The other day I was browsing through Twitter, looking at the weird and pretty memes, when I came across a photograph of an author’s newest book. I frowned, wondering if my eyes deceived me. I’m quite familiar with the publisher and know what they produce and what they don’t. Chalking it up to the fact I need glasses, I continued to my senseless, mindless internet walk. Later on that day, on my Facebook, I saw the same picture again. This time, the author had shared the copies of the books she’d received via mail from the publisher. I couldn’t ignore it this time, and like any skeptic, I refused to believe unless someone else confirmed it for me. I sent a message to another author friend and asked, “So and so, is that a black girl I see on the cover of Best Author Ever’s book?”
I won’t forget the word as it came across my screen.
I went back to the picture and stared at the cover. Like many ethnic authors, I understood what the sight of having a black girl on the front of Best Author Ever’s book meant. As a Christian author, she’d produced dozens of books for the publisher with wonderful success. Yet, all of them had heretofore had white couples on the covers even though an ethnic author had written these books. What that cover symbolized was a struggle. A struggle for an ethnic Christian author to prove herself before said publisher would even THINK about taking a risk like that.
Yet, this is sadly the case for big Christian publishing houses. They don’t take risk like adding multi-ethnic characters and displaying their fiction. It’s not just people of color but ANY racial group—Korean, Japanese, Arabic, Hispanic, Indian—you name it, it ain’t happening. Why should they? What’s been working for them for the past fifty years seems to continue to work. In the past, when they’ve dabbed their toe in multi-cultural representation, they’ve gotten burned.
Not showing multi-ethnic diversity in Christian fiction shows how blind the publishing industry is to what’s going out there in the world. By 2050, most of the US population will be of mixed ethnicity. More and more couples are interracial. That tells you there’s a paradigm shift happening in who the readers are going to be. Heck, who are the readers now? The Christian publishing industry, like the Church as a whole, is forty years behind in understanding the culture. In order to be effective, they have to stop wallowing in arrogance they know what Christians read.
Stories are the universal language. They bridge gaps in ways a peace treaty never will. Different ethnic groups have different experiences when it comes to the faith. We’re not talking about radical ideas about the core essentials of Christianity. Rather, the wide ranges of expression in their Christian walk. Why not let those authors who love the Lord, no matter where they are, show that? What struggles are unique to them?
It’s my sincere hope that major Christian publishers stop playing it safe and take the leap of faith a lot of their own books tell their readers to do. Maybe that way, the next time I see an ethnic man or woman on a cover by a mainstream company, it won’t be such a shock.
Parker J Cole is a former mountain dew and marshmallow addict who writes to fill the void the sugar left behind. She is also the executive of PJC Media, an online broadcasting company with shows geared toward the faith based community. She also speaks on issues about writing and the Christian publishing industry. For more information, go to www.Parkerjcole.com.