For those who might not know, in the United States, Black History Month is celebrated for the entire month of February. The point of dedicating an entire month is so we can bring focus to the works, art, history, and voices of a specific community within our vast and diverse nation.
We can learn, grow, heal hurts, right wrongs, increase understanding and create and deepen friendships that will (ideally) endure far into the future.
Like most other authors, I’m a huge advocate of literacy. Books, stories open up new worlds, and place us in perspectives we have no other way to experience.
Reading is Crucial for Understanding
Stories allow us to be another gender, race, or even species (Um, Trekkies?).
It is a level of empathy we can experience no other way, which is why it’s so vital.
Which is why for the LIFE of me I cannot understand what the HELL Barnes & Noble was thinking with their Black History Month initiative…which apparently to only THEIR shock was canceled midday Wednesday after massive online backlash (which I hope to fuel).
*pours out gasoline* *strikes match*
I know I’m going off my usual script here, but it’s been a long time since something made me this angry.
When I first saw the Barnes & Noble ‘diversity initiative’ I thought the same exact thing as Frederick Joseph, the black author of the upcoming book The Black Friend: On Being a Better White Person.
“Instead of platforming black writers during Black History Month, they’re basically doing blackface. They’re using our imagery, our likeness, to still sell white narratives.”Frederick Joseph
AMEN! I could not agree more. Who was smoking what when they approved of something as insulting as to put white literary characters in blackface to honor Black History Month?
No, I am NOT making this up.
New covers on classics only illustrated with multiethnic characters. They PAID good money to be this insulting.
Penguin Random House, I literally frigging give up on you. We are DONE. Barnes & Noble I will never spend another cent in your stores EVER.
And Barnes & Noble is being run by a British C.E.O.? I thought y’all were supposed to be teaching us rube Yanks something about sensitivity.
Black History Month: Literature Goes Blackface
Barnes & Noble has screwed up so catastrophically that I am embarrassed I ever envisioned my books gracing their shelves.
So the bright idea Barnes & Noble had to honor African Americans this month? Redo covers from classic books like—I kid you not—Moby Dick, The Wizard of Oz, Alice and Wonderland—but make the characters on the covers dark-skinned.
Oh-kay, so classic books written by white authors, for white audiences chronicling white problems are appropriate for Black History Month…if we just change the color of the characters on the covers? Just put them in blackface?
NO ONE THOUGHT THIS WOULD BE OFFENSIVE? Yes I am posting the pic again because *screams*…..
What About Actual African American Authors?
Last I checked, there are actual living breathing African American authors that Barnes & Noble could have used its remaining power and influence to highlight and promote.
In an age where discoverability is a nightmare for ALL authors who aren’t Stephen King (no hating on King, just we’re down to a handful of mega brands commanding most of the name-recognition), why not help authors of color?
Why NOT? There is a DEDICATED MONTH TO DO THIS!
Readers are wanting something new and fresh to read. We’re in a unique time in history where readers are WANTING to read authors of color. Race relations are a hot topic right now, and this was a huge window of opportunity.
And you missed it. You could have used this moment in time to take a primed audience and introduce them to authors of color, but instead, you squandered it on titles that anyone over the age of six knows exists and has seen a movie version.
Barnes and Noble, do you really think we’ve NOT yet heard of Alice and Wonderland? That we somehow missed The Wizard of Oz?
Who in your marketing department thought that we wanted to spend our very limited free time reading Moby-Frigging-Dick?
Oh, but the book is somehow better and less mind-numbingly boring because Morgan Freeman posed for the cover?
Bite me, Barnes & Noble. Just…bite me.
What I find fascinating is I’ve been on the hobby horse of exposure-dollar bullsprinkles, and how this industry will do everything it can to screw over authors and avoid paying them.
You Know What I Think?
Some beancounter crunched numbers and it was cheaper to redo some covers of white people books with dark-skinned characters than it was to risk that some authors of color might break out and sell big.
Don’t have to pay Lewis Carroll or Shakespeare royalties. I never thought I’d be mentioning Lewis Carroll in Black History Month. Wonders never cease.
I really have fallen down a rabbit hole.
Barnes & Noble has lamely offered what I will call The J.K. Rowling Defense, how Rowling claimed she never expressly described Hermione Granger as any race. Publishing and B&N then used that lamely to go back through the classics where race was never expressly described and **POOF** make the characters ethnic. And THERE is some diversity!
No one is going to imagine Alice in Alice in Wonderland as anything other than a wealthy white girl of a privileged time. The entire POINT of Black History Month is to highlight black people and their works, their art, their history, their voices and THEIR STORIES.
It is the entire frigging reason for the month. There is SO much to learn about. An incredible richness of language, custom, culture, history, myth that too many people–READERS–are missing out on. That you—YOU—Barnes & Noble, that YOU publishing industry could have done something REAL about.
Instead, you offer people of color this petty token? When y’all could have offered something real? As in tables or giant glorious displays of books by black authors in the flagship store in NYC on 5th Avenue? But you didn’t. You could have. But you didn’t.
SHAME ON YOU!
Is there a stronger word for atrocity? To do this is essentially saying that people of color are incapable of having their own art or their own stories…so let’s lend them some white stories and help them out.
God, I just can’t! I am so, so, so sorry that the publishing industry has done this to you. It’s appalling.
White People Get Offended Too
I get it. I know that I’m whiter than a paper plate of Minute Rice trapped in a blizzard. But I’m a human and also a female, which comes with a bag of worms there. I can also empathize and WANT to empathize.
It’s why I want to know about books from authors with perspectives I NEED to see from, and I don’t believe that perspective includes a half-mad sea captain hunting an albino whale.
God even the WHALE is white! Did they make the whale black, too?
*sobs into laptop*
Granted, I can never truly know what it’s like to be a person of color. The closest I can get is pretty much STORY.
Which is why saying the publishing industry and Barnes & Noble dropped the ball does not BEGIN to cover cataclysmic proportions of how they’ve insulted a) people of color b) authors of color c) authors d) readers e) anyone with a brain f) anyone with half a brain g) anyone with a moral compass…
*breathes into paper bag*
This is why I strive to read many different genres from a wide array of authors, time-periods, opinions, and backgrounds. I WANT to be uncomfortable, to be challenged. This is how we form bonds, common ground, understanding.
Black History Month and Focus Time
Time can get away from me, which is why it’s good for me to be deliberate about what I’m choosing to read.
One day tends to blend into the next and the next into the next until a year has passed. So Black History Month or Women’s History Month or Asian/Pacific History Month is helpful for me.
These months are earmarks. Reminders. Black History Month is where I discovered novels like Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, and Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye. Most of my favorite African American authors are non-fiction, so I rely a lot on Black History Month to discover the novels.
I’ve read fiction, non-fiction, memoirs and more, and I count on booksellers to help me.
Booksellers Should Be There to Help
I generally can count on Audible to offer up suggestions, books I might never have found on my own, stories that I may have never discovered. Librarians will do their magic and curate wonderful tables highlighting authors other than the megas we see donning every airport bookstore.
Historically, Barnes & Noble would do the same. But this? This is why the aliens don’t land.
Seriously Publisher’s Weekly, Random Penguin, Barnes & Noble? Y’all need to go sit in the corner and really think hard about what you’ve done. More importantly about what you’ve not done.
Shame on you.
For Authors of Color
My goal with this blog has been to help ALL authors. I’ve spent over ten years and millions of words going to the mattresses for creatives—traditionally published, self-published, indie published. I’ve stood behind all forms of publishing namely BECAUSE so many voices are being ignored by traditional publishing.
Or y’all get this…I don’t even know what to call this. I’d meant to blog on something else when I saw this headline and I was so angry I couldn’t see straight.
This is sickening. Just know it did NOT go unnoticed. We see you. We see the charade and we will not tolerate this behavior and will not let this pass. You deserve the best.
Go create because the world needs more stories. We need YOUR stories!