So I’m a little darker… and use chopsticks.

There’s been a bit of a rumble about POC characters and their portrayals on covers. I’ve heard it said that books with POC characters on the covers don’t sell. Mind you, I’ve seen no data to back that up so I can’t speak to its reality. I’ve had authors come to me and say, “I’ve been told this. This has happened to me.” And that makes it a very real problem.

Now, I can tell you from my experience I’ve never had a push back from my publisher, Dreamspinner Press, about have a POC character on the covers or in the books. If anything, I’ve not gotten so much as a blink from the company about the ethnic makeup of my characters and have only been encouraged to write well and go where the story takes me. I have had to educate a few of my editors on Hawaiian, Japanese and a few other things but that’s par for the course (and hey, they’re trying to be sensitive to cultural norms). I’ve also had to establish we say “the” in front of the freeway numbers in California and carne asada fries are actually a thing. So it’s a working cultural exploration sometimes for them… as well as my narrators who probably know more about bao and saimin than anyone really needs to.

I come from a multi-cultural background. I have Irish and Portuguese influences as much as I do Asian and Hawaiian. I do not choose to be one race because I am all of those combined. I have all of those cultural influences and a few others from growing up in a family with a diverse ethnic makeup. I write what is around me and what is around me is a full spectrum of white, peach, beige, brown and gold.

All of that being said, the very IDEA — much less PRACTICE — of suppressing the voices of a POC authors, POC characters and their portrayals on the book covers enrages me. I will stand with any author who gets that kind of dismissal from a publisher or a reader. It is not a “white-wash*” or even an erasure. It is a denial of existence. It is a shunning of people who exist outside of a small slice of the world’s vibrant landscape of people.

A rainbow cannot exist without all of the colours and neither can we.

 

* I dislike this phrase for a variety of reasons but I understand its common use. I imagine this goes hand in hand with brown-washing a character, writing a POC character without exploring or accurately depicting their cultural influences. But that’s all another discussion.

14 thoughts on “So I’m a little darker… and use chopsticks.

  1. Tricia Adams

    Hi, Rhys,

    Love your work — thank you for writing it.

    A small nit from your recent newsletter — “the” in front of highway numbers is a SOUTHERN California thing. Those of us in Northern California don’t use “the” — only the freeway number. (I did say it was a small nit.) So, if I’m driving to San Francisco, for instance, I would say, “I’m taking 17 to 85 to 101.”

    It’s always a happy day when there’s a new Rhys Ford book.

    Take care,

    Tricia

    >

    1. That’s funny because all the Northern California people I know say “The” so the nit is not taken 😀 It’s been a topic of hot debate amongst us. 😀

      1. I’m in Arizona and here we say “the,” as well. I never did growing up in Iowa or Texas, nor living in Florida. I just always thought it was a west thing. 🙂

  2. farmwifetwo

    Whole thing is…. there are no on words. I read your books with book open on the tablet and Google ( how did we survive without it) checking things all the time. Not just culture but all the other stuff you mention that I have never heard of and have tried many foods and recipes from novels. Yes, most characters are white but I never think about it . I’d rather read a book with Google open and learn something . Most books are bland and dull anymore .

      1. farmwifetwo

        Not just that… remember in Whiskey when Connor can’t find the door bell and he mentions Escher. Ok, I have print, etc and audio of that series and looked it up in my prints… but that sort of information I had no idea.

  3. Even though I don’t live in SoCal anymore, I still say “the” and get made fun of. The struggle is real! I can’t address the real topic except to say I want to read about all people, not just people like me.

  4. Sue Brown

    As I work in the art department of Dreamspinner, I see a lot of POC covers and request for POC characters on covers come across my desk. I didn’t want to speak for my employer, but that one comment about POC characters on covers makes me furious.

  5. MarilynA

    I read a book because I love the author’s work or the blurb sounds interesting and the cover does not have any influence. If people reject a book because a POC is on the cover there is only one word, “racist”.

  6. Cherry Starr

    Ok. I guess I am not the sharpest. It took all the way through the post to figure out what POC stood for.
    For my 2 cents worth I don’t care any more about the color than I do about gender.

  7. Sadonna

    God help you in Chicago. We use NAMES instead of numbers – so if you’re new to the area, you’re in a world of hurt unless you know that 94 is the Bishop Ford, the Ryan and the Kennedy – depending on what part of the city you’re in and the Stevenson is 55 and it only gets worse from there.

    Also, I adore your characters. And your cover models. And did I mention characters? Who come from all sorts of backgrounds? ❤

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