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After the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, a movement began. Protesters took to the streets in cities — across the country and beyond — to demonstrate against police violence and systemic racism.
A recent surge in demand for books on race and antiracism highlights perhaps another form of activism: education.
Jason Reynolds’ Stamped, Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me, Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist, Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility and Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow are just a few of the titles selling out at bookstores across the country.
Produced by Julie Depenbrock
- Hannah Oliver Depp Owner, Loyalty Bookstores
- Derrick Young Co-owner, Mahogany Books
Recs from Guests and Listeners
"We need to reprogram ourselves to look at the world from a different perspective." Derrick Young, co-owner of Mahogany Books in Anacostia, says that in recent weeks he's seen a surge in new customers. His bookstore specializes in literature by, for and about people of the African diaspora.
KOJO NNAMDIAfter the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, a movement began. Protestors took to the streets of cities across the country and beyond to demonstrate against police violence and systemic racism. A recent surge in demand for books on race and antiracism highlights perhaps another form of activism: getting educated.
KOJO NNAMDIJason Reynolds' "Stamped," Ta-Nehisi Coates' "Between the World and Me," Ibram X. Kendi's "How to Be an Antiracist," Robin DiAngelo's "White Fragility" and Michelle Alexander's "The New Jim Crow" are just a few of the titles selling out at bookstores across the country. Joining us to discuss the radical act of reading is Derrick Young, co-owner of Mahogany Books in Anacostia, with his wife, Ramunda Lark Young. Mahogany specializes in books written by, for and about people of the African Diaspora. Derrick Young, thank you for joining us.
DERRICK YOUNGThank you for having me.
NNAMDIAlso joining us is Hannah Oliver Depp, owner of Loyalty Bookstores in Petworth and Silver Spring. Hannah, thank you for joining us.
HANNAH OLIVER DEPPThank you for having me.
NNAMDIFirst off, Hannah, what are we talking about when we say antiracist literature?
DEPPThat's a very good question. So, I think the term antiracist has very recently kind of entered common usage, whereas before, it was more of an academic term being used. And the idea behind antiracism is that it's a larger structure that we're living in, that we live in a racist society that is structured and is functioning as it was designed to, to oppress people.
DEPPAnd so antiracist literature addresses that specifically, but it can take many forms. It can be fictional. It can be personal essay. It could be a history book. So, it comes in a lot of forms, but it is targeting not necessarily saying individual moments or experiences of racism that often allow people to say, well, that was a one-off time, or perhaps a term we hear a lot, a bad apple. But this is, in fact, the entire system of the country we live in.
NNAMDIDerrick, it's a newish term. I'm wondering what this term antiracist literature means to you.
YOUNGWell yeah, a lot of what Hannah said there, but I think one of the things I would add to it is it's about being active, intentionally being active about making sure that we're treating people with equity and equality in any situation, even if it's unconscious. Even to say that you're colorblind is an act of racism, because you're not allowing people to be who they are, authentically.
YOUNGSo, for me, when you talk about being antiracist, it's intentionally engaging with people and engaging in the act of ridding this country of racism, even whether it's education, whether it's housing, health. In any arena, it's being intentional and active in ridding racism in this country.
NNAMDIDerrick Young, would you say that it's mainly white people who are now seeking out what we call these antiracist titles?
YOUNGI would say, yes, in terms of what we see in the surge of new purchasers buying these forms of books. But, you know, we've been selling these books to black folk for the last, you know, number of years, who've been reading these consistently and trying to understand what the system is. But in terms of new readers, the large majority of them are white people.
NNAMDIJaden from Arlington read "The Vanishing Half," by Brit Bennett, and recommends it highly. It's about race relations in the 1950s through the '80s. It's historical fiction. Hannah, can you tell me about the surge in demand for antiracist books? When did it begin for Loyalty?
DEPPWell, like Derrick was saying, this has been a core part of what we opened our bookstore to sell. So, it was interesting. I didn't notice the rise quite at first, because, again, this is our core backbone of what we sell at Loyalty. And so, at first, it seemed like sort of the uptick that I expected about three weeks ago, or even right after the murder of Ahmaud Arbery became a public topic of conversation after the video was released, or went viral.
DEPPAnd so I saw the uptick start then, but about two weeks ago, the floodgates sort of opened, (laugh) and it just became this mass from not only in our own backyards in the DMV, but all over the country. And as an act of antiracism, people weren't necessarily thinking -- as Derrick was saying, it's actions. It's thinking a little bit harder about what you're doing and fighting the system with your actions. So, ordering from a company like Amazon that contributes to the oppression of people, as opposed to finding a black bookstore to support. So, you're putting, literally, your money where your mouth is when you purchase this antiracist literature. So, I think that was really responsible for the sales and surge in our stores.
NNAMDII was about to say, Hannah, what about this moment do you think has moved so many people to seek out literature to educate themselves?
DEPPI think it's a combination of things going on in our society that has been going on for a long time. But also the pandemic has so many people at home, and there's -- it's laid bare about the stark inequalities in our society that we haven't been able to distract ourselves from looking away as police brutality happens, economic inequality happens and active healthcare is so starkly uneven in the country.
DEPPAnd so it's, I think, very interesting that it has hit at this time, because, perhaps now, without some of the day-to-day distractions that filled up our lives before, you can't really look away. So, I think people really, really want to understand how systemic this is. And, again, I would attribute that to the discussion being as opposed to looking for a way to say, hey, I'm not racist, to say, okay well, what is antiracism? What does that look like?
NNAMDIHere's Nancy in Washington, D.C. Nancy, your turn.
NANCYOh, thank you. Just, first of all, I'm also very glad to see this increase in reading. I wanted to recommend "The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America," by Richard Rothstein. It came out in 2017, and I just thought it was just such a forceful, powerful view. I think many of us -- most of us, I hope, are familiar with redlining. This goes far beyond those arguments. And he worked, I think, for about 10 years on the book. And I just wanted to say I would add that to the list of the other excellent choices that I have seen reported in the Post and that your guests just mentioned, too.
NNAMDIOkay. Thank you very much for your call. Hannah Oliver Depp, I know you get frustrated when people call what we're seeing, quote-unquote, "a trend," as if it's something that has not been building in the publishing industry for some time. Can you talk about the decades it's taken to diversify publishing?
DEPPI will try to keep a civil tongue, but maybe not, because that hasn't gotten us as far as we need to. You know, I think I've only been fighting this fight for about 10 years. There's been a lot of people who have been fighting it much longer than I have. You know, Mahogany Books' existence started online, so that they could help educate people about these things. And a lot of their works are published by nontraditional publishers that they distribute, because of this very systematic racism that runs through publishing.
DEPPPublishing is an extremely privileged profession, by and large. You know, its very foundations are sort of people who already had a lot of money, going into the business. And even though that's often not the case now, that is the kind of system that it's based on. So, that has kept out a lot of black and brown people from pursuing full careers, and that has a terrible rippling effect. If you can't afford to work a free or extremely low-paid internship and live in New York City, your foot never even gets in the door. Or if it does, it might take so long for you to get promoted, compared to other people who are in the industry with connections, then you're not going to get up.
DEPPAnd then we get less purchasing of books by black authors, less black editors to edit them, less black publicists to publicize them. The art direction doesn't connect with the soul of the book. And all these things contribute to loss in sales, not to mention, if you're an avid Twitter user, you might've seen the #publishingpaidme. And we're seeing incredible (unintelligible) in advances and payouts for books, some of which have won the Pulitzer or the National Book Award. And, in comparison, debut authors with no experience that are white are getting paid three to four times as much, even more.
DEPPSo, the work that publishing has been doing in the last -- really, vocally -- three to five years, people have been fighting for in the industry very, very vocally, and, in some cases, creating their own imprints or independent presses to try to combat that, or by advocating and trying to get more people of color within the existing mainstream publishing system.
DEPPBut it has produced incredible works that we hear a lot about. Jesmyn Ward's work, Dr. Kendi's work, Jason Reynolds, WEB Du Bois, you know, just all over, from adult to children literature, fiction and nonfiction. But a real problem is those authors aren't being paid equitably for their work. And, in addition to that, they're not promoted widely. Or if they are, and they're chosen, hey, this is the brown book on our list we're going to throw all of our promotion behind, in comparison to the literally thousands of other books being published. Well great, you published six books by a black author this year. You also published 6,000 other books not by black authors. The numbers are terrible.
DEPPAnd I think that's just one of -- again, one of those things that we are no longer looking away from and just saying, well, not something we can control, because we can. We control it with our purchasing dollars.
NNAMDIDerrick Young, at Mahogany Books most antiracist book titles are taking two to three weeks to ship, as you await reprints. But when did you start to see a surge in demand for literature on race and antiracism?
YOUNGWell, I mean, again, that's a pretty interesting question. Like Hannah said, from the very beginning of Mahogany Books, those have been the core books that we've been selling. So, we know our primary market, African-Americans, have been reading these books for decades now. And that's been the core of what we do. But in terms of new readers to these books, in these last few weeks, we have seen a surge in buyers since the senseless murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd.
YOUNGAnd, like Hannah said, because, I think, people aren't able to distract themselves with other things right now, because of the pandemic, they're having to look, in the mirror. So, we've seen, in the last two weeks, a huge influx of orders across the country. We've had calls from people internationally seeking to purchase these books, as well.
YOUNGSo, I think, because people are sitting in their home during this pandemic and watching these protests and watching these senseless murders, they're being forced to figure out how they can actually improve themselves, like account for their own unconscious biases and try to do something better. So, the last two weeks, we've seen just a huge uptick in our orders from returning buyers, but especially new buyers to Mahogany Books.
NNAMDIHannah Oliver Depp, we got a tweet from Mystic Warrior: Is there a recommended book on this subject for young black men and boys looking to improve awareness, not instill paranoia?
DEPPOh, that's a really good question. I mean, the first that comes to mind is one that they're shipping reprints of right now due to the high demand, and it's by Jason Reynolds and Dr. Kendi and it's "Stamped: The Remix." So, it's based on Dr. Kendi's work with "Stamped From the Beginning," which is a very, very large history text. And this brings it to younger people, directly. It's written in (unintelligible) language. It's engaging, and it is directed specifically to young people.
NNAMDIHere is Brian in Frederick, Maryland. Brian, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
BRIANThanks for taking my call, Kojo. I'm a part of a white family with two 13-year-old twin daughters. And I think race prejudices are handed down, you know, from generations. So, as parents of young girls, we try to preempt that kind of culture by reading a lot. And we've been really into the Jason Reynolds's books. My daughters are both track runners, and his series with Ghost and Patina and Sunny have just been really good family reading.
BRIANSo, for us, it's before you get to that point where you could be racist, you know, we would like to believe we're antiracist. And we just went to the protests in Frederick, and it was a very amazing, uplifting crowd. And we were proud to be a part of it.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Brian. We got a tweet from Helen about an article from Vulture. She describes it as an essential component of any conversation about antiracist, reading that article titled "What is an Antiracist Reading List For?" Tell us a little bit, both Hannah and Derrick, Derrick, I'll start with you. Which titles and authors seem to be most in demand right now?
YOUNGWell, there's a lot of, like I said, the Dr. Ibram Kendis, the Michelle Alexanders, the (unintelligible), "The New Jim Crow," "How to Be an Antiracist." You also see "Me and White Supremacy" by Layla Saad, I believe it is, as well as "White Fragility," by Robins DiAngelo. But, as Hannah mentioned before, pretty much every text that we sell is an antiracist book.
YOUNGSo, I point people to great history books like "An African American and Latinx History of the United States," by Paul Ortiz. It's a great, great book that re-teaches history from the perspective of not just the "victors," quote-unquote, but what they actually did to the people that they conquered and enslaved and annexed off their land.
YOUNGAnd that's one of the key ways that we go about, you know, uncentering white people in this conversation as if, you know, there's not that we know everything that America has done has been perfect. No, there's been people they've degraded, oppressed. And, you know, in many cases, just killed.
NNAMDI(overlapping) Allow me to interrupt -- allow me to interrupt you for a second to tell our listeners that the sound we're hearing in the background is probably rain. You can verify that for me, Derrick Young, go ahead, please.
YOUNGYeah, I apologize. I'm in a rainstorm right now.
NNAMDIThat's all right. You can't apologize for the rain. That's fine. (laugh)
YOUNGBut, yeah, so, you know, I love his book. I think it's a fantastic book, especially for high schoolers, to kind of re-teach history. I'm also a huge fan of Nell Irvin Painter's "The History of White People." Because, again, it goes through the process of teaching how this whole construct of race and racism comes about. It's not something that black people initiated. It's something that was created for a capitalist perspective, to be able to center themselves and exploit people to make money.
YOUNGAnd they had to have a rationale to be able to do these things. And her book does a fantastic job of talking about how this came about, of even, you know, what a black race or a white race, and what this stuff is. So, those are two books that aren't on a list right now that I'm seeing that I think people should definitely read. Because from historical context, we need to -- you know, this brainwashing that we've had, we need to get rid of that. We need to kind of reprogram ourselves to look at the world from a different perspective. And those are two great books to do that with.
NNAMDIJudith emails: A few years ago I embarked on a remedial reading effort to fill in the blanks of my education in American history. I picked up "Blood at the Root," about a Georgia County that terrorized and forced out its black population at the beginning of the 20th century and violently kept them out well into the 1980s.
NNAMDIThe book devoted about two pages to the role of President Woodrow Wilson in advancing white supremacy, together with Neal Flanagan's City Paper article "The Battle For Fort Reno," about the racial cleansing of the park just across the street from the school. That book helped propel the latest campaign to rename Wilson High School in the District of Columbia. Hannah, at Loyalty Bookstores, which titles and authors are most in demand?
DEPPYou know, as Derrick was saying, very much so, Dr. Kendi's books, Jason Reynolds' books have been in huge demand, as well as books specifically addressing, you know, the individual roles that people take. We're also selling a lot of books focusing on intersectionality of queerness and blackness and that oppression, also police violence.
DEPPWe have a very popular title "White Rage," which I believe has just come back in stock, but it's selling out again. (laugh) So, they have been big reads. We've been recommending a lot of Angela Davis' work, as well. I mean, she's been fighting the fight, literally, her whole life to make prisons obsolete, make -- defund the police, and really analyze whiteness and its oppression of others, and that everyone, we must uplift all oppressed people if we're going to lift ourselves. So, a lot of her work has been circulating on some lists, but I think is really both foundational and necessary.
NNAMDIHere now is Nancy in Washington, D.C. Nancy, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
NANCYI'd like to recommend the book "Shattered Bonds: The Color of Child Welfare,” by law professor Dorothy Roberts. This book is to the child welfare system what "The New Jim Crow" is to the criminal justice system. It really explains, traces the history of the devaluation of the relationship between black mothers and their children back to the slave time, and really calls out that part of our legal system as a part of the carceral state.
NANCYAnd I think it's so important at this time when people are really examining the criminal justice system and its racism that they also look at the state destruction of black families through the child welfare system. And Dorothy Robert's book "Shattered Bonds" is the best thing out there that does that.
NNAMDIOkay. Thank you very much for your call. Here is Loyce, in Burke. Loyce, go ahead, please.
LOYCEYes, hello. I've read several of the titles mentioned. I'd certainly like to endorse "The Color of Law," but I'd like to add that when I was at the National Museum of Peace and Justice last year in Montgomery, Alabama, another book I came across that I hadn't heard about was "Slavery by Another Name," by Douglas Blackmon. It was published in '09, but it hasn't had the buzz of some of these other titles.
LOYCEBut it is the most compelling, most horrifying, the most extensive description of the way they used arrests to get, in effect, slave labor all over again. And it served them better, because they didn't even have to regard these people as investments to be taken some care of. They just treated them even worse than slaves had been treated. And I had no idea the breadth and depth of this problem.
NNAMDIDerrick, are there any works in particular you feel that might be overlooked that you might want to recommend?
YOUNGYou know, I do recommend one of my favorite books, two of them, is "Heavy" by Kiese Laymon, and "What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker," by Damon Young. You know, a lot of times, what we -- we ascribe these certain traits, characteristics to black men. And a lot of it is done, you know, so that we can be demonized and undervalued. But what these two gentlemen have done in their books is they've talked about, from their perspective, what it is to live with those stereotypes placed on us from birth, and the process of going through shedding that mask from themselves.
YOUNGAnd they're two great books, because they humanize black men. They just strip away all of the stereotypes and connotations. And I think when people read it, they can start to really find a humanity that's been sometimes just, you know, not ascribed to black men. And these two guys, they've done masterful jobs in just the writing of the work, but in telling their story, as well. And I think people should really take a moment to read those two memoirs, because I think it'll force people to really start to question, you know, how they view black men and, you know, what is -- you know, who we really are.
NNAMDIHannah, we only have about 30 seconds left, but you have spoken openly about how Loyalty struggled to access paycheck protection program funds. Do you feel that is a reflection of a larger systemic problem?
DEPPVery much so. The problems that we found that many businesses found in accessing relief from the Small Business Association, the federal government, local government are systemic and are what prevents us from accessing funds all of the time. Systems intentionally or not intentionally designed to be difficult and frustrating are compounded when adjusted. Yeah, so time is not something that black businesses have, so to navigate that was very difficult.
NNAMDIHanna Oliver Depp is the owner of Loyalty Bookstores. Derrick Young co-owns Mahogany Books with his wife, Ramunda Lark Young. Thank you both for joining us. Our conversation about antiracist literature was produced by Julie Depenbrock, and our discussion with the parents of 2nd Lieutenant Richard Collins III was produced by Kayla Hewitt.
NNAMDIComing up tomorrow, Arlington County Board member Christian Dorsey talks about phase two of reopening and the economic impact of the coronavirus. And we hear Montgomery County Councilmember Will Jawando's take on the protests. Plus, the effort to decriminalize nature in D.C. That's all coming up tomorrow, at noon, on The Politics Hour. Until then, thank you for listening and stay safe. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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