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Why We Need Black Bookstores

Updated: May 29, 2022

A Black Woman happily reads a book while sitting near a window.

Go into just about any book store and you are sure to find a "self-help" section. In fact, a number of us own one or more of books that can be classified as such.

Here's the thing. How many of these books are written from (and to) your cultural center?

I'm willing to bet, it's far fewer self-help books written by (and for) Black folks in the average big-box book store than not. In fact, I'm also willing to bet that there is a large history section that contains no Black-facing books because they'd be found, instead, in the two to six shelves labeled "Black History" or "African American."

In big-box stores it's pretty customary to have these smaller "cultural" sections. While one may assume that this is simply to help us find what we may be looking for, it also has another (maybe) unintended outcome: folks are slowly conditioned to think of "Black" authors and subjects as the other.

This is one of the many reasons we need Black bookstores.

Black bookstores have historically served as community centers that provide not only books written for and by Black folks, but serve as a place where culture is exchanged.

Two Black girls with natural hair read on a sofa

In addition to selling Black books, Black bookstores often sponsor book signings, workshops, and other events where the community can gather to exchange information, strategies for community empowerment, and support literacy enrichment for our youngest community members.

Amen-Ra Book Store in Tallahassee, FL was beyond instrumental in shaping who I am today. It was a place where could go get incense, good African music on tapes and CDs (am I dating myself???), beautiful art and jewelry, and a bit of mentoring from their owners and employees. It was also a great place to meet other FAMU students who had similar culturally beliefs and ideas. Community was cemented through the space of Amen-Ra.

It can be incredibly tempting to order the latest book from an online seller or to visit a large big-box store, but these venues have threatened the well-being of smaller, often locally owned Black bookstores. If we lose them, we most certain lose spaces to gather and perform mutual aid. We lose access to books written specifically to enrich our communities, and we lose access to owners, and book shop employees, that can introduce us to important literary artists and activists.

So what can we do to ensure these stores last? The answer isn't a difficult one. We simply need to CHOOSE to support them as often as possible.

In order to make it a bit easier for you, here's a list of several. Please feel free to share the list with your friends and family. And, if you happen to own one yourself, please let me know so we can be sure to Big You UP!

Uncle Bobbie's Coffee and Books (Philadelphia, PA/ DC)

I hope you find as much richness in these stores as I do.

Only good things,

Dr. Tip

Black woman reads while sitting on the  floor with a stack of books.

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