My thoughts about our name, The Brown Bookshelf

“In Which She Espouses Dissenting Opinions,” a post at Finding Wonderland: The Writing YA Weblog, they supported our efforts here at the Brown Bookshelf, and I thank them for that. They also had some concerns about our name. I’d like to express my thoughts.

9 times out of 10, when I type the name ‘The Brown Bookshelf,’ it flows off my fingers as ‘The Black Bookshelf.’ I have to backspace and retype it. I’m old-school. I grew up in the 1960s and 70s, the ‘black power,’ and ‘black is beautiful’ generation. I’ve never been uncomfortable with the use of the word ‘black’ when referring to my race. African-American as a label came later, popularized, I think, by the Cosby Show.

When I was invited to be a part of this initiative, the name had already been chosen. Good thing, too. Have you ever tried to make an important decision committee style? It’s not easy.

Somewhere along the line, I must have failed to pass along my pride for the use of the word black. It offends my six-year-old son. He corrects me, “Daddy, I’m not black; I’m brown.” When my daughter was a child, it offended her, too. And it offends some grown folk’s I know, too.

Labels are a sensitive topic in the Black community. In 100-plus years, we’ve worn many — some given to us, other’s we’ve given to ourselves. We’ve been called N-ggers. Then is was Negro. Later, Black and African-American. An elderly white guy I know once used the word “Afro-Ameri-black-man.” Poor thing, he was confused.

Black is a powerful word, sometimes polarizing in the black community. Although I wasn’t in on the discussion, I knew right away why ‘Black’ didn’t make the cut. I think it was a good call.

Just my thoughts.
–Don

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4 Responses to My thoughts about our name, The Brown Bookshelf

  1. Paula says:

    My kids have always referred to anyone black as “brown.” But I think it’s simply because when kids are taught colors they can’t connect “black” as a color with black as a person since so few people are actually as dark as the color black.

    My three year old only recently learned the distinction and has made it a habit to now point out “brown” vs. “white” people. Sort of embarrassing in the store, but who am I to squash her period of discovery?

    My 13 year old was the same way at that age. But now she has no problem with referencing people as black as opposed to African American. And I too use the word black to describe our race – though I’ve been told it’s antiquated. ::Shrug::

    During a library visit I used the word “white” to describe one of my characters. Later my husband said, “You should probably say caucasian.” Hmm…I don’t know. I guess I should but it would take a lot of memory work on my part.

  2. Hi Don,

    This is an excellent post. I, too, would begin to write ‘theblackbookshelf’ and would often find myself backspacing to correct. My daughter would also refer to herself as ‘brown’ not black when I would refer to our race. Hmmm, I’mwondering if the word ‘black’ will soon fade away from one of the many ‘politically correct’ references of color for people of color, to the true skin color God gave each one of us. ..brown, white, beige, black, olive, tan, etc…I think the name is very fitting and on time.

  3. I use Black myself and capitalize it like Gwendolyn Brooks talked about in one of her poems. The name escapes me.

    Great post, Don!

  4. Laurel Handfield says:

    The Black Bookshelf? Hmm, it really does roll off the fingers much easier however I am getting used to typing Brown so there you go.

    I use Black as well (with the caps) but when I’m speaking to someone from another race, I find myself saying African American for some reason. I think it’s b/c it’s the word most of them use and if I said Black I’d probably get the WOW! look.-lol

    Living in a country where most people are Black, my daughter doesn’t really see different races. I tested her the other day and asked which girl on tv was named Lisa. (There was a Black girl and a white girl.) Waiting for my daughter to identify Lisa with a color, she instead turned and told me “Lisa is the tall girl.” I was really surprised in a good way. She wasn’t bogged down with race like it seems every other person in this world is. Ahhh, if only I could bottle that up.

    Have a great Thanksgiving all.

    -L

    -L

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