I recently posted a link to a blog post about YA book covers and race (find it here if you want another look). I read it, re-read it and then read it again. It annoyed me, and at first I couldn’t work out why. It was well written, arguments were well formed and the author had done her research.
After reading it the third time, I realised what was wrong. The subject is an important one, however it is not in any way, shape or form, one sided. The blog post wasn’t a fair or unbiased representation of the facts surrounding the issue. The author has cherry picked the covers and books that highlight her point. I am not disputing the fact that there maybe an issue, but presenting a one sided argument will do nothing to make any changes. In some instances the author looks at covers and sees only what she wants to see – and that is the crux of the issue.
We all picture characters differently, regardless of what the book says, if you get an image in your head, then its stuck there. I ignored the descriptions of Katniss, in my head she was blonde, no idea why, but she just was. My mum pictured her as a red head. I am sure no two people’s katniss’ look the same. Descriptions can only do so much, people interprit them differently – olive, tan, light, fair, dark, golden, all words to describe various skin colours, all meaning something different to each and every one of us.
So not only do you have the issue that everyone pictures the characters differently, but you also have the big dollar signs that the publishers see. I don’t know the stats, but lets face it, they are there to sell books, and there are far too many people that are still ignorant enough to be put off a book because of the colour of the model on the front. Its not big, clever or morally acceptable, but it DOES happen. Perhaps you could argue that the publishers should not bow to these people, and perhaps you are right, but they are there to generate sales, as many as possible and THAT is the reason (and probably the only reason when it boils down to it) that there are often whitewashed covers.
But is race on book covers the real issue? You don’t see fat (or even plump) girls, tattooed individuals (or pierced), gay or bisexual males or females, you rarely see solitary men (boys are normally always accompanied by a beautiful girl, a monster or some special effect) if you are arguing for equality on book covers, why not push for these things to be highlighted too? When do you find these characters in YA books? Despite a large proportion of the teen world being heavily pierced or tattooed, rarely does a character lead the story with more than a hidden tattoo (which is normally a source of power or some such nonsense), they are saved for the bad guys. Equally how many heroines are overweight, or even suffering from an eating disorder? These are real life issues that affect young girls everyday, but they are not written about. What about sexuality? The only book I’m aware of that has an asexual lead is quicksilver by RJ Anderson (not yet released), I can’t think of any that have bisexual or gay leads, there’s the odd gay best friend (Alec in mortal instruments etc), but its rare.
So in summary – why do some races get ‘whitewashed’ or hidden on book covers? Because of those bigots out there that still think your skin affects who you are. Why do publishers pander to them? Sales. Is race on book covers the issue? No, the issue is the YA genre is largely written with white characters, perhaps a greater call for diversity within the genre would be more beneficial to all. Not just race but diversity across individuality, sexuality and health, as well as everything else that teens face today.