Thursday, July 29, 2010

Why I Want More Asians on YA Book Covers: My Experience with Racism
Everyone has a story like this. Whether you're white or non-white, the racial majority or the racial minority, you've probably had an encounter with racism that you still remember as That Moment for the rest of your life. Here's mine:

I was in early middle school, 6th, 7th grade, maybe. My family had gone out to the all-you-can-eat buffet lunch at Pizza Hut with several other families. We were all close, due to similar cultural extracurricular activities and the same age range for the children. We kids chowed down our pizzas, breadsticks, and sodas, hungry rascals that we were, and began to get restless while the adults ate leisurely and chatted with one another. I pulled out a deck of cards and engaged some of the others in a game, but 52 cards is not enough to entertain 15 or so kids, and so inevitably there was lots of running, shouting, and being hyper kids at a pizza parlor.
So kids were running around and we were all in general making a lot of noises when one of the mothers caught some of the kids as they raced by the tables for the fifth or so time. "Settle down!" she ordered us in Chinese. "We're the minority, we have to be quiet!"


In her defense, rowdy kids in a restaurant should definitely be taught to be more considerate of other patrons and their surroundings, even in a family-oriented location.

Aaaaand that's about all I can say for her argument.

I was shocked. Seething with anger. Humiliated for my own race. Disappointed that someone so well educated, so well respected amongst our community, so looked up to by me and others, would say such a thing to kids, teach us, even unintentionally, that this sort of subservient inferiority thinking is acceptable. It's been probably 10 years since the incident, and my heart still clenches whenever I think of it, that day when I lost respect for someone I admired, that day someone--someone of my own race, no less--took my racial identity and slammed it in my face, pressuring me to conform to "acceptable" behavior and beliefs for my race.

Perhaps one might argue that being Asian is not quite as "difficult" as being a member of another race or ethnicity. Asians are considered to be in a similar position as Jews in many ways in American society. We have light skin, generally perform well in school, and obey rules; a large percentage of Asians live in comfortable socioeconomic brackets. To many, Asians do not come to mind when the word "minority" and its stereotypical implications arise. In fact, Asians were held up as the "model minority" back in the fifties and sixties, as an example of what minorities can accomplish if only they put themselves into it and stopped blaming society and situation for their troubles. [Edited to fix ambiguous statements that could've been misconstrued. Thank you, Linda!]

But what we, over many other racial and ethnic groups, have acquired is a passive acceptance of the beliefs and treatment others subject us to. Many Asians do not have that much of a problem being considered the nerd-smart, obedient, socially awkward race. Better than being considered the hoodlum, or the troublemaker, or the good-for-nothing...right? It is, however, our own quiet acceptance of others' assumptions of what our race is like that ensures our position as a racial doormat.

The problem is that Asians self-perpetuate these beliefs of obeisance, one generation after another. The family friend at the pizza restaurant tells us kids to be quiet because we're the minority, thus we shouldn't attract attention to ourselves. She acknowledged that we may be disturbing the other restaurant patrons, but instead placed the responsibility on society's expectations of our race to be meek and complacent. A white mother would've said to her rowdy white kids, "Settle down! You're in a restaurant, not a park. Don't disturb the other patrons with your noise." Her argument is much more situational and individualistic. The kids are held accountable for their own behavior, not the image of an entire race.

I realize there are cultural discrepancies in these two mothers' different reactions to their disruptive kids. You know, East vs. West, collectivism vs. individualism, the sort of thing you study in psych, history, or soc-anth classes. But if we--and by "we" I don't mean just Asians, but everyone else in this whole damn world--continue to allow this racial self-policing to continue, then it's no wonder that white values continue to be considered superior, preferred. It's no wonder that Asians get pigeonholed into certain "types" of personalities and careers, and no wonder that some Asians' backlash to their own culture is so striking and self-hating. It's no wonder that Asian models get taken off the covers of Asian-set or Asian-themed books.

I encourage you to click to enlarge
this image so you can check out the
words below "Olive Crown."
Forget about democracy and equality and diversity: really what has been going on in many institutions, not just the book publishing industry, over the past decades and centuries is the "deracialization" of races that are considered less, the ones that are not "white enough." When I visit Taiwan and walk the streets of Taipei, I'm bombarded with white models blown up dozens of feet high on billboards, beauty parlors advertising their ability to make you blond, selling products to whiten your skin. Asian women undergo surgeries on their eyelids to achieve the wider-eyed, double-folded lid look that--you guessed it--makes them look more white. And I just watched the Chris Rock documentary Good Hair recently, and there are all sorts of reasons that go into why black women spend so much money relaxing their hair or getting weaves. And not all of it has to do with vanity, but rather with a view that society has ingrained in them that relaxed, flowing hair is not only more beautiful, but also looks more professional in the work force.

And whereas you can walk into a school and see groups of black or Latina ladies expressing their pride at being black or Latina, you don't find the same with groups of Asian friends. Asian girls will typically flaunt their Asianness in a subconscious subjection to archaic Orientalist attitudes. Their thinking is, "I'm glad I'm Asian because I have great hair / age well / guys of all races think I'm cute." It's not, "I'm proud to be Asian for me and ME ALONE" the way black women can often say so about their race. Asians are constantly thinking of themselves in terms of other people. And yes, that's part of our Eastern culture as well, this attention to interpersonal connections as the primary way of validation of self, but that absolutely does not give other races and ethnicities the right to walk all over us.

The lack of Asians on book covers enforces the idea that Asians should be the quiet race. Because we are not the proud stars of our own stories, but rather the spectators and secondary characters to others'. We are always the best friend, never the protagonist. When I look at book covers featuring white models representing protagonists that I end up loving and relating to, I subconsciously associate myself with these white characters. It is my "Twinkie-ness" (yellow on the outside, white on the inside) that allows me to enjoy YA books. Reading YA lit the way it's currently jacketed takes away from my Asian identity, because both white society and my own Asian one do not allow for Asians to take a starring role.

Large chain bookstores would not buy Cindy Pon's Silver Phoenix because there was a proud Asian model in traditional Chinese garb on the cover. It's a beautiful, stunning, breath-taking cover, one that had me lusting after it for the fact that it had an Asian girl on the cover alone. Replacing the gorgeous, racially correct cover with a racially ambiguous, awkwardly posed and accessorized Darkest Powers trilogy lookalike offends me. It sends the message that being Asian and proud is not okay. By any standard of 21st-century human rights, is that an acceptable message to send to teenagers?

So we Asians are never going to leap to our feets, wolf-whistle, cat-call, and give rowdy standing ovations in concerts, like the mostly black audience did at the incredible Chester Children's Choir concert I attended at my school over the weekend. Our family and friend gatherings are most likely not going to spill into the streets and be full of color, noise, and spice until the wee hours of the morning. We don't yet lead in the way Western society perceives leaders: as outspoken, well-spoken, and progressive activists.

But to tell--directly or indirectly--an Asian teen that the only way he/she can have "fun," can be him- or herself, is by rejecting their Asian-ness and immersing themselves in white culture... that's plain offensive. It's inhumane.

Society--especially mostly white, American society--has made it an uphill battle for me to understand and embrace my Asian identity. As a teenager I think I would've died from happiness had there been more books with Asian characters and Asian cover models. In a world where popular media inevitably colors our perceptions of racial and ethnic acceptance, it is all the more important that something as trite ("don't judge a book by its cover") yet as monumental (covers are an important selling point for books) as book covers accurately and actively portray the truth about the world's diversity.

Sure, reading fiction can be escapism for the majority of the time. But part of what's so appealing about reading fiction is its relatability, be it contemporary realism or hardcore sci-fi/fantasy. We appreciate--nay, adore--characters whom we can understand, characters whom we can picture ourselves acting like if we were in their situation. Readers are not going to freak out if the MC of a book is of a different gender/race/ethnicity/religion/sexual orientation than them. If that happened, I'd already be wallowing in the scanty, unfortunately rather monotonous Ethnic Literature section with the likes of Maxine Hong Kingston and Amy Tan. POC readers have long read literature featuring white protagonists...and many have enjoyed those books. Why are we assuming that white readers can't do the same? If we call for diversity, why the need to stifle important identities and physical and cultural features of a significant portion of our population?

Let's not demean YA readers' intelligences, please. When we pick up a book with a POC character and see a model of a different race on the cover, we're not going to think, "Oh, YAY! Pretty, beautiful, consumer-happy-making cover!" We are going to think, "Um, hello, did the publishing house not read the book or something? Why is there a white person on the cover when the MC is clearly Asian/black/Latino/etc.?" We're not stupid. We're not unobservant. Give us more credit than that.

Let's have covers and stories that more accurately portray the wide range of beautiful, unique, talented, smart, funny, and, yes, weird people in our world. You want to continue to earn more money, industry people? You want people to continue to love reading, to continue to buy books? Then enter the 21st century and embrace CHANGE, like every single industry and organization out there needs to be doing. Cookie-cutter Wonderbreadland white characters and settings are no longer cutting it. Books should help expand our worldview, not stifle it. The 20th century was full of progress in the human rights field: integration of schools, businesses, and facilities; affirmative action; opening old and prestigious colleges and universities to women.

Let's not take steps backward now.


[Note: This post was inspired by Ari at Reading in Color, who wrote a frustratingly sad post about the Silver Phoenix cover change. Head over to her post to find more links to similar posts written by other bloggers.]

Readers: If you are comfortable doing so, please feel free to share your experience with racism either here or in your own post. I welcome your comments, whether you agree or disagree with me. I don't really care what the details of your own opinions on this issue are: it's more important that people talk about this in any degree, and continue talking about it.


  1. *claps* Go Steph!!

    I know it's not exactly the same issue, but sort of relates... why can't book covers feature plus size models? I read a post somewhere where the blogger listed like 3 or 4 books where the plus-sized characters are slimmed down on the cover.

    And again *claps*

  2. Ohmygosh!!! I love Asians, being one myself (Indian). We have a great sense of humour and I have a bunch of Asian friends you always say "I'm proud to be azn". They post pictures of Chinese food, Japanese restaurants and products, manga and themselves in kimono's on Facebook to show pride, and that is the best thing for me. Pride. I love the Silver Phoenix cover! It's so beautiful and graceful! The other covers for it sucks, so cliche. I WANT to see more Asians on covers!! I can't believe how racist America is, especially the book world!

    Indians are like that too, we always gather in large family groups and go out to eat dinner. I remember we totally ruled one restaurant for my friends' Sweet Sixteen. I noticed how all the other people in the restaurant sort of...left after we came in. I mean, almost ALL of them. So I share your outrage and righteous anger!

    Thanks for the great post!

  3. That Olive Crown wording is

    Daniel dated a chinese girl for years (they are still great friends) and when they lived in LA, the racism against her was obvious. He's German, of course, and people would say to their faces that Daniel was the good kind of foreigner and she was the bad kind. Well, except for some WWI/WWII era men who didn't like either of them...

  4. I'll tell you something I haven't told anyone else: My best friend is Asian, and I always kinda sorta wished I was too.

    Great post.

  5. All I can say is:
    Wow, what an amazing and inspiring post.

    I didn't realise they'd changed Cindy Pon's covers :(
    The original for Silver Phoenix looked so much better.

  6. De-lurking to say thank you for posting this. As a white woman I don't have personal experience to share, but I am so grateful to folks like you and Ari for keeping this conversation alive. I only hope that if enough people keep talking about this, we will see more diverse books, and more diverse covers. It definitely inspires me as a writer to keep trying to include a range of characters in what I write. Hopefully they will continue to be accurately depicted on the covers!

    On a positive note, I did just recently see this book spotlighted in a book blog and took note:

    And there's also this on the way:

  7. Hi, Super White Girl here. The one whose family considered putting salt in meals a "spicy meal". :) I have never had an experience where I was a subject of any race-related thing but I have been in situations where I have seen it and not known what to do about it. One of my first jobs when I moved from the 'burbs to down town Montreal was at a Pharmacy where the manager was so racist against any black person who came in. And he'd accuse them of stealing EACH time. It was horrible and I was young (21) and didn't know what to do and had NEVER in my life seen that before.

    When my elementary school gang and I got together a couple of years ago to mark our 20 year anniversary of graduating from grade 6 (I feel so old) we all sat around the table and one of my friends said "You know, it wasn't until I was in the 10th grade that I looked in the mirror and at my friends and said "Holy s--t! I'm BLACK!"

    I was so very lucky, my elementary school class was rather diverse, though mainly white and yet NONE of us EVER notice that. Yes some of my friends has "foreign" parents (you know, they had pleasant accents from exotic places like India, China, Pakistan, or the Caribbean!) but my friends were just that - my friends. And all of them said only as they got older did their race actually get pointed out and they never thought of it themselves.

    We were extremely lucky.

    I like to relate to the characters when I read. So in my case, again, lucky because most book characters are white. But I can see how frustrated I'd get if I weren't white. I'd have a hard time escaping into someone else's life.

    Publishers should not white wash covers. I think that is disgusting. Yes, I am less likely to think I will relate to another race, but it won't stop me from buying the book if there isn't a white girl on the cover.

    Sorry for the long winded reply.

  8. I agree with you, Steph.

    That is the exact same reason I want more gays in YA novels.

  9. RANDOM COMMENT! This reminds me of the "Nobody's Asian in the Movies" song from Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog.

  10. Steph, What a great post. I am one of the writers of KARMA BITES, a middle grade book, and as a half-Chinese person I was intent on getting a Chinese girl into my book who does not fit the stereotype. My character is hugely popular in the book, not shy and modest at all. I love her. I wish there were more characters like her out there.


  11. How much I agree with you. I long so much to read more of Asian protagonists. Which is why when Silver Phoenix first came out last year, I was dying to read it until I finally got my hands on it. To see a beautiful Asian girl in the front cover of an oriental novel made me so happy. When they changed the cover recently, I was heavily disappointed too. I hope the people who are working with Silver Phoenix sees your post.

  12. Fantastic post, Steph.

    Man, I have so much to say on this topic, but I don't have enough time.

    I'm writing a book right now with an Asian MC...who knows if it will ever get published. But I'm a teacher who has a lot of Asian students, and I just want a book that my kids can grab and see someone who looks like them. They get SO EXCITED when they read a book with an Asian character who isn't a stereotype, and I wish that the publishing world would realize that.

    I think the more that bloggers talk about these issues, the more publishers will take note. I'm glad you posted this.

    Oh, and here's some racism for you. My bff in high school was Korean. She came over to my house one day and my aunt asked her TO HER FACE if she was an exchange student. It didn't even cross her mind that she might be American.

    Anyway...fantastic post. :-)

  13. tell it like it is!

    i've never had an experience like that - my mom/parent's moms/relatives would simply say QUIET DOWN STOP DISTRACTING PEOPLE. never have i been told by an asian that i was minority. and at school me and my friends are proud asians. they wish they were as cute as us and had our food.

    i think that varies from family to family, some more then others. not to say i haven't had racist experiences. i have. but my parents have pretty good english and my family is just as american as chinese so perhaps my encounters have been different :) i'm proud to be able to be in both cultures and i love taco nights XD

    but yes, i agree to almost everything you say. i hate the perception what white beauty is the only type of beauty. every ethnicity, race, nationality each has their own beauty. ex: bollywood stars. the most gorgeous people ever.

    and sometimes, i'd like to smack some people. example situation: cashier mocks asian woman's accent.

    what the cashier doesn't know: that woman lived in another country her whole damn life and then came to american knowing little to NO english. she learned the language, got a job, made a living, and started a family. i'd like to see you do that, let alone learn an entirely new language.

  14. My wife and I have blonde hair and blue eyes. We are unable to have children and have adopted two beautiful mixed race children.

    We joke that if we could have had kids of our own they wouldn't be as attractive as the kids we adopted.

    At first my wife felt bad that everywhere she went people would stop and ask where her baby came from because it didn't look like her. We still get questions and quizzical looks. But it’s not so bad anymore because we don't notice people noticing. We love them, they love us - they are our children and we are all children of God.

    Thank you for expressing your feelings about this topic. I hope that your readers will have a positive experience when they read this post, I have. :)

  15. What a great post! I can't believe they changed the cover for that book. The first one was gorgeous. If I had been the author, I would have been furious. Has the media written about this? It is a huge case which should be known to the public.

  16. i'm ashamed to say it but i remember desperately wishing i was white when i first started going to school after my family and i moved from the philippines. i was the only filipino girl in that 3rd grade class, i didn't speak any english and everything i tried to do seemed to be "wrong."

    but despite of my being teased for years in school. my "that moment" happened about 5 years ago in a Gap store. my mom, sisters (they were 2 & 7 yrs old then) and i were looking at clothes when we passed by a white cashier and he said "there are some slippers on sale in the back." being a salesperson, there's nothing wrong with the words he said but it was just the way he said it (he didn't even greet us!) with that little smirk and the way he looked down his nose on us--like we couldn't possibly afford the regularly priced stuff. my mom didn't catch it but i did and had us leave the store immediately. i was so mad and offended (just thinking about it now still makes me mad).

    great piece steph! i agree with you.

  17. Beautiful and well written post. You make excellent points.

  18. This is a wonderful post, not because of your experience with racism, but because you are willing to talk about it and not keep it hush-hush. I haven't been on the receiving end of racism, but I have seen people make racist comments. I hate that it is so prevelant within our society, and even within the book store (placing African American books in their own section, instead of mixed within other genres).

    I do my bit as a reader and blogger to help the fight against racism. I purchase and gladly review PoC books honestly. I think as bloggers we can do so much. We can raise awareness of awesome PoC YA, we can celebrate gorgeous covers like the original Silver Phonenix. We can cross post our PoC reviews. We do have some power in making PoC books visible. I love that. I love whenever Amazon recommends me books featuring characters of color. I love it whenever I see a YA book featuring a character of color reviewed. Maybe if we all chromatized our reading and wrote about it, the industry would see how much we are dying to have chromatic casts in books.

  19. Amazing post Steph and I can't agree with you more!

    Like April I also hate how there is an African-American section in a bookstore. Especially since that section is often tucked away and not readily seen by browsers in the store. Books should not be separated out by race because so many great reads might be missed - by the person who doesn't see the AA section or by the person who only looks there. All books should be filed by genre.

    I also am so saddened by the cover change for Cindy Pon's books. I think the new covers are awkward and too similar to other covers on the shelves. There is nothing about them that pops or stands out and they just fade in my mind. Yet The original Silver Phoenix cover is so bright that it literally jumps off the shelf and says look at me. And that is why I bought it. It was too pretty to leave in the store.

    Thank you for writing such a powerful piece and bringing more attention to an important subject.

  20. This comment has been removed by the author.

  21. (sorry dup post)
    Yes - thanks for taking the time to write this and voice something we've all thought about.
    My first experience was in grade school. A black girl sneered at me and said "your ancestors used to beat my ancestors." Even at such a young age I was horrified but I responded. "My ancestors came from Ireland, they did NOT beat your ancestors." Racism is alive and well and it effects EVERYONE!

  22. Before I stayed at home with my kids, I worked in day care. I remember my last year; I had a little Asian girl start in my PreK class. She was new to this country and spoke little English. We loved to celebrate other ethnicities and cultures in the class. When the father heard we were discussing Asian culture in class, he took me aside and told me, "I don't want that. I don't want her to look different."

    My heart broke for the little girl then, and this post breaks my heart even more. No one should feel they have to change for society, whether it is for race, gender, sexual orientation, weight, etc.

    And as a white girl, I am very insulted if the publishing industry thinks I won't enjoy reading about protags of other races. Fabulous post, Steph!

  23. That is such an articulate, intelligent post. I lived in China for a while and was shocked at the efforts that some of my Chinese girlfriends would go to seem more "western". I often saw products like "Olive Crown" which made me incredibly sad. I have often wondered why book covers seem dominated by white faces, despite the books themselves featuring multi-racial characters. Thank you for tackling an important subject with such thought.

  24. Great post! I think the worst I've experienced was with a friend. She's Indian and at a gas station in Alabama, she was told: "we don't serve people the color of poo here". Horrifying. And this was one minority to another - black to Indian.

  25. Thanks for this post Steph.
    Things are a little different here in Hawaii, and yet they're not. However, we are one of the few states where caucasians are a minority. I'm native Hawaiian, Japanese and Chinese and I'm never seen as a minority until I go to the continent. Being Hawaiian, I will always be a minority even among minorities, but that's a good thing. In this way, wearing the coat of "minority" is comfortable and positive.

    Still I totally agree that we are underrepresented in literature, and when I see minorities on YA book covers, they are so stereotyped (including the original Silver Phoenix cover.)

    I was in San Francisco once and shopping at Macy's when someone asked me where to find the cashier. I told her that Chinese woman in the blue sweater was one of the cashiers. She told me, "oh we don't say Chinese here, it's the woman in the blue sweater." I didn't say anything, but seriously, I'm from Hawaii. I know for a fact that the woman was Chinese as compared to Korean, Thai, Vietnamese or even a mixture of all of the above, and it had nothing to do with her wearing a cheongsam, it had to do with the fact that I'm familiar with the feature distinctions of the different ethnic groups and I appreciate those differences.

  26. How have I not come across your blog before?

    A really, really moving and impressive post.

    I have a long and storied relationship with being Asian, not the least of which is because I am hapa, but don't really look it. (Korean mom, white dad.) I wrote a post about it once and there was a brief period of time in high school where I rejected my Asian identity for a time, or rather, the Asian identity I felt was imposed upon me by other Asians. (Curiously, I didn't feel the same from my white friends and admittedly, the majority of my friends are white.)

    The other day I was hanging out with some friends, playing a game. I said that I couldn't do math and the Asian boy came back with, "But I thought you were Asian!"

    Ugh. Look, I might not be a violin-playing math prodigy, but Jesus, that doesn't mean I'm not Asian.

    It's precisely this self-policing that I find so sad. I still have issues with my identity, partially because I am so uncomfortable around other Asian people, but I'm working on it.

    P.S. I also blog about race in fiction sometimes. :)

  27. I picked up Silver Pheonix BECAUSE of the beautiful Asian cover - it makes me so angry that the cover has changed to submit to the whim of the large book chains.

    Bravo to you for this post.

  28. Well done! I'm still baffled by publishers/book sellers who think cultural diversity on covers is a bad thing. Give us readers some credit!

    The original Silver Phoenix cover is so much better than the subsequent "fixes." I'm not Asian but have two Asian cousins because my aunt and uncle adopted two girls from China. We're all one big family - it's not about race, or looks or genetics. And I read a story based on how interesting/well written it is - not the race of the protagonists. Well, if we all keep talking about it, we can help encourage and create positive change.

    Great post!

    Teens Read & Write

  29. This is an excellent post, Steph! Thank you for taking the time to put it together. I would love for there to be more Asian people on covers, on TV, in media in general. I hate that the industry re-imaged The cover for Silver Phoenix. Boo!! Hiss!! I hope you don't mind my tweeting your post.

  30. Kirthi I didn't know you were Indian! I am too! Steph, I agree with you. I really loved the Silver Phoenix cover with the Chinese girl on it but I was so mad when they changed it! Again, I agree with Kirthi, they're too cliche. Most of the time, being Indian, most people here think I should have really dark skin, but I'm very light tanned and because of this I am called a Mexican more than anything. Kirthi, I've never experienced the thing with the restaurant but I'm sure many people do. It's not right and I hate it.

    The Compulsive Reader-- I've got a lot of friends who want to be Asians.

    Cat @ Beyond Books -- I've got friends from every continent except Antarctica yet none of us says anything bad. We've just cared about the people, not their skin color. I get what you're saying!

    Diana Dang-- I was happy to get my hands on it too. But the cover it self was sooooo pretty. Much prettier than the new ones!

    Jessica-- Yeah, that happens. One of my friends is really smart and had an accent and so one of our teachers tells him "Oh, I didn't know we were going to have an exchange student." The look on his face was so sad because he'd lived in the US his whole life. And more? His sister had that exact same teacher.

    Jami-- Thanks for being honest. I like people, especially White people, when they tell those publishes that you will read a book with a Chinese girl on the cover.

  31. *sigh* it's very sad, I'm Mexican and I've faced discrimination many times, in my own country, in Spain and in the US. it's an awful feeling. I remember this nasty waitress who wouldn't take my mom's order at a restaurant because my mom doesn't speak a lick of English, and a rude white boy who felt it was okay to push me and my baby cousin in the street until I began to yell at him in two different languages how annoying he was, and this super rude clerk in Spain who made fun of my sister and I.

    But most of all I remember how shocked I was the first time I went to Cancun. Half the signs were in English only, some stores wouldn't take Pesos and then there was this clerk at a store that began to talk to my dad in English off the bad, she was so surprised when she realized we were Mexicans because, according to her, Mexicans just couldn't afford fancy hotels like the one we were staying at, she said everyone that came to her store was either European or from the US.

    That's the kind of thing you just don't forget, and it's so awful when someone from your same country does that to you.

    The funny thing is that i don't think of myself as Latina or Hispanic or anything really, I'm just a girl, okay, woman (I'm 26). I'm proud of being Mexican, but I am a lot more than the city were I was born.


    Sorry for the rant.
    I think the original cover for the Phoenix books was awesome. The new ones look, sorry to say, second-rate Darkest Powers-y

  32. I love your post but I do want to say that I hope you remind your readers to please continue to support Cindy's books, no matter what the cover is. Cindy is a good friend of mine and by far one of the nicest people you'll find out there. She wrote a fabulous book and sequel and she's a terrific artist. Her publisher believes in her enough to support her wholeheartedly, even changing her cover to see if that will help with sales. Yes, I am with you on the change of an Asian girl so proudly centered to a girl of unknown ethnicity who is completely shadowed. I hate that we had to take a step back. But I want to also stress the importance of getting books about POC out to the broader audience. If that means changing the cover to do so, then this is a good thing. Because the other option is that the book slowly disappears off the shelves.

    Please understand the fact that the publisher was willing to change the cover means they are invested not only in the book but in Cindy as an author. It is a huge investment. There have been many a time where a first book fails and the publisher chooses not to continue to support it and also does not choose to publish the second book. So here is a publisher that believes in their author and wants to see her book succeed. That's important to remember also.

    I think racism is still alive and kicking. I see it often. I can tell stories that would make you blind with rage. But that's life. And yet I wouldn't want to live anywhere else in the world. We must fight different things different ways. Regardless of Cindy's cover, let's celebrate the fact that her book is continuing to live on and her sequel is coming out. Because that is also a great achievement.

    When I first started writing, a publishing industry person told me that no one would ever buy my book because it was about ancient Korea. I plan to prove them wrong. I know there's a market. The readers are there and want to read more about POC. Prove it to the publishers by making sure those books out there sell well.



  33. Steph, I just read this article as I'm getting read for work, and I had to comment before I left.

    Thank you for writing such an honest, articulate post and bringing to light these issues. Another impressive and thought-provoking post!

  34. Oh wow, such a great post, Steph! I really love the original cover of Silver Phoenix and I have a copy of it although I haven't gotten around to reading it yet. It saddens me that they decided to change the cover for the paperback.

    As for racism experiences, I don't really have any because I live in my native land (the Philippines). I've only been to the States twice and I never experienced racism while I was there. Maybe because I stayed only in California and that's a pretty diverse area? In any case, what I'd like to talk about is how prevalent colonial mentality is in the Philippines. We were colonized by the Americans and until now, the influences linger. In general, Filipinos think it's good to be "white" so whitening products over here make a huge profit. Here's a quote from Wikipedia:

    In the Philippines colonial mentality is most evident in the existence of favoritism for Filipino mestizos (primarily those of mixed native Filipino and white ancestry, but also mixed indigenous Filipino and Chinese, and other ethnic groups) in the entertainment industry and mass media, in which they have received extensive exposure despite constituting a small population in the country.

    So it isn't racism exactly but I think it's somewhat related. I don't understand why people aren't satisfied with who they are and why they strive to become someone else's definition of beautiful. Thanks for posting about this topic.

  35. I'm Black and even I want more Asians on book covers. I was pleasantly surprised by Silver Phoenix and even though it was a bit cliched like most fantasy, the Asian back drop and landscape was just breath of fresh air. I asked my mom which cover she would likely choose and she said the original cover was more dynamic.

    It's weird because when a PoC book doesn't do well, they always blame the cover. Well maybe if we put a white chick on the front maybe it would do better. Ugh... it's such terrible logic. I wrote about it as well.

  36. Very well done, Steph. I remember seeing Cindy's book in an indie when it first came out and gasping because it was so striking and beautiful - and powerful, as is your post.

  37. Excellent post, Steph.

    If there's one thing I know from my Asian history classes, it's that for all the collective ideals and such that you mentioned, Asia is full of rightfully proud cultures.

    And this white reader has picked up books just because they had Asians on the cover. It's fun to read about people who are different and have different lives than I do.


    I really couldn't agree you more. Thank you for posting such a well-written argument for more diverse covers.I am incredibly bothered when I go to a bookstore and look at the covers--they are all basically the same girl on the cover. They are all gorgeous (no acne, thin, etc)--and white. To be honest, it's getting a bit claustrophobic for me when I survey the YA section. I don't feel right, being there (I'm half Asian, half white, myself). I'm sure my friends don't feel comfortable in the YA section--my community is overwhelmingly composed of minorities. I'm sure a lot of teens who are a minority or who are multiracial feel the same way--marginalized by the lack of representation in the YA section. More and more, I'm really finding that the YA section lacks diversity in all spectrums. Where are the boy books? Where are the POC books? There are some, but there aren't enough, and publishers market these books so incompetently.

    Publishers don't seem to understand that we WANT Asian main characters. We WANT Hispanic main characters. We WANT black main characters. We WANT boy main characters. We WANT every religion, every type of sexuality characters. We WANT every type of main character that you can throw at us. And I want these diverse main characters on the covers, too.

  39. Thought-provoking, post (I'm new to this blog). I'm a Swedish person who grew up in Hong Kong, attending an international school. I used to be glad when I went back to Sweden and people thought I had started "looking Chinese." I'm a dark-haired Swede, not so uncommon now, but back in the 70s, Sweden was startling homogeneous. (Think blonde hair/blue eyes, long legs...I have none of those.). My new character (and cover girl!) is a girl adopted from China. She's the only Chinese person in her tiny Maine town. If you want to read about her adventures, please check out the book - brand new, and the first in a series:
    Thanks for the discussion!

  40. Oh my gosh, I seriously love this post! I'm Chinese too, so I know what you mean. I agree with everything you say! Thank you for writing such an amazing post!


  41. Thank you so much for this post. It's well written, thought-provoking, and heart-breakingly true. I have definitely experienced all those things before as an Asian American.

    The problem with SILVER PHOENIX's cover saddens me -- a lot more so because of Greenwillow actually tried to stay true to the ethnicity of the characters, and yet racism from chain bookstores forced them to change the covers. :(

  42. Hi Steph, great post. Well, racism will always be an issue. It happens in my country, Malaysia too.

    For now, they're telling us not to define ourselves by race (Malay, Chinese, Indian, Others) but by nationality. So instead of saying that one is Malay or Indian or Chinese, they should proudly proclaim themselves as Malaysians. :)

    It's presumed to help foster racial unity.

  43. ::hugs:: Steph, this is seriously one of the best posts I've seen around the blogosphere. I,too,have been extremely disheartened by the Silver Phoenix cover change. Not only are they ugly, but the original cover has me in deep cover lust.

    This goes for PoC, gay protagonists, handicapped (I mean, how many handicapped characters do you see in YA? Not many.) and so many other minorities. Publishers need to open their eyes and realize that most teens don't give a flying monkey about someone's racial/sexual/religious/national/mental background. xP

    Cindy Pon has or had a great contest on her blog giving away 7 books concerning PoC protagonists ala Perfect Chemistry, Liar, and some others. :) At least she's moving forward and retaliating in the best way possible.

    Okay, I'm going to link to this now! :D

  44. thank you for this post! being a Muslim i can completely understand what your saying, its wrong what happened all those years ago, i think with my culture in particular it varies, i might on the lucky side with my family because where a bit on the naughty side and stubborn more than anything else, even the oldies, will most likely do the, do what hell you want children, what they going to do to us?! hahaa, im sorry that memory imprinted on you, i hope one day you can completely move on from that and forgive although its never easy.


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