Thursday, December 17, 2009

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I like the Publishers Weekly cover

Some people are angry about this cover of Publishers Weekly.

As a Kenyan-Canadian novelist, broadcaster and community activist (and former school teacher) who's performed anti-racist and multiculturalist work for decades, I want you to know I liked your cover choice a great deal.
The only thing I didn't like was the exclamation mark (possibly because they're so rarely used, they seem insincere when they are).
Part of the negative response to the issue may be that, in my experience, many North Americans of non-African ancestry discuss Afros as if they were ridiculous; certainly many of my students asked over the years if, "back in the day," I wore a "'fro," which I tended to regard as a silly if not a patronising question (it was posed in the same context as asking whether I wore clothing that was now deemed unfashionable; these young people were far too young to understand any of the social politics and significance of the Afro).
I suspect the tendency to see Afros as deserving of ridicule is connected to the wigs worn by circus clowns, which, combined with the cosmetically-painted grotesquely large lips, imply an origin that was anti-African (as with Blackface minstrels, for instance; similarly, the etymology of "cabal" is from "kabbalah," demonstrating the mostly-forgotten but actually anti-Jewish origin of that term).
That being said, I regard our naturally kinky hair as beautiful, and hold fond memories of my Afro pick, so the cover was a source of great delight, featuring a beautiful, elegant African woman and a fun play on words.
I'm also glad that PW chose to make a theme issue featuring books by African authors. To the best of my knowledge, PW hasn't been excluding us, either (although I'm no expert on PW). I certainly hope that every issue of PW will review novels by African writers (whether we're Kenyan, Nigerian, Jamaican, Canadian, Brazilian or American).
Good choices, PW.
(No exclamation mark.)

1 comments:

Nalo said...

*Nods* The folks at Locus Magazine asked me how I felt about that cover. I liked the theme and liked the pun, even though I found the latter a tad bit forward, along the lines of the white man who calls a black stranger 'brah'. Not necessarily offensive, depending on who does it and how/why; more along the lines of the kind of uncertainty about belonging vs outsider and how to proceed in an environment where the power dynamics are so racially charged. But by doing their 'Afro Picks' issue, an institution has made a gesture that's actually overtly aimed at undermining systemic racism. So in this case, I'm inclined to focus on that good, not on my mild feeling of overfamiliarity. This stuff is tense and there will be fumbling. I'd rather cultivate the few acts of real alliance and apply my outrage where I judge there's active harm being done. If I decide as I learn and hear more that I've been wrong about how PW handled the 'Afro Picks' issue, I'll change my mind. But at the moment, I think it's a Good Thing.