Anti-racism books for adults and children
TORONTO -- As marches and demonstrations take places across Canada and the U.S., book reviewers and storeowners are seeing an increased interest in books that explore anti-racism and the concept of white privilege.
Sean Liburd is one such owner. His Afrocentric bookshop in Brampton, Ont., has seen an overwhelming demand for books related to anti-racism and diversity.
A majority of the literature sold at Knowledge Bookstore, the shop he co-owns, is written by Black authors and discusses African history and culture.
“On Tuesday night, when I last checked at eight o’clock, over 1,300 Canadians had actually visited the website,” he told CTVNews.ca over the phone on Friday.
On Thursday night, Liburd shipped over 60 books – more than he would in an average week.
“We’re a small bookstore, so we don’t usually get this many orders.”
Liburd started to notice an increase in online engagement over the weekend. This was followed by a flurry of calls and emails throughout the week from people asking for more information on different books, as well as recommendations.
Liburd points out that a majority of people currently placing orders aren’t his usual clientele.
“Most are new to the bookstore and… from different races and cultures,” Liburd explained. “It’s definitely a change that we’ve seen over the last week.”
Knowledge Bookstore is one of only two Black-owned and oriented bookstores in Canada, according to publisher Rocky Mountain Books.
He said he believes this strong and sudden interest is connected to recent protests against police brutality. Demonstrations have erupted across North America over the past couple of weeks, following the death of George Floyd. The 46-year-old Black man died after being pinned to the ground for nearly nine minutes by a white police officer in Minneapolis on May 25.
“Just seeing that video and what took place has impacted a lot of people in a way that things haven’t before,” said Liburd. “People have taken steps to educate themselves a bit better about what racism is, what the Black community faces on a daily basis and how they can play a role in making a difference.”
SURGE IN THE SALE OF ANTI-RACIST LITERATURE
Knowledge Bookstore is not alone in seeing an increased interest focused on anti-racism and diversity.
For the week ending on May 31, consumer sales for these types of books averaged an increase of more than 100 per cent when compared to the week before, said Noah Genner, CEO of BookNet Canada. The non-profit organization collects data on the sale of printed books.
In terms of retail orders to publishers, individual book titles have seen even sharper increases.
“In many cases, the books have gone up 500 or 600 per cent in weekly sales – that’s very significant,” he told CTVNews.ca via telephone on Friday. “What’s happening right now is a relatively new thing in some stores.”
While some of this increase in business can be attributed to the gradual reopening of bookstores after months of closures, Genner said there is no doubt that sales are also being impacted by what’s happening in the U.S.
“There’s always been a large demand here in Canada for books on diversity,” he said. “But obviously, what's going on in the U.S., and to a degree in Canada right now, is really driving people's awareness of this topic and wanting to read more and learn more on this topic.
“They’re obviously searching out books that can help serve that goal.”
Liburd said most of his recent book sales involve those meant for adults instead of children or teens.
ANTI-RACISM BOOKS FOR CHILDREN
While Liburd hasn’t seen much impact on the sale of children’s books focused on anti-racism and diversity, Kelly Bullock has.
Bullock is a book reviewer and founder of the website Inclusive Story Time. Focused primarily on picture books for children age 9 and under, Bullock will post suggestions for parents on books their child should read.
She has noticed an astronomical increase in interaction with her Instagram account, which is where most of her online engagement takes place.
“My account has grown by 43,000 followers in eight days,” she told CTVNews.ca on Friday over the phone. “The interest has skyrocketed and I know for some other accounts that do similar things, [their following] has tripled in some cases.”
Bullock, who is a white woman, started the project just over a year ago, she said. It was a way of holding herself and her family accountable in practising anti-racism and including diversity in the selection of books kept at home, she said.
As she points out, this is something that seems to be resonating with other families too.
“People definitely want to be more aware, they realize that being idle and silent is being complicit,” she said. “Now they’re realizing that as parents and educators, they have to do more because otherwise, they’re allowing [racism] to happen and that harms Black people, people of colour, and Indigenous people.”
For those who may think their child may be too young for discussions on such a serious topic, Bullock said to think again. In fact, she emphasizes the importance of exposure to topics such as race and diversity at a young age.
“There is no time that is too early to introduce books that have characters in them that are different from [your child],” she said. “The sooner that you can, in your own home, expose your children to things that are different than your communities, different than your nuclear family, [and] different than your culture, the sooner they can build lifelong equity that will make lasting changes in society.”
SALES FOR BOOKS ON ANTI-INDIGENOUS RACISM
Strong Nations is a bookstore based in British Columbia that sells literature focused on raising awareness of Indigenous peoples. The company’s CEO, Terri Mack, said she’s noticed a slight increase in the sale of books, though more so in those meant for adults than children.
“It fills me with hope as an Indigenous woman, knowing that there are adults out there who are actively seeking ways to better understand what it means to be a visible minority in the world,” she told CTVNews.ca via telephone on Friday.
A majority of Strong Nations’ customer base is made up of schools, as well as other institutions such as libraries, social organizations and even churches. But between the months of April and May, the company has seen a 10 per cent increase in sales to new individual customers, said Mack.
“We’re seeing an increase in people that don’t normally shop with us,” she explained. “I think that a lot of that has got to do with the pandemic as well.”
She suspects this number has gone up in the last couple of weeks due to the protests and consequent conversations surrounding anti-racism.
“I think people are trying to learn and understand what’s happening,” she said. “They’re trying to find an answer and understand different perspectives.”
While Liburd, Bullock and Mack all agree that books are not enough to solve the issues of police brutality and systemic racism, they insist these are certainly a good place to start.
BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS FOR CHILDREN
Here’s a look at some of the books Bullock has recommended to parents on her Instagram account:
• “Happy in Our Skin,” by Fran Manushkin
• “I Have the Right to Be a Child,” by Alain Serres
• “I'm Gonna Push Through!” by Jasmyn Wright
• “IntersectionAllies: We Make Room for All,” by Chelsea Johnson, LaToya Council, Carolyn Choi
• “Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness,” by Anastasia Higganbotham
BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS FOR ADULTS
Here’s a look at some of the books Mack and Liburd recommend for adults who are interested in topics about anti-racism:
• “21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act,” by Bob Joseph
• "Policing Black Lives: State Violence in Canada from Slavery to the Present,” by Robyn Maynard
• “Seven Fallen Feathers,” by Tanya Talaga
• "The Skin We're In: A Year of Black Resistance and Power,” by Desmond Cole
• “Until We Are Free: Reflections on Black Lives Matter in Canada,” by Rodney Diverlus, Sandy Hudson, and Syrus Marcus Ware
• "White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for People to Talk About Racism," by Robin DiAngelo