"The notion that such persons are gay of heart and carefree is curiously untrue. They lead, as a matter of fact, an existence of jumpiness and apprehension. They sit on the edge of the chair of Literature. In the house of Life they have the feeling that they have never taken off their overcoats."
- James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times

Sunday, January 31, 2010

I had a really big thought

I wouldn't call the movie "Hook" one of my all-time favorites. I think it could have been a little shorter and less precious in that, famous-people-playing-dress-up way, but there's one scene that always sticks with me: Tinkerbell has a wish so big, it expands her from a tiny fairy to a full-grown woman (with wings).

It serves me as a metaphor for those times when I am considering an idea so deep and spiritual, so high and mighty, that I feel like an Amazon when I've thought it all out. Well, maybe a couple of inches taller.

In a recent book brouhaha, Bloomsbury Publishing published a historical fantasy, Magic Under Glass, with a dark-skinned female protagonist. Here's the 'aha' in the brouhaha: they put a white girl on the cover.

They have since replaced that cover with one showing a dark-skinned woman, and apologized for their "mistake", but here's the 'brou' part of the equation: they've done this before, with a book called, Liar. In the UK it had the appropriate cover of a biracial girl. When it got to the states, they had planned to make her a white girl.

In each case, the authors stepped up and stopped the madness, although Magic Under Glass still officially has the "wrong" cover on it (the last time I looked it up on Amazon).

The thing is, I don't think of Bloomsbury Publishing as white supremacists, out to undermine people of color everywhere. I think they are a business, like any other business, with a department of bean-counters, who looked at the market and said, "Gee, Chief, statistically speaking, covers with white people on them outsell covers with black people on them. We need to make money; ergo, we need a cover with a white person on it." The good news is they weren't thinking of race, they were thinking of money. The bad news is, marketing statistics aren't color blind - yet.

I don't care whether the book I'm reading was written by someone of any specific race. I care whether it's a good book. When it comes to covers, just give me something interesting, and for Pete's sake, don't try to fool me by putting a white girl on the cover if I figure out by the first paragraph that it's about a Chinese immigrant. It's just going to make me cranky.

The whole thing made me think about a color blind society. What does it mean to be color blind?

My husband is a black man; however, he's also an engineer, a coach, an athlete, a fisherman, a father, a lover of theater and books and art - oh, yeah, and of me. I love him because he's smart and funny and sexy and loving, but I don't love him because of his race. I also don't love him despite his race. I think of us as the luck of the DNA draw - we are what we are.

Does that make me color blind? Maybe, but wait...

Last week, I helped our school choir director with auditions for the talent show. A slight young Vietnamese boy came in and proceeded to blow us away with his beatbox skills. I remember thinking, geez, I usually see black guys doing this. He's really good for being a Vietnamese guy.

Am I color blind now?

That's when my big thought occurred to me: I don't want people to be defined solely by their ethnicity. I don't want marketing departments to segmentize us and skew our interests toward authors and TV shows and movies and foods of our own kind. But how much are we willing to sacrifice to be color blind? Can the black community admit Asian rappers? Can the Hispanic community handle a black mariachi band? Can white people accept an Arabic banjo player?

Oops, my big thought just shrunk a little. But you get the idea.


Patricia Stoltey said...

I don't know that it's possible to be color blind, any more than one can be blind to any other human characteristic. I see each human's unique qualities and enjoy the differences. Being color blind makes no sense to me because it denies reality.

N A Sharpe said...

I wish the world would operate on a more open-minded plane. I think some great strides have been made, but face it, we have miles to go before we sleep. Love the Tinkerbell metaphor.

Ruth said...

I just loved when I heard about the symphony orchestra (or more than one, was it Philadelphia?) that started doing auditions with a curtain. Too bad we can't all carry a curtain around to treat people equally. But then, we wouldn't get to see all those beautiful faces.

Anonymous said...

The main detective in my story is black and I tried to drop hints along the way for the reader to pick up without explicitly stating he is black.

I had about 15 people test read the MS and no one picked up on the fact. So I had to make reference to his skin tone to communicate this.

Stephen Tremp

Proud Member of ALA!

I support fair and equitable library access to ebooks and so should you.