A Barnes & Noble in New York City found an unsubstantial way to celebrate Black History Month and Twitter was not happy.
According to AM New York, the book store decided to release a list of classic books with new culturally diverse covers. Barnes & Noble Fifth Avenue is rolling out the covers in partnership with Penguin Random House. These “Diverse Editions” will cover twelve classic young adult novels, including “Romeo and Juliet”, “Moby Dick”, “The Wizard of Oz”, “Alice in Wonderland”, “Frankenstein”, “Peter Pan” and more. The books go on sale Wednesday and will be displayed in the Fifth Avenue store’s huge storefront throughout the month of February.
According to AM New York, “Each title had five culturally diverse custom covers designed to ensure the recognition, representation, and inclusion of various multiethnic backgrounds reflected across the country. The new covers are a part of a new initiative to champion diversity in literature.”
Many folks on Twitter weren’t too excited about this “diversity initiative,” however. Many people wondered instead of using Black and Brown faces for novels originally created with white characters, why not celebrate and promote Black authors and their work.
“How diverse it is to have a bunch of white authors with what is effectively blackface on the covers of their books, while not really featuring black characters or black authors that may have actually intended to have black stories play out,” one Twitter user, Nicholas Hunt-Walker, tweeted.
“Folks actually sat around a table and decided that instead of promoting the Black authors on their shelves that the better idea was to engage in Black face for Black History Month,” tweeted Because Of Them We Can founder Eunique Jones Gibson.
Barnes & Noble Fifth Avenue has the nerve to be hosting a Diverse Editions Launch & Panel Discussion from 6 to 8 p.m. on February 5 as well. The panel will be moderated by TBWA North America’s Chief Diversity Officer Doug Melville and will involve 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 a few more. The event is free to the public with RSVP.
Meanwhile, Diverse Editions of the books will be donated to schools and libraries across the tri-state area at the end of the month.
Before the big push-out, maybe Barnes & Noble will take heed to people’s outrage and reconsider these covers. You can check out more commentary on the idea below.
Writers of colour waiting for recognition:— Chimene Suleyman (@chimenesuleyman) February 5, 2020
Barnes and Noble: So, hear me out, let’s get white stories and characters and put them in blackface. Sound good? https://t.co/iDXbywPV8T
So they’re putting these books in blackface and calling it diversity? https://t.co/Wo4EpYM7VY— Polly Pallister-Wilkins (@PollyWilkins) February 5, 2020
LOLOLOLOL instead of promoting books from diverse authors they really just put these books in blackface. Does B&N know how racist some of those novels are? https://t.co/E7L2B6upfP— William Evans (@willevanswrites) February 5, 2020
Let’s use “Black actors” for the ad— Eunique’s Playing #CultureTags (@eunique) February 5, 2020
Let’s sit the “Black ppl” in the front
Let’s get a “Black influencer” to speak
Let’s put “Black faces” on the cover
Let’s do all things to give the “appearance” of diversity to appeal to Black consumers w/o doing the work to be inclusive. https://t.co/eFwmBzFZcA
Barnes & Noble was like, well if Netflix can change the thumbnail to show the Black extra in the background of a show they want you to watch...— Bethany C. Morrow (@BCMorrow) February 5, 2020
If I had recieved a brief for “black Frankenstein” I would have assumed it was a metaphor or shorthand for the actual project. Presumably a book about the demonizing of the black man in America or some such social commentary. NOPE. Literally just Dr F’s monster in black face. 🙄 https://t.co/eTpSpTNUkq— Shane Clester (@ShaneScribbles) February 5, 2020
jfc the lengths publishing will go to in order to avoid publishing ACTUAL BOOKS BY PEOPLE OF COLOR. this blackface charade to LURE readers in search of reflection who will then find nothing but whiteness between the covers is next level. https://t.co/JRxuC8cOW1— Roan Parrish (@RoanParrish) February 5, 2020