Race and book covers: why is there a white girl on the cover of this book about a black girl? -- UPDATED

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103 Responses to “Race and book covers: why is there a white girl on the cover of this book about a black girl? -- UPDATED”

  1. Rindan says:

    I’m sympathetic to the author, but I also understand the publisher’s point of view. I consider myself a pretty open and progressive guy, but in all honesty I would probably be inclined to subconciously not checking out the back of a book with a black character on the cover. It isn’t that I take offense to black characters. It is because I generally don’t like to read harrowing tails about battles against racism. I read enough of them in high school to last me one life time. Sadly, due to the abysmally low number of black American authors righting about things other than race relations, people (rationally) just assume that they are looking at another book on race relations and skip it if they are looking for something else. A solid 90% of the time they are probably right that a black person on the cover means harrowing tail of battle against racism.

    People probably shouldn’t be so quick to judge, but when browsing through a bookstore people are already making many snap judgments without much basis simply because they can’t read a thousand book backs in one sitting.

  2. Tdawwg says:

    It’s fascinating to me to see how the publisher’s using their own “exegesis” of the book to trump the author’s stated intentions:

    And yet, some readers—and Liar’s editor—are defending the cover, noting that Micah, the unreliable narrator, could have fibbed about her own appearance. “The entire premise of this book is about a compulsive liar,” said Melanie Cecka, publishing director of Bloomsbury Children’s Books USA and Walker Books for Young Readers, who worked on Liar. “Of all the things you’re going to choose to believe of her, you’re going to choose to believe she was telling the truth about race?”

    Whereas it seems clear that the narrator is black in the author’s mind. An odd moment, that, misusing the tools and language of literary criticism to defend an indefensible, race-based marketing decision.

    “Urban fiction” ghettos in bookstores also have the function of allowing readers of African-American fiction to find new authors, to shop by brand, etc.: the practice can be inclusive as well as exclusive. From my experience working in a Borders years ago, many customers don’t notice the ironies, they just want to find a good book.

  3. starbreiz says:

    Come to think of it, every book I can recall that I’ve read with a non-white main character has had cover art that wasn’t a photo or drawing of the main character. The Secret Life of Bees had a drawing of a window and a jar on the cover. And uhm, I can’t think of any others right now, but I’m sure someone else can.

  4. toxonix says:

    Surprise! The divide between whites and blacks exists in publishing too!
    Why on earth does the publisher need a photo of an actual person on the cover? It looks like stock photography. I personally wouldn’t pick up a book with a photo of any color person on the cover. I would assume it was based on a bad movie, or a bad movie was recently made based on the book, which vaulted it onto the bestsellers list despite its being complete crap.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Okay, having took Human Geography i’d just like to point out what race is- it is a social construct that has been proven false. im not saying that it doesn’t still affect our world today but the theory behind it is false, not that many people seem to care. what a lot of the posts-not all but some- seem to be referring to when talking about race is ethnicity which is semi simialar to nationality but more general, i cant remember exactly what the proper def. is.
    as for whether id pick up the book based on its cover or not id have to agree with the catch-22 that was brought up earlier- unless i had a rec for it/read a review about what its about id probably think it was about racism. tho the title is interesting and i pick up books based on the title too.

  6. zuzu says:

    Regardless, this comments thread is proof that the worst people on earth with which to have a discussion on race are often privileged white liberals, usually males. So many of them don’t have a fleeting concept of what racism actually looks like even though it surrounds them, and they stand so steadfast in their wrong-headed ideas. It’s impressive, and sadly predictable. ZUZU’s comments could be a case-study in this vein.

    ::emphasis added::

    Because the solution to stereotyping is more stereotyping??? That’s completely illogical.

    Racism depends on belief in “race” (i.e. racial identity, race consciousness, etc.). The entire concept of “race” is bogus. Without the concept of “race” there can be no race-based discrimination (i.e. racism).

    Why can’t we all be “generic”, regardless of skin color, or height, or weight, or hair color, or sexual organs?

    (More accurately, we’re all individuals! Stop trying to “identify” with anything except your name.)

    • Antinous / Moderator says:

      The entire concept of “race” is bogus. Without the concept of “race” there can be no race-based discrimination (i.e. racism). Why can’t we all be “generic”, regardless of skin color, or height, or weight, or hair color, or sexual organs?

      The point, which you are either unwilling or incapable of comprehending, is that you can only continue to live in your fantasy world because you are privileged to do so. If you were getting regularly smacked down due to your race, your reality orientation would promptly spike.

  7. ratcity says:

    Genetic differences between historically isolated groups of people do exist, but how we choose to group people into categories of “race” based on those distinctions is indeed arbitrary and artificial. Why use skin color and not eye color? Where exactly does one draw the line between African and Middle Eastern? Middle Eastern and Caucasian? Asian and Pacific Islander?

    Variation within populations is real, but “race” is as arbitrary a distinction as grouping people by height.

    Arbitrary and artificial distinctions are not intrinsically bad or meaningless. Your very examples prove the opposite point. Why did you say “African and Middle Eastern? Middle Eastern and Caucasian? Asian and Pacific Islander?” rather than “African and Pacific Islander? Middle Eastern and Asian? Caucasian and Pacific Islander?”

    Furthermore, beyond does race exist, let’s talk about whether it “should” exist. I have a serious problem with people saying race shouldn’t exist. I assume it’s not just black churches and historically black colleges you’d like to see disappear but St Patrick’s Day, Irish pubs, Asian-American studies programs, Chinatown, and Japantown?

    Race is not intrinsically a harmful concept. The fact that I choose to identify with my family does not isolate me from my common humanity with non family members. That a person chooses to travel to Ireland because their grandparents emigrated from there does not mean they are closing their mind or their heart to other nations, people, or stories.

  8. Teapunk says:

    “I’ve done some translations and I was quite surprised to find out in the backcover what the book was all about – I’m sure the author would be surprised, too.

    So you’ve seen some bad cover copy, or some copy for which you were not the primary audience. There’s a limit to how much you can infer from it.

    Back when I did freelance proofreading for Avon, I saw a few distinctly mediocre translations. Should I have arrived at conclusions beyond the ones that seemed evident to me, which was that those specific translators had done a lackluster job on those specific books? ”

    Seriously, was that meant as an insult, Theresa? Was that really necessary?
    I was writing about my experience and yes, I know writing good copy is quite difficult – that’s why you hardly ever see it, at least in Germany. Maybe I should have specified I’m talking about the german market, but everything being global nowadays, especially Random House, I thought it would be the same everywhere, more or less.

    I was ironic about copywriters not being allowed to read the book, of course I hope they read the book – but I also read the backcovers of “my” books and they more often than not go for something sensationalist which simply is not in the book – as a reader, I would be annoyed to find out the book was nothing like the backcover promised.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Sure, I’ll elaborate, but first I’ll say that I’m speaking from big-city, grit-life experience (NYC, Washington DC, New Orleans, and now Chicago), and also from extensive time spent in high-racist areas (namely Wisconsin & southeast, rural Appalachian-Ohio).

    Also, I believe that the vast majority of discrimination in the USA today is of the subconscious kind. That is, people don’t generally seek to purposefully exclude, suspect or otherwise NOT give black people the benefit of the doubt, but they do nonetheless.

    There are, of course, those for whom it is very conscious and purposeful, but I don’t think the publishing industry or the bookstore owners are examples of this. They are just people whose world is overwhelmingly premised on the dominance of white middle class/upper class culture, and it’s safest and easiest for them if it stays that way.

    So, when I wrote what you quoted back to me, Zuzu, I had in mind the simple idea that black youth are scary for most white people because white people generally assume blacks are ‘ghetto.’ I assume we can agree that the police aren’t the only ones who engage in racial profiling.

    Regardless of who these young black people are or may be, irrespective of what they’re doing or looking for in a store, they are (too) often considered potentially criminal. And while I don’t have any statistics to throw at you, I would venture to guess that they’re very likely to be followed by security, in any store.

    So, my thinking was this: the typical bookstore owner wants to be sure that his/her typical customer (ummm, a middle aged, middle class white person?) is _comfortable_ while shopping. That way they can browse and take their time looking for things to buy. Simply put, the very presence of black youth disturbs that white peace.

    Again, this is discrimination of the kind that will take radical changes to perception to eliminate. When black people are not assumed to be ‘ghetto’ (read ‘dangerous criminal’) until proven otherwise, maybe there will be black faces on book covers. (It would probably help too if more black youth were buying books!)

    Why else would the correlation between a black face on the cover and specific content be automatic? It’s a kind of profiling.

    I find it hilarious that someone wrote “can’t we all just be a generic person?” Or whatever that comment was. Of course! The generic IS white! Or rather, I should say, white culture has constructed generic to be equivalent to white.

    The impulse in this country has always been towards assimilation –to ANGLO whiteness. Only when we are truly a “minority majority” country will that have any real chance of changing.

    Lisa P.

  10. Brainspore says:

    @ Ratcity:

    I’m not saying race is an intrinsically harmful concept. I was just agreeing with the notion that at the end of the day, it’s still an artificial one. When people lose sight of that fact it can become harmful.

  11. Takuan says:

    I thought it was because the white people had all the money.

  12. Loren says:

    As a frequent buyer of books I understand this. As the original article says, covers are to a large degree about indicating what sort of story is in the book rather than the real content.

    Add me to the group that would be reluctant to buy a book featuring a black face on the cover because I would expect it to be focused on racial issues. Unfortunately, this is a catch-22 that probably will persist so long as race remains an issue.

  13. ratcity says:

    I wasn’t entirely clear. My first paragraph is responding to Brainspore. After that, not so much. The “you” in the second paragraph is in response to no one in particular but to proponents of the view that race shouldn’t exist.

  14. macbrak says:

    so which genius overlooked the option of not having any girl in the cover?

  15. Klink says:

    Don’t judge a book by its colour?

  16. Clayton says:

    I think Jewels Vern was trying to say, perhaps poorly, that for many/most white Americans, “white” is race neutral. It’s tough to argue otherwise.

    Regardless, this comments thread is proof that the worst people on earth with which to have a discussion on race are often privileged white liberals, usually males. So many of them don’t have a fleeting concept of what racism actually looks like even though it surrounds them, and they stand so steadfast in their wrong-headed ideas. It’s impressive, and sadly predictable. ZUZU’s comments could be a case-study in this vein.

  17. yamma99 says:

    I remember wanting to see the image of a character that looked like me on the cover of a book about teen issues. Of course issues with race are a part of life, but as a preteen and young adult it’s difficult to see few positive representations of people like you. A book cover seems so simple to some, but for adolescents it is a big deal. It even touches me to hear/know black doesn’t sell.

  18. Anonymous says:

    I am glad to see that the cover for Liar has been changed. At least now I won’t have to import the Australian version just to avoid supporting Bloomsbury. But I wonder if this one change makes any difference in the grand scheme of things, or whether publishers will still prefer not to have non-whites on front covers.

  19. Opspin says:

    I know of one bookstore that would have loved to have these books, because apparently they wouldn’t sell and the owner of the bookstore hated when people tried to buy books from him.

    I’m talking of course about the fantastic british sitcom Black Books (Piratebay link)

  20. Anonymous says:

    I wonder what the statistics are for race and reading.

    I mean, are publishers not able to sell books because black kids don’t read, or do black kids not read because publishers don’t sell black books?

    And what was the racial makeup of people who saw Akeelah And The Bee in the theater?

  21. Thad E Ginataom says:

    I’m confused. I’m a “white” man, living in a “brown” country, married to a “pale-brown” woman and sometimes I turn pink if I spend too long in the tropical sun. Yes, we all have “colours”

    Some years back I berated the staff of a trendy London bookshop for the shelf marked [i]Books by Women of Colour[/i] on the basis that such segregation of books was both racist and sexist. They just looked at me as if I was mad.

    Well, I guess I was right in one way and very wrong in another; I guess that the race and gender background of the authors of most of those books mattered.

    Even more years ago, I listened to a couple of black schoolgirls sitting near me on a London bus, discussing race and colour. One of them was adamant that it didn’t matter a toss, and that, in the end, intermarriage would turn the whole world pale brown.

  22. zuzu says:

    Of course issues with race are a part of life, but as a preteen and young adult it’s difficult to see few positive representations of people like you. A book cover seems so simple to some, but for adolescents it is a big deal.

    As a “preteen” / “young adult”, my biggest gripe was how patronizingly dumbed down the “young adult” genre is.

    Give me Dune, or Heinlein novels, anything with plot and intriguing concepts, instead of boring drama between characters who I couldn’t care less about. Even Catcher in the Rye and 1984 portray compelling and thought-provoking existentialism, so “plot” is not synonymous with “sci-fi”.

    The cover of a book wasn’t even a consideration, let alone a “big deal”. So I doubt that’s a universal claim.

    (I want to say that the cliche of “don’t judge a book by its cover” was imparted to me by Levar Burton on Reading Rainbow, along with being skeptical of arguments from authority, particularly on matters of personal taste: “you don’t have to take my word for it”. But I may have already heard and recognized that cliche as such elsewhere or before Reading Rainbow could.)

    Book covers, music album covers… rarely on occasion one is done so well that I’ll pause and admire it, but it never has anything to do with the content it’s attached to, and really it’s the content (text, music) that’s of interest. In other words, cover art seems to amount to an advertisement (like a party flyer).

  23. Ito Kagehisa says:

    I had this book memorized at one point:

    http://www.amazon.com/dp/0688104800

    Seems to have done all right, despite the cover.

  24. Teapunk says:

    I have long given up the looking at a cover and deciding whether I like it or not. Most covers have nothing whatsoever to do with the content, it’s more a weird contest of what is marketable than an illustration of what is in the book. Some are just plain wrong.

    But I must say I loathe backcover texts equally. Backcover texts are written by some marketing geniuses who are not allowed to read the book, because it is not marketable to talk about what is actually in the book. I’ve done some translations and I was quite surprised to find out in the backcover what the book was all about – I’m sure the author would be surprised, too.
    Writing (and translating) books is a wonderful thing to do, selling them apparently takes a lot of trickery.
    Using a white girl on a book about a black girl is just the cherry on a very ugly icecream.

  25. zuzu says:

    The point, which you are either unwilling or incapable of comprehending, is that you can only continue to live in your fantasy world because you are privileged to do so. If you were getting regularly smacked down due to your race, your reality orientation would promptly spike.

    Still doesn’t prove that race exists (or that you should identify with a “race”), just that some people are assholes.

  26. Teresa Nielsen Hayden says:

    Anonymous @87

    Ugh. This is the worst, and longest, pseudo-conversation about race I’ve seen.

    I take it you’re not on Live Journal.

  27. Gloria says:

    @17, 26: You’re not the only ones. I’ve never heard of “urban fiction” before as a section in a bookstore, or even as a genre.

    Re: this entire mess, I’m not entirely surprised, although it’s amusing that the publisher erred so blatantly. If any of you have ever looked over a rack of women’s magazines, you’ll be struck not only by the idiotic headlines, but the fact that 99% of the women featured on the covers are white.

    The only black women are featured on magazines marketed exclusively towards a black audience (and those aren’t sold at most regular grocery store check-out lines). The sole exception is Oprah.

    On the subject of YA covers, however, is anyone else sick of the bland, often blown-out, generic stock photography publishers slap onto YA covers, especially for books about New York prep schools and vampires? Or the crap line art that goes onto covers for chick lit?

    Where have the talented illustrators gone? Is it just because I was a huge fantasy reader as a teen that I got the benefit of interesting, *original* covers?

  28. laprofe63 says:

    Given that “race” doesn’t exist, as you have so correctly argued, presumably we can separate skin color from culture. Yet it’s still very difficult to disengage color from culture because the tradition of not doing so is so long and so deeply ingrained in our country’s history –though I agree with you that we should do everything possible to make that separation happen, and happen fast. We must redefine the word to mean nothing more than human.

    The physical characteritics that used to constitute “race” (and now can no longer do so) continue to be used to mark “other” from the dominant culture, which has always associated itself with both superiority and physical whiteness.

    That is precisely why a middle class black man (like Mr. Tyson) can be treated like just one more ghetto criminal, should circumstances arise that invite that. To answer your question, no. Today in the Unites States, Mr. Tyson, for all his accomplishments, degrees, etc. is not “generic.” And I would venture to guess that the average bookstore owner does not take him (or those like him) into consideration at all. It simply “does not compute.” I don’t know that they would necessarily attempt to make him feel uncomfortable, or unwelcome, he just doesn’t factor into their thinking. He is invisible.

    There are countless cases of middle and upper class black men in suits and ties that get treated the same way, as if they were not accomplished businessmen, lawyers, etc. Why? because our white culture (created, reproduced and distributed by people with white skin) resists accepting and acknowledging that not all black people are the same.

    BTW, I realized that was your post after I posted mine… and I have to argue against the utility of generic. Let us all be human first and foremost, but each of us purely individual and unique after that. Group identification beyond human is perhaps the true underlying problem.

  29. donalynm says:

    Perhaps we can start another thread to address Joefxd’s comment, “Funfact: YA is 60% softcore porn.”

    While debating the issue of black faces on book covers, it seems we can still deride the readership of YA novels in a different way.

  30. Apreche says:

    Why does an urban fiction section even exist? What’s urban fiction anyway?

    In japan, they categorize manga by target audience, shonen, shoujo, seinen, josei, etc.

    In the US we categorize books by content. If it’s a mystery story, it’s a mystery story. Granted, we also have to stratify the selection based on reading difficulty and age-appropriateness. But beyond that, all categorization should be genre-based. The fact that an urban fiction exists is in and of itself racist.

  31. Ito Kagehisa says:

    A touching essay about the Earthsee miniseries debacle. I think it’s been on BB before, sorry about the repeat.

    http://www.infinitematrix.net/faq/essays/noles.html

    I knew the miniseries would be awful the instant I saw a still from it. I had no idea what a horrible caricature of Le Guin’s work it would turn out to be.

    Makes me glad I publish like Vramin.

  32. Roach says:

    “The point, which you are either unwilling or incapable of comprehending, is that you can only continue to live in your fantasy world because you are privileged to do so. If you were getting regularly smacked down due to your race, your reality orientation would promptly spike.”

    Ironically, this is what is called the genetic fallacy.

  33. zuzu says:

    Lisa P.,

    They are just people whose world is overwhelmingly premised on the dominance of white middle class/upper class culture, and it’s safest and easiest for them if it stays that way.

    I think this revealed some information that is perhaps a source of confusion in the discussion. Are we again confusing “race” (i.e. classification by skin color, and other phenotypical traits) with culture?

    You also said,

    I had in mind the simple idea that black youth are scary for most white people because white people generally assume blacks are ‘ghetto.’

    and

    I find it hilarious that someone wrote “can’t we all just be a generic person?” Or whatever that comment was. Of course! The generic IS white!

    (That was my comment, btw.) Are we talking about the “generic” being “white” skin or “white” culture?

    Is Neil deGrasse Tyson “generic” in this sense? Do bookstores attempt to make him feel uncomfortable and unwelcome? (Setting aside the youth criteria.)

  34. zuzu says:

    Or just tell Skip Gates that race doesn’t exist, Zuzu: I’d like to hear about that one.

    Race doesn’t exist. But the cop was being racist.

    Don’t confuse the menu with the meal.

    Historically, people have also been burned to death as “witches”, but that doesn’t mean witchcraft is real.

    Yes, but while God isn’t real, religion is real, it has real power, and understanding the interests and mindset of the religious is the only way to deal with that power.

    Yet, I highly suspect that’s the reason it’s “sticky”. The more we “belabor the point”, the more legitimacy it takes on.

    (Better to dismiss the racists and the religious as nutters who are imagining things that don’t exist.)

    I agree with you that racism is odious and that race “shouldn’t” exist, but your attitude seems a bit reactionary and blinkered to race’s continued and paradoxical existence, and I don’t see how that’s going to help combat racism.

    Racism will exist as long as it’s validated by acknowledgement. As soon as we all stop referring to race in any capacity, it will cease to exist as a social construct. The solution is to stop acknowledging “race”.

    That’s the solution to the paradox. Anti-racism means eliminating the social construct of “race”.

    We know it’s bullshit; now we just have to act like it’s bullshit.

    I assume it’s not just black churches and historically black colleges you’d like to see disappear but St Patrick’s Day, Irish pubs, Asian-American studies programs, Chinatown, and Japantown?

    Looks like you’re confusing “race” with culture.

    “Race” is a pseudoscience correlating physical features with behaviors in individuals, for the purpose of prejudice (i.e. pre-judgment). (Cue Dave Chappelle’s joke about “the chicken!”)

    Culture is a social phenomenon, although often conflated with those aforementioned behaviors.

    Illustrating this are the colloquialisms of “oreos” and “bananas” — people who “act white” but are “black” or “asian” “on the outside”, respectively. Or, “wiggers” who “act black” but are “white” “on the outside”.

    Also, some people claim to be “anglophiles” or “sinophiles”, but they’re not interested in people who look “white” or “asian”. They’re interested in the respective cultures prominent in those regions.

    There’s only one human race (asserted primarily by biological capacity for interbreeding), but we have many different cultures.

  35. Anonymous says:

    Ugh. This is the worst, and longest, pseudo-conversation about race I’ve seen. It was painful to even skim through it.

    The publishers are a corporate force married to the status quo (of white privilege & money), as are the bookstore owners who say they “can’t give away” books with black people on the cover. (Now THAT’S a good one!)

    Do you honestly think these bookstore owners want black youth to feel comfortable or welcome in their store? HA! Let’s be real people.

  36. Takuan says:

    “The genetic fallacy is a fallacy of irrelevance where a conclusion is suggested based solely on something or someone’s origin rather than its current meaning or context. This overlooks any difference to be found in the present situation, typically transferring the positive or negative esteem from the earlier context.

    The fallacy therefore fails to assess the claim on its merit. The first criterion of a good argument is that the premises must have bearing on the truth or falsity of the claim in question.[1] Genetic accounts of an issue may be true, and they may help illuminate the reasons why the issue has assumed its present form, but they are irrelevant to its merits. [2]

    According to the Oxford Companion to Philosophy, the term originates in Morris Cohen and Ernest Nagel’s book Logic and Scientific Method.

    [edit] Examples

    From Attacking Faulty Reasoning by T. Edward Damer, Third Edition p. 36:
    “ “You’re not going to wear a wedding ring, are you? Don’t you know that the wedding ring originally symbolized ankle chains worn by women to prevent them from running away from their husbands? I would not have thought you would be a party to such a sexist practice.” There may be reasons why people may not wish to wear wedding rings, but it would be logically inappropriate for a couple to reject the notion of exchanging wedding rings on the sole grounds of its alleged sexist origins. ”

    From With Good Reason: An Introduction to Informal Fallacies by S. Morris Engel, Fifth Edition, pg. 196:
    “ America will never settle down; look at the rabble-rousers who founded it. ”

  37. Anonymous says:

    “Why is it always white people who claim that race doesn’t exist? Maybe because they’ve never been shaken down by the cops because of their race, followed around the mall by security because of their race, denied a job because of their race..”

    You’re completely wrong. No one on this thread has claimed that racism doesn’t exist. People are saying that the reasons people discriminate against other people are made-up, they aren’t saying that people don’t discriminate.

    I’m not sure exactly how you know which commenters are white either.

  38. Anonymous says:

    Not all books with black characters have to do with race. I am a white male, but I buy books, even when the main characters are female :) and regardless of their race. I can’t imagine that people would pass up a good book because a black person is on the cover nor that the average person reads only one book a year (Maybe 1 book a week?). I read Lilith’s Brood and Fledgling from Octavia Butler and she had a black person on both of the covers. Neither of those books have anything to do with Black/White relations. I also read all 4 Other Land books from Tad Williams, he didn’t have a picture of black people on his covers but the 2 main characters are black. Nor did those books have anything to do with Black/White relations. I think putting many races on various books would ensure that people would read them.

  39. shadowfirebird says:

    Here in the UK, we’re quite used to book covers not having *the slightest thing to do* with the text inside.

    It’s not as bad as it was, but fantasy books are still 50% likely to have “stock fantasy cover #1″ — guy without shirt waving sword above head on a hilltop.

    That said, I’m going to count the number of non-white faces I see on genre book covers next time I go into Waterstones. I’m guessing that I won’t be happy with the result.

  40. Anonymous says:

    This happened in Heinlein’s “Friday”, which annoyed me.

    It also happened in Octavia Butler’s “Dawn.”

    When it happens on the white guy’s book, its frustrating but doing that to a black author seems even more offensive.

  41. shawnhcorey says:

    Hey, the book is called Liar; its cover lies.

  42. CarolStrick says:

    The publishers are trying to SELL books. They’re trying to make money, not make a statement.

    Otoh, all this controversy is sure to sell a heckuva lot more books than originally planned. Perhaps the publisher should attach a metal sticker to the cover saying something like: “This cover is a lie!” That would catch even more people’s attention.

    Good luck to the author!

  43. Krisjohn says:

    In the Alien vs Predator comic, the human that hunts with the Predators and gets the hunter’s mark on her face is Japanese.

    In the Alien vs Predator movie she’s black.

    In the AvP Horrorclix miniatures game (based on the movie), this is what she looks like: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/image/257850

  44. ratcity says:

    I never really “got” racism

    Why am I not surprised. Just because you have some sort of autism visual and otherwise regarding race doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. There’s this segment of the nerd community in particular that seems to believe if it isn’t reducible to physics then it isn’t there. That our messy human concepts are ontologically invalid despite the plain evidence of everyday existence.

    This is willfully ignorant.

    Just to spell out the obvious, the visual signifiers or race are not simply skin tone. The woman on the cover doesn’t look black. She could be black, certainly, but she doesn’t look black. I don’t look black, even though my father is black. I’m half-black, or black, or white, depending on the resolution of the latest “stoopid” quarrel.

    I find it hard to believe an illustrator, even a color blind one, could be so blind to the non-color variations in human appearance and their correlates.

  45. Thad E Ginataom says:

    people of colour — I hate that clumsy, mangled-english expression. What’s wrong with “coloured”.

    OK… I know what’s supposed to be wrong with “coloured”. Its to do with stuff that once happened in South Africa. Once happened.

    So lets reclaim it. There is nothing disrespectful or nasty or demeaning in the word “coloured” — any more than there is in the word black (or should we talk about “people of dark pigment”?)

    The word “coloured” is not a shameful word. Let’s use it.

  46. confluence says:

    I like the suggestion (in the linked post’s comments) for making variant bookjackets.

    It would be nice if someone could do it on a larger scale, and publicise and distribute them online — it would give the issue more exposure.

    If they could legally be printed and sold by a third party, the purchases could provide some hard numbers on how many people currently care enough to spend money in support of the issue, and the author could give the effort her public blessing without repercussions. I suspect, however, that that would violate the publisher’s copyright.

  47. Anonymous says:

    i’ve designed a few kids and YA covers myself- most publishers are fine with whatever I come up with, which is usually a mixed crowd of kids of many ethnicities (my white characters are pretty much a minority at this point!) i’ve had a few books come across that were so white they’d disappear in snow, but i managed to work some multi-cultural business in (and they changed the manuscript for me! wow!!). i’ve had an editor comment here and there that they appreciate the mixed crowds, so they keep coming. who hangs out with all white kids anymore anyway?

    gloria: i’m trying, i’m trying! :) please keep in mind us poor artists- the cover ideas aren’t always ours, the deadlines are usually tight, budgets are low, and despite our best intentions a cover can backfire.
    HOWEVER! if you enjoy well-illustrated books! please note the illustrators name, call up that publisher and let them know you LURF the art!! more and more books are falling to stock photography, and the more help we can get for illustration the more beautiful books we’ll hopefully be able to produce :)

  48. Brainspore says:

    The word “coloured” is not a shameful word. Let’s use it.

    “Colored” and “People of Color” both bug me not because they are inherently offensive, but because everyone’s skin is SOME color.

  49. zuzu says:

    people of colour — I hate that clumsy, mangled-english expression. What’s wrong with “coloured”.

    Are “white” people uncolored? What if they go tanning; do they become “colored” (or “people of color”)?

    …this is what I’m talking about; stop spreading this nonsense, if you want racism to finally end.

    • Antinous / Moderator says:

      Why is it always white people who claim that race doesn’t exist? Maybe because they’ve never been shaken down by the cops because of their race, followed around the mall by security because of their race, denied a job because of their race. Clinging to your privileges by denying that they exist is both vile and dishonest.

      Lucky you. You were born into the dominant race and have slid through life on that. Pretending that your life experience applies to people of other races is profoundly self-centered. You are the problem. You. You are the core group that keeps racism alive by denying its existence, and worse, by pretending that people of color are the ones who are responsible for racism.

  50. ndollak says:

    I never really “got” racism, or even how people arrive at these labels of “black” and “white.” As a person with partial color-blindness, everyone’s skin looks gray. As an illustrator, I know that all skin color is brown (with the components mixed in different proportions for lighter or darker shades). As an armchair biologist, I know that “race” is a highly variable cultural construct and not a valid taxonomic classification. (How variable? I was looking through some old papers we received after Grandma died, and found an official form – some sort of registration card used my a local municipality – from the 1930s or 40s in which Grandpa’s “race” was listed as “Italian.” Hitler seemed to “think” that Judaism was a “race” rather than a religion.) And as an observer of human nature, I’ve heard the stoopidest, most prolonged quarrels break out about who’s “white,” who’s “black,” who’s “mixed” and in exactly what ratio.

    I can’t tell by looking at the B/W photo on the cover exactly what the problem is. I’ve seen people labeled as “black” who have straight hair (either naturally or artificially). I see a girl’s face with her hair pulled down to cover her mouth, leaving only her eyes & nose showing. And since it’s a B/W photo, I can be pretty sure that, despite my color-blindness, it looks the same to most others as it does to me. I think what’s happening is that, in the absence of sufficient or coherent information, our brains are “filling in the blanks” to try to make sense of it all. Since I’m aware of the fact that a B/W photo – or even a color photo – does not necessarily contain enough information to reveal the true colors of everything, I do not attempt to guess at it. (Same thing with trying to guess what someone said if someone else talked over them; I know that I will very likely guess wrong.)

    In the 1950s, actor Sidney Poitier (African-American) starred in a live TV broadcast of a play. The actress who played his character’s wife was also African-American, but her skin was lighter in tone. Since it was broadcast in B/W, a lot of viewers thought she was “white,” and some knuckleheads thought this was something to complain about. The network had to issue a formal explanation to settle things down afterward!

    In the immortal words of Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi: “Your eyes can deceive you, Luke. Don’t trust them.”

  51. Anonymous says:

    I’m not shocked that many people, in this day and age, refuse to NOT judge a book by its cover. Already, the perseption here is that books written by Af. Americans, or that involve Af. Americans have to do with racism.

    I read a variety of books, regardless of the cover. I (catch this) “read” the back of the book. If none is provided, I may even read a few pages of the book. In doing this, I have discovered wonderful books in all genres, from all time periods. Imagine if I’d looked at the cover of a book and decided the entire contents of the book, based on the race of the author on front! Imagine if someone did this to you. Can anyone know EVERYthing about you from what you look like?

    You may be surprised that Af. American fiction (YA and Adult) can be refreshingly new, vibrant, enlightening, surprising…take your pick.

  52. Anonymous says:

    Aunt Jemima is black and we still buy it.

  53. Mr Brown says:

    …there were books he wanted to read and others he absolutely had to own, the ones that gesture in special ways, that have a rareness or daring, a charge of heat that stains the air around them.

    Don DeLillo, Mao II

    This is a double-plus good way to find new authors.

  54. zuzu says:

    Why am I not surprised. Just because you have some sort of autism visual and otherwise regarding race doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. There’s this segment of the nerd community in particular that seems to believe if it isn’t reducible to physics then it isn’t there. That our messy human concepts are ontologically invalid despite the plain evidence of everyday existence. This is willfully ignorant.

    Actually, I would argue that being racist (i.e. race conscious) is the willfully ignorant outlook.

    We’ve discovered something called genetics in the past half-century or so, and it proves that “race” is a bullshit social construction, like Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and God.

    Just because it’s a popular belief doesn’t mean it’s real. A majority of people in the USA believe in angels, heaven, hell, sin, and a soul, but none of those things actually exist. And neither does race.

    So you stop being ignorant and drop the whole concept of “race” already!

    Also, the post by RogerG @24 deserves a response.

    Why would she pick up Liar when it has a cover that so explicitly excludes her? so a book with a black girl on the cover excludes all whites?

    Especially considering that this is the suggested motive for the publishers in selecting cover art.

  55. Clemoh says:

    Ummm…. Irony?

  56. Jewels Vern says:

    I think that is a valid concern. White people do not consider themselves to be white people, they consider themselves to be generic people. If you write a story about yellow people, or red people, or brown people, or black people, that is obviously NOT a story about generic people.

    There once was a generic story about a fellow who happened to be black. It was called “Little Black Sambo”. When the negroes usurped the term they demanded that book be taken down. It was an insane demand because it was not a “black” story and it was not a negro story either. It was a story about a brave little Indian prince who outsmarted tigers. But nobody had the fortitude to tell the black community to flake off, so the book is no longer available.

    So we have this situation where generic people don’t care to read about black people, and the black people won’t support their own community, so the result is that a book with a black girl on the cover won’t sell at all.

    It is easy to understand why white (generic) people don’t want to bother with anything relating to the black community. The black lifestyle is hard to put up with, even for people who live that way all the time. It is not so easy to understand why the black people will not support their own community. Atlanta is a good example of a bad example. The population is mostly black, the mayor is black, etc, but you just never see black people at the opera or the ballet or the art studios or the zoo or even in the stores. They all stick to one section of town and social activities are limited to the number of people that can gather in a single room. The city is mostly black, but the life of the city is entirely white (generic).

    It’s no wonder that nobody wants to read a book about a black girl. They are right to put a white girl on the cover, assuming they want to sell a few copies.

  57. Grim Beefer says:

    This is ridiculous.

  58. joefxd says:

    I used to work in a bookstore, and while we did have an African American Fiction section, there were several “black” books in the Young Adult section, AfAmFic being for grown-ups. However, it is my experience that most, not all, but most, Young Adult books that focus on a character of African American descent (can you tell I’m walking on eggshells?) are books about racism and the like. Books featuring white kids could be about anything, love, sex (Funfact: YA is 60% softcore porn), adventure, comedy, drama, whatever. And I’d probably guess that when children are choosing between Twilight or Gossip Girl and (another) “Story About Girl Who Gets Mistreated Because of Her Skin Color”, well Edward and skanky débutantes will probably win.

    Maybe my perspective is skewed, I’ll admit I did no scientific fact checking on that, but racism isn’t a “fun” topic for most teenagers. If they have had problems with racism and reading books where characters come to grips with similar situations helps with that, more power to ‘em, but with almost every title featuring a black kid being about racism, one can see how that well can run dry after reading the same cookie cutter story a few times.

    In school, teachers tend to focus on books that “broaden horizons” or something to that extent. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always translate into “good” literature, often erring on the side of “child learns a lesson” instead. I had to read the same basic story several times over the course of my education to learn that, as it turns out, racists are assholes.

    The unfortunate side effect of this is:

    1. Most kids think books are boring. This is not their fault, and as easy as it is to blame TV or videogames, I’d wager it is the lackluster choice of books they are required to read year in and year out until they just don’t care anymore.

    2. Because they’ve read several books about race, which may have been interesting the first time, have grown boring over the years of dumbed-down, cookie-cutter stories to try to “broaden horizons” without having anything edgy enough to wake the PTA, its not a stretch for one to make to think that children could easily associate a book with a black kid on the cover with another dumbed-down, cookie-cutter story. In which case, Edward and the débutantes win out again.

    So as much as I want to call bullshit on having a white girl on the cover (they could have just as easily used straight text or a different, non-racial picture), I can see why publishers would be hesitant to have a black kid on the cover.

    Or maybe it’s almost three in the morning and I’m rambling. Who knows?

  59. Anonymous says:

    I was horrified to realize that I probably would pass on a book with a cover featuring a large portrait of a black girl, given no other information about it. Then I thought more and realized that I could say the same thing about a large portrait of a white girl. To me, a portrait cover of a young girl signals my most hated literary foe, the listless “coming of age” young adult novel aimed at girls.

    I was a precocious reader and was not introduced to many of these until they were below my reading level. The ones I remember were books I found insultingly simplistic. The characters were flat, the plots predictable, and the morals anvilicious. You could tell from their absence on the cover that there were not going to be any mitigating features, either, such as dragons or psychic powers or space ships.

    What’s worse, publishers seem to have decided that portraits of black characters should be code for books about racism. Apparently characters of color are not allowed to inhabit any other plot in bookcover land. Now, I’ve read some very moving books on the topic, but by combining these two aspects of secret cover language, a portrait that is both of a girl and of a black person would signal a shallow, boring book about racism aimed at teen girls.

    So this book sounds pretty cool. The premise is interesting and I would very much like to read it. It definitely does not sound like a cookie-cutter coming of age story. I sincerely hope the publisher changes the cover to a portrait of a black girl. Someone has to break the cycle of stupid, and I would be proud to own the book that does.

  60. Anonymous says:

    White people do not consider themselves to be white people, they consider themselves to be generic people.

    Where exactly did you get this insane idea?

    I am not “generic” and I feel insulted by you calling me that. I’m not joking.

  61. rogerg says:

    [quote]Why would she pick up Liar when it has a cover that so explicitly excludes her?[/quote]

    so a book with a black girl on the cover excludes all whites?

  62. Clumpy says:

    It bugs me when mainstream movies make every black character some jive-talking, lust-driven comic relief character whose primary reason for the film is to comment on everything around them.

    Reminds me of the movie studios overriding Orson Scott Card in his desire for a large number of nonwhite characters in the film version of “Ender’s Game” because whites might be “afraid” to go in such a movie:

    “I’ve been in the meetings. Here’s the conversation. “I think Andre Braugher would be perfect for this part. I think he’s the best actor around in this age group, and this part would show off his best stuff.”

    “No, no, out of the question.”

    “Why?”

    And here’s what it comes down to: Hollywood believes — and I’ve heard this even from blacks in the industry, working as executives and agents — that white audiences won’t go to movies starring blacks.”

  63. Teresa Nielsen Hayden says:

    Not the same kind of thing. Every book that hits the shelves is a new and unfamiliar product. Pancake syrup has been around forever, and while there are differences between brands, they’re basically the same product.

  64. Brainspore says:

    Jewels Vern:

    Designating your own race/culture/nationality as the “generic” or “default” position is pretty much the dictionary definition of close-minded xenophobia. If anything, brown skin should be considered the “generic” color for humanity since our shared ancestry comes from Africa.

    You’ll be happy to hear that you can still find Little Black Sambo on bookshelves, modern reprintings have simply changed the title character’s name since “Sambo” is used as an ethnic slur in some countries. I imagine the same thing would have happened if a 19th-century children’s classic had a title like “Sammy Spic” or “Chinee the Chink.”

  65. ratcity says:

    We’ve discovered something called genetics in the past half-century or so, and it proves that “race” is a bullshit social construction, like Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and God.

    If isn’t reducible to genetics it doesn’t exist? That’s your argument?

    When folks here won’t buy a book with black people on the cover, how do they manage that if race doesn’t even exist?

  66. Anonymous says:

    Joefxd – some interesting comments and I agree with you that they could easily have had a cover design that did not include a face.

    I suspect you’re also right about the association of a black kid on the cover being always connected to a racism story being a reason NOT to use a black kid on the cover.

    Sadly this is a self fulfilling prophecy. Until black kids appear on covers of all sorts of stories that association will be valid (note; valid doesn’t mean fair).

  67. Antinous / Moderator says:

    Or, stereotypes are more comfortable for the dominant group.

  68. echolocate chocolate says:

    I think Jewels Vern was trying to be ironic, although I am not sure what point he was trying to make. Perhaps he was just trolling to be “funny”.

  69. Anonymous says:

    In the SF field alone, Octavia Butler and Stephen Barnes have had whitewashed characters on the covers of their books. I imagine this happens in other fiction genres as well.

    Race is a historical fiction, but it is a fiction people will kill and die for. It also isn’t reducible to culture, since race is partially constructed through classification of body features, in both (pseudo)scientific and folk discourses (Can you run a comb through your hair?)

    Just because “race” is socially constructed, we cannot ignore it like the Easter Bunny. Or rather, we know the Easter Bunny is BS, but we keep buying the chocolate eggs anyway…

  70. Teresa Nielsen Hayden says:

    Book packaging and cover design is always fraught.

    I know of at least one author who moved to Tor from another SF publisher because that other house kept giving him covers that turned his black characters white.

    I’d compare these odd beliefs about whites not being comfortable buying books with blacks on the covers to the old belief that books with gay content didn’t sell. What changed that was the rise of gay bookstores. They sold a lot of books, thereby demonstrating the strength of the gay market. Suddenly (it seemed sudden), gay content in a book was not just allowable; it was a selling point.

    It would be nice if there were some way to make the same point about books with black characters, authors, and viewpoints. Unfortunately, anyone who tries to open a specialty bookstore these days is competing with Barnes & Noble.

    Joefxd @3, I agree with you from start to finish.

    Clumpy @4:

    And here’s what it comes down to: Hollywood believes — and I’ve heard this even from blacks in the industry, working as executives and agents — that white audiences won’t go to movies starring blacks.

    The line I’ve heard quoted is “Why does this character need to be black?” The assumption is that all characters are white unless the plot requires them to be some other color. The same question gets asked about gratuitously gay characters. It used to get asked about characters who were female or Jewish.

    Slywy @6, there’s no way the art director at a large publishing house can read all their books. The extent of their familiarity with a given book varies with the house, the art director, and the book in question.

    Symbolic art isn’t suitable for a lot of covers. In the meantime, we’re hardwired to notice human faces. They’ll always grab our attention.

    The cover isn’t there to illustrate the book; it’s there to advertise it. A cover is a small advertising poster. Its first job is to look attractive and interesting to chain buyers, bookstore owners, and other people in the distribution system who make important decisions about books. Its second job is to suggest what kind of book lurks behind it, and get the reader to pick it up and browse the text.

    I wouldn’t use a face on a cover, anyway,

    This is why publishers will authors cover input but not cover approval.

    since the model may not fit the reader’s conception of the character in the first place.

    That would be the conception of the character the reader picks up while they’re reading the book? By that time that happens, they’ve already bought it.

    Futbol1789 @7:

    People of colour?

    Yup. It’s the right term to use. This pattern affects books about orientals, hispanics, and all the other Persons of Brown.

    Rindan @11:

    I consider myself a pretty open and progressive guy, but in all honesty I would probably be inclined to subconciously not checking out the back of a book with a black character on the cover. It isn’t that I take offense to black characters. It is because I generally don’t like to read harrowing tales about battles against racism. I read enough of them in high school to last me one life time.

    First: nothing I’m going to say to you should be taken as blame or criticism. You’re talking honestly about your own reactions to book packaging. That’s very valuable input. Book covers are a weird symbolic language that’s constantly being renegotiated by readers and publishers. When it comes to judging covers, everyone has weird biases and selection methods.

    The “harrowing tale of battles against racism” problem is a subset of the “Why is this character black?” mindset. If the only books you’ve seen that advertised their black content were books about being black, you’re unlikely to pick up another one as recreational reading. We need more murder mysteries and fantasy romps that advertise the presence of black characters, so that books with black content won’t quite so automatically get lumped in with I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Native Son, Invisible Man, Their Eyes Were Watching God, Go Tell It on the Mountain, and other titles that are assigned reading in high school.

    The other force at work here is the general aversion to covers that whisper, “This book is good for you.” Readers may admire them and approve of them, but they seldom buy them; and any cover that reminds you of books you were made to read in high school is going to pick up a little of that “good for you” curse.

    Mcbrak @13:

    so which genius overlooked the option of not having any girl in the cover?

    One familiar with the sales records of similar books, most likely.

    Teapunk @16:

    Most covers have nothing whatsoever to do with the content, it’s more a weird contest of what is marketable than an illustration of what is in the book.

    Yes. Covers are mating signals, not illustrations.

    But I must say I loathe backcover texts equally. Backcover texts are written by some marketing geniuses who are not allowed to read the book,

    No. At most houses where I’ve worked, the primordial source of sales copy for a book (of which the cover copy is a subset) is the editor. Some houses, some books, the editor will have written the final copy that winds up on the printed cover. Sometimes that’s written by a copywriter who’s working from information supplied by the editor, and who may or may not have read the book. If they don’t read the book, the information they work from will still have originated with the editor.

    By the way, good cover copy is a bitch to write.

    I’ve never heard of marketers being forbidden to read their company’s books. Generally, it’s encouraged, if they have time.

    because it is not marketable to talk about what is actually in the book.

    Now, that’s just wrong. Good marketing is about the specific book. There’s a fair amount of art in the ways they talk about it.

    Almost all publishers give marketing some control of the cover package. They’d be silly not to.

    I’ve heard that some houses don’t require editors to supply in-depth descriptions of their books, or don’t reliably pass them on to the copywriters. That doesn’t mean publishing believes content isn’t marketable. It just means those houses have suboptimal processes for generating copy.

    (If publishing didn’t believe the individual content of individual books was marketable, they wouldn’t keep publishing new titles.)

    I’ve done some translations and I was quite surprised to find out in the backcover what the book was all about – I’m sure the author would be surprised, too.

    So you’ve seen some bad cover copy, or some copy for which you were not the primary audience. There’s a limit to how much you can infer from it.

    Back when I did freelance proofreading for Avon, I saw a few distinctly mediocre translations. Should I have arrived at conclusions beyond the ones that seemed evident to me, which was that those specific translators had done a lackluster job on those specific books?

    Apreche @17:

    Why does an urban fiction section even exist? What’s urban fiction anyway?

    “Urban” used as a marketing category means “black”. Urban fiction gets grouped together for the same reason that any other category does: so that people who are looking for it can find it, and to suggest to them that they might like authors and titles they hadn’t previously heard of.

    Category formation is an arcane science. There are always arguments about the precise distictions between one category and another, and which category a title is assigned to, but in general, categories help sales, and encourage readers to notice new books.

    The question is whether the urban fiction is in a pleasant, well-trafficked spot adjacent to the rest of the fiction, or whether it’s off in some obscure area toward the back.

    Shadowfirebird @18:

    Here in the UK, we’re quite used to book covers not having *the slightest thing to do* with the text inside.

    It’s not as bad as it was, but fantasy books are still 50% likely to have “stock fantasy cover #1″ — guy without shirt waving sword above head on a hilltop.

    Bear in mind that you’re a smaller market, and that stock art, and second-use art that originally appeared on other books, both cost less than bespoke cover paintings. I’m not excusing the lapses; just pointing out that there’s a lot of noise in the channels.

    Ndollak @22, vanishingly few readers are going to perceive the girl on that cover as non-white.

    Rogerg @24:

    so a book with a black girl on the cover excludes all whites?

    No. White is the unmarked state.

    Danieljhogan @25:

    On the other end of the scale was me, I independently published a novel, so I had total control over what was on the cover.

    Thus rendering the question moot, since you’re not going to get any bookstore distribution anyway.

    Motherreader @27:

    Another big problem is that the character is an unreliable narrator, a compulsive liar. This is the “reason” the publisher is giving about the cover. However, as the author says and the readers of the book are finding, if you assume that the character is lying about something as basic as her appearance, then the whole book begins to fall apart because there is no truth to hold onto.

    True. It’s not what I’d call a convincing excuse.

    Airshowfan @28:

    So you mean that people decide whether or not to buy a book based on what’s on the cover? I’m not being sarcastic.

    Yes, they do. Most readers’ decisions are influenced by book covers. It’s why publishers put so much effort into them.

    Strong recommendations from sources the reader trusts have even more influence, but there’s not a lot the publishers can do about that, aside from doing their best to publish good books.

    Tdawwg @31:

    From my experience working in a Borders years ago, many customers don’t notice the ironies, they just want to find a good book.

    That’s a great truth, applicable to many other times and circumstances.

    Gloria @37:

    On the subject of YA covers, however, is anyone else sick of the bland, often blown-out, generic stock photography publishers slap onto YA covers, especially for books about New York prep schools and vampires? Or the crap line art that goes onto covers for chick lit?

    As soon as those covers stop selling to those books’ intended audiences, the publishers will do something different.

    Where have the talented illustrators gone? Is it just because I was a huge fantasy reader as a teen that I got the benefit of interesting, *original* covers?

    Those covers also sold to the books’ target audience.

    Ratcity @38, do you imagine you’re spreading light and understanding with that approach? Tone it down.

    Anonymous @39:

    …HOWEVER! if you enjoy well-illustrated books! please note the illustrators name, call up that publisher and let them know you LURF the art!!

    True! Publishers don’t get a lot of feedback. That kind of feedback carries disproportionate weight.

    Zuzu @41

    Actually, I would argue that being racist (i.e. race conscious) is the willfully ignorant outlook.

    Pretending that race doesn’t matter is a luxury that’s only available to whites. It’s a non-reality-based belief, but since you’re white, you won’t suffer as a result of believing it.

    Blacks, who are on the receiving end, know damned well that racism exists. Unlike you, they never get to relax and ignore it.

    We’ve discovered something called genetics in the past half-century or so, and it proves that “race” is a bullshit social construction, like Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and God.

    Wrong. If genetic discoveries made racism disappear, persons of color would have been the first to notice it. That’s not what they’re reporting from the field, and they unavoidably know more about the subject than you do.

    By the way, it’s a light-minded piece of trifling to compare racism to believing in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. Most little kids arrive at the truth on their own, and if they don’t, all it takes is one or two people telling them the facts. Racism isn’t nearly so easy to get rid of.

    Just because it’s a popular belief doesn’t mean it’s real.

    Dead wrong, and a major error in your reasoning. You have confused validity with existence. Beliefs belong to the same class as entities like thoughts, knowledge, and memories. You can’t just declare one of them unreal. Either they all have existence, or none of them do.

    (Correct answer: they all do.)

    Beliefs are intangible but real. They influence behavior, whether or not they match up with externally verifiable data.

    Suppose people believed that autistics were willfully crazy and ill-behaved, and that it was a waste of time to try to educate them. (They used to think that, you know.) While that belief would be incorrect, it would still have real existence. It would influence the behavior of those who believed it, prompting them to real actions which would have real effects on other people, particularly those with autism.

    A majority of people in the USA believe in angels, heaven, hell, sin, and a soul, but none of those things actually exist. And neither does race.

    Another error: you’ve confused race, a disproven genetic theory, with racism, a pervasive and intractable social problem. Racism has never had a scientific basis.

    You’re also continuing to confuse validity with existence. If one person demonstrating that some belief was incorrect was enough to automatically cause everyone to stop believing it, Snopes.com wouldn’t exist either. The site was still there last time I looked.

    So you stop being ignorant and drop the whole concept of “race” already!

    I’ve got a better idea: How about you stop being willfully ignorant, and pretending that racism doesn’t exist? It’s a real problem, and everybody knows it. All you’re saying is that it isn’t a problem for you.

    Tyler @47:

    Isn’t there another, non obvious solution.

    Artists like Chip Kid have a way of creating a visual dialogue and reference to a story without being blatant in their cover designs.

    If all cover designers were Chip Kid, it would be a different industry altogether.

    Zuzu again @56:

    Racism will exist as long as it’s validated by acknowledgement. As soon as we all stop referring to race in any capacity, it will cease to exist as a social construct. The solution is to stop acknowledging “race”.

    Wow. That’s the most useless prescription I’ve seen in a long time.

    You propose to stop acknowledging race, which is what you want to do anyway, because it makes things more comfortable for you. Some indeterminate number of other white people do the same, for what I suspect will be much the same reasons. This will have zero effect on racists and racism, for whom it’ll be business as usual. Meanwhile, blacks will still get nailed with all the bad effects of racism, but there’ll be no way to take action to alleviate those problems, because as a matter of policy, the existence of racism will no longer be acknowledged.

    You can deny the existence of external objective reality all you want, but it’ll still be out there.

  71. Sekino says:

    I’m always really disappointed to see the lack of creativity and care put into book covers. You’d think that publishers would allow more input from authors, mostly considering that the author took months (possibly years) crafting a story they care about.

    The image used for this cover is just another Istock image found here:http://www.istockphoto.com/stock-photo-4663276-pretty-girl-cold-toned-closeup-portrait.php. It’s even more ironic that they took the ‘time’ to desaturate the girl’s colours. I wonder how long it took the graphic designer to create this cover; maybe 20 minutes?

    Even though I’m sure the race marketing issue might have played a part, I still blame corporate laziness and the fact that books are increasignly treated as products by publishers, not as works of art and culture. I constantly run into totally different books with identical stock images as cover. It’s so tacky (I notice because I care about both books and good graphic design).

    This example is especially embarrassing, though.

  72. wendydgrantham says:

    This is indicative of a much larger problem, as many here have demonstrated. The reluctance of many white readers to peruse a book with a black girl on the cover because the presence of a black girl on the cover suggests that the book will be yet one more tale about racism is valid, unfortunately, but not because black writers don’t write about other topics. It is valid because these same publishers who complain that black books don’t sell won’t publish books by black authors that aren’t about race or racism. If a black author writes a book about memory, say, or about redemption, or writes in a manner that gives no indication of race, these same publishers complain that the don’t know how to market that kind of book. They can’t imagine who its target audience might be.
    The larger societal issue is that an experience conveyed by a black author through a black protagonist, even if that experience has nothing to do race, is not seen by the larger American audience as an experience of Everyman. Blacks, by and large, are not permitted to be seen as Everyman. Simply by having a leading black character, a book can be classified as a”Black book” and sent to the Black section, which can almost guarantee poor sales because those Blacks looking for a book on race aren’t looking for this book, and the larger audiences, because of where the book sits, will never see it.
    Publishers have created their own problem with this rigid and biased system of classification, and their reluctance to let well written books find their own audiences. Unfortunately, the same problems persist in the music and film industries for similar reasons.

  73. airshowfan says:

    #35:… proves that “race” is a bullshit social construction, like Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and God. Just because it’s a popular belief doesn’t mean it’s real.

    Yes, but while God isn’t real, religion is real, it has real power, and understanding the interests and mindset of the religious is the only way to deal with that power.

    Same for race. It’s not really real, but the constructs around it do exist and have an impact. For better or for worse, many people see their identity as strongly tied to the history and the cultural representation of a “race”, and that doesn’t just evaporate the moment you point out to them that race is made up.

    Or are you suggesting that all the religiously-driven wars will stop once you point out to them that they believe in fairy tales?

  74. Anonymous says:

    @rogerg exactly! Good point

    I like this quote from the 2nd article.

    “And yet, some readers—and Liar’s editor—are defending the cover, noting that Micah, the unreliable narrator, could have fibbed about her own appearance. “The entire premise of this book is about a compulsive liar,” said Melanie Cecka, publishing director of Bloomsbury Children’s Books USA and Walker Books for Young Readers, who worked on Liar. “Of all the things you’re going to choose to believe of her, you’re going to choose to believe she was telling the truth about race?””

  75. Baldhead says:

    the messed up part is the publisher just might be right.

    curious how much it costs to do an alternate cover, though. be a neat experiment. Same book, cover is face shot, different skin colour.

  76. danieljhogan says:

    I was on a panel at a convention this past fall (ConClave, I think) about authors and their cover art.

    It was really interesting–some had no say whatsoever on their cover, while others could make suggestions that may or may not be used, another was able to request a certain artist. On the other end of the scale was me, I independently published a novel, so I had total control over what was on the cover.

  77. Tdawwg says:

    Actually, I would argue that being racist (i.e. race conscious) is the willfully ignorant outlook.
    We’ve discovered something called genetics in the past half-century or so, and it proves that “race” is a bullshit social construction, like Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and God.
    Just because it’s a popular belief doesn’t mean it’s real. A majority of people in the USA believe in angels, heaven, hell, sin, and a soul, but none of those things actually exist. And neither does race.

    This is itself a willfully ignorant outlook: the pretense that socially constructed “truths,” because socially constructed, aren’t somehow “real,” that, lacking objective “proof,” they somehow “shouldn’t” or don’t exist or operate in the world. Well, they do: no “should” about it. Beliefs and how people act according to them exist, often in the face of incontrovertible evidence, proof, “shoulds,” etc. You’re confusing true, as in “factually valid,” with real.

    I agree with you that racism is odious and that race “shouldn’t” exist, but your attitude seems a bit reactionary and blinkered to race’s continued and paradoxical existence, and I don’t see how that’s going to help combat racism.

    Or just tell Skip Gates that race doesn’t exist, Zuzu: I’d like to hear about that one.

  78. SamSam says:

    Am I the only one who’s never heard of an “Urbam Fictuon” section of a bookstore? That’s terrible that books are segregated because of the color of the protagonist’s skin.

    Cory, will the next protagonist in your books be a non-white person, perhaps?

    @Ndollak:

    As a person with partial color-blindness, everyone’s skin looks gray.

    Really? I’m not disbelieving, but I’ve never heard of that. Most color blindness that I’ve ever heard of affects the ability to discriminate hues (red/green, blue/yellow, or even all hues), but that doesn’t affect the ability to distinguish value (how dark the color is). And surprising that one can be an illustrator coloring people’s skin tones without being able to see them.

  79. Loren says:

    Re: #40 (Anonymous)

    I have no problem with books by black people or books featuring black characters. It’s specifically blacks on the *COVER* that is an issue–because much of what appears on a cover is symbolic. Blacks on the cover are generally a symbol for the book being about race issues.

  80. Takuan says:

    race doesn’t exit. Ignorance and hatred sure do.

  81. Anonymous says:

    Bloomsbury has announced that they’re rejacketing the book: http://www.publishersweekly.com/article/CA6675065.html?nid=2788

  82. Tyler says:

    Isn’t there another, non obvious solution.

    Artists like Chip Kid have a way of creating a visual dialogue and reference to a story without being blatant in their cover designs. Certainly there are a number of talented graphic artists out there who specialize in covers, and I’m sure with the music industry being in the toilet, many of that industries most talented are available for such projects.

    Certainly artists like Samuel Bass’s poster for “The Man With the Golden Arm” didn’t blatantly speak of the movies theme (heroin addiction), but it does beautifully achieve a sense of imbalance and graphic beauty.

  83. slywy says:

    I don’t know about YA, but most cover art misses the mark in some way or other when it comes to what the book is actually about. Sometimes I’ve wondered if the art director read the book (I’ve heard that often all they have to go on is a synopsis of sorts). As for why they didn’t used some form of symbolic art, I’m sure they believe faces sell YA books — as long as they’re white.

    I wouldn’t use a face on a cover, anyway, since the model may not fit the reader’s conception of the character in the first place. In this case, really not fit the reader’s conception . . .

  84. futbol789 says:

    People of colour? from the original post. Is this 1972? She makes a great argument that publishing houses are at the least unfairly wary of minority selling points and the most outright racist in their assumptions regarding the composition of the population of readers in the US. More likely they got a synopsis, made a decision and proceeded without regard to the context of the story.

    But let’s remember that most people read one book a year. Just one. The fact that a book doesn’t sell may or may not be because readers are biased against minorities, or it may be because most books don’t sell at all.

    And minority centric books are consigned to “urban fiction” sections for the same reason that really great works of fiction are consigned to the science fiction section: because that’s where they’ll get the most standout attention. Or the same for adult works of fiction featuring young protagonists that are consigned to the YA section.

    That said, sorry she didn’t get the cover you wanted, that’s bullshit. I used to be staunchly a “coverist”. But I’m recovered now and assure I will not allow my self to be biased by the cover of a book. Which seems important and ironically relevant to social life. Someone should think up a handy expression to throw around so people don’t forget about this very obvious point.

    Or, more simply: ah ah see the latent racism inherent in the system. Help help I’m being repressed.

  85. FoetusNail says:

    That’s a great cover! They were probably very pleased with their work.

  86. Brainspore says:

    Even if the publisher is convinced that a photo of a black girl would kill sales there are a number of ways they could have avoided that problem without putting a white girl there instead. How about a racially neutral illustration? A more racially ambiguous model? A different cover design that didn’t show the girl’s face at all?

    This is not just a cowardly decision on the part of the publisher, it’s a remarkably stupid P.R. move.

  87. Jimlad says:

    I’m totally not qualified to comment on race-relations in the publishing industry, but I DO know that books/magazines with black or dark covers generally don’t sell as well as brighter covers. They’re not as eyecatching.

    So is the author commenting on black faces or black-the-colour on books? Either way, having a white girl on a book about a black girl is still marketing gone mad.

  88. MotherReader says:

    Two things about the cover from someone who has read the book. It’s not just that the protagonist is biracial, but that she describes herself – and it’s a plot point – as having short, nappy hair. Another big problem is that the character is an unreliable narrator, a compulsive liar. This is the “reason” the publisher is giving about the cover. However, as the author says and the readers of the book are finding, if you assume that the character is lying about something as basic as her appearance, then the whole book begins to fall apart because there is no truth to hold onto. The author is truly upset about this interpretation because it leaves her well-crafted and quite wonderful book far from her intentions. And not due to her negligence in writing, but in the publisher’s choice of cover. (As one commenter noted, if the character had been white would they have put a black girl on the cover to push the liar aspect? Um no.)

  89. bobk says:

    If only there were some kind of catchy phrase about not sizing up a book by just looking at it….

  90. airshowfan says:

    So you mean that people decide whether or not to buy a book based on what’s on the cover? I’m not being sarcastic. I have precious little time for recreational reading, so any book that makes it onto my “to read” pile has to be strongly recommended by people whose literary taste matches mine, or must have reviews that sound really interesting. Impulse-buying a book (which is the only situation where I can see the cover making a difference) is about as easy for me to imagine as impulse-buying an expensive car; “Hey, that looks kinda cool, I’ll take one”. (The exception to this are books where the images are a big part of the content, such as books about art, architecture, automotive history, aviation etc. (Why did all of those start with “A”?). I have impulse-bought those, but that’s because flipping through them was enough for me to see that they had an exceptional collection of images to illustrate what they talk about).

    And I would think that this (relying on recommendations, reviews, and other info about the content… not the cover!) should also apply to people who only read one book per year, even more so than to people who (like me) read about 10.

  91. Tdawwg says:

    Indeed, Takuan, race doesn’t, won’t, refuses to “exit.” It just won’t go away, which is quite amazing, given that it’s a socially constructed fiction.

  92. buddy66 says:

    A book with a black girl and a white guy on the cover will really sell.

  93. nutbastard says:

    “Why would she pick up Liar when it has a cover that so explicitly excludes her? ”

    uh, what? do covers with black people on them ‘explicitly exclude’ me? i dont think so. these are stories about people. i’m a person.

    i too am annoyed at the misleading nature of this cover, but to say that it’s exclusionary is assuming that black people are all biased against whites, and vice versa.

  94. zuzu says:

    Do you honestly think these bookstore owners want black youth to feel comfortable or welcome in their store? HA! Let’s be real people.

    This seems to imply that the default position for most bookstores is to racially discriminate against black youth shopping there.

    Care to elaborate on how exactly that’s conducted?

  95. Anonymous says:

    for a book named ‘Liar’ it may be an ironic lie to show a white face instead of a black one…?

  96. Church says:

    Is it really so bad if a white girl picks up a book about a black girl without realizing it?

  97. Anonymous says:

    If we’re going to be differentiating between skin colour and culture in order to deny the existence of race (in the colloquial and vernacular sense) then maybe we should establish the relationship between them. (It may also be helpful to limit the scope to North America.)

    I think we can all agree that white culture assumes (prefers?) its constituents be white skinned people. Anybody who disagrees with this is not part of white culture, even if they have white skin. Furthermore, white culture assumes itself to be the generic culture, with its white skinned constituents being the generic humans.

    In this culture, the only way to be White is to adhere to white culture, be white skinned, and acknowledge that there is (or should be) a White race that is distinct from “other” races.

    These “other” races are not generic, not normal, and sometimes not desired. People who market and sell products would prefer not to have “other” consumers so long as they don’t lose any White consumers, even if this results in a net loss. Making “others” feel unwelcome on an individual and subconscious level thus becomes a valid marketing tactic.

    But there is another side to this same coin. When courting “other” consumers it is made clear that the product is not intended for generic people, and that generic White people should not want to be consumers of this product. Urban fiction sections result because of this. The only time White and “other” would collide in the marketing of a product is when the product is ABOUT the collision of White and “other” somehow. The catch-22 mentioned above results from this (a book meant for generic audiences will feature “others” because it is about racism).

    For the purposes of this discussion, it would be nice to define Black people as well, but that seems much more difficult. The “one drop rule” is such a central part to black culture that Mariah Carey can be considered black or mixed but not White despite cultural and phenotypical evidence.

  98. Anonymous says:

    This is the reason that I have been trying to find a publisher for my book that will let me be involved in choosing my cover. As was stated most covers have NOTHING to do with the story, and yet I have been told that books are judged by their covers and you have 8 seconds to sell it. Isn’t that false advertising? That is why I have had an amazing local artist draw the cover of my book that beats most graphic design art and guess what…it has everything to do with the story.
    As far as the race issue goes…we are all a blend of differnt races, no one is strictly 1 nationality. No one has the right to feel elevated over one race…we all have a drop of something, that is what makes us beautiful.

  99. Brainspore says:

    @ Tyler #45:

    That’s Saul Bass you’re thinking of, not Samuel. (Sorry, he’s one of my personal heroes and I need to make sure he gets his props.)

    @ Ratcity #40:

    Genetic differences between historically isolated groups of people do exist, but how we choose to group people into categories of “race” based on those distinctions is indeed arbitrary and artificial. Why use skin color and not eye color? Where exactly does one draw the line between African and Middle Eastern? Middle Eastern and Caucasian? Asian and Pacific Islander?

    Variation within populations is real, but “race” is as arbitrary a distinction as grouping people by height.