My neighborhood Borders was running a children’s book drive for a local hospital and since Denene loves the children and books, I offered to purchase two books for donation. Grateful I was participating, the cashier offered up a stack of books for me to choose from. And what do you know, not nan one of them—save for a lone "Princess and the Frog" book buried all the way in the back/bottom of the pile—featured children of color.
Now, you know how I do: I’m a huge proponent of children’s books featuring characters that look like my girlpies, and I’m especially gangsta about getting these books into the hands of ALL children, not just black kids (as chronicled in my post EVERYBODY Should Read Black Children’s Books). So I insisted that I be able to by-pass Borders's pre-selected (white-washed) offerings to select and donate a few of my favorite children’s books from the children’s section.
Problem was, they didn’t have any black children’s books. There was no "Ruby and the Booker Boys." No "Tar Beach." No "Wilhemina Rules." No "Pruella and the Boo Hag" or "Dancing in the Wings" or "Home Made Love." Not one book with a child of color—ANY color—up on those shelves, within arm’s reach for kids to grab and read and giggle at and enjoy. And with every second I had to dig, my anger became more palpable—much to the chagrin of the Borders employee charged with helping me pick books to donate.
Me: I’m not really clear why there aren’t any books for or about children of color here.
Borders Chick: Well, if no one buys them, we don’t order them.
Me: Well if they’re not here to buy, then it’s kinda hard for us to buy them, isn’t it?
Borders Chick: It’s headquarters that decides what books will be stocked, so my guess is they have more of a selection at Stonecrest Mall. (Note: This would be the “black” mall. About 40 minutes from where I and many other black moms who buy books for our children actually live.)
Me: *massive side-eye* I don’t live near Stonecrest. I live two minutes from this store.
Borders Chick: I found one! *triumphantly waving in my face a copy of Sharon Draper’s “Sassy,” which she dug from the back of a dark shelf near the floor. As if she'd just found the solution to world peace.*
Me: *another massive side-eye and a lip twist* Y’all need to do better.
I was still ranting by the time I made it to the register with my book donation purchases—the lone copy of “Sassy,” and a copy of my latest book, “Miss You, Mina,” a tween book in the popular Scholastic Candy Apple series. (Amazingly, they had three copies in the Candy Apple section, but it took longer than it should have to convince another Borders Chick that I was the author and that it would be a good thing if I autographed my book.) While it is honorable that Borders was collecting books for kids, why didn’t it occur to them to include a mix of books that feature kids of all races—white, black, Latino, Asian, Indian or whatever? And why should I have to drive 40 minutes to the “black” store to get black books for my kids? And good God, why was the Borders Chick STILL perpetuating the ridiculous notion that somehow, books featuring black children should only be purchased and read by black children?
“I mean, I’m buying 'Artemis Fowl'—arguably, a white book—for my daughter, who clearly is African American," I said, handing over my debit card to pay for the two black books and the third in the Artemis Fowl series, which Mari is completely flying through as I write this. "Why shouldn’t her kid read ‘Miss You, Mina?’” I demanded, jabbing my finger at the white woman waiting on line behind me, trying her best to pretend like she wasn’t listening to the conversation.
The cashier shrugged and mumbled something about corporate making those decisions and it all being out of her hands. Curiously, corporate didn’t seem to have a problem filling up the “African American Interests” section with a crap load of street fiction titles so risqué I had to steer Mari clear of it, lest her 11-year-old eyes got singed by shelf upon shelf of book covers featuring scantily-clad vixens and chocolate hot boys in compromising porn positions. Apparently, none of us should have to drive 40 minutes out of the way for the mess that makes us look like a bunch of sex-addicted, skank stripper hoes chasing random peen between drug deals and jail breaks. Nope: Those car rides, which use up a good $15 worth of gas, are reserved for $4.99 black children's books.
I’m. Tired. Of. This.
And more importantly, what do we do about it? I’m open to suggestions…