Sunday, September 30, 2012

[Link] Don’t Put My Book in the African American Section

by N.K. Jemison 

Any bookstore or library which shelves my stuff in AAF has assumed that my work is automatically of interest to black readers — and only black readers — because I’m black. It further assumes that black readers don’t care about the book’s actual content; they’ll just read anything by a black author. Yet further this practice assumes that white readers are too xenophobic to consider reading a book written by someone of another race, so such books shouldn’t even be allowed into their sight.

That’s an insult to my ability and the abilities of writers of color in general, and an insult to readers of every race.

Worse, any bookstore or library that does this is, IMO, perpetuating the same racist assumptions that caused this problem in the first place. It all comes down to the idea of universality — which mostly just means “the ability to write something that appeals to white readers”, in my experience. Before the AAF boom, black readers were assumed to have no interest in books meant to appeal to white readers; hence the assumption that we “didn’t exist”. When our existence was confirmed, black readers were then assumed to be strange ducks, Not Like The Rest Of Us in taste or discernment, fundamentally alien — or Other — in our intelligence and thought processes. And black writers — despite having written mainstream books for generations — were assumed to be incapable of writing for anything other than this strange, alien audience. If “universality” = “whiteness”, well, of course we couldn’t possibly have it. Even if we did. That little racism logic fail issue I mentioned, again.

Sadly, I suspect that whoever stuck my book in that library’s AAF section meant well. Thing is, intentions don’t really matter. The worst racism is perpetuated not through intent, but through thoughtless, unquestioning adherence to old, bad habits. We always need to ask ourselves where those habits come from, and whether it’s a good idea to keep perpetuating them. We need to ask whether they hurt more than they help.

So back to my point. Booksellers and librarians: please don’t put anything I write in the AAF section. Not unless you want to hurt my career. And not unless you want to make it harder, not easier, for black readers to find good, diverse, inclusive stuff in the long run, because you’re hurting the careers of many black writers who could help make that happen. And not unless you think that nothing written by a black person should ever be read by anyone non-black.

If the “Fantasy” notation on the spine doesn’t convince you not to shelve me there… if the fact that I got published by the SFF imprint (Orbit) of a mainstream publisher (Hachette) doesn’t convince you… if the content doesn’t convince you… if this whole long rant has fallen on deaf ears… then please listen at least to this: I don’t want it there.

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