Borders, Blinders and Bias

Posted on 13 August 2010 Friday


I think it’s interesting how so many people have suddenly discovered the topic of race. I also think it’s interesting how few people can discuss the topic of race these days without invoking the name of our latest president. CNN does a lot of series that focus on race the most recent being “Children and Race.” They use studies based on that old doll study to determine children’s attitudes toward race and various skin tones. Cooper just gave the disclaimer that though limited in sample size, it was a valid and reliable study. If so, I’d like to see the responses students gave correlated to the skin tone of the person asking the questions.  I mean, I’m looking at the panels and the experts and I’m not seeing many dark skinned people in these conversations. Do you get the message there?
One comment Cooper made in describing how the results are extrapolated was in stating that black parents have to fight to overcome racial stereotypes but white parents remain unaware.
And Asian parents and Latino parents and Native American parents have to fight, too.
How is this fight enacted you ask? Well, there are parents’ daily battles to make sure children aren’t ignored in class, to make sure sons don’t get too much attention from police officers or in fighting to find time to shop longer and to look harder to find toys, books, greeting cards and movies with people who look like their children.
When all the books have white children in them, white becomes the default and there’s something out of place about people of color riding horses, fighting vampires, building lemonade stands or having monkeys as pets. Isn’t it amazing how books, things that are meant to stimulate our imagination, can actually be devices for placing blinders on our world?
If children as young as three already have preconceived notions about people of color those notions have to come from the conversations we don’t have with them to overcome the lack of people of color in media images. Black parents have to fight to overcome racial stereotypes while white parents remain unaware.
Ari addressed this issue most recently in her letter to Borders where she asked them to do something about the lack of books available in their stores for children of color. Borders isn’t the only culprit, but they control such a large part of the bookselling market that they’re a good place to start.
I don’t notice what Border sells because I don’t shop at Borders. Like most readers of this blog, I’m not a typical book buyer. I buy more books than the average reader and I usually know what I want before I go to the bookstore. I’ve found out about new books from blogs, GoodReads, and a few other selection tools that librarians and booksellers use.I know Borders won’t have what I want so I don’t waste my time.
I’m trying to figure out how most readers find out about books. Have you ever noticed that few publishers use advertising? I think a lot of readers find out about books through reviews in newspapers or magazines that are essentially providing free advertising for publishers. Most readers walk into a bookstore not sure of what they want to read, but they want something immediately. They’re not likely to order books that are available but not in the store. They don’t know to ask about Wish After Midnight or Silver Phoenix because they’ve not seen or heard of it anywhere and they don’t want to wait a few days for the book to come into the store. But, if the books were there on the shelves, they could leave a happier customer who didn’t have to just settle with a book if they bought one at all.
I can’t help but wonder what would happen if Walter Mosley, Greg Neri or Charles R. Smith’s latest book was advertised on ESPN or BET? What if the book trailer for One Crazy Summer or Rules of Attraction showed up on MTV? What if there were an ad for 8th Grade Superzero right in the middle of Saturday morning cartoons? What if Knopf bought a product placement ad in “Lottery Ticket” and kids actually saw Bow Wow carrying a copy of Efrain’s Secret?  Why do book publishers say people of color don’t read, but they don’t try to attract this huge market to buy books?  I really think this is elitism and classicism as much as racism and as we move into the 21st century these omissions which relate to access to information are what people of color are going to have to fight to overcome just to stay in the game. I know people will read books when they find books they can relate to because I see it all time. But then I’m a librarian and I want people to read.
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Posted in: Causes, Me Being Me