posted a discussion of how whitewashing covers impacts people of color
I've already covered the Bloomsbury debacle(s)
, so I won't again, but definitely read the rest of his post. What I wanted to point out was how he used social cognitive theory
to frame his analysis.
"The portrayal, and even preeminence, of white people that whitewashing engenders does have an affect. If we are not white, and we are not equal enough to even be put on book covers...what are we? Secondary? Inferior?
"There is a theory in psychology known as the social cognitive theory, stating that we, as individuals, form out concepts and schemata for the world from our interactions, experiences, and observations of society.
"That's what people of color are seeing and learning, and, eventually, it may even be what comes to pass. Self-fulfilling prophecies, and all that business. Because it's an identity issue, and it's an equality issue, and it's a damn important issue."
I may have said this before and in various ways, but his post solidified for me the connection between social cognitive theory and my feminist analysis of genre books and the publishing industry, and I thought I might elaborate.
By way of introduction, I am a psychology major, and within the realm of psychology I happen to specialize in social cognitive theory. "Social" psychology is the study of the interactions between individuals while "cognitive" psychology is the study of the mind. Combine the two and the result is the study of how individuals' interactions influence the mind (and vice versa).
Social cognitive theory, in the context of genre books and in my mind, means taking an interaction and the characters involved in that interaction and looking at their myriad of motivations, emotions, and investments, all of which are built upon the layers that have been laid down from the very beginning of the story and have resulted in a complex psychology of human behavior--and then working even farther
backwards and looking at why the author wrote it they way they did and how, in their writing it in that specific way, their real-world biases and the limitations of their experiences are reflected.* In regards to the industry itself, it means examining what choices are made (such as the skin color of the cover models, but can also extend to include content, such as what is and is not allowed in YA books), the biases surrounding those choices, and their impact on the people who see and read those books. What we see, if we see it often enough, we frequently internalize.
Even if we consciously don't agree with something, our subconscious absorbs the stereotypes that the images that surround us present, and with enough exposure these stereotypes may develop into beliefs and attitudes that we may not explicitly show but still confirm through our subtle behaviors. Books are one medium that expose these attitudes. Hidden biases that the author may not have even known they had are no longer hidden as the veil falls away and the words on the pages of a book become an entrance to not just what the author thinks about, but what they don't
think about. A privileged individual that thinks about their own privilege can at least attempt to reduce their bias on the page. A privileged individual that does not becomes glaringly obvious.
Close examination reveals our society's preference for white, cissexual, heterosexual, thin, able-bodied, male characters through the absence of non-white, LGBTQ, non-thin, disabled, transgendered, and female characters. The divisive, often exlusive, and increasingly contradictory roles and characteristics of male and female characters can be labelled with new language that pinpoints the divisive and patriarchal notions underlining them.
It's a cycle.** We not only absorb messages that reinforce societal norms (regardless of whether we actively strive not to) but we also reproduce them, often times in quiet, unnoticed ways. The latter is the only part over which we have some control; by continuing to analyze, to question, to pick apart these tropes that objectify women or justify the rape culture that is increasingly perpetuated through YA romantic fiction (next post!), we can begin to raise our level of consciousness and challenge the system in place that allows for these messages to continue to be sent.
*As a sort of disclaimer, I am often the first to defend the sanctity of the author--that the experiences and beliefs of the characters do not necessarily reflect the author's experiences or beliefs. Because x character is depressed does not necessarily mean that the author has ever, in their lifetime, experienced depression. However, I do believe that consistency and repetition across books and genre reveal not only the subtle but telling aspects of the author's schemas but also the systemic and institutional prejudices society holds against cognizant groups.
**If you want a diagram of how social cognitive theory works in this context, a rough draft version might be:
repetitive biased message in real world -->
--> author bias (conscious or unconscious)
--> repetitive biased message in a book (as seen by character actions/beliefs/choices, lack of representation, what the characters mean to each other, etc.)
--> internalization by reader
--> conscious or unconscious behavioral replication of biased message by reader