Saturday, March 10, 2012

pretty white girl

I'm traveling around this month, doing lots o'school visits, but this blog post, Why The Pretty White Girl YA Book Cover Trend Needs to End caught my eye. It's written by the fearless & articulate Ellen Oh, who is a great supporter of multicultural authors (as well as being one herself).

One of the topics briefly touched upon was that middle grade novel covers don't suffer as much "white washing" as YA covers. As a middle grade, multicultural author I think that is true. But I still think there is room to grow! What do you think?


Meghan McCarthy said...

I'm all for diversity but I wish the blame didn't seem so squarely on "white people." I'm somehow slightly offended. Part of the issue is that there needs to be more diversity in the authors in the first place, to make their characters diverse, etc. etc. I think white people like me are perhaps a little afraid to wrongly portray people of different races. I'm sure I'm not alone in this. So people who sound angry won't help the matter because authors like me will continue to just write about what we know and won't take chances because we don't want to offend people and have our books written about angrily on blogs.

My two cents.


Meghan McCarthy said...

I should also say that Grace, I hate to say it, but a big burden rests on you and a few others! You need to write write write!

Anonymous said...

Could it be that the article is also saying that YA writers who belong to ethnic minorities aren't getting published, and won't be published? (Of course, there will always be one or two who do.) Minority group writers' main characters are almost always, like them, minorities.

Notably, more MG than YA writers from minority cultures have been published, and their main characters are also of minority cultures. Oh's issue is not with them.

YA main characters who are ethnic minorities should be able to see print even if their creators are also of
ethnic minorities. They shouldn't have to be channeled through authors who are of the mainstream majority group. That would be missing the point.

It's worth taking the time to read the comments that
followed the article.

Meghan McCarthy said...

Ultimately, yes, but what is the percentage of Asian Americans who are submitting compared to other groups? When you go to a conference, who are the majority? Think of that. There lies the answer.

Meghan McCarthy said...

This is why it's great that there are editors out there like Alvina and authors out there like Grace. And the more successful they become the more the word will get out that it's a good profession to go into and the more others will try it. But it takes time. This won't happen next year or the year after.

Again, just my take on this.

Anonymous said...

Since it's out there that percentage-wise, ethnic minorities aren't represented in YA fiction (or MG
fiction either) commensurate with their numbers in the population, the hope always is that editors will look for and accept more minority character mss. from agents. But clearly, other factors are at play. (This applies not just to Asian American fictive characters but to all minorities. My take was that the article was inclusive of all minority fiction.)

Also, a distinction must be made between the percentage of minority writers submitting and the percentage of such manuscripts that are actually being accepted. Aren't we seeing the percentage of mss. that are actually accepted when we see numbers, and not the percentage of total submissions? If the conferences reflected the minority authors who keep submitting and not just the published ones, believe me, you would see a significant representation!

A couple of minority children's fiction publishers are in existence and are making inroads. Maybe that's a much more trenchant solution than having editors from these groups in publishing companies.

Ello - Ellen Oh said...

Thanks Grace! But why is it that when someone calls me fearless, I suddenly get scared? ;o)

Meghan - I hope my post didn't come out sounding like I'm blaming white people. If it did, I apologize. And to be honest, I believe this trend is not good for all of our teens, regardless of race. When the YA books look more like our fashion magazines, is this healthy for our young and susceptible teens to see? I pose this question from that viewpoint because it is an issue that we should all be concerned with. And then I address diversity - or the lack there of. The fact that many books have had their covers "white-washed." I'm sure we all remember the outrage over the Liar cover, but it wasn't the only one. It's happened many times. And it happens when a character is supposed to be heavy, but is made to look thin on the cover. This happens and I don't think it is good for our kids.

But ultimately, of course, the issue of diversity is near and dear to my heart. And I love when authors, regardless of their race or gender, tackles different races and cultures in their stories. As long as you do your research, why can't you write a minority character as your MC? I would welcome that. The key is always to treat minorities as you would your white characters, and not as a stereotype.

Meghan McCarthy said...

Ello, thank you for apologizing. I'm sure you didn't mean to sound like you were hating on white people. Actually... now that I'm looking - the covers you used as examples are almost all about vampires. They're going to look as white washed as possible. Of course there can be Asian vampires and black vampires, etc., but my opinion is that an extremely pale female on the cover isn't exactly the model beauty. She's frightening and in need of some good sunlight. I think most people these days are aiming for tans. Yeah, the vampire thing is in and all, but... I will say that I'm embarrassed a lot of my pale skin - especially in the summer. Everyone has their insecurities. But anyway, vampire books are really IN right now and that's why there are pale females all over the covers of YA literature.

Jennifer Malone said...

I think Megan made a really great point about white writers being timid about writing multicultural characters. I was at the NESCBWI conference this weekend and there were a few jokes at keynotes about how few men were in attendance versus about 99% woman. If this is at all reflective of kidlit writers in general, which I believe it is, there would be no books about male characters, since we are all women! Obviously that is not the case.
However, as a white woman, I find it far less intimidating to write about another gender than another race, primarily for fear of getting some small detail wrong that would accidentally offend someone. While I found the post about Tikki Tikke Tembo really great, the examples given in supporting why that book is unintentionally racist, are exactly the things that I think would scare off some writers contemplating a multicultural character. It's the tiniest details, like the shoe example in the Tikki Tikki illustrations, that would be so scary to get wrong.
I would love to see this topic presented at a conference, because we can only affect change from within the industry. It would be a fascinating panel to have a mix of multicultural writers and white writers discussing the issue from both sides. I think a lot of white writers almost need to get "permission" from others in different cultures to portray them! Love this site- thanks for such great topics!

alvinaling said...

Actually, there is a conference!

Jennifer Malone said...

And that is why you girls are the goddesses of information! I bow to you- and wish I could attend the conference....