This isn’t Florida or Texas, so I was a bit surprised when informed that my request of a local bookstore (that will remain unnamed) to stock my most recent book, The Journey of an Old White Dude in the Age of Black Lives Matter: A Primer,” was denied. The reason cited was that “We have a diverse customer base, and it is critical to us that all of our customers feel safe and welcome in our space. We work to ensure that no titles jump out to them as potentially aggressive or alienating.”
I’m not exactly sure who they believe the title might offend. Perhaps it could be that being written by an “old White dude”, might imply that it is an inherently racist book. On the other hand, they might be thinking that it might offend progressives and people of color because they believe the majority of writers on the subject of racism should be POC. That, however, is a point that I agree with and fully acknowledge. But there is only so much that POC can tell white folks about these issues, and I explicitly explain that I am writing specifically as one old White dude directly to other White folks, with a profound sense of respect and humility.
While I understand not wanting your customers to feel uncomfortable, but we’re talking a bookstore here. Bookstores are full of books. Books are about stories, ideas, philosophies, and theories. They are written to entertain, inform and yes, they sometimes challenge readers with controversial ideas or topics. And yes, taking on the issue of race in America can be challenging, particularly for us White folks. But the fact is, honest discussions of race should make us a bit uncomfortable. As I write in the book, it’s not necessarily a bad thing to be challenged and uncomfortable because feeling that way is the first step in the type of honest self-reflection resulting in growth that can eventually lead to behavioral change and progress. That’s what books have the capacity to do.
Further, we can’t keep books on racism written by Whites off the shelves because we are afraid people might get the wrong impression. We must be able to have discourse on racism from authors of all backgrounds and ethnicities. The burden of educating America on issues of race should not belong to POC alone. White folks must also share that burden.
So here is the rub. Clearly, they didn’t read the book. They denied it based solely on the title and a brief description. Of any institution or business, a bookstore should be the last to judge a book by its cover.
If they would have read it, they would understand while yes, the book challenges the reader on contentious issues, in the end, it is a hopeful book. It is about possibilities and opportunities for progress. As I wrote in the Preface:
“We are all on a continuum regarding awareness, knowledge of, and commitment to racial justice. For each of us, it is a highly personal journey. My hope is that, wherever you are on that continuum, reading this book will help you move along that path, to impact in a positive way, your understanding of, and commitment to, racial justice….”
“…Despite contrary claims, I believe we Old White Dudes have the capacity to understand, evolve, and do what is needed to meet that challenge.
“We can do this!”
Perhaps it shouldn’t bother me that this store declined to carry my book. After all, there are plenty of other places to purchase it. Maybe it’s simply evidence that the issues covered are hitting their mark in challenging people to learn, grow, and evolve on issues relating to race in America. After all, that is the reason I wrote it.
So rather than being angry or disappointed, I am choosing to wear the fact that it is provocative enough to be “banned” as an unexpected badge of honor.