Black History Month is a time of the year when many reflect on the contributions of black Americans over the centuries. Many companies choose to celebrate this by highlighting certain products created by black Americans.

Barnes & Noble decided to take this another step further, and in partnership with Penguin Random House, redesigned book covers of classic novels. The idea was titled “Diverse Editions” and saw classics like Romeo and Juliet, Frankenstein, Peter Pan, Moby Dick, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde reimagined with the protagonists being black.

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The “Diverse Editions” were supposed to be on shelves earlier this month. However, it didn’t take long for outcry on social media to show the bookseller that their attempt at celebrating Black History Month was beyond a miss.

Author L.L. McKinney, who recently published A Dream So Dark described Barnes & Nobels campaign as “literary blackface.”

She elaborated to NPR:

“It’s still a story by a white author, featuring a white character, told via the white gaze. And none of this has changed within the contents of the story itself.”

McKinney added, “They’re essentially just slapping a cover on it to ‘celebrate diversity.’ But a lot of us felt that you’re just trying to cash in on the fact that it’s Black History Month, and now all of a sudden, black faces and brown faces will sell books. Just maybe one, two years ago, people were saying in meetings, ‘Yeah, you can’t put black people on covers. It’s not going to sell the book.'”

Others also described it as “literary blackface.”

As the outcry on social media continued to erupt Barnes & Noble finally released a statement about their “Diverse Editions” promotion.

In a statement released on Twitter, the bookseller announced they suspended the project and they cancelled their original event planned to be held at the Barnes & Noble on Fifth Avenue in New York.

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The statement reads:

“We acknowledge the voices who have expressed concerns about the Diverse Editions project at our Barnes & Noble Fifth Avenue store and have decided to suspend the initiative. Diverse Editions presented new covers of classic books through a series of limited-edition jackets designed by artists hailing from different ethnicities and backgrounds. The covers are not a substitute for black voices or writers of color, whose work and voices deserve to be heard. The booksellers who championed this initiative did so convinced it would help drive engagement with these classic titles. It was a project inspired by our work with schools and was created in part to raise awareness and discussion during Black History Month, in which Barnes & Noble stores nationally will continue to highlight a wide selection of books to celebrate black history and great literature from writers of color.”

What do you think of this public relations debacle by Barns & Noble? Is this yet another example of terrible “woke” marketing? Let me know your thoughts!

  • About The Author

    Jorge Arenas
    Resident Star Trek Specialist/ Writer

    If Starfleet were real his career would be in a much different place. Currently, he specializes in all things Star Trek. He loves DC but has a soft spot for Deadpool.

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