Cover Art For Progress: Stop the White-Out

I read two truly moving blogs this week and I wanted to thank Ellen Oh for posting on the topic of anti-racism and Adam Heine for turning the topic into a contest. What better way to bring attention to the problem than to give stuff away in support of it?

I mentioned on Ellen’s blog that I have a Chinese daughter whom I love so much it hurts. It hurts even more when people comment on her appearance and how she can’t possibly be Chinese. You see, my daughter has a condition called Ocular Albinism. That’s not the white hair/red eyes version of Albinism. There are different kinds of conditions and hers means she has brown hair and brown eyes. She blends into mainstream America – in some ways a little too well. I’ve heard well-intentioned people claim: “She’s not Chinese!” Like hell she’s not. Why do people believe it’s detrimental to be of another race? Why do they want us to spend thousands on genetic testing to prove she’s not Chinese? I was tempted to do the testing to prove she IS.

I have a niece who also happens to be adopted. She’s from Russia, but her eyes have epicanthic folds because of where in Russia her ancestors came from. She went to the doctor’s office the other day and the NURSE repeatedly claimed that my niece must have Downe’s syndrome because of her eyes. This was an educated woman!

The whiting-out of America has got to stop. Two years ago the amazing Justine Larbalestier fought a battle with the publishers who tried to put a white girl on her book about an aboriginal teen. She won that battle, but the war looms large ahead of us. Our best line of defense is greater education, and what we need is more books. Books with covers that are diverse in their depiction of the human race.

To support that effort, I’m putting my money where my mouth is. I’m buying a cover that has someone of a non-caucasian race on the cover. Seriously, folks, the publishers put whites on the cover because they believe people won’t buy anything else. How sick is that? Let’s prove otherwise. I will BUY and give away two books. Winners can choose, but I will give multiple choices:

Justine’s “Liar” with appropriate cover, thank you very much. Cindy Pon’s wonderful “Silver Phoenix” in the original, beautiful cover. (See image at the top of this page.) Or for the adult book reader who still wants to make a difference, Jeannie Lin’s “The Dragon And the Pearl” with its stunning cover. I will announce the winners on the 19th.

To win one of these excellent books, please post a link to Ellen Oh’s original post, which can be found here. I would love a link to this contest in order to draw more attention to the issue, or to Adam Heine’s page, (which does have a different book available to win), but I’m not doing this to promote me, him or even Ellen. I’m doing this to provide a few pennies in a bucket that’s never given a chance to fill.

29 Responses to “Cover Art For Progress: Stop the White-Out”

  1. Janet Johnson says:

    Justine's story really amazed me. I would have felt disturbed as a reader at such an obvious misrepresentation of the cover.

    And good for you for standing up for something you feel so strongly about. And I'll vouch for you and your daughter . . . I remember when you went to China! Sheesh, I hate it when strangers try to tell you something like that . . . as if they know.

  2. Giora says:

    Victoria, I'm surprised to read about this topic. Lisa See's Shanghai Girl, for example, has Chinese women on the cover. I can't imagine Random House telling her to put Western women on the cover. About your daugther, it's better to view her asa young girl, without classification. We are all human beings living in one big world, and it doesn't matter if we are or if we look Chinese or not. I don't read books now, so put my name out of the contest. I'll check the blogs that you mentioned.

  3. Ello - Ellen Oh says:

    Hi Victoria! Thanks for the blog link and your lovely post! And you clearly are a really caring and loving mother! Thank you for supporting this issue. I think people forget and think oh well if the book is about a white character then why can't there be a white cover. Well, it's more about that representation. When we were younger, kids books didn't have models posing on every cover. We didn't necessarily have an idea of what the character would look like, we could imagine them to be whoever. But now YA seems to promote this beautiful white girl model that isn't healthy for anyone. But it definitely alienates the minority teens and that's something I feel sorry about.

    Thanks again for your support!
    Best,
    Ellen

  4. Mark says:

    I never really thought that much about it, or really noticed that it. I guess if you're from another race it certainly would be incredibly offensive for someone to say you actually aren't.

  5. Natalie Aguirre says:

    I read Ellen's post too. It's most disturbing that YA covers have this problem and not MG. You know I'm really sensitive to this issue too because my daughter's adopted from China too. And my husband is Hispanic.

    My daughter notices this problem with movies too. The actor's skin color does not always match the skin color in the book. We'll see what she thinks of Hunger Games in a few weeks. It's a sad commentary on our world that we still have to deal with these issues.

    I'm mentioning Ellen's blog post in my blog post already on Monday.

  6. Rashda Khan says:

    Hi Victoria,

    There are so many beautiful shades out there that I totally don't get why large portions of the population ignore them intentionally. I'm sorry about the comments your niece had to endure…at a doctor's office from a nurse. Truly sad.
    I'm definitely going to tweet this post!

  7. rainbowriter says:

    Thank you for bringing this to my attention. The racial stereotyping in this country is so pervasive that we don't even realize the extent. Actually since I mostly read thrillers it seems the only thing irritating is that the author's name takes up half the front and is usually larger than the book title. I have a vision of my upcoming book cover where one of the main characters is a Bigfoot (or is it?) but one primary protag is Latina, one black, one Native American. I will keep this post in mind when I get to that point.

  8. Susan Blumberg-Kason says:

    Hi Vic,

    What a great blog post. I get the same reaction about my son, who is half Chinese. People say he's not Asian and it really bugs me. I started to become aware of the cover issue when Cindy Pon's other book came out and the woman on the new cover wasn't Asian. It's mind baffling that this goes on in 2011 and 2012. Many of the qipao covers only show the body, but not the face. Ugh. Thank you for bringing this to our attention. It's an important issue that needs to be changed!

  9. EilisFlynn says:

    Wow, I could not agree with you more! I've also had an editor tell me that Asians don't read, either, so the mindset is a disturbing one. My Japanese story-based book, Festival of Stars, had an illo of an Asian woman on the cover, but it's a cartoon. Then the publisher changed their banner and covered half her face. Not deliberate, of course, but ruins the effect!

  10. Victoria Dixon says:

    Agreed, Janet. They're lying to the reader and making assumptions about me that I find grossly disturbing.

    I both agree and disagree with you, Giora. You see, with adoptive children, especially kids with parents of a different race, they really struggle with identity. This denial of her heritage is extremely damaging to her self-image.

    Thanks for dropping by, Ellen and bless you and your family.

    Exactly, Mark. Exactly.

    I'm about to admit something horrific and embarrassing, Natalie: I haven't read Hunger Games. (Hangs her head in shame.) Is Katniss not Caucasian? I'm looking forward to seeing the movie because I know the book's awesome. To be honest, I did the same thing with Harry Potter. I didn't read the first book until after I'd seen the movie. Sigh. Hope you and your family enjoy it! :)

    Wow, good luck with the cover on your book, Rainbo. Sadly, authors don't get much say in what our covers look like, which is partially why this problem continues. Justine won because of the HUGE stink she raised.

    Yes, I remember the second cover of Cindy's book, too and how sad it was, Susan. My sympathies to your son. I've been concerned that there will be Chinese who will tell Lilly she isn't, but that hasn't happened so far. It's all been Americans. Land of the proud melting pot and all that. Sigh.

    I don't get it, Eilis. If Asians don't read, why are their school education scores higher than the U.S.? I'd say they're not the ones with the reading problem….

    Americans have many issues and we like to hide our head in the sand from most of them including racism.

  11. Jeannie Lin says:

    Thanks for the mention and this is definitely an issue that resonates with me. I remember how happy I was to see Asian characters in the books my little cousin was reading in middle school. That never happened unless it was an Asian book when I was a child. Slow and steady steps…

  12. Giora says:

    My apology, Victoria. My post was about how the world should be and not how it is. If I saw the tears in your daugther's eyes how hurtful it is for her to hear that she isn't Chinese I will undersatnd better. My mistake in not undersatdning the damage to the self image of a young girl. I was thinking from a point of view of an adult who can deal with hurtful comments .. but children cannot. Best wishes to her and you.

  13. Victoria Dixon says:

    You bet, Jeannie.

    And Giora, I wasn't knocking what you were saying. In fact, I understood and agreed with it in theory. I desperately WISH we all saw one another as people. Just beautiful people with myriad, marvelous differences in culture. I see those differences as wonderful things to explore – not something to be shunned. I see that capacity in my daughter and I'm proud of it. I hope it never grows out of her.

  14. Amy L. Sonnichsen says:

    This has been on my mind a lot, too, after reading Ellen and Adam's posts. I'm especially disturbed by the lack of diversity in YA books. MG has diversity and adult books seem to, as well, so I can't figure out what's going on with YA. I have a book with a Chinese protag and I've been wondering where it fits — whether it's MG, YA or adult. I'm thinking of rewriting it completely and making it very clearly YA. No guarantees that it will be published, of course, but the most any of us can do is try to contribute to the cause! :)

    Thanks for this post, Victoria!

  15. Victoria Dixon says:

    Good luck, whatever you decide to do, Amy! Of course, I'd go with what suits the story, but I'd love to see more YA out there with other races, other places. I remember when I was about twelve, I commented to a classmate that I really wanted to go to England. (I was an EXTREME Anglophile then, but even then, I was also in love with China via Pearl S. Buck's books.) The classmate's response has always stuck with me and it haunts me that this may still be a response in rural America: "You're so stupid. Don't you know they make up those places to test us on." Yup. Seventh grade.

    Entertain AND educate. It's the best way to bring change.

  16. Christina Farley says:

    I did my post a while back on Asian literature here: http://christinafarley.blogspot.com/2010/04/asian-literature-for-kids.html

    I find it very hard to find Asian themed books for YA especially. I'm always on the lookout so let me know if you come across some good ones.

    And also, I'd like to see more books where the race isn't the crux of the issue but the adventure or the romance is. I think that would add another element to the genre.

  17. Adam Heine says:

    Victoria, you are awesome :-)

    And I love Ellen's comment too.

  18. Victoria Dixon says:

    Hey, Christina. I don't know about "Liar," (to be honest, I haven't read it yet, but I've read one of Justine's books and it was marvelous) but Magic or Madness also features a girl who I think MAY be aboriginal. Don't quote me on that. It's been awhile since I've read it and the thing is, her race was really unimportant. The important part of her heritage was the magic, not the color of her skin. I was privileged to meet Justine, though and I seem to recall her saying how she liked writing with mcs of other races. There have been a few YA novels with Asian settings I've read recently: Jane Lindskold's Thirteen Orphans is the one that comes to mind right now. The vast majority of the Asian/YA stuff I've read is more geared toward girls. I look forward to Jay Kristoff's Stormdancer, which is Chinese Steampunk, but I'm not sure what the age range on it will be. There are a few books I've reviewed on this blog that would qualify.

    Adam, thanks so much for the visit and for helping to draw attention to this!

  19. Myrna Foster says:

    One of my sis-in-laws is half Korean, and I've heard people laugh or get angry and not believe her. It totally hurts her feelings. After all, she was born in Korea. She has the gorgeous cheek bones, but her coloring is more like her father's.

    Thanks for posting this.

  20. Rachna Chhabria says:

    Victoria, I am surprised to read about this topic. Justine's story is amazing. Not just Justine, we all should stand up for what we believe in.

  21. Victoria Dixon says:

    You bet, Myrna and God bless you and your family. :)

    Yes, we should, Rachna. We frequently don't. (See my somewhat unclear previous blogs on the subject of fear.) Although I can recall one instance of a racist remark while we were waiting to receive our information on who our daughter would be. I complimented a lady on her beautiful pit bull while at the dog park. He was sleek, black and sheer, athletic beauty in motion. (I love animals and I'm not one to assume an animal is dangerous because of the breed's reputation.) She said "Thank you," then commented that she thought he looked like a chink because of the shape of his head. I felt like I'd been punched in the stomach. She must have realized by my fishy, slack-jawed expression that she'd said something offensive because she cleared out before I could regain my breath. I'm still gasping at that one. I will have to train myself to respond to such remarks quickly and train my daughter, too, but it's a terrible thing to have to TRAIN for.

  22. Margo Berendsen says:

    I jointed the 2012 people of color reading challenge (main character has to be non-white) and now that I know about this cover issue, I'll be scanning the covers more carefully. How scary that Larbalestier had to fight for her cover if her main character was aboriginal! And i'm sadden to hear such comments about your daughter and niece.

  23. Victoria Dixon says:

    Sounds good, Margo and I like the reading challenge! Sounds like you probably came up with all sorts of wonderful books I probably need to read.

  24. Jeannie Lin says:

    I found what I believe is a middle grade book about a Silk Road adventure with a male protagonist. I've only read the sample and will probably buy it to read more.

    Chengli and the Silk Road Caravan by Hildi Kang – http://www.amazon.com/Chengli-Silk-Road-Caravan-Hildi/dp/1933718544/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1331822537&sr=8-1

  25. Victoria Dixon says:

    Thanks, Jeannie! It definitely goes on the reading list. :D

  26. DWei says:

    While I don't have albinism I can sort of relate to your daughter. Due to me being so tall and having eyes that aren't the stereotypical squinty Asian ones I get asked a lot of I'm half-Caucasian. :\

    My Mother hates it when people ask me that.

  27. Victoria Dixon says:

    I just don't get it, Dwei. (Pounding her head against the keyboard.) Do people really believe God works by cookie-cutter method? I have a Chinese/Malaysian friend who is over 5'7" and she's a woman – tall in any race. There are Chinese basketball players who would tower over my 6'1 husband. I wish society could get over its need to stereotype. As readers, we love it when characters surprise us by not matching stereotypes. Why can't we learn to expect that in life? Maybe that's what writers are trying to teach….
    Shakes her head in bewilderment….

  28. Suzan Harden says:

    Victoria, I've sat here for the last twenty minutes, trying to think of something that didn't sound lame or apologist or just effing stupid.

    Hang in there. You're a great mother, and your daughter knows you love her.

  29. Victoria Dixon says:

    Yes, she does know we love her and fortunately, she hasn't understood a lot of the stupidity around her yet. She asked me what "making fun of someone" meant the other day, though and got very quiet when I explained it.
    No worries. Sadly, I sound "effing stupid" all the time and it never seems to stop me. LOL

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