The Dark Side of the Bookstore – and other Labels

by Rachel Baker on August 4, 2014

I have more than once wondered why our bookstores and libraries seem to be so adamant about segregating books by the color of the authors’ skin. Frankly, when I see this in a bookstore, I leave – without whatever purchases I was going to make. To me, if a bookstore owner is doing making these specific borders, then they don’t understand why people read. I don’t really care what an author’s gender is, nor do I care about his or her ethnicity. I just want a good story – that’s it.

I wish we could get rid of all the stupid section labels in book stores – if it isn’t a genre, then it doesn’t need a label. and I mean a REAL genre…because, really, what the hell is women’s fiction? Why do we need this? Do we have men’s fiction…no? why not?

While I’m sure there are some specific characteristics of women’s fiction (and I will be honest, its not a ‘genre’ I venture into, because I figure if its worth reading, I will also find it under ‘literature’ or ‘fiction’ ), by calling it specifically ‘women’s fiction’ women are segregating themselves in a way they once were burning bras against. …if we have women’s fiction, do we then have african-american women’s fiction, muslim women’s fiction, asian women’s fiction, latina fiction, etc., etc., where does it end? And why do we feel like we have to separate ourselves from all the others?

Let’s get real for a moment – while people still use labels, there will be little actual equality for those that get labeled. And how people aren’t actually talking about this is beyond me.

Great job by Syreeta Barlow for starting this conversation in regards to African-American fiction…! Of course, I don’t see it yet on her twitter feed.

That’s why I think it’s time to uproot the African-American section from the bookstore. Yes, that means there may be an Wahida Clark urban fiction novel sitting next to your Candace Bushnell urban fiction. Donald Goines may finally sit next to Sue Grafton. But isn’t that where they belong? Segregating our fiction, by anything other than subject matter or genre (which I may be against as well, but that’s a whole ‘nother story), cheats us out of having options in our reading lives.

As readers, it should be up to us whether or not we will stick with the fiction we know, or expand our horizons to different fare. Bookstores that take that option out of our hands feed into our prejudices by holding authors hostage in a designated area that gets far too little foot traffic. The author’s name and the character’s color should not limit us in what we choose to read.

Go into the children’s section of your local bookstore. Look at the diversity of the books. You will find characters of all colors, religions, ethnicities, and races intermingled on those shelves. How offended would we be if suddenly there was only a section for White Princess stories, or Latino Fantasies in the children’s section? Would we stand to only give our children one type of book by one type of author for the course of their young lives?

So why do we do it to ourselves?

The Dark Side of the Bookstore : The Problem With The “African-American” Section

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