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27 November, 2007

Intersection in the Bookstore

So I decided to make an attempt to redeem a really godawful day by wandering in a used bookstore for a bit. And while I was wandering, I decided that I wanted to see if I could find something by bell hooks, because a number of people I respect speak so highly of her work.

Intersectionality in action, there.

bell hooks has nothing in the feminist theory section, nor in the women in history section, nor, for that matter, in the race issues section; the three titles in the used bookstore were filed under 'African-Americans'.

And I found myself thinking about the discussion brownfemipower was hosting, about the work of women of color being sidelined, pushed to the back end of the semester as an if-we-have-time. And I'm wandering this bookstore going, "Wow. If I were just puttering about in the women's studies section, I'd never know bell hooks existed." Though there were a couple of titles in there about critiques of mainstream feminism from a POC perspective.

Intersectionality means that nobody knows where to shelve your damn books. It means that only people who are looking at whatever subissue the linear one-person-one-categorisation has lumped you into will see what you have to say, and the fact that you have more to say than fits neatly into the box is irrelevant. Procrustean shelving practices prevail, because there's no damn way of shelving the book in the five different places it goes.

I don't even know how to fix it. Looking at the world in a tangled mess of Venn diagrams doesn't help anyone find something in the damn bookstore. Not until we get VR bookstore interfaces and can shelve everything in all the places that it goes, so people can look in their boxes and find everything that belongs in the box.

Check your local bookstores. Where can you find bell hooks?

(But I now have a copy of Ain't I A Woman: black women and feminism.)


Ravenmn said...

Yeah, ghettoizing people of color in bookstores has a long tradition. Also interesting is the way libraries catalog books. I'm not knowledgeable enough on the subject myself, but I did have the pleasure of meeting Sanford Berman, a librarian who spent a lifetime challenging the discriminatory cataloging practiced by the Library of Congress. This article talks about it.

Peeeeka-chu said...

It's funny. Tyler at Pandemonium was asking about this similarly the other day, even though he has a much more limited bookstore than your traditional used bookstore. Can you create subsections for horror and fantasy vs. sci fi? What happens when a particular author falls into all those fields? Do you shelve a copy of each intersectional book in each place it might work? But then you have 5 copies of the same book...