Back, then forward, then…

21Jan10


Bloomsbury, which put out the LIAR cover which substituted a white, fair-haired girl for the black, tomboyish protagonist, recently came under fire for doing basically the same thing all over again. This time the book is MAGIC UNDER GLASS, by Jaclyn Dolamore. The protagonist: brown-skinned. The girl on the cover: definitely not.

Bloomsbury has responded to the second round of outrage fairly quickly. The page for the book now has this notice: “Bloomsbury is ceasing to supply copies of the US edition of Magic Under Glass. The jacket design has caused offense and we apologize for our mistake. Copies of the book with a new jacket design will be available shortly.”

Which is great. It’s what they should do after-the-fact. But this shouldn’t be happening in the first place. This isn’t just a careless mistake, or the innocent result of the cover design being in the hands of those who haven’t necessarily read the book. Because it occurs in the context of inequality, and an industry in which the voices and stories of people of color, both fictional characters and flesh-and-blood authors, are already under-represented.

Ari of the blog Reading in Color wrote an open letter to Bloomsbury (and quite a bit else on the subject–which she rounds up in the latter half of this post). In her letter she says:

“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.”

This isn’t an issue of aesthetics or “accuracy.” It has real, profound consequences for all the anything-other-than-white young readers who look at the shelves and find that there’s no room for them there.

And while making a stink about these covers after the fact is important, and can result in appropriate action, there’s far more to be done. These mistakes need to be caught before they hit the shelves. Before they’re designed. And these rare stories and voices need to become a whole lot less rare–because before there can be representative covers, there need to be representative books.

It’s all been said before, and better, and by people whose voices are far more important than mine, but it remains important to say.

And once that new cover is issued, I’ll put my money where my mouth is.

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