Illustration by Slate. Images from Amazon.
In the days since the nationwide protests over George Floyd’s death and police brutalityhave intensified, recommended reading lists for white people to better educate themselves about racism have cropped up all over the internet. Apparently, some white people are taking those recommendations to heart: Anti-racist books have climbed the bestseller lists—and in many cases, temporarily sold out—at Amazon and other online book retailers.
At Amazon, White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo (a book Slate was critical of in a cover story last year) and How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi were atop its bestseller list for all books at Nos. 1 and 2 as of Monday evening. This put them ahead of the new Hunger Games prequel, which, for context, was considered a blockbuster for selling more than 500,000 copies after its release last week. At Barnes & Noble’s website, 13 of the Top 15 bestselling books (as well as four of the top five) are about race and racial injustice, with Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow and Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, a previous book by Kendi, taking the top spots.
(The New York Times’ Best Seller List, considered a publishing industry standard, is updated weekly—as opposed to Amazon and Barnes & Noble’s lists, which update more frequently—so it won’t reflect these increases in sales until the next update.)
In addition to adult nonfiction, children’s books about racism are also selling briskly, an indication that parents and other adults want to talk about race with the children in their lives. A 1992 Sesame Street book called We’re Different, We’re the Same by Bobbi Kates appeared in Amazon’s Top 10, and Barnes & Noble’s list included a young adult version of Kendi’s Stamped From the Beginning ranking right below the original. Kendi’s forthcoming picture book Antiracist Baby also featured in Amazon’s Top 40.
One problem with this sudden rush of sales is how many of them are now out of stock. On Amazon, all six of the aforementioned books about race (but not the Hunger Games prequel) are currently unavailable, along with several other books in its list of top sellers, including Ta-Nehisi Coates’ instant classic from 2015, Between the World and Me, and two books about segregation, Beverly Daniel Tatum’s 1997 Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race and Richard Rothstein’s 2017 The Color of Law.
This isn’t just an issue at Amazon, either. At Bookshop.org, an online retailer for independent bookstores, both White Fragility and How to Be an Antiracist are only available on backorder. (That site doesn’t have a bestseller list online, but it does link to a book list called “This List Is Anti-Racist” on its homepage.) Most of these titles are still available on Barnes & Noble’s website, but interested customers may want to order quickly, or get an e-reader: Some, including How to Be an Antiracist and White Fragility, are sold out there too.