Seg-book-gation: a rant

Bernice McFadden, author of Sugar, recently wrote a piece in The Washington Post that touched on some of the problems that exist in the publishing world.  She begins her piece by talking about the marketing support for The Help and The Secret Life of Bees.  Both books are set in the South and deal with African American struggles with racism.  Both were also written by white authors.  McFadden writes:

Both novels were given beautiful covers that did not reveal the race of the characters.  Both books were marketed to black and white audiences.

My debut novel, Sugar, was also published by a Penguin imprint [and deals with similar subject matter]. The original cover depicted a beautiful black woman standing behind a screen door. Sugar was marketed solely to African American readers. This type of marginalization has come to be known by African American writers as “seg-book-gation.”

She goes on to write:

Walk through your local chain bookstore and you will not see sections tagged British Literature, White American Literature, Korean Literature, Pakistani Literature and so on. None of these ethnicities are singled out or objectified the way African American writers are.

And while, yes, a vast majority of all writers, regardless of skin color, are struggling to stay afloat, and there are more African American writers being published today than at any other time in history, one must still take note of exactly what is being published.

And now for the rant: why don’t people get it?

Nowhere is this fact more painfully apparent than in the comments on McFadden’s article, where she gets called whiny, arrogant, hateful, self-victimizing, self-ghettoizing, self- serving, untalented, and–surprise surprise–racist.

Thing is, these are not new issues that have just magically appeared in “post-racial” America.  Remember the whitewashing incident over at Bloomsbury less than a year ago? McFadden points out at the end of her essay that Zora Neale Hurston outlined many of these same dilemmas back in 1950.

How many amazing books are we missing out on all because people refuse to acknowledge these problems and/or claim to remain “colorblind” to the whole thing?

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