I am reposting this because it is sadly still relevant. No worries. I will get to the reposting of other poignant entries. Such as the review of Catwoman. GOOD. TIMES.
What began as a simple trip to Borders…
Originally Posted Date: Friday, August 25, 2006 – 5:29 PM
Any lack of punctuation and the irritating indentation is a result of this entry having been pasted from a word document. It was originally a letter to one person and then I thought: this little light of mine…
I was so enraged.
Today, I went to Borders to collect a few more from my list of must-haves. For example, to look for Alice Walkers autobiography. When I couldnt find it on my own, I went to the information desk, ostensibly to seek assistance.
“Where can I find autobiographies?”
“It depends on whose youre looking for.”
“That would be in African-American fiction.”
“Huh. … Why?”
“Because thats where people who read her books would expect to find it.”
Although I could have continued this deep and meaningful conversation by asserting how her explanation should then have negated my question.I set off to the fiction section to continue my pursuit. I wasnt surprised to find a large fiction section. The surprises (or horror, if you will) began when I realized that, firstly, the African-American fiction section is at the absolute end of the fiction rows and makes up all of one column (if you hit Westerns, youve gone too far). As I stood there, realizing that one section was meant to represent literature ranging from titles like Their Eyes Were Watching God, Sula and The Color Purple to Candylicker, Somebodys Gotta Be On Top and G-Spot, I first felt sad and then furious. As a host of primarily White customers perused the fiction section and never came anywhere close to the place (in the corner) where I was standing – which was, by the way, in front of Pulitzer prize winners, former Nobel Laureates and generally history-making authors – I wondered if it was for better or worse. You see, there were more problems than the one I listed. Those lesser known titles? Their cover art consisted not of glossy, fantastical portraits of fictitious women held roughly in the arms of their long-haired amours they were colorful pictures of real people straddling beds or each other. They immediately gave one the feeling that she shouldnt be standing in front of these books, lest someone see her. Because these are literally considered: urban erotica. Housed with everything else composed by someone with black hands. And what about those Harlequins whose cover art is less graphic if only because they’re not real people? Oh, they’re not housed with the remainder of White fiction, alongside One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest and Mrs. Dalloway. Its in a conveniently created genre called Romance. So that those classics are not contaminated by lesser and wholly, categorically irrelevant texts.
But I digress. Or do I. No, I don’t. That’s a valid point. But back to the visually offensive majority of the books in the African-American literature section: because there are absolutely no fiction books written by Black authors outside of the assigned column, there is a terribly slim chance of a customer (ie. a White customer) stumbling upon a wonderful work of literary art (written by a Black author) in their otherwise pointless trip to the bookstore. But if they do happen upon the section, there’s a great chance that they will visually evaluate it and think they’ve accidentally wandered into the Romance section, completely missing the well-hidden and understated Toni Morrisons, James Baldwins, Alice Walkers. Would we let Virginia Woolf and Danielle Steele sit side by side?
What else bothered you, Bethany? Thank you for asking and here’s the answer: Isabel Allende is smack dab in the A section of Fiction. And rightly so. So that, despite her not being White, someone might accidentally see House of Spirits and be interested enough to pick it up. Someone who isnt already interested specifically in Latin American Literature. And if I wanted to find “House on Mango Street”, I wonder where it would be.
I refuse. Literally, refuse. For the first topic listed in the opening pages of my books to read African-American. And not simply because I hate being called that. But because I am an author who is also Black. My work will not be separated immediately based solely on that pretense. Why are people given the opportunity to disregard works based on notions associated with the author’s race? Why do we constantly segregate ourselves or allow ourselves to be segregated, giving White Americans and everyone else the courtesy of putting us all in one homogenous category that is easily overlooked? “The Catcher In The Rye”, a story about a completely affectively despondent, young, privileged White man is more accessible to the general population than any of the works by Langston Hughes? How? And why didn’t I realize this crime sooner?! Is it just Borders or is it decided by the publishers through those numerated topic listings I abovementioned? Does this not anger and disgust other Black authors and readers? Is there meant to be some sense of uniqueness and individuality or empowerment from our being placed in a separate category? Why does everyone seem to want to be a minority? We’ll allow the masses to lap up the music associated with our culture (much of which is offensive) but we’ll put the greatest evidence of our renaissance and strengths, both historical and intellectual, in a corner? We’ll say there’s no difference between Ralph Ellison and Omar Tyree but that Ellison can’t hold his own against Hemingway? At some point it’s up to us to educate everyone as to why this is at the least absurd and, in the end, unacceptable. Trust me, I plan to be audibly indignant in this regard.
After sending that email, the recipient emailed me an op-ed she’d read on the exact same topic. Here it is.