Monday, October 08, 2007

Bringing Light | Racism At Borders Bookstore

Tonight, I was prepared to write something sweet, positive, warm and uplifting. Instead, I find myself frustrated and saddened that I feel compelled to discuss something else - a recent incident of racism at Border Bookstore.

Still, I can't let go of describing the lovely lanterns we made with wax paper, pressed leaves, tissue paper, paint and old brie boxes. Lovely luminescent things which give the daylean an extra glow. I had hoped to describe the banners we made by pressing sponges covered in fall coloured fabric paint onto muslin around leaves gathered from a nature walk.

This project took weeks of gathering, executing each stage, and patience on behalf of the 4 to 6 year olds in our group. As the Autumn Equinox brought an early twilight, we arranged the lanterns in front yard and hung the banners from Mrs. Redbud. The banners seemed to make the limbs of dear Mrs. Redbud - an ancient tree who shaded the children all summer with her heart shaped leaves - stretch stronger and taller.

The next day, we took our extra lanterns to the neighbors we thought could use a "little extra light." It was a wonderful lesson. preparing for darkness; creating your own light and sharing it with others. But, this is not what I find myself writing about tonight.

Tonight, I'm writing to call your attention to a brave sister's struggle against racism at Borders. Amanda Johnston is an educator and superb writer. Two things inspire me about this story. First, she is not just letting it blow over. Second, is that she has devised a comprehensive strategy to cure the insidious and calculated exclusion of Black poets from mainstream booksellers. Her strategy for redress is strong, positive and could benefit Borders in the long term. She has made her concerns logically and politely. And she has has climbed the customer service ladder with consistent diligence in the effort to get an appropriate response.

She has obviously ruffled some feathers because the Borders Union is sending "anonymous" haters to her blog in order to demoralize her. They are being offensive, racist and hostile. Read that rubbish here:

Find the whole ordeal here:

"Please Don't Call The Manager, I Just Want To Buy Some Books"
On Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2007 during my lunch break I went to Borders (the Westgate location on S. Lamar, Austin, TX) with a friend to use my birthday $50 gift card. You know I was happy. I looked for the literary journals, as I always do. I found that they had moved the journals to behind the counter. Way behind the counter. I couldn’t even read the spines. I asked the man why the journals are back there. He said they had been having problems with people messing them up and taking them. I explained that I couldn’t read them. He called his manager. She came to the front, I explained and she gave me a copy of each to flip through at the counter. While at the counter I heard the other clerks asking customers if they are educators because there is a special 25 percent off if they were. When folks hesitated at the question, I heard the clerks say, “Well, have you every taught anyone anything in your whole life?” Of course the customers then remembered the time they taught a Sunday school class or that time they taught their Boy Scout troupe how to fish. The clerks gave them the discount; they took their books and left.

As I stood there flipping through the journals, I noticed that the line was getting long. The man called his manager for “back up.” I’m standing right next to him and heard him say, “Oh no, it’s not that, the line is just getting long.” I raised an eyebrow; made my selection from the journals and moved on to the poetry section of the store. I came back to the counter with an arm full of books and proceeded to check out. I heard the same conversation about the 25 percent off and watched more people get the discount and leave. I’m next at the counter with the same man that “helped” me earlier; he started to scan my books and said, “Oh, I’m supposed to ask if you’re an educator.” I said yes. Now……wait for it…………..he asks for my I.D. to prove it. What the fuck!!! I knew it was going to happen. I knew it, but I didn’t want it to. I hated wasting energy processing the question before it happened, thinking of my St. Edward’s University Staff I.D. in my wallet (yessir, I got papers). I hated every minute of it. So I stopped and pointed out that no one else had to go through that, no one else was asked for I.D. He called his manager. She tells me, and I kid you not, “Miss, you were not treated differently than anyone else. I’ve known him for a year and that’s not like him.” Then she asked what she could do to make this better. Am I wrong for being even more offended by this? The wink wink, nudge nudge, come on lady, we know you just want some free shit so tell us what’s it gonna take to make this go away.......

From "What I think will 'rectify the situation.'"
Unfortunately it has happened and there is no undoing that. The idea of accepting a gift certificate secretly through the mail adds further insult to injury. It is a red stamp that I am a "situation" being handled and not a person being cared for out of respect and genuine concern.

1. Stop by her blog and offer just a small positive comment to keep up her spirits.

2. Contact Borders saying that, if needed, you will boycott until they have honored her requests.

By web

Snail and phone:
7:00 AM-9:00 PM CT (Central Time) Monday-Friday,
8:00 AM-7:00 PM on Saturday and 10:00 AM-7:00 PM CT on Sunday.

Borders Customer Service
100 Phoenix Drive
Ann Arbor, MI 48108

Remember, you have a unique power as a home educator. We are an audience who is indispensable to them.

In conclusion, think about what those employees are really saying:
1. Blacks are neither educators or educated.
2. Black literature is sub-standard.
3. Racial profiling is an acceptable practice.
4. Blacks are consumers who should have no real expectation of service or respect. We are all simply potential situations.

This goes against the grain of every concept I have been teaching for the past month. Tonight, I will light our lantern. Tonight, I plan to support Amanda by bringing a little light to Borders. I hope you'll join me.

Thanks for listening.

1 comment:

Sonja said...

Thank you so much for taking the time to educate so many. I too, spend countless dollars at Borders and although, I have not had such experiences, I am saddened that think that with so many major, catastrophic concerns, race is still a factor in how one is treated.