I haven't read the book; Magic Under Glass was one of my WoWs and I'd still love to read it, despite the cover. The cover is not something an author gets any say in, and no matter how angry you are, I AM URGING YOU TO NOT boycott this book. An author works so hard to publish a novel; Ms. Dolamore is a debut novelist and after working towards this moment for a long time it must not be pleasant to have Magic Under Glass embroiled in a controversy.Here's the cover that started it all:
Although the main character Nimira is loosely described as "dark-skinned", which can be interpreted in a variety of ways, the book trailer clearly shows she is black. Compare the girl in the book trailer to the one of the cover, and there's a noticeable disparity. The girl on the cover of Magic Under Glass, although cleverly concealed in shadow, seems white to me. I know this is all relative; but for someone who lives in a very diverse community where over 80-90% of the students I go to school with are NOT white, she is not dark-skinned in the least. If she went to my school, she'd be one of the lightest skinned people there. So for me, the girl in the cover isn't be any stretch of imagination dark-skinned. You may disagree with me, but that's my interpretation. This cover is whitewashing, pure and simple.
What a terrible thing.
This controversy has brought other, more troubling thoughts to mind. While the YA genre is doing well in diversifying it's characters, there is still a noticeable lack of diversity in books.
Even more troubling to me is the psychology of a reader. I don't know about you, but if the race of the main character is not specified, what do you automatically imagine them as?
Let's do a test run. Brief description without any allusion to race, try to picture the character and what race immediately jumps to mind?
"He was a brown haired-kid, skinny, and his glasses were always sliding down his nose."
I'm ashamed to say that I imagine the characters are white, unless the author describes them otherwise.
Did I just say that?
I don't know why. As I mentioned before, I live in a diverse community. There are barely any white people here. Heck, I'm half Asian, half white. But why is it that my subconscious dreams up unspecified characters as white?
It's not just the readers who face this; chats with some unpublished writers reveal that many of them did NOT envision there character cast as diverse. It's certainly nothing to be proud of, but it's there. There's a reason for it, as the old "write what you know," applies. Writers who live in predominantly white communities may have trouble incorporating characters of different ethnicities. And there is also the fear of getting it wrong, of giving into stereotypes. Many writers don't want to risk getting race wrong; if it's done incorrectly and with blatant generalizations, it can be the end of a career. Even with books that have a minority character or two, it's not convincing some of the time. One of the top YA cliches is the "token minority character." Joelle Anthony included it on her list of Top 25 most overused things in YA:
"A token black friend among a group of white friends - usually it’s a girl, and she’s always gorgeous."
Sounds familiar, doesn't it? It's not only books that have this cliche; TV shows and movies do as well.
Also, to think of it in terms of main characters, how many minority main characters can you think of for bestselling YA books? Maybe I've been reading the wrong books, I don't know. But it seems to me that minor characters are much more likely to be minorities; it's much easier pen this cliche-ridden description:
"A girl next to me has almond eyes and coffee-colored skin,"
Then it is to set up a whole family dynamic for a main character that isn't white and who's parents put a lot of stock in cultural values. It would be more difficult for me to write a book with a main character that's say--Indian, rather than white. I don't know enough about Indian culture; I would have to do research, while white is something that is readily available.
The thing about having a diverse cast is that it's the author's responsibility to portray it accurately. Many minorities don't give up their cultural values and assimilate into American culture; thus the values of a minority main character and their family life will be different than that of a white character and their family.
So it's easier to assign a unspecified character who's just plain "American" as white. Without the culture of minorities fully described, I envision unspecified characters as white.
It's my default. And I'm definitely not proud of it.
This is definitely something I'm aware of now, and is something I'm trying to change about myself as both a reader and an aspiring writer.
What do you think of this whole cover controversy? About whitewashing in general and it's broader implications? What do you envision unspecified characters as?