Whitewashing Article

Tanita Davis, author of Mare’s War has a great article, “Reflected Faces“, up on Hunger Mountain: the VCFA Journal of the Arts. In it she says:

It still seems as if young people with brown skin are acceptable to ignore, at least in the marketing departments where the Powers That Be have determined that Brown doesn’t equal Buy… This may seem unimportant—at least young adults of color are included in contemporary YA literature. They’re IN the books, and so if the nonwhite characters don’t make it to the cover as often, at least there are nonwhite characters, right? Shouldn’t that be sufficient when Caucasians comprise two thirds of the American population?

I’m working on a post comparing POC coverage ten or twenty years ago, with today. It’s lots of background work, so stay tuned – it’ll be up sometime!

Oh, and here’s the other article in a section they’re calling “Flipside“, “Teens Do Judge a Book by the Cover” by Mitali Perkins (in the same issue of the same journal). She says:

Get most faces OFF the covers of young adult novels.

Hear, hear! (and see my next post)


7 Responses to “Whitewashing Article”

  1. Wow Linda. That is a really powerful article. It’s funny, I never noticed how much I am drawn to certain covers that have faces or characters on them, until I read a book, go back and look at the cover and think, huh…that’s not what she/he’s supposed to look like! I think that Mitali’s right and if we just eliminated that type of cover altogether it would get rid of those issues and really de-genderize (I think I made that term up! :)) reading and have more teen boys reading all types of books…not just the ones with explosions, etc. on the covers…

    • Jacket Whys Says:

      I think it’s partly the lack of artistry that really bothers me in all this. Take a look at Ian Shimkoviak’s work and you can see that he uses faces sometimes, but he’s creative in the way he places them, and what he surrounds them with.
      I think sometimes using a face interferes with your own mental pictures of the characters too. If I already know what the main character looks like – that’s what I take with me into the story. I’m not, necessarily, looking for textual opposition.
      I think de-genderize is a good word! Yeah, maybe boys might then think that books were for them too.

  2. I personally can’t stand faces as covers. First of all, it’s incredibly boring and unoriginal…I much prefer covers like Fallen and Beautiful Creatures. Second, I agree with the first post, the faces on the covers almost never match the descriptions in the book.
    I would love to see more original, artistic covers…

  3. Looking forward to your piece!

    I’ll admit that I prefer ensemble cast covers or no faces to the Spotlight A Single Female Character, With Flawless Skin And Nice Chest that YA novels usually get — but if we’ve got multirace faces on MG novels, why does that seem to stop entirely in YA?

    • Jacket Whys Says:

      I think it may be a while until I’ve compiled enough to have something to say, and I don’t want to stop posting in the meantime. But I promise I’ll be working on it!
      Definitely agree with you about the Spotlight. And I think it’s time we got some of the variety we see in adult covers. Seems like too much faith has been rendered to a standard that hasn’t been proven (that teens, or more particularly, teen girls, want to see face after face after face, with little change from book to book, no matter the subject). I think all of us second guess what works with teens (me included).
      I once attended a BBYA session at ALA, the one where teens come and give their assessments of books that are up for the list. It was amazing. And they didn’t say the things I would have guessed, about the book covers. They didn’t like things I liked and they liked things I didn’t like – but there was no sameness, no predictability, in their assessments.
      As for MG vs. YA representations of multirace faces… well maybe that is related to the fact that there’s more illustration on MG novels? ?

  4. Great links. Can’t wait to read your post! And I agree; covers without faces are always better, even without the race issue.

  5. Every time I read about this debate, I think about television news and sportscasters of my youth. When I was growing up, it was unthinkable that anyone but distinguished looking white males could anchor newscasts and obviously only men could report on sports. The only female faces were on the “weather girls” if you’ll pardon the expression. The major argument justifying this was that “the viewers wouldn’t accept it.” Where would Katie Couric or Doris Burke be if some brave souls hadn’t chosen to do the right thing rather that the profitable thing recommended by conventional wisdom.

    While I am also tired of all the pretty preppy pale (and thin) chicks adorning ya novels of every kind, I don’t think eliminating faces from book cover design fully addresses the issues here. Aesthetic, yes; ethical, no.

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