Not noble: Barnes and Noble faces criticism

Angelica Tejada

Barnes & Noble Inc. canceled its plan to change the covers of 12 well-known books to depict characters of color in celebration of Black History Month. The best part of the whole ordeal was that the decision came about after the plan received backlash on Twitter.

Set to partner with Penguin Random House, Barnes & Noble was going to launch these books, coined as the “Diverse Editions,” on Feb. 5. 

What makes the books “diverse” is that a person of color is now drawn on the cover, even if a book’s words are written from a white character’s experiences and perspective.  

This, of course, isn’t how diversity should be celebrated and many people have expressed this same kind of sentiment.  

These covers are “deeply offensive, tone deaf, and exploitative,” said Rod Faulkner in a Medium essay. “In fact, it is a form of literary blackface.”  

While Barnes & Noble did cancel this plan, and it is a good thing the bookseller did, these kinds of initiatives should not be taken lightly. 

Using the image of a person of color in this way eliminates and devalues what it means to be a person of color throughout history and today.

Many authors of color responded their disapproval of the proposed book covers launch on Twitter. One of them was author of 2017 best-selling young adult fiction novel “The Hate U Give,” Angie Thomas.

“Or here’s a thought promote books by authors of color. Just a thought,” tweeted Thomas

These proposed book covers are, in essence, the same sentiment as adding one actor of color to an all-white cast for a movie and thinking that this is what representation should look like. 

This is where the lines on who exactly is being celebrated become blurred, because people of color are not being celebrated if their stories are not being told. 

The stories that were going to be sold with the new covers were ones that have white main characters, such as “Romeo and Juliet” and “Moby Dick,” which don’t have anything diverse about them in terms of race and ethnicity. 

Barnes & Noble had planned to launch these Diverse Editions at their location on Fifth Avenue, just a few train stops away from Baruch College. The bookseller released a statement on Twitter announcing its cancellation of the whole project on the day it was supposed to launch. 

One good byproduct from the failure of this project was the discussions it brought about — while they aren’t ones that celebrate diversity as Barnes & Noble intended, these discussions still matter and are important in recognizing which and whose narrative is being highlighted as a “diverse” project. Next time something is handed out in class or released by a large company as being a beacon to celebrating everyone, including people of color, it might be a good idea to double-check whether this is the best way of doing so.