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Midnight... Racist?

Ben Aaronovitch's debut urban fantasy Rivers of London, retitled Midnight Riot by Del Rey for its US release, has a mixed-race protagonist, with a white father and African mother. In recent years, there have been a number of embarrassing examples of major publishers in the US overtly placing white characters on the covers of books with non-white heroes, a relic of an attitude, perhaps, that black people don't care to read. It's asinine, and in some high profile cases, publishers have been duly shamed into correcting or rejacketing covers following a public outcry.

Curiously, I haven't seen much of an outcry in response to what Del Rey has done with the cover of Midnight Riot. Commendably, in the earliest pre-release version of the cover, they showed that they weren't about to Michael Jacksonize the book's hero and magically turn him the color of driven snow. Still, a sufficient amount of shading was employed to conceal very slightly the cover model's black features.

And yet, this apparently wasn't enough. Someone at the company looked at it, decided more had to be done to protect potential book buyers from having to see the SCARY SCARY BLACK MAN on the cover, and ordered more concealment done. The result is now this:

Come on, Del Rey. Really? I mean, really? I mean, good grief, they've even silhouetted his hands!

That's right. Nothing less than total concealment is your lot in the world of Del Rey book covers, if you happen not to be squeakily clean and Caucasian. And look, it appears that exactly the same dazzling racefail adorns the cover of the sequel, Moon Over Soho. Behold the original, next to the actual "Fear of a Black Bookshelf" release version.

I'm not alone in noticing this. Neth Space has discussed it, and I'm sure I could find other blogs and sites if I chose to look for them. There's no way to bullshit what's going on here. The character's face has been silhouetted for no purpose other than to conceal his ethnicity. And there is one word for that: racist.

You can give me all the excuses you like, Del Rey, about how this or that marketing survey shows that books with black people on the cover sell substantially less well than those with white people, or whatever justification your marketing department gave you. And I'm going to look at you, and calmly tell you that my give-a-shit levels are right around zero here, and that racism by any other name — like "marketing" — is still racism.

It's especially offensive here because one of the central motifs of Ben Aaronovitch's novels is London's multiculturalism. And to give a book that embraces multiculturalism a cover that panders to racism in the most cowardly way is simply disgraceful.

Del Rey, I have loved you for decades, and I enjoy a fine working relationship with you now. I hold you to higher standards than this. It is 2011, for frak's sake. This year, two of the six novels on the Nebula ballot for Best Novel are by African-American women. And you guys are still asking us to be afraid of this? There's a whole cultural revolution you seem to have missed here, guys.

In your shoes, I'd fire whoever came up with these bowdlerized images and stand proud behind non-white characters, non-white culture, and non-white stories. I will leave you with some current covers by some of your competitors, to show you how it's done. You're welcome.

Re: Midnight... Racist?

How is it "racist" to make him DARKER?

Ok, ok... just kidding. Verily, this is appalling. The contemporality (yes, I know that's not a word) actually makes it more offensive than olde-timey minstrel and mammy images.

I would love to have been a fly on the office wall when this call was made. Did anyone there caution, protest or even just throw up a Spock-eyebrow?

I'd like to think it was one boss-type putting his foot down for "business" reasons (read: pandering to racial hangups) and telling anyone disgusted by it, "Hey, there's the door!"

But what if nobody objected... and they're over at Del Rey, fielding calls and emails about this, all the while saying, "What gives? Why are we the bad guys? It's just a marketing thing..."

Re: Midnight... Racist?

By comparison, feast your eyes on the blond, Aryan studmuffin on the cover of Kevin Hearne's Hounded, a debut fantasy Del Rey is releasing at the end of April '11.

Re: Midnight... Racist?

He looks like he's waiting for his Starbuck's order.

"Iron Druid," indeed.

Re: Midnight... Racist?

...but isn't Peter mixed race? He implies that he looks more or less IC-North African, which would mean he's milk coffee, no?

Re: Midnight... Racist?

Not only is the cover of Zoo City not racist, it presents a politically correct image of a mixed species person (persons?), specifically the half-dog-half-man Siamese twins conjoined at the head!

Re: Midnight... Racist?

Don't blacks buy books too? Who cares what's on the cover. jw

Re: Midnight... Racist?

I haven't read any of the books you used as examples at the bottom, but a quick google search gives the main characters they're showing as an assassin, a criminal/outcast living on the fringes of her society and a gang leader, whereas Peter Grant is a cop and all round good bloke. It's a depressing thought but perhaps those covers display the characters because they *arn't* good, upstanding people?

Re: Midnight... Racist?

That would be depressing.