Attention Bloomsbury: The World Is (Mostly) Not White

UPDATE (25 Jan 2010): Well, they’re changing the cover. But since the point of this post wasn’t just Magic Under Glass, but also about the problem of how it happened, I’m leaving the post as-is. The problem is not really isolated, just as the solution is already known — this World SF Blog post has a bigger discussion on covers and poor cover choices (as well as some good ones).

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Dear Bloomsbury,

You know what I’m emailing about, right? Yup. The cover of Jaclyn Dolamore’s Magic Under Glass.

I’m white. I’m a reader. I love books. I buy books. I pay good money for books.

I pay good money for books that are not about white people. I pay good money for books that have non-white characters depicted on the cover.

I don’t know whether it’s because of marketing concerns, or just plain ineptitude, that you seem to have developed a habit of depicting nonwhite characters in novels as if they are white.

If it is marketing concerns, wake up. This is not 1960 anymore. It’s time to do the ethical thing, and move forward. People will adapt, trust me, to the “shock” of seeing nonwhites featured in covers of books — just as they have adapted and heartily embraced the idea of nonwhites in film, for example — and you will be praised for doing the right thing. I promise: I’ll praise you if you stop doing this. Lots of people will. Right, folks?

And yes, there will be money there.

If it’s ineptitude, well, don’t you think a little more care and attention might be worthwhile? Just a little more? I mean… this is not a “dark-skinned” character, much less one who looks like she’s from “the Far East”:

magic_under_glassCome on, Bloomsbury, you can do better than that. Show us.

Sincerely,

Gord Sellar

And yes, it matters. Not just because I imagine I’m risking having a cover whitewashed some day too. It matters because when we see something wrong, we need to call people on it. That’s one of the things I really appreciate about Western culture, as compared to the East Asian cultures I’ve experienced: when we see someone behaving badly, we tend to call them on it, making it harder for them to persist in their assholery, and making it easier for everyone else to recognize that a behaviour is unacceptable.

So, if you think the whitewashing of nonwhite characters on Young Adult book covers ain’t cool — and who could actually think  it’s cool? — then go ahead and say something. Email or call ’em today:

175 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10010
Phone: 646-307-5151
Fax: 212-780-0115
[email protected]
[email protected]

Blog about it. Kick up a stink. Say something. Pressure them to do the right thing. The email I sent earlier today is this:

So, what’s with making nonwhite characters white on the covers of your books? First Liar, and now Magic Under Glass? It’s disappointing, it’s embarrassing, and it’s wrong. People go used to having nonwhite characters on movie screens pretty quickly, and now movie and TV promo images featuring  Denzel Washington, Wesley Snipes, Chris Rock, Lucy Liu, Daniel Dae Kim, and many other nonwhites are doing very well. Things being as they are, do you really think book readers are *less* sophisticated than Hollywood film audiences?

And if it’s truly sloppiness and not some racist agenda as some are claiming (and you’re making it easier for them to claim it with every instance, right?), then maybe you need to design a better protocol for book cover commissions? A form with blanks for character race, character sex, and so on? Surely this is a fixable problem. Living abroad as I do, where callous racism (and even unwitting bigotry among the well-meaning) is quite common in the media, and in daily life but where it is slowly improving, I have to say that it is fixable, and I hope you find the impetus within your organization to do the right thing… and keep doing it.

Come on, folks, I know you can do better than this!
Sincerely,
Gord Sellar

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