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Barnes & Noble, Penguin Show Everyone How NOT To Do Black History Month

by Rudy Sanchez on 02/06/2020 | 2 Minute Read

For Black History Month, Barnes & Noble and Penguin Random House were all set to release a series of classic works, including titles like Moby Dick, Alice in Wonderland, and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz with new jackets that reimagine the principal characters as people of color. The works themselves remain unchanged, however, and feature the same, mostly white writers, protagonists, and stories. 

Facing a maelstrom of criticism, the book retailer has decided to suspend the release of the “Diversity Edition” series as well as a public debut event.

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Critics have called the controversial series “literary blackface,” pointing out that these books don’t tell stories reflective of the lives and experiences of people of color, and, in the case of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, there exists a retelling more reflective of the black community.

Editorial photograph

Barnes & Noble released a statement explaining the project, saying, "The covers are not meant to be a substitute for black voices or writers of color, whose work deserves to be heard,” adding that the initiative was “meant to drive engagement with these classic titles.”

Editorial photograph

This comes on the heels of the release of the highly anticipated controversial thriller novel American Dirt, written by Anglo-American author Jeannine Cummings, which tells a story of a Mexican mother and her child fleeing narco-violence as they attempt to cross into the United States. Many have lambasted the portrayal of Mexico and the characters in the novel, calling it culturally tone-deaf and exploitative of the real struggles of Mexicans. Many authors of color have also pointed out that while Latino authors have written about the state of affairs in Mexico, the impact of narcotrafficking, and tales of migrants attempting to cross the southern border, their works and voices are ignored by the literary world.

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