Earlier, I wrote a post on the racism in publishing issue that's being debated elsewhere (see previous post for links) and reported on one local B&N. Now, I can report from one Borders (we have three on-island, though I bet they all subscribe to the same corporate philosophy).
The AA books in Borders are indeed segregated, regardless of content (I didn't have my camera with me that night). AA sections have legitimacy when they are about history, culture, etc. But this section, two huge shelving units (which isn't a lot when you consider the size of the entire store), was crammed with everything under the sun by black writers. I did find ONE Walter Moseley title in the Fiction/Lit section. Know why? The dude on the cover was white. Walter's pic on the back was tiny, so whoever shelved the book looked at the front only.
I saw three BET books in the romance section, but I think it was a mistake. I looked for black romance writer names I'd recognize, but they weren't shelved in romance. They were in the AA section.
I stood in the section for a while and leafed through the romances. Oh wow, how dumb of me to miss these before! I was reading one by Brenda Jackson and thoroughly enjoying it. I made no purchases, however, because my critique group showed up and I ran out of time. I plan to get there early next week and buy a couple of books. For those of you who may have thought you didn't want to read books about black characters, you might want to reconsider. Ms. Jackson made no more reference to her characters' skin colors than I do when I write about my characters (well, I do talk about the hero's tanned torso from time to time–wink, wink). Not that skin is the only issue, and I hope I'm not digging a hole, but what I mean is that reading about these characters was like reading about characters in any other book. They were PEOPLE. Let's cast aside the stereotypes and be willing to branch out a bit.
I didn't get to speak to the manager, mostly because I had to meet with my group, but I'd be interested to know how they decided to shelve like this. Is it company policy, local policy, or just ignorance on the part of the staff (AA must mean ALL books with black characters on the covers or black authors, right?). Hell, even Toni Morrison was nowhere to be found in the Fic/Lit section. She was with the AA group.
So that's my report, and I am thoroughly incensed about it. If I were black, I'd be pretty darned upset about this too (like others elsewhere). Maybe it's not a conspiracy, maybe it's only ignorance, maybe it's dollar signs. I don't know, but damn, if I write a good book, why should the color of my skin or my gender (for another way to look at it) determine where the book is placed?
This is WRONG, whatever the reason and motive. If the publishers/booksellers think they make more money by targeting a specific demographic, then fine. But be SURE to also put the books in the section where they would be shelved if the author was white/Asian/Latin etc–i.e. with EVERYONE else. You can cross-reference them for convenience.
It'll only change when lots of people complain. So far, that doesn't seem to be happening.
Some time ago, I went looking for wil Wheaton’s books ‘Dancing Barefoot’ and ‘Just a Geek.’ I looked all over Border’s and finally had to ask at the desk. He was placed in the Compters and Technology section. Bad enough to be segregated due to your race or sex, but because you once played a character on a science fiction program is really going too far.
Now days when I go to Borders, I don’t know where to find my favorite books. Are they mystery? Are they horror? Are they romance? Just like Mike I found one book I was looking for in the science and technology… a science fiction author… I forget the name… BUT I did complain. Really… maybe there should be no division of genre. Just put them in the literature section, please.
Oh my goodness, Mike, that’s just too funny! Poor Wil Wheaton! Maybe we have to at least partly blame the segregation issue on ignorant store clerks? Not everyone who works in a Borders or a B&N loves and reads books. Some are there just because it’s a job, I suspect.
Cyn, I think it’s ignorance on the part of the staff, like I said to Mike. It’s ridiculous! I’ve run across dumb stuff like that too. Maybe they figure because they have that computer lookup thingie, that you’ll type in the book and then go browse the shelves for it. I like to wander the aisles.
Now, I gotta admit that I love having a big ol’ romance section or mystery section. I’m afraid I’d miss some authors if it was one big alphabetical listing. Hmm, maybe that’s the rationale for segregating AA authors. If the publisher/store assumes that only, or mostly, AA people read the books then they don’t want those people unable to find similar works to their favorite authors.
Though, OTOH, I never usually buy a romance based on anything other than a) content and first chapter and b) buzz/marketing. I don’t just walk in and pick up a book by someone I’ve never heard of and buy it. I will look at something if it’s marketed as similar to so-and-so or if the subject matter is one I really like (military romantic suspense). I don’t much care for serial killers, but the buzz on Allison Brennan’s new books, for example, was so good that I bought them anyway. 🙂
Great post, Lynn.
Borders and Waldenbooks segregate as a company practice. From what I hear, they feel AA readers prefer it that way.
We can’t blame the stores. The blame lay with the publishers. They are the ones that classify what they publish. They are the ones that must cease the racial discrimination. But – as you said – until lots of people complain, it won’t change. Publishing houses don’t see a problem. It’s all a part of their effort to niche/target market.
I wonder why they feel their readers prefer it that way. Maybe they do, maybe it’s only the authors who realize how it hurts them to be segregated. Maybe the readers think it’s a good thing to have their own section in the store.
I’m not sure, just talking it out, and I don’t know what can be done about it. If more AA books get sold, because more people like me are going to the section, then the pubs will think their philosophy is correct. 🙁 It can only change when someone like Oprah takes it on, I’m afraid.