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America’s largest brick and mortar bookseller, Barnes & Noble, has canceled a plan to offer “diversity” editions of classic novels like “The Wizard of Oz” and “Romeo and Juliet” after a backlash from progressives and social justice warriors who criticized the effort as “fake,” given that the characters in the books are still, for the most part, white.
“The new ‘Diverse Editions’ series was announced on Tuesday to honor Black History Month and due to hit shelves on Wednesday,” the Guardian reported. “The project saw 12 classic young adult novels receive new covers, the protagonists now ‘culturally diverse.’ Frankenstein[‘s monster] has brown skin, not green, while a kissing Romeo and Juliet have darker skin tones and kinky hair textures.” Juliet is also shown wearing a headscarf.
“For the first time ever, all parents will be able to pick up a book and see themselves in a story,” Barnes & Noble gloated.
The “Wizard of Oz” “diverse edition” had several variant covers, each depicting the main character, Dorothy, as a different minority ethnicity. The main character of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde is depicted wearing a turban.
“Moby Dick,” “Emma,” “The Secret Garden,” “Treasure Island,” “Peter Pan,” “Alice in Wonderland,” “The Count of Monte Cristo” and “The Three Musketeers,” were also slated to receive “diversity” updates per CNN.
But, as many on social media pointed out after reading Barnes & Noble’s initial press release, the classic novels remain unchanged within. Dorothy is still a white girl, as are the protagonists of “Emma,” “The Secret Garden,” and “Alice in Wonderland.” Romeo and Juliet are Italian. And all of the selected authors are white save one, Alexandre Dumas, who penned both “The Count of Monte Cristo,” and “The Three Musketeers.”
In many cases, the changes don’t make sense with the plotline, either. The “Wizard of Oz” is a political allegory. Jane Austen’s novels revolve around the white aristocracy in Edwardian England. And portraying Frankenstein’s monster or Dr. Jekyll as a “diverse” character seems to add little to the cultural impact of the book, particularly given that both are murderers.
Fortunately, the social media social justice warriors were on the case to point out that Barnes & Noble could celebrate a month dedicated to black history by, well, prominently marketing authors of color.
“Us: Hey, it’d be great if you could publish writers of color— Publishing industry: Black Frankenstein,” wrote author Brit Bennett.
“The only thing you’re disrupting is #BlackHistoryMonth and the literary dignity of communities of color,” David Bowles, “a Latinx children’s writer and poet,” wrote, according to the Guardian. “So disappointed in you.”
Barnes & Noble quickly backtracked on their “groundbreaking” event.
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,” they wrote in a statement released just 24 hours after announcing the “diversity editions.” “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.”