When Andrew Klavan went looking for a new copy of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, he couldn’t find it in the literature section. It was in the Bookstore Ghetto, he writes on Pajamas Media.
When I asked a salesgirl for help, she took me—but of course!—to the “African-American Section,” because Ellison and the protagonist of his novel are black.
What a great idea! Putting all the novels about black people in a single section! Why didn’t I think of that? But wait—wait—how many of the characters have to be black before the novel does go into that section? Does just one black character make the whole novel black or is there a special section for mulatto novels with characters of both colors? And if all the novels about black people are in the black section, does that make the Literature section the white section? Why don’t we call it that then? I’m confused.
And hey, what about The Adventures of Augie March—do I find that in the Jewish section? No, don’t be an idiot. Important novels about Jews trying to find their place in America go in the Literature section, of course.
In the new cop series, Southland, a rookie cop tells a black girl that he liked the book she’s reading, Toni Morrison’s Beloved. She asks in surprise why he read it, and he says he took a black studies course. White people can’t read Beloved as American literature or just because a friend recommended it?