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18 October, 2009

A Moment to Rant, Please? White Readers Pay Attention...

Okay, so I said I wasn't going to go there, but I just can't resist. I've been visiting fellow author Carleen Brice's brainchild blog, White Readers Meet Black Authors, and I really like what I see there. The mission is to expose White readers to Black Authors and the hope is that everyone will give Black authors' works a try. As everyone knows, the current trend is to shelve Black authors' works in a designated section in bookstores (i.e.: "African-American Interest" or "African-American Fiction"), thereby potentially reducing the likelihood that White readers who aren't prone to seek out and read books by Black authors will pick up said books. Brice's blog is a place where White readers can learn more about Black authors and their books, and, hopefully, give them a try...broaden horizons...learn something either unknown or ignored...dispel myths...bridge gaps.

Frankly, I love the concept, but I'm digressing.

Okay, so, like I was saying. I'm going to have to go there, because to not do so means I'm not being true to myself and my feelings. And I'm not putting folks on blast, the way they should be. Brice's blog has inspired me to speak out and stop quietly seething about something that has been bothering me for a hot little minute now.

For that...thanks, Carleen Brice.

Okay, so, it's like this. For nearly a decade I worked in an office environment that was fairly evenly divided, in terms of white/black demographics and my primary lunchtime eatery group consisted of white folks. Something like, "Some of my best work friends are White." LOL. Happy hours, wedding receptions, meeting of mates...we did all that (except for me, because all of my potential mates appear to be in prison, on the down-low, already hooked-up, or dead). I used to get teased about "hanging with all them White girls" by my Black work friends. You know the drill.

Like my Black work friends, my White work friends thought it was cool that I'd written a book.

But they really didn't consider me an author. I had self-published my first book, Running from Mercy, and they bought copies from the box I drove around with in my trunk. But I never got concise feedback on their reading experiences, probably because most of them hadn't bothered to read it. It was sort of like how I always bought something from coworkers who were pushing school fundraisers for their children. Who needs a five dollar plastic paperweight that's really worth about ninety-nine cents? But I bought the crap, because fundraising is a pain in the ass for everyone involved, but a necessary evil. Likewise, they bought a copy of my book and demanded that I autograph it.

But I never heard whether they liked what they read or not. Did come around the corner one day and catch a White work friend asking another White work friend (who happened to be test reading one of my other manuscripts and had mentioned something to me about a scene she'd just finished reading the night before) if "I was really that good." What the hell? Is the possibility that unlikely? I should mention, too, that she never did finish reading my manuscript, but she has since been heard commenting on books written by White authors that she's read in the interim. How 'bout that?

Pisses me off just thinking back on it, but I'm digressing again.

What I want to hit on is the fact that, all the while Running from Mercy was picked up by a traditional publisher and re-published a year later and Where There's Smoke was published a year after that, not one of those skanks came out to booksignings I had and not one of them actually purchased a copy of my damn book! But folks had the audacity to turn around and ask me if I had read 'Twilight' or some other book by a White author and then proceed to have a mini-bookclub meeting about it right then and there!

So I said one day: "Oh, you can read 'Twilight' but you can't read my book?" And, of course, there was then a five minute excuse-making session, which I rolled my eyes to ceiling all the way through and quietly seethed. The writing on the wall was clear to me. We don't really consider you a real author, for some. For others, We don't read Black books.

Now, I tried not to be offended over it, but I really am. Very much so. So I had to blog about it here...now. And, yes, I called them skanks. They know who they are.

Picture it - 2009 office 'Team Building Day', rousing game of Taboo or what-the-hell-ever the game was called, someone picks the term 'Authors' and my team has to name as many authors as they can in so many seconds. Of course, I say, "Me," and the brunette sitting next to me thinks I don't see her rolling her eyes to the ceiling like, yeah right. Everyone else thinks I don't see them pretending not to see me see her. My team gets the point, but no one cosigns with me. I let it ride, because I'm aware that my making an issue about it would've made me the official "angry Black woman" of the day.

But I am angry. Hold on a sec while I scream. Okay, I'm back. Thanks for your patience and understanding.

What is my point, you might ask?

Okay, so, my point, the reason I've gone there today, is this: Everyone should give Black authors a try! Why? Because Black readers and writers have been reading White authors' stuff forever and a day. Why else? Because it just makes sense. You might learn something you thought you knew, but really didn't. You might discover something you always wanted to know and be a better person for it.

You might just be entertained, enlightened, and educated. Aren't these reasons you pick up books in the first place?

I dare you to do it. I dare you, I dare you, I dare you! Read a 'Black' book and then come back here and tell us what you uncovered in the world of African-American Books. What? Are you chicken?

Meanwhile, I'd love to hear input from my fellow Black writers about their experiences being taken seriously.

Sound off! This ain't over...


Rose said...

I hear you girl. But in my case, since I have started to turn my company around by buying the rights from writers and paying advances, they see me as a small publisher. But since I published all my own work, they don’t introduce my as an author but as a columnist. To them writing for a paper, secured me as a writer. I’ve heard some say that the companies that are publishing black authors publish horrible work and are not on the same scale as bigger publishing houses. Get this, my white peers read my articles and blogs but not my books. How do I know? They discuss stuff I write and some have informed me they have my name as an alert. I do have white readers of my books but I don’t know them personally. They write and tell me how they enjoyed A Hole in My Heart or one of the other books. But I can’t believe you have held back. Knowing you, that’s admirable, but I understand that you have to be careful on the job. Great post!

Monica Jacson said...

Gurl, I hear you. I was one of the founding members of a romance writer's group in my native city and not a one of those ethnically challenged women would actually read my books. They'd read the books of the other "real" romance authors, who joined though, some who hadn't written as many books as I had.

Terra Little said...

What can we do to start reversing these kinds of trends? Anyone?

Jay Francis said...

Oh wow, Ms Little! You're right, I think White readers should be exposed to something different, even if it's just a test run.

- Jay