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Find more Response to comments about Booklist May 1, 2020, cover
S. A. Cosby, author of Blacktop Wasteland
First and foremost, I’d like to thank everyone at Booklist and the ALA for having my book Blacktop Wasteland on the cover and giving it a starred review. It definitely makes the hard work and long nights I spent crafting the novel feel worthwhile.
However, it has come to my attention that some people feel the cover, which shows a black man in the reflection of the side mirror of a car, and the words “spotlight on crime fiction” may reinforce negative stereotypes and hurt the black community.
Well, as a member of that community and the author of the book featured on the cover, I’d like to address these issues by talking about something we are all familiar with.
As an African American man who was born and raised and still lives in the South, I live with the weight of other people’s assumptions every day of my life. If I walk into a store wearing athletic gear and my baseball cap on backwards some people assume, I’m probably not that well-read and couldn’t converse about Trotsky or Pushkin or Sartre. If I am driving my new car on the interstate some people might assume it’s not my vehicle or that I could not possibly be able to afford it. If I go jogging through my neighborhood some people might assume, I’m not working on my physical fitness but instead I’m running to or from some type of nefarious activity.
People making assumptions about me because of what I look like is nothing new to me. So, I must admit while it’s disappointing it is not shocking that some people saw the words “spotlight on crime fiction” and the image of a black man and immediately and perhaps naively assumed the cover was ascribing some villainous intent to the black man in the mirror.
I think it says a lot about how many of us whether through condescension or through ignorance, have been indoctrinated to see the words “crime fiction” the image of a black man and assume the worst.
It doesn’t occur to some of us that:
The black man on the cover could represent a private detective unraveling a twisted knot of corruption and murder.
Perhaps the black man on the cover represents an undercover cop slowly approaching a car driven by the criminals he has been trying to catch for six months. That he has worked his way into their good graces and now he will get revenge for his partner.
Maybe the image of that black man represents an average every day citizen about to intervene in a kidnapping and rescue a young girl, knowing full well he is putting his life at risk.
Or it’s possible that black man represents a former getaway driver facing catastrophes both personal and financial who feels that because of the color of his skin he doesn’t have the same choices that others have and he feels the only way to escape this blacktop wasteland he finds himself lost in is to get behind the wheel one more time.
See what I did there?
Again, I am a 46-year-old black man who lives in the former capitol of the Confederacy. I understand that images matter and can be used to reinforce negative ideas. But I feel, no I pray that we, each of us, will do our best to slough off the shackles of our preconceived notions. That we will take time to ask ourselves why is it that when we see the words “crime fiction’ and the image of a black man we didn’t assume he was the. hero?
In my book I address many issues that I faced growing up in poverty in the South. And while I never resorted to a life of crime to try and grab my piece of the American Dream, I know people who did. I did my best to examine those people and deconstruct the choices they made while acknowledging the systemic barriers that existed and still exist that gave so many of us so few options.
I hope the next time you look at the cover of the most recent issue of Booklist you won’t assume anything but will dig deeper to discover what is actually on the inside.
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