Story at a glance
- In honor of Black History Month, Penguin Random House and Barnes & Noble planned to re-release classic books with new "culturally diverse" covers, many of which featured characters as people of color.
- The announcement was met with criticism that the campaign was simply repackaging books by mostly white authors, rather than highlighting black authors.
- In response, Barnes & Noble cancelled an event scheduled for their Fifth Avenue location and suspended the initiative.
Barnes & Noble has cancelled a diversity initiative in honor of Black History Month after criticism that it amounted to "literary blackface."
The "Diverse Editions" initiative redesigned the covers of twelve classic young adult novels, each with five culturally diverse custom covers. But when Publishers Weekly reported the launch, originally planned for Feb. 4, many called the initiative racist.
so y’all just can’t find poc authors anymore or what? cause that’s not diversity that’s blackface at its best. poc wanna see themselves in books that are FOR THEM. not books written for white people and then just disguise the characters to be poc. it doesn’t work like that.— laurel ️ (@qweenlaurell) February 5, 2020
How’s about just putting my novels and novels by other POC up front and on display? We have amazing covers of black people who represent characters that actually appear in our labors of love. Can’t browse what you can’t see and can’t buy what’s not stocked. Thanks in advance ;-)— Eric Jerome Dickey (@EricJDickey) February 5, 2020
Imagine doing this with, say, movies. Imagine putting out a movie poster and trailer with an all-black cast but *actually* when you sit down to watch the movie, it’s an all-white cast. And with some racist content thrown in.— Danielle Binks (@danielle_binks) February 5, 2020
How many people green-lit this idea?
Critics pointed out that by choosing white authors for an initiative targeting a diverse audience, the booksellers missed the opportunity to bring attention to books written by and for people of color.
The next day, Barnes & Noble tweeted out a statement cancelling a launch event at their Fifth Avenue location and suspending the initiative.
"The covers are not a substitute for black voices or writers of color, whose work and voices deserve to be heard," the statement said.
"It was a project inspired by our work with schools and was created in part to raise awareness and discussion during Black History Month, in which Barnes & Noble stores nationally will continue to highlight a wide selection of books to celebrate black history and great literature from writers of color," the bookseller said in their statement.
Penguin Random House, which was initially credited as a partner in the initiative, has not released a statement on its suspension.