Sunday, January 8, 2012

I've Got a Bad Feeling About This...

So, I’ve been working in the Hasting’s book department – the only bookstore-of-sorts in Odessa – for about a month now, and don’t get me wrong, I like it. I’d much rather be helping people and stocking books than working the cash register, that’s for sure, and there’s nothing more exciting than the moment someone says to me, “I just finished Series X and liked it a lot. What would you suggest I read next?” Even if Series X is Twilight, that’s the most enjoyable and rewarding part of my day.*

But there’s one thing that’s been bothering me: Our African-American Literature section.

The African-American Literature section is a single full bookshelf at the beginning of our novels section which is, as you’ve probably gathered, dedicated to African-American Lit. But here’s what gets me: apparently, Waler Mosley is not African-American Lit. Neither is Toni Morrison, Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Du Bois, or Alice Walker.

All of those authors are shelved in either classics or the white-bread, catch-all ‘novels’ section where we put everything that’s not romance, mystery, or sci-fi/fantasy. So what goes into our African-American Lit section?

Midnight: A Gangster Love Story
Chocolate Flava II
Mama, I’m in Love with a Gangsta
A Hood Chick’s Story
His Baby Mama: An Urban Tale

And so on.

I’m not even exaggerating here. I spent an hour alphabetizing the entire African-American Lit section last week, and saw every book there. There was a tiny, tiny handful that didn’t mention gangstas, hookers, playas, or hos. I think the words bitch and slut were in more titles than our entire erotica and sexuality section combined.

And I’m not going to claim to be an expert on African-American pop fiction, but this just screams…something bad.

Mind you, I don’t know exactly what this indicates. I know that Odessa has a relatively small African-American population for the south (we have more Hispanics than anything) and I know that we don’t have a whole lot of African-American culture, activism, or awareness in the area. But I find it really hard to believe that

And I’m not entirely sure what to do about it, because I’m not entirely sure if we’re the ones who decide the categories or if it’s something that corporate decides. I just know that something, somewhere, is seriously off.

If anybody’s got suggestions for what to do about this, please, I’d love to hear it.

*For the record, post-Twilight recommendations include: The Mortal Instruments series, Beautiful Creatures, House of Night, and The Name of the Star.


  1. I wish I had a suggestion. I agree with you that there’s a problem, but I have no idea how you would go about fixing it. To be fair, this happens with all genres (although calling AAL a “genre” is in and of itself debatably racist, depending on your POV). The best of every genre (Dracula and Frankenstein for horror, Wuthering Heights and Rebecca for gothic, etc., etc.) gets claimed as “classics” and thus removed from its original shelf. I wish bookstores would stop doing that, but I can also see how it benefits the genre to have “classics” at all, so I’m torn. In this instance, where said genre is an entire race of people, the discussion gets even more confused. I don’t have an answer, but this is a great, thoughtful post.

  2. Probably talk to the manager to find out how these books are classified, and whether they're actually selling, or if there can be some kind of restructure. Honestly, that's the kind of concern you should be able to bring up with your employer themselves, because I've never before heard of AAL being pop-gangsta. It would be pretty insulting to put the regular AAL beside those books, as if they occupy the same marketspace. I hope you get something sorted out!