Barnes & Noble attempted to bring awareness to Black History Month this week, but unfortunately missed the mark when they announced their money-grabbing, insensitive campaign.
Barnes & Noble announced this month they were going to re-release literary classics with news covers reimagining protagonists as characters of color. Some of the books included were The Wizard of Oz, Peter Pan and Dr. and Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – all books written by white authors, about characters that were also presumably white.
After a multitude of backlash from black authors on Twitter calling the project “literary blackface,” the bookselling chain released a statement last Wednesday saying they would no longer be moving forward with the campaign.
In their statement, Barnes & Noble said the project was created in part to raise awareness on Black History Month.
“The covers were not a substitute for black voices or writers of color, whose work and voices deserve to be heard…The booksellers who championed this initiative did so convinced it would help drive engagement with these classic titles,” Barnes & Noble wrote.
The issue with this campaign is black authors are not actually part of this celebration. Instead of showcasing black authors and their work, Barnes & Noble chose novels that had nothing to do with the black community. None of the novels they chose are about the lives, experiences, culture and traditions of black people. So why are they being highlighted to bring awareness to Black History Month?
Why didn’t they choose to highlight classics that were written by black authors? For example, Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. Or The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois. Or Beloved by Toni Morrison. These are all amazing novels, but none of them were on the list.
Twelve books were chosen for the campaign and of those, only one of them – The Count of Monte Cristo – was written by a black author.
Barnes & Noble even has a page on their website specifically for African American Fiction Classics, so why couldn’t they just choose to highlight novels from there?
Barnes & Noble could’ve just outright said, “…help drive sales, money, profit…”
Putting a person of color on the cover of a novel doesn’t make it more diverse. Being diverse and inclusive means doing the work to seek out work done by people of color and showcasing those works. Putting a person of color on the cover of a book written by and about white people isn’t benefiting the black community at all.
You can’t celebrate Black History Month without black people. If Barnes & Noble would’ve gone about this the right way, their campaign could’ve been something really amazing.
While the attempt is somewhat appreciated, I’m hoping Barnes & Noble will go back to the drawing board and come back with something a lot better next year.