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‘Literary Blackface’ is woke as hell

Imagine how excited the board members of Barnes and Noble and Penguin Random House must have been when they came up with this genius idea

February 6, 2020

12:10 AM

6 February 2020

12:10 AM

In order to cash in on celebrate Black History Month, Penguin Random House and Barnes & Noble planned a collaboration to achieve an amazing feat of wokeness. They were set to perform what I like to term as ‘positive blackface’ on a number of literary classics in order to show their support of diversity. Very much in the spirit of Justin Trudeau, they redesigned the covers of classic novels such as The Secret Garden and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz so that the main characters are more representative of ethnic minorities. 

Now, the more cynically-minded among those less in tune with what people of color want might see this promotion as a horrendously clumsy and lazy attempt at earning virtue points. Well, to that I say a resounding, ‘NO!’. There is nothing more inspirational to a young black child than looking at a cartoon monster with bolts through his neck on the cover of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and thinking ‘He looks just like me!’

Some unthinking bigots have even suggested that by changing the covers on books already in the public domain, this is a rather cost-effective way of bringing these publishing houses some extra earnings, while at the same time they get to pretend to actually give a shit about diverse representation. Of course, I would never say that, because I am certain that their intentions are nothing but noble. I mean, it’s even in their name.

When it comes to businesses showing the masses how much they love diversity, nothing should be off-limits. Even if people of color themselves are dismissing their campaigns as, at best being nothing more than a cheap publicity stunt, and at worst, patronizing and belittling. I mean, what do ethnic minorities know about what’s good for their own self-esteem? They have so little privilege, the poor mites probably do not understand how beneficial making Captain Ahab a black man is for their entire history. 

Imagine how excited the board members of Barnes and Noble and Penguin Random House must have been when they came up with this genius idea. I have taken the liberty of recreating for you all how I envisaged this historic scene playing out…

‘So, Black History Month is just around the corner, we need to do something to display our wokeness!’ Mr Barnes declared as he nonchalantly reclined in his board room chair and thought about how great diversity is. ‘Well, I could send a memo out telling everyone in marketing to promote the many bestsellers written by black and minority ethnic authors we already have on our shelves so that their works and achievements are made more visible to anyone visiting our stores and website?’ a naive Native American intern uttered. ‘Don’t be so bigoted!’ cried Mr Barnes, spluttering bagel crumbs all over his desk, ‘Why on Earth would we do that? Making money during Black History Month from books black people have written could be seen a form of slavery. You’re fired for being a racist!’ As Sacajawea dejectedly leaves the room, cursing her ignorant prejudice, she is passed in the corridor by Arlo, the enthusiastic great grandson of Mr Noble, who leaps into the room excitedly holding aloft a portfolio of artwork he printed off from the internet. ‘Look at these! I found these images in a BuzzFeed listicle entitled: “12 Film Posters Redesigned to Represent BAME Communities (Number 10 Will Amaze You!)”, I think there’s something we could use here!’ Mr Barnes jumps out of his chair and runs over to hug Arlo. ‘You’re a freakin’ genius Arlo! This is precisely what black people need. We can find a bunch of books that nobody owns the rights to, slap some new covers on them and then launch a campaign to show everyone how much we care about the ethnics and whatever.’ Mr Barnes presses a button on the board room intercom, ‘Paula, before she leaves, tell Sacajawea we don’t owe her any back pay because she damn near committed a hate crime.’ Then everyone in the room laughs at how ridiculous Sacajawea’s idea was and slaps themselves on the back for being woke as hell.

Yet now for some inexplicable reason — I assume related to systemic racism — Penguin Random House and Barnes & Noble have reversed their plans to put people of color on the book covers. This is a terrible shame. I can only plead that rather than pulping the inspiring new editions, they send them to my address so that I might distribute them among the minority ethnic communities of my city. For a small fee of course. Mr Barnes, Mr Noble, Mr Penguin Random House: DM me on Twitter and I’ll tell you where to forward them. Black History Month will not go uncommemorated!

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