Books About Racial Justice Are Flying Off the Shelves in Milwaukee

Local stores are having to restock on some books due to popular demand.

Global protests of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis have spurred subsequent discussion on the necessity for white people to understand institutional racism and the ways they can work to dismantle it.

Since the protests began May 25, the internet has seen an increase in online recommended reading lists for those looking to better educate themselves on racism and white privilege.

Most tangibly, this increase is reflected in bestseller lists locally and nationally. In Milwaukee, Boswell Book Company, a local bookstore on the East Side, recently shared their bestsellers for last week. The list is overwhelmingly racial justice-oriented — the top four hardcover nonfiction and eight of the ten paperback nonfiction are about race. 

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“Some of these books have flown off our shelves,”  Boswell Books’ newsletter reads. “And indeed many are currently backordered as publishers reprint to meet the demand.”

Boswell owner Daniel Goldin said the store has always worked to focus on books about racial justice, but there does seem to be a higher percentage of people reading a higher percentage of the books.

Other Milwaukee bookstores have cited similar experiences.

Keith Pajot, owner of secondhand bookstore Downtown Books, said that while his store doesn’t have a lot of the newer titles, he’s seen a growing interest of customers looking to buy books about racial injustice.

Goldin said it seems education is a driving factor in the increase, but there also seems to be a push to support black authors.

“This is a bit unprecedented,” he said, “but many of the books we are selling have sold well for us in the past.” 

Boswell also released their own anti-racist reading list in their June 2 newsletter. 

Nationally, books about racism are dominating the market. As of publication, seven of the 10 Barnes and Noble bestsellers and nine of the 10 New York Times’ nonfiction bestsellers are about racial injustice.

Books have long been seen as critical tools in teaching social justice.

“Think about how many important movements have had some sort of nurturing in higher education, which is driven around books,” Goldin said. “Books tend to be a good way to synthesize ideas and communicate them in a way that is complete and extensive.”

Golden also noted storytelling as a key component.

“Sometimes it’s easier for people to take ideas and process them as stories,” he said, “and books are ideal for that.”

Boswell’s bestseller list includes books like How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X Kendi, Me and White Supremacy by Layla F Saad, Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, I’m Still Here by Austin Channing Brown, White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo, So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo and The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander — many of which were on their suggested reading list.

Check out our own anti-racist resource list here.

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