My Effort to End Whitewashing (the level-headed version)
Passionate discussions continually circulate on the web regarding young adult novels that have been whitewashed, the practice of using Caucasian models on the covers of books whose stories feature characters of color. Publishers get lamblasted. Boycotts get organized. Letters get written. Petitions get signed. And fortunately, authors get defended (because 99% of us have no control over our books’ covers). Two recent cases of public outrage (one author’s take ) resulted with new covers for the books in question, so yay to the people with the big voices (one of the best)!
But yet another kerfuffle has hit the world of young adult literature in the past week (the author’s take), and the internet outrage continues (a sample), but I cannot condemn the publisher in question this time because they did everything right with the hardcover. They published a book WRITTEN by a person of color that was ABOUT about a person of color that FEATURED a person of color on the cover. Three big thumbs up! But sales were disappointing. And the cover for the release of the sequel aims to reach new audiences who perhaps didn’t connect with the original cover, which was bold, brilliant and beautiful, in my opinion. But people are crying foul again, because the sequel features an ambiguous cover model who could be a person of color, and then again, maybe she’s not a person of color…it’s just vague enough.
But boycotts hurt authors who earn mostly meager wages for years worth of work. And as an author myself whose debut novel features a person of color on the cover, I am greatly appreciative of my publisher who also put my Laotian surname in big red letters across the middle of the book (I’m a white woman married to a Lao). But I am also greatly concerned and saddened that caucasians might look at my cover and say, “Nah. Those people don’t look like me so I’ll pass. Ooh, there’s a cover with a pretty white girl on it.”
And well-meaning people even suggest I market my novel in areas where the Laotian population is greater, but I gotta say, that population already knows the story about which I wrote. Most of them lived the story I wrote. And I feel quite depressed that my sales are also disappointing, despite my publisher doing the right thing. I don’t want my novel to be more fuel for the fiery argument that book covers featuring people of color don’t sell well. And when there’s an impression that these books don’t sell well, then bookstores don’t stock them. And when bookstores don’t stock them, the public doesn’t see them. And when the public doesn’t see them, people don’t buy them. And when people don’t buy them, publishers don’t publish them. Anybody dizzy yet?
So in this post, I want to make known my effort to end whitewashing. I’m buying books that get it right, because in capitalist America, money talks, and publishers and bookstores gotta make money to survive just like the rest of us. So here are my two most recent purchases of 2010 debut novels (Bleeding Violet by Dia Reeves and Tortilla Sun by Jennifer Cervantes): books not only about people of color, but books that proudly show a person of color on the cover. And if you think that children of all colors deserve to see themselves represented on the covers of books, then might you consider joining me? And if money’s tight, then pester your library for the book and CHECK IT OUT. That counts too! And please share your thoughts or tell us what POC books you’ve bought lately…
(EDITED TO ADD: For my angry version, click here. I’m really not a fan of name calling. Especially from anonymous editors.)