Kate Hart has done an astonishing amount of research and compiled some impressive and disturbing charts with the results. She looked at over 600 covers of YA lit from 2011 (and of course missed some titles which would alter percentages, but this is a sample study she did on her own initiative; it would require serious time and funding for a truly comprehensive study). She includes a few graphics of YA book covers by color - actual color of the jacket or cover of the book, irrespective of skin colors of characters - and those are quite fun. When she moves on to the analysis of racial representation, it gets deeply depressing.
Broad roundup: 10% of book covers featured characters of ambiguous race/ethnicity. 90% featured white people. 1.4% featured Latino/Latina; 1.4% featured Asian; 1.2% featured Black characters.
Hart includes a list of links at the end of her post to other writers on the topic of race and representation, many of which I have read at one point or another. This is a topic worth keeping an eye on; as I've said before, representation matters. It matters deeply. There's been a lot of fairly offensive racist ballyhoo about the newly-release statistic that more than half of all babies born in the US now are not white; how about they get some books with people on the covers who look like them? Better still, with people in the pages who look like them?
Last year there was a lot of talk online, including some posts from authors detailing their experiences (links to which unfortunately I do not have), and in general it seems that a lot of the publishing world, especially the big publishers, are pretty uninterested in protagonists of color. And by "uninterested," I mean they return manuscripts suggesting they be re-written with white protagonists instead.
Along with continuing to write characters of color, it's important that we, as book-buyers, book-readers, book-teachers, etc, make conscious efforts to consume books with non-white protagonists. I know for a fact that I don't do enough of this, and it needs to be rectified promptly. Since this is meant to be Dissertation Lockdown Summer, my extracurricular reading is limited, so reading more YA of color may be a project for the fall. But it will be a project, and an ongoing one, until - I hope - reading characters of color becomes as simple as plucking books from the shelves at random, instead of having to seek them out in hidden corners.
because 90% white?
we can, and should, do SO much better than that.