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Jewish World Review April 2, 2001 / 9 Nissan, 5761

Thomas Sowell

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Consumer Reports

I'm a victim of 'racial profiling' -- 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.

Someone who stood in the black studies section of a major bookstore for 20 minutes reported that not a single white person entered that section during that time. Why would anyone want to put books where only a fraction of the public is likely to look -- especially if it is a book on a subject of no special interest to that particular fraction?

It is bad enough that bookstores engage in the racial profiling of authors. But so do some publishers.

The ridiculous lengths to which publishers can carry racial profiling was demonstrated to me when copies of my recently published book Basic Economics: A Citizen's Guide to the Economy. were sent out to Jet magazine, the Amsterdam News and other black publications. Only after I complained were copies then sent to the Wall Street Journal and other publications dealing with economics.

I had naively believed that publishers were not only in the business of publishing books but also of selling them. But apparently keeping up with fads is considered more important.

The mindless political correctness of the racial bean counters has invaded and corrupted one institution after another. A recent advertisement in the Chronicle of Higher Education lists a job as "Vice-Provost for Diversity and Equal Opportunity." In other words, this job is being campus quota czar. You have reached the holy grail of "diversity" when you have black leftists, white leftists, female leftists and Hispanic leftists as professors.

Major corporations across the country have their affirmative action officials and many also have "diversity consultants" who come in and harangue the employees with the politically correct party line on race. Not since the days when the Nazis spoke of "Jewish science" has the idea been so widespread that race is destiny as far as ideas are concerned.

Only such an underlying assumption could create even the semblance of rationality to the notion that you are promoting "diversity" of viewpoints by having people of different skin colors on campus or in business -- or with their books in different parts of bookstores.

JWR contributor Thomas Sowell, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, is author of several books, including his latest, Basic Economics: A Citizen's Guide to the Economy.


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© 2001, Creators Syndicate