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Chally is a student by day, a freelance writer by night, a scary, scary feminist all the time, and a voracious reader whenever she has a spare moment. She also blogs at Zero at the Bone. Full bio here.
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16 Responses

  1. liza
    liza February 7, 2010 at 2:21 pm |

    Thank you so much for bringing light to this. I have boys and their YA reading tastes lie elsewhere, so I had no idea this white-washing was going on.

    I do have one comment to make: I challenge you and other feminists who are bringing light to this to use the “M” words as in MONEY.

    Women of color are told time and time again that we don’t get CAPITAL INVESTMENTS, we don’t get FFEATURE FILM ROLES, we don’t get MILLION DOLLAR BOOK ADVANCEMENTS, etc etc because we are not bankable because since we are black/latino/asian we are not mainstream and therefore too niche to actually being a profit to the publisher.

    And yet the myth of not being “bankable” is perpetuated by moves like these. Damn if you do, damn if you don’t. Unless we look at another alternative: CONTRACTS.

    The rights and creative direction people sign away just to get a book published is ridiculous. Women, but especially FEMINISTS breaking into mainstream streams of money need to be defensive entrepreneurs. That’s a disccussion rarely taken on these matters: Why it is not only a bad decision to not have control of things like the cover of your book, but BAD FOR FEMINISM as a movement ;)

  2. Rebecca
    Rebecca February 7, 2010 at 3:51 pm |

    Also, while the UK and Australian covers don’t show white women as the US covers do, they still don’t show black women.

  3. Rebecca
    Rebecca February 7, 2010 at 4:52 pm |

    *rereads* …fail, self. They still don’t show WOC. (and looking again at the UK cover, yeah, she does look white…)

  4. Rebecca
    Rebecca February 7, 2010 at 5:14 pm |

    Sorry – I’m being stupid about this.

  5. Wednesday
    Wednesday February 7, 2010 at 5:27 pm |

    Thank you not just for bringing up the problematic cover of Magic Under Glass, but making it clear that there is a systemic problem regarding non-whites in YA lit covers. I think I’m going to be looking at book covers a lot more carefully now.

  6. silencewillnotprotectyou
    silencewillnotprotectyou February 7, 2010 at 5:43 pm |

    this is interesting. i guess i had never really thought about this before. maybe because when i was in high school we read books like “joy luck club” and “house on mango street” and “their eyes were watching God” and i loved every one of them. thank you for bringing this up. this is just another example of what i like to call “subliminal oppression.” our culture is full of it concerning sex, race and class (and other things). these things have worked their way into our culture to the extent that we don’t even recognize them as problems any more. we just continue on and accept it as normal and our attitudes are never challenged. its things like this that need to be brought to light. often, we’re too busy patting ourselves on the back for how “progressive” we’ve become that we don’t stop to admit how prejudiced we still are in so many ways.

  7. Anna
    Anna February 7, 2010 at 5:53 pm |

    I’m afraid I’ve been a bad commenter and not read all the links, but IIRC, one of the responses from Bloomsbury during the Liar controversy was “The character lies about everything else, what makes you think she’s telling the truth about her race!!!!!” (Paraphrased from memory.) It was so very facepalm, and fed into something that was going on in the Sci-Fi/Fantasy blogosphere called “RaceFail”, which Deepa’s “I didn’t dream of Dragons” was written partly in response to.

    That said, may I recommend this post as well for discussion: Karen Healey also has a YA book coming out this year, and she writes about Covers & Race from her perspective as a New Zealander writing about Maori culture.

    “My screams, they were heard from space.

    Here is the email I sent my editors after I had run up and down the stairs gibbering for a while.

    I hope you can put this diplomatically to the designer, but I’m going to be direct here, because it makes me very uncomfortable: there is absolutely no way you can put tā moko on an apparently-white girl’s face, especially with a pattern he just made up, and have that not be incredibly racist. Moko is something people earn the right to wear; women don’t traditionally get full-face tattoos; they’re traditional designs usually applied by someone who has trained in the art, conveying ancestry and achievements (not random patterns); and Pākehā desires to wear moko or “Māori-inspired” body art are controversial at best. That cover is really inappropriate.

    Then I clicked send and had an anxiety attack. Good times!”

  8. Kristen
    Kristen February 7, 2010 at 8:34 pm |

    Why would it surprise us that American books/publishers white wash books when American history is completely white washed and taught in our schools. This started with Columbus. Wow, he must have been shocked to find people on the land he just discovered. If a white person did not do it first did not matter because it did not count until a white person did??? This continued with discoveries in Egypt where they were so shocked to find royalty that was not white so they left the fact out. Another problem with publishers is the books for little girls that do not begin to show a strong little girl and what profession she wanted when she grew up, but instead tell her if she is a good white princes some guy will come along and take care of her. We need to educate our children and stop telling fairy tales. Little girls don’t have to grow up wanting to be taken care of but are brainwashed everyday to think that is what they want. Using an imagination is great, but lets use it in a way that promotes confidence and celebrates differences and stops sticking us all into a mold.

  9. a lawyer
    a lawyer February 8, 2010 at 12:55 am |

    This reminds me of the objections Ursula le Guin had to the portrayal of race in the TV miniseries based on her Earthsea novels.

  10. Mouse
    Mouse February 8, 2010 at 8:12 am |

    I do not believe that it was a ‘conscious creative decision’ by Bloomsburry to put a white skinned girl on the initial cover of Liar. In my experience, particularly with these racially based situations….there has always been a coincidental, cover-up excuse so in no way do I buy it.
    Thank you for being passionate about the subject and bringing it to us :)

  11. Orodemniades
    Orodemniades February 8, 2010 at 6:23 pm |

    I work in a bookstore and there are lots of books with non-white protagonists in the YA/Middle Grades sections. In fact, there are a lot of books out there who feature kids who are, y’know, brown and live in foreign countries. Some of them are pretty harsh, some of them are pretty funny.

    On the same subject, there are three sections of reading that really chap my ass: adoption, pregnancy, and parenting. When I was pregnant I did not actually see a single book with a non-white child on the cover…except in the Adoption section. Ain’t that grand? And a book on toddler and baby games (great ideas for when the brain runs dry)(and you’re stuck indoors with a not-quite-2-year old)(who isn’t speaking yet) I got last week? Has full color photos on each and every page. Filled with white children and parents. Oh, no, wait, there are two pages with Asian kids and parents. And then there’s that one page with the black kid and dad. No Latinos need apply, apparently.

    I despair, some days.

  12. Kezmoo
    Kezmoo February 8, 2010 at 7:57 pm |

    It’s issues like these that make me wonder whether the people who design these covers have even had a chance to read the books they are making covers for… There have been many books that I’ve looked at the cover and wondered “How does this relate to the story being told?”, and not just about the appearance of the character being portrayed.
    It’s not enough to just tell these designers the genre and a (very) basic synopsis… they need to be able to understand the subtleties.

  13. Robin
    Robin February 9, 2010 at 2:40 am |

    Haha, woops. I read that first title as “Magic Underclass,” and assumed it was a clever photoshop and that this post was going to be about the fetishization of disenfranchised groups in romance novels.

    But yeah, that whitewashing is messed up.

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