Experiment: I want you to play a note on a piano and ask Barnes & Noble, or frankly nearly any major, white-run corporation to identify it. Spoiler: they can’t because they’re tone deaf.
It’s Black History Month! So Barnes & Noble is celebrating by publishing a bunch of largely (Dumas is in there) white-authored books with new covers featuring POC characters, thereby digging itself a PR grave into which its headless corpse is about to fall.
So if B&N have released a series of classic (read: public domain stories by dead white people) books with questionable covers, the question becomes: who are they “rebranded” for? Presumably POC consumers? Feels a little Blackface, no? Not sure that’s gonna fly.
Listen, there’s nothing wrong with encouraging everyone to read classics like Frankenstein and The Secret Garden, but ignoring the fact that many of these public domain stories are still racist, colonialist, and/or socially problematic and remarketing them to POC by simply slapping a new cover on doesn’t… slap.
Why didn’t they publish 12 books for YA readers by actual working POC authors? Well, 1) that would be more work, and 2) it would cut into the profits (all the work rebranded here is public domain).
While I’m glad to see any olive-branch/effort, especially from America in this day and age, I’m still always shocked that an entire table full of adults in a boardroom somewhere agreed this was a good idea and NO ONE SAID WAIT A MINUTE GUYS EVEN ONCE. Am I wrong? Please let me know.
To celebrate the release of the new covers, Barnes & Noble Fifth Avenue is hosting a Diverse Editions Launch & Panel Discussion from 6 to 8 p.m. on Feb. 5. The panel, which will be moderated by TBWA North America’s Chief Diversity Officer Doug Melville, will feature key opinion leaders within the industry including bestselling author MK Asante, literary agent Nena Madonia Oshman (Dupree Miller), Cal Hunter of Barnes & Noble Fifth Avenue, and more.
Geez, I’d love to be a fly on the wall at that panel…