Race Uncovered

Interesting day today. The first thing I read was about covers and so was the last.

Steph Sue, in her review of The Immortal Rules by Julie Kagawa pointed out the whitewashing on the cover. Really? Still? The book is clearly about an Asian character, the cover is not. While the comments mentioned a dislike of the cover, none reacted to the whitewashing.

So much tip-toeing around racial issues, isn’t there? We carry our chips well.

As my day was winding down, I received an email that led me to Kate Hart’s recent post which enumerated the color of covers in YA.

I wonder how many white people who commented on these blogs will themselves include a book featuring a main character of color among their next book purchase or library check out? How many actually get that books written with Asian and Latino characters aren’t just written for Asian and Latino readers? That Ang Lee and Spike Lee don’t make movies just for Asians and Blacks and that it really is OK if white people watch BET?

I applaud Kate Hart’s presentation of just the facts, allowing readers to interpret on their own. Most simply chose to see Hart’s skill at crunching the numbers. Most, but not all. There are some very insightful comments to the post and a lot of really good information is shared. And it’s possible people just didn’t know what else to say. I get like that myself sometimes.

It’s disheartening to see the lack of ethnic representation on covers for two very distinct reasons. First someone thinks that putting people of color on a cover of a book will have a negative impact on sales. While book publishers continue the same marketing practices that they’ve had forever, America continues to brown! And, brown people do have babies. And, those babies do read! Not putting people of color on covers for this reason is simply racist by implying Black, Indian, Asian and Native faces aren’t good enough to sell books.

Second, the number of books with people of color on the covers derives from the fact that there simply aren’t enough books published that featuring teens of color! There are not enough books for libraries that service large numbers of teens of color to be able to fill their shelves with books for these teens who simply to want to read. And, there aren’t enough for white children, either!

White children need to have a wide selection of books available to them with teens of color so they can get a clue what the world really looks and feels like. The lives of teens of color need to be in print for validation to ALL teen readers. I really believe that all teens need to be able to get an idea of how to maneuver the world around them from what they read.

Like it or not, the world is changing. There are many YAs out there who are so sick and tired of this conversation. They truly have created a multicolored world for themselves yet, we give them books that don’t reflect this reality.

Unlike generations past, people of color today actually have the freedom to vote with their feet and their dollars so that they can work, buy and live where they and their money is accepted. These entrepreneurial folk are part of the new economy: they are self publishers who are controlling their stories while making a profit. When they cannot find dystopian stories, sci-fi, humor or spy novels that are trending with all white characters, they can write their own with characters that look like them!

We can continue to have conversations about who can tell the story, what should be on the cover or we can make ways to get authors of color published and get books with characters of color part of mainstream culture. We can quite hearing Native American, Latino, Asian American and Black children wonder when they’ll get to read more books with people like them.

I look for a global variety in the books that I read. I need a rich texture of reading that stretches my mind more than it validates my world. I want to grow readers who are confident enough in who they are to be able to accept others as they are. Books are a good starting point, a safe place for us to find ourselves and meet one another.





3 thoughts on “Race Uncovered

  1. Great post. As someone who teaches at a school that is 50% Latino I think about this every day. Where are the books by and about Latinos (and please, I’d love one that isn’t about gangs or Quincenearas!)? This is such an important topic


  2. Hi Helen,
    I think the powers that be don’t realize that Latino and Black students often don’t read because there is so little for them to relate to.


  3. It’s frustrating that the powers that be don’t get that. I know I’ve seen percentages on books bought by Latinos, Asians and African Americans, and it was a fairly good percentage. Same with movie ticket sales. (And also the percentage of women who buy movie tickets and books outnumbers men in both cases.) And yet the producers/publishers don’t see that there is a huge market that they could tap into if they would only stop catering almost exclusively to one section of the population.


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