Blog Archive

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Dilemma of the Black Books Section

I'm not a big fan of the "African-American" section in the mega-bookstores, though I buy books from there. There's a debate (part of an endless debate on the subject mind you) going on at the blog for HarperCollins' Amistad imprint (Apparently they publish Superhead. It swells me with pride (no big pun intended). They also publish my man, Eddie P. and my main man Big Bank Hank so they are forgiven.). I'm in favor of a larger more inclusive Fiction & Literature section where little black books and little white books can hold hands...and then the nation can live out the words of the old negro at last, free at last. Thank G...OK, I'm getting carried away.

But it's hard not to feel as if black books are being marginalized by these sections. Are these works not Fiction & Literature? So much of this has been said. There's a good argument that stores with these sections purchase and sell more black works. And there's also the argument that black sections have just become havens for ghetto fiction, books about pimping, whore-ing, stripping and drug dealing with gaudy covers and titles like Thug-A-Licious and Thong on Fire.
I'm not against these works. I'm not for them either. I'm simply not interested in them. They don't devalue the work of Toni Morrison any more than the work of Tom Clancy devalues the work of Philip Roth.

I don't like these sections, but if you choose to shop at certain places, this is the reality of their stores. What irritates me is the elitist bourgie attitude of some readers who have posted on Amistad's blog. This one in particular:

"Why is it acceptable to have an African American book section which unfortunately is 90% dominated by covers that board on soft porn and titles that I'm embarrassed by as a professional, AfAm female...As such, as long as book sellers continue to segregate our books, I will continue to boycott them, because honestly I don't want to be caught in a book section where I'm embarrassed to be seen by family, friends and esp. my children...It doesn't matter what readers or authors say, because truth be told, publishers do exactly what they want to do because they believe that all Black folks are a monolithic group. So, until you all change your mindset, and stop lumping all of us together you will never understand our plight and why many of us who are well-read are unfortunately flocking to books by non-AfAm authors, because you unfortunately give us no options and no other choice. Now Toni and Alice don't have to worry because I will search low and high for their book, no matter where it's carried in the store, unless it's in the AfAm section and then I will order it online. Because I don't do AfAm sections."

Imagine walking through a bookstore concerned about what people around you are thinking about you just because you are in an African-American section. What a miserable, self-conscious and delusional position to be in. This reader's solution to the African-American section is so self-defeating that I wonder she is kidding. If black readers boycott quality literary works because they are shelved next to Relentless Aaron or Nikki Turner, then guess what...publishers stop publishing quality literary works by black authors. But the ghetto fiction titles will keep selling as that audience is not ashamed to go to the bookstore to pick up the works of their favorite authors.

It doesn't offend me that ghetto fiction exists. It offends me that the situations that these authors write about are allowed to exist and thrive in some communities. Many ghetto fiction authors are reformed criminals. I'd rather they write about breaking into my house, rather than one of them actually breaking into my house. I enjoyed Sister Souljah's, The Coldest Winter Ever, the book that arguably set off the ghetto fiction craze. I'm not such an elitist that I can't pick up a work of pure entertainment from time to time. I enjoy crime fiction. I'm em
barrassed for the publishing industry when they myopically hop on silly trends as I'm embarrassed for most industries and people when they fall for the latest fad. The solution to the Colored Section of the bookstore is not to stop buying black authors who are not named Toni. Shop for a black book you are interested in at a store that doesn't organize its shelves that way. Or hold your nose and purchase a good black book at Borders. I'm sure the people looking over your shoulder and judging you will understand.


ryan call said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ryan call said...

i deleted my first comment accidentally

i am sorry

i am now commenting again:

best blog ever!

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you've brought this up Rion because unfortunately, like the lady whose comments you put up I never go to the AfAm section of book stores because it riles me up, not the books, but the fact that there needs to be a special section for them. Why can't ghetto romance books be placed in the Harlequin section? Are booksellers inadvertently pathologising black love? Why are Edward P. Jones and E. Lynn Harris in different sections? Because the former doesn't depict gay relationships? I could go on, I really mustn't, but I'd love to. You bring up a great point. Love the blog.