Could Obama Have an Effect on Publishing? Stop the “Magic Negro” Ride—I Want to Get Off (Part 2)

Of all the thoughts on what an Obama presidency could change for black America, I found the most humorous one on opportunities for black authors. A couple of weeks ago, my homegirl Lori L. Tharps wrote a piece for titled “The Obama Effect on Publishing” where she discussed the idea of a black president possibly easing the rough road of black authors in the white world of mainstream book publishing. You know the issues: the limited ideas on what black stories should be told and limiting black books to only being marketed to black people. Granted, a number of the people Tharps spoke to, like literary agent Marie Brown, were skeptical that such a change would occur. But there were folks, like author Bernice McFadden, cited as examples of optimism, McFadden going so far as to pose the question on her blog: "Will a black president help me, a black writer?"

Mind you, as an author, I immediately thought about the same effect, though I only thought in terms of negro authors writing on President-elect Obama. I know the media industry only thinks in trends. (Please, you don’t think CNN was thinking black prez when they greenlit D.L. Hugley’s show?) But that’s as far as it goes. Because—and let’s be clear—if a slew of blacks winning Oscars and black films opening number 1 at the box office hasn’t opened the floodgates for black Hollywood and those three black doctors from Newark hasn’t caused African Americans, en masse, to rush the academy wishing for medical degrees and a black race car driver hasn’t changed the many narrow minds of NASCAR…You see where I’m going with this? What helps change things for blacks in the market (being we used to be items in the marketplace) is what it’s always been: demand. (I’m totally with my man Ta-Nehisi Coates over at The Atlantic: the belief we’re putting in Obama’s win is scary.) So, unless you’re writing an Obama book (which I’m sure many of us are), don’t look for the doors to magically open wider…And don’t look for those shelves of street lit at Borders—the ones overrunning the African-American Lit section—to disappear. And don’t think the “NOs” white publishers have been hitting you with are going to turn to “YES” when it comes to deals, ideas, and marketing. Come January 20, 2009 all over America, it will be business as usual. So Black authors, you voted for change in the Washington. If you’re looking for change in the publishing house, that ticket you still have got to continue writing yourself.