If a YA book features a white, female protagonist ..., it seems inevitable that the book cover will display an idealized and airbrushed masterpiece of her on the cover. And when a YA book actually does have a protagonist of color, too often one of three things seems to happen:

  • The cover is “whitewashed” and shows a Caucasian model instead of a person of color;
  • The cover depicts someone whose race seems purposefully ambiguous or difficult to discern; or
  • The character is shown in silhouette


It often seems like white characters are spotlighted front and center on a book cover, while non-white characters are hidden in shadow, have their face obscured, or are distorted in some other way that allows people to assume that the character is white.

Notability: It's one blog post of many. It's a blog post which has been mentioned on some famous social justice blogs, including Shakesville. It's a blog post which received a reply from one of the mentioned authors; that author gave her response the title "Whitwashing covers, part eleventy", indicating that this was part of a long ongoing conversation in the bloggosphere.

The blog post quoted gives many many examples, but I'm not aware of any statistical evidence that ambiguous covers are "overwhelming[ly] used for books with non-white protagonists". (To be clear, this wouldn't surprise me, in the least, but it would be nice to see some evidence.)

  • 2
    you should mention that in the Q.
    – user5341
    Jun 7, 2013 at 16:21
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    If the blogger is a YA librarian, then she's an expert and qualified to make generalizations about the range of book covers in her YA collection. Her allegations are true in specific instances (e.g. "Ursula K. LeGuin has been vocal about how her characters are depicted on book covers for decades, yet publisher after publisher has disregarded her text."). You ask for "some evidence" but statistics change: perhaps the range of book covers available now is different than it was 10 or 30 or 60 or more years ago; partly, perhaps, because of the "anti-bias" agenda of which this blog post is a part.
    – ChrisW
    Jun 8, 2013 at 4:34
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    @ChrisW well said, in today's PC western culture, with all its 'affirmative action' and 'positive discrimination', I'd be surprised if publishers didn't find it profitable to promote books as having non-white protagonists (and risk getting sued if they don't have a majority of them).
    – jwenting
    Jun 10, 2013 at 7:03
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    @jwenting. What on Earth are you talking about? On what possible basis could a publisher be sued for publishing bias in their output?
    – TRiG
    Jun 11, 2013 at 22:52
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    @ChrisW: It is a legitimate form of skepticism to say "Here is one person's observations based on a collection of anecdotes. They may well be right, but we know people - even experts - make mistakes when informally looking for patterns (e.g. doctors that claim patients bleed more on a full moon.) We can point to many well-known biases. Are there any systematic reviews of the data to avoid these mistakes?"
    – Oddthinking
    Jun 12, 2013 at 4:33


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