Thomas Sowell

NOW that police departments are supposed to stop racial profiling, maybe it is time for book publishers and bookstores to stop as well.

I first became aware of the racial profiling of authors when I saw my book "Migrations and Cultures" in the black studies section of my local bookstore. Since the book is about migrations from Europe and Asia, obviously the only reason for putting it there was that the author is black.


Racial bean counters are asking publishers to tell them which of their authors are black and no doubt some of these publishers are complying. But the practical consequence of this racial profiling is that a black author who writes a book about cameras or cooking is liable to have his book put on a bookstore shelf based on the race of the writer, rather than the subject of the book. This means that readers who are looking for books on cameras or cooking are unlikely to find his book in the section where such books are kept.

Some people may actually think that they are doing black writers a favor by setting up a black authors' section of a bookstore. But, with friends like these, who needs enemies? Black writers, like white writers, want their books to reach the readers -- and anything that interferes with that is bad news.

University of California Regent Ward Connerly found the same practice in an east coast bookstore that I found on the west coast. His partly autobiographical and partly political book, "Creating Equal" was nowhere to be seen in either the biographical section of the bookstore or in the political section. It was on the shelves for "African-American Interest."

The store manager said that this was done as a "service to the community."

What a service -- putting a book where it is least likely to be found! If it is a service to any black writers, it is a service only to those who write exclusively for and about fellow blacks. But does either the black community or American society in general need a literary version of racial apartheid?

It is no service to readers either. Imagine that you are looking for a book on the history of military conquests and cannot find anything you like in the history section of your local bookstore -- and that a book on that very subject by a black writer (yours truly, for example) is off in another part of the store.

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

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