Who’s to blame for NPR’s super-white book list?

Critics attacked the the organization and its audience when a recent book poll skewed white

Topics: White people, NPR, Readers and Reading, diversity, Books, ,

This story has been corrected since it was originally published.

NPR just wanted to ask its audience about their favorite young adult fiction. But this seemingly harmless gesture stirred up all sorts of controversy. Out of 100 books on the list, only three have non-white protagonists. Now people are angry, or at least politely clearing their throats.

Here’s the question: Who is to blame?

Theory 1: The panel of experts is to blame
The panel of experts are suspiciously all white. NPR ombudsman Edward Schumacher-Matos wrote that “Much of the criticism was directed at the white panel of experts,” but he added, “the censure is misplaced.”  Panel member Pamela Paul, features editor and children’s book editor at the New York Times Book Review, confirms Schumacher-Matos’ claim via email, writing:

Our role on the expert panel was simply to advise on how to make sure the readers’ nominations fit the definition of “YA novel.” Many of the readers’ nominations were actually adult or middle-grade books, and we helped them weed out those titles. But I didn’t make any judgment with regard to quality in determining the final list, which were all reader-generated.

You Might Also Like

Theory 2: NPR’s listeners are to blame
Schumacher-Matos sheepishly confirms this theory:

The issue with NPR’s audience is that it skews white and mature. As I detailed last year in a report on diversity in NPR, roughly 87 percent of the radio audience was white, compared to 77 of the country’s over-18 population, according to NPR’s Audience, Insight and Research Department. African-Americans and Hispanics are particularly under-represented; Asian Americans are slightly over-represented, but they are a much smaller group.

Theory 3: NPR-at-large is to blame
A schoolteacher who blogs as “Shaker Laurie” believes NPR and its audience are both to blame:

Kids want to see themselves as smart and successful, and reading comes along with that image, so it is inexcusable that NPR publish material that screams, “Good reading=whiteness.” Those who champion literacy fight daily against the cultural message that reading is for white people, and according to NPR and its audience, it is.

Theory 4: The guy at NPR who created the unfortunate list name is to blame
Perhaps whoever selected the unfortunate list name, “Your Favorites: 100 Best-Ever Teen Novels,” is the one to blame. Senior supervising producer Joe Matazzoni wrote, “A few people have suggested that we shouldn’t call the top-100 the ‘best-ever’ books, since a popularity contest doesn’t determine quality. It’s a fair point. We picked that title this year to suggest breathless, teen-aged enthusiasm.”

Conclusion:

Maybe NPR should have listened to “a few people,” and gone with a teenage enthusiastic title like “100 Books That Our Mostly White Listeners Like,”  or “The 100 Books Our Audience, Typically Mature White Folks, Like” or “100 Best-Ever Books, as Voted by Our Mostly White and Slightly Over-Represented Asian Listeners.”

Prachi Gupta

Prachi Gupta is an Assistant News Editor for Salon, focusing on pop culture. Follow her on Twitter at @prachigu or email her at pgupta@salon.com.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Martyna Blaszczyk/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 1

    Pond de l'Archeveche - hundreds thousands of padlocks locked to a bridge by random couples, as a symbol of their eternal love. After another iconic Pont des Arts bridge was cleared of the padlocks in 2010 (as a safety measure), people started to place their love symbols on this one. Today both of the bridges are full of love locks again.

    Anders Andersson/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 2

    A bird's view of tulip fields near Voorhout in the Netherlands, photographed with a drone in April 2015.

    Aashit Desai/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 3

    Angalamman Festival is celebrated every year in a small town called Kaveripattinam in Tamil Nadu. Devotees, numbering in tens of thousands, converge in this town the day after Maha Shivratri to worship the deity Angalamman, meaning 'The Guardian God'. During the festival some of the worshippers paint their faces that personifies Goddess Kali. Other indulge in the ritual of piercing iron rods throughout their cheeks.

    Allan Gichigi/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 4

    Kit Mikai is a natural rock formation about 40m high found in Western Kenya. She goes up the rocks regularly to meditate. Kit Mikai, Kenya

    Chris Ludlow/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 5

    On a weekend trip to buffalo from Toronto we made a pit stop at Niagara Falls on the Canadian side. I took this shot with my nexus 5 smartphone. I was randomly shooting the falls themselves from different viewpoints when I happened to get a pretty lucky and interesting shot of this lone seagull on patrol over the falls. I didn't even realize I had captured it in the shot until I went back through the photos a few days later

    Jassen T./National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 6

    Incredibly beautiful and extremely remote. Koehn Lake, Mojave Desert, California. Aerial Image.

    Howard Singleton/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 7

    Lucky timing! The oxpecker was originally sitting on hippo's head. I could see the hippo was going into a huge yawn (threat display?) and the oxpecker had to vacate it's perch. When I snapped the pic, the oxpecker appeared on the verge of being inhaled and was perfectly positioned between the massive gaping jaws of the hippo. The oxpecker also appears to be screeching in terror and back-pedaling to avoid being a snack!

    Abrar Mohsin/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 8

    The Yetis of Nepal - The Aghoris as they are called are marked by colorful body paint and clothes

    Madeline Crowley/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 9

    Taken from a zodiac raft on a painfully cold, rainy day

    Ian Bird/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 10

    This wave is situated right near the CBD of Sydney. Some describe it as the most dangerous wave in Australia, due to it breaking on barnacle covered rocks only a few feet deep and only ten metres from the cliff face. If you fall off you could find yourself in a life and death situation. This photo was taken 300 feet directly above the wave from a helicopter, just as the surfer is pulling into the lip of the barrel.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>