do have it on my list to read.

Angie Frazier said...

One more voice here saying boycotting a publisher is not the answer to this unfortunate problem. Authors have very little say--if any at all--when it comes to covers. Not purchasing Jackie Dolamore's book, or other books from Bloomsbury, will definitely only hurt the author. Yes, contact the publisher. Yes, definitely protest and ask for covers that accurately portray the characters inside the about it, give the problem a voice, but don't boycott.

Is it possible to purchase the UK version instead? (I actually prefer that cover, though the shipping might be expensive).

susan said...

Okay, guys I hear you and I do say boycott the publisher. The publisher is going to pay attention to lost revenue. You all just agreed the dollar has power by telling readers to buy brown. Well, if you buy Magic, you're sending a conflicting message.

When black people stopped riding the bus, a lot of black families and their employers felt it in a real way. We stayed of the bus for over a year.

Change comes at price. Change hurts. If it doesn't hurt, Bloomsbury isn't going to change.

There are going to consumers who will buy the book. Some of them will be good-hearted like you here, not willing to 'hurt' the author. Wasn't she disrespected and out of the loop from the onset when she had no say so?

LaCoccinelle, I disagree, you don't buy and you write the publisher. If enough write and don't buy, Bloomsbury will know exactly why the book isn't selling.

Some of us know that most authors have no say so, but is this the time to cry "don't forget about me?" If you want to match wounds, let's talk about not only not getting POC on the cover of your book, let's talk about not getting published or not being promoted. How many POC titles do you regularly see reviewed on blogs or on the shelves in bookstores?

Some of us asked readers and bloggers during the LIAR controversy to blog brown. How many here have increased the number of POC reviews on your blogs? What's the last POC title you promoted?

I am more than outraged. I gave Bloomsbury a chance and they smacked me upside the head again. Well, I'm a grown woman and I don't take abuse lightly.

Protect the author by continuing to accept whitewashing. Buying the book and asking for change isn't going to get it done. When did being polite ever bring about radical change and radical change is what needs to happen.

StableGranny said...

Okay, Susan
I hear what you're saying but you address everything on your plate but what about Lee & Low are they going to be on that list too??
In truth, I wish every one saw people as rainbows... beautiful
and it takes all the colors to make it so.
Sorry if I started a fuss!

susan said...


I want people to see me as black and be ok with that. Colorblind is not a compliment in my view. Why is hard to embrace difference?

If Lee & Low is guilty of whitewashing point me to it. I'm not beholden to any publisher and I have read and enjoyed L&L books.

I think we need a single, unified campaign. Bloomsbury is a big house. When I was in school, you took out the meanest, biggest kid.

3T said...

I have to second your comment that this cover would NOT make me want to read this book (but it does want me to take a knife to those corset strings so the poor girl can breathe). With the popularity of books by authors like Mitali Perkins, with beautiful dark-skinned exotic girls on the covers, why do they still think we all want to read what looks like an Elizabethan bodice-ripper?

Anonymous said...

Great discussion and food for thought all over KidLit blog world. Thank you.

Marjorie said...

I am very saddened that this has happened again, especailly so soon after the Liar controversy seemed to have been resolved. It smacks of cynicism as wellas being behind the times. And a lack of joined up thinking. Did the cover illustrator actually read the book properly? How can the team of people it takes to publish a book be proud of the work they have done when they have not been true to the primary text, the book itself? I found it mind-boggling the fist time, but for it to happen again... This is very, very worrying. Obstinate color blindness.

Anonymous said...

I wrote a book of adult NONFICTION some years back for S&S. The protagonist, whose name was in the title, was an African American woman. The hardcover did not portray a human. On the cover of the paperback (Touchstone), however, they used a stock shot of a white woman. When I raised holy hell, the publisher Photoshopped the image to make it seem like that of an African American.

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