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.