December was, as I’m sure you’re aware, National Buy a Book by a Black Author and Give it to Somebody Not Black Month.
I failed, yet again, to participate, mainly because I just found out about it yesterday.
However, I’m a huge fan of delegating and consequently celebrating months for particular causes or remembrances (mostly because it makes for wonderful blog post fodder), so I looked into National Buy a Book by a Black Author and Give it to Somebody Not Black Month so that I will be ready to celebrate next December. (Yes- this is a serious cause that’s been profiled in Poets and Writers, the Washington Post, and other big name publications. I’m kind of thinking that if the people behind National Buy a Book by a Black Author and Give it to Somebody Not Black Month want it to catch on, they need to come up with a shorter title. Seriously. I’m cutting and pasting here.)
The driving concern behind National Buy a Book by a Black Author and Give it to Somebody Not Black Month is that the only people buying books by black authors are black audiences. According to welcomewhitefolks.blogspot.com founder Carleen Brice:
The accepted wisdom of the publishing industry is that books by black authors should be marketed to black audiences; after that, hopefully, they will cross over to whites and others.
This rarely happens, and authors have a hard time making it when their target audience is only 12% of the total population.
When I worked at Borders, there was a separate section for African American Literature. I rarely saw a white person loiter in that particular area. I loitered, on several occasions, but honestly, I kind of felt like an interloper. I think it had something to do with my lily white skin, but it might have also had something to do with the fact that I was supposed to be working and not browsing. I am pretty sure I would NOT have felt this way had I been looking at a piece of black literature in the regular literature section. I’m all for literature blending together, solidarity in numbers, and all that. Plus, the regular fiction section was on the side of the store, where I could hide better.
The African Lit section was created because black readers didn’t care to search through the stacks for black authors. I admit, that does seem like a daunting task if you just want to browse. Brice writes:
To me, it seems a bit ironic that, at a time when black authors are fighting not to be marginalized, some black readers are asking for African American fiction sections. But I can understand their reasons. Some blacks read only books by black authors out of loyalty or a desire to keep seeing stories about themselves in print. It makes sense that they'd like to find those books in one location, but it also speaks to the way readers have come to expect a dividing line, books clearly marked "us" and "them."
In the last two years, I’ve read two books by African American writers, though one was co-written with a white guy. The other was required reading in a graduate course. Of course, I still faithfully read what Oprah tells me to, but I now understand that reading a black woman’s recommendation of a book by a white author doesn’t count as properly participating in, here we go, National Buy a Book by a Black Author and Give it to Somebody Not Black Month. In my defense, I buy new books almost solely based on their covers OR Oprah’s recommendation, regardless of the author’s race or gender.
Since I was such a complete ignoramus this past December, this February, I am going to buy a book by a black author whose works are not required reading in high school English classes. That means no Ralph Ellison, Toni Morrison, or Maya Angelo. And when I’m finished, I’ll pass it along to a friend.
You should do the same.
Questions for discussion:
Should African American Lit be separated from the rest of the literature?
Do you think National Buy a Book by a Black Author and Give it to Somebody Not Black Month could ever catch on? Why or why not?
Find black authors to read here: