Racial Divide Shows Up On Walmart Book Shelves

Bob Dyer, Akron Beacon, Sept. 2, 2010

At many area Walmarts, the book section is extremely well-organized.

The self-help books are here . . . the religion section is there . . . cooking and diet books farther down . . . and right over here is the black section.

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The “black section” contains everything written by and about blacks: romance novels, self-help books, religion, sports, even an autobiography by the current president of the United States.

Now, whether or not you’re a fan of Barack Obama, can’t we at least agree that the thing that defines him is not his skin color but his job title? We have lots and lots of African-Americans in this country–about 38 million, according to the U.S. Census Bureau–but during this country’s entire 234-year history we have had only 44 presidents.

Yet there he is, right in the middle of six monochromatic shelves, peering out at us from the cover of The Audacity of Hope.

At the Walmart on Arlington Road in Springfield Township, you’ll find two fancy, hardcover books by people who are household names in professional football. Drew Brees, quarterback of the 2009 Super Bowl champion

New Orleans Saints, smiles on the cover of Coming Back Stronger: Unleashing the Hidden Power of Adversity. Tony Dungy, coach of the 2006 Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts, smiles on the cover of The Mentor Leader.

But you won’t find those books side by side. Why? Because Brees is white and Dungy is black.

The black guy goes in the black section. After all, who other than a black person would want to read a book by an insightful, ethical, inspirational football coach?

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Wal-Mart responds

When asked why many of its stores have a “black section” that lumps together everyone from romance novelists to preachers to the president of the United States–even though they have little in common beside skin color–Wal-Mart Stores Inc. responded without really responding.

“The book sections in our stores are designed to meet customer demand and feedback at the local level,” read an e-mail from Phillip Keene, a media-relations official at the company’s headquarters in Bentonville, Ark.

“Like many national bookstores, and book sections at retailers across the country, some of our stores have a section for African-American-focused books, while a store in a different area of the country might have a large science-fiction section or Western section. . . .

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Wal-Mart is doing nothing more than feeding one of this country’s worst habits: looking at absolutely everything in black and white.

No one can dispute that skin color colors much of how we perceive things and how we are perceived. But not everything is black and white. And until we can get that through our collective heads, we have no chance of solving the race problem that has haunted this country for centuries and periodically threatens to tear it apart.

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