Bookstore owner, public library address furthering conversation on racism through literature


AUSTIN (KXAN) — Having a conversation about racism is uncomfortable.

“I’ve heard so many people say, ‘It’s uncomfortable,’ and it is. It’s an uncomfortable topic but if you say where you are [in terms of talking about it] and you’re not willing to get out of that comfort zone, then there’s no growth,” Black Pearl Books owner Katrina Brooks said.

Brooks started her bookstore six months ago, and has recently seen a “boom” of people seeking knowledge about racism.

(Courtesy: Katrina Brooks)

“It’s been exponential, I can’t even categorize the difference. We were getting like six orders a minute or something at one point. They were coming in like ‘bam, bam bam!’ to where we were just like, ‘oh my god.’ The books are on backorder. We have this list of people we’re trying to get books to. The increase in demand has just been overwhelming.”

But she hesitates at the newfound interest.

“This is the first time I’ve seen such a proactive search for knowledge and understanding of racism in particular, so I just hold out hope it’s just not their reaction in the moment. I hope that people really take this and you read the book, go back to your churches or go back to your family and share the book, talk about it. Have the hard conversations about it,” Brooks said. “It’s great to read, but what do you do with the knowledge once you have it? What’s the application of it?”

Brooks curated a list of anti-racist book recommendations on her bookstore’s website with descriptions and reviews, because many don’t know where to start. She said people need to find what works for them by researching each title first.

“When people ask for a recommendation, I really try to find out where they are on the scale, because some books are hard-hitting, in-your-face. You’d have to be ready for it. And then some will just kind of hold-your-hand, walk with your through the process. Just a more gentle approach, right? And so if I recommend a book that’s hard-hitting, and you are not ready to receive that then the message completely gets lost and it’s not a benefit for anyone.”

What is anti-racism?

Brooks explained the meaning behind the term.

“In a nutshell, the simplest answer is, it means not staying silent. It means fighting for the people who don’t look like you. It means educating your kids beyond just ‘we’re not prejudiced, we’re not racist and we don’t have anything against people of color.’ It means identifying racism in your daily habits, in your daily thought and your daily actions, because quite honestly, racism, the base point of it is a bias. Everyone has a bias towards something. That’s just human nature. You may not consider yourself a racist, and you’re not — you may not be, but that doesn’t mean you are working to push that forward.”

She’s also has heard from a lot of customers seeking anti-racist children’s books, which she sells and can recommend; however, she believes people should go beyond that.

“That’s great, that’s a starting point but lead by example. Don’t just talk the talk. In your everyday life, what are your children seeing? Who do your children see you hang out with? Who do your children see you engage with and support and have these conversations with? Because that’s what they’re gonna mimic, that’s what they’re gonna look at, that’s what they’re gonna remember. We spent time with this family, this group of people.”

Brooks said other anti-racist actions you can take include protesting, engaging in politics, reviewing your hiring practices at your company, supporting black-owned businesses and joining diverse book clubs.

“Are you only discussing it with people that look like you? Are you only discussing it with people in your circle? With the people with the same perspectives? We can both read something and take something very different out of it,” Brooks said of the latter.

Around a dozen local schools have also shown interest.

“They range from preschools to [schools in] Round Rock ISD. An admin ordered books from there, and I’ve had another school in Dripping Springs that has reached out and wants to do a large order. They don’t always have access. [These books] are not always widely available. For them, this is a great resource and a great place to start so we can incorporate those books we may not be familiar with into our learning environment.”

Black Pearl Books is only taking online orders right now, but does offer free shipping. Large orders will be delivered. Brooks expects to establish a physical location later this year.

(Courtesy: Katrina Brooks)

Alternative avenues

Another place to get your hands on anti-racism literature is at the Austin Public Library.

They are featuring a list of “Twenty Books About Race” curated by African American community archivist and librarian kYmberly Keeton.

  • Black Is The Body​, by Emily Bernard
  • An American Summer​, by Alex Kotlowitz
  • Biased​, by Jennifer L. Eberhardt, PhD
  • Democracy in Black​, by Eddie S. Claude, Jr.
  • I’m Still Here​, by Austin Channing Brown
  • Forty Million Dollar Slaves​, by William C. Rhoden
  • Stony the Road​, by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
  • Nigger: An Autobiography​, by Dick Gregory
  • The Nickel Boys​, by Colson Whitehead
  • White Girls​, by Hilton Als
  • Between The World And Me​, by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide​, by Carol  Anderson
  • The Isis Paper: The Keys to the Colors​, by Francis Cress Welsing
  • White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about  Racism​, by Robin DiAngelo
  • So You Want to Talk about Race​, by Ijeoma Olu
  • Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment,​ by Patricia Hill Collins
  • CITIZEN An American Lyric​, by Claudia Rankine
  • Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement, ​by​ ​Angela Davis
  • The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, by​ ​Michelle Alexander
  • Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower, ​by Brittney Cooper 

They’ve added a new curbside service at select locations to help. You can view those in their tweet below:

The curbside pickup is available Monday through Friday, 10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. All books they collect will be quarantined for 72 hours. Learn more about the service on their website.

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