I’m sure there were a lot of idealists who thought that electing Barack Obama as the U.S. President in November of ’08 kick-started a new era for America: a “post-racial” nation, where our racial and cultural inequalities were suddenly of no consequence. Look at us, a nation of good “libruls”; we’ve got a biracial commander-in-chief, hooray! Of course, the reality is decidedly less sunshine and roses. Everything from teabaggers to whitewashed Vanity Fair covers and mainstream Hollywood films is evidence of that.
I mean, it’s 2010 and people of color besides the Obamas apparently still can’t sell a book or magazine cover. And I’m never going to understand the driving force behind that philosophy, especially when it comes to properly representing inside content. Young adult authors Justine Larbalestier and Jaclyn Dolamore were both thrust into the spotlight this past year because their books, which feature characters of color, were marketed with white girls on the covers. And though they share the same fail-tastic publisher, Bloomsbury, they’re far from the only authors this phenomenon happens to. I’m reading Meljean Brook’s paranormal/urban fantasy Demon Moon right now. On the cover, the biracial heroine, Savitri, is paler than the hero. Her hair length is also wrong — flowing and long, instead of short; which I presume the publisher thought would be “boyish.” Can’t have ’em looking brown AND gay on a book cover, huh? Why?
The second the reader opens the book, they’re going to know the character is a minority who looks nothing like the image, so why bother misrepresenting? Bait and switch is pointless! Are they trying to “fool” racists into reading a book about people of color, or what? (Similar to Valentine’s Day and A Single Man‘s marketing teams trying to “fool” people into thinking Bradley Cooper and Colin Firth play straight men?) I guess they’re okay with an “Oh, noes, I accidentally bought a book about brown people!” response as long as the $8.99 or whatever goes in their pocket? Because, at the end of the day, that’s what it’s about, right? Profit. And, economically, profit somehow translates to white consumers. The rest of us, and our spending power, are irrelevant. (Unless we’re talking about “our” segments of media, that is. You know, R&B and hip-hop, Ebony, the “urban fiction” section of the bookstore, Bollywood movies and henna tattoo mix, anime and manga, etc.)
But I still don’t get it. Why does erasure and whitewashing happen when the content actually includes people of color to begin with? Why not freely market towards a large group of consumers who would be happy to see themselves represented? I probably passed over Demon Moon on the store shelves dozens of times, because it was just like any other standard paranormal cover — scantily-clad woman with a tattoo. And by the law of averages, maybe I would’ve picked it up to read the back. But from cover alone, I would not have known the heroine was Indian (explicitly brown-skinned and Hindi-speaking, at that). In fact, I had no idea until a friend told me. Wouldn’t you think, if you were a publisher, that this might be a chance to reel in a whole new audience for your titles? Similarly, why were Faizon Love and Kali Hawk Photoshopped out of the UK posters for 2009’s Couples Retreat? Can you imagine how much worse the Vanity Fair outcry would be if they had invited Gabby Sidibe to be part of their “New Hollywood” cover and “accidentally” got rid of her when the issue went to the printer?
Is there a sort of backlash against the increasing diversity of America, and the world at large, occurring?