Wal-Mart is in the business of making money. The process by which it does so is attracting a certain brand of consumer and keeping things simple.
This goes for selling books just as much as it does for hawking economy-sized packages of tube socks.
Grouping books together by general topic and genre for easy perusal is how the book world operates. It's convenient, tried and true, and intuitive even to the book-shopping novice
Ohio Wal-Marts take it a step further, putting works by and about African Americans in a section by themselves and not including them in their larger categories.
Make sense? No, but that's what Akron Beacon Journal columnist Bob Dyer discovered.
Because it's not enough to separate books like every other bookstore in America, breaking up fiction, history, self-help, sports, art, music, etc.
Obviously a young white male interested in sports wouldn't want to have any sports books involving African Americans mixed in with the rest of the offerings. And if you're a black female looking for a book about religion, you certainly wouldn't want to peruse any book written by a white pastor.
At the Walmart on Arlington Road in Springfield Township, you'll find two fancy, hardcover books by people who are household names in professional football. Drew Brees, quarterback of the 2009 Super Bowl champion
New Orleans Saints, smiles on the cover of Coming Back Stronger: Unleashing the Hidden Power of Adversity. Tony Dungy, coach of the 2006 Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts, smiles on the cover of The Mentor Leader.
But you won't find those books side by side. Why? Because Brees is white and Dungy is black.
The black guy goes in the black section. After all, who other than a black person would want to read a book by an insightful, ethical, inspirational football coach?
At the Walmart in Montrose, Storm Warning, by hugely popular white pastor Billy Graham, can be found in the religion section. But Life Overflowing, by hugely popular black pastor T.D. Jakes, is in the black section, along with Dungy and Obama and Sister Souljah and Adrienne Byrd and all those other people whom Walmart believes are pretty much the same.
The positioning of books within the black shelves would be laughable if it weren't such a sorry commentary on Walmart's thought process — or lack thereof. For instance, directly beneath a faith book by gospel artist Kirk Franklin is a steamy novel called The Hot Box, whose back cover promises ''fiery titillation.''
Dyer also points out the troubling internal debates those charged with separating the books must have had: Does Obama's book go in the black section? He is half-white. What about any book written by a white author with some minor black characters? What if one main character is black? What if the main character is white?
What if the book is about Michael Jackson?
Dyer got in touch with Wal-Mart for a comment on the bizarre groupings and got a Wal-Mart PR Special response:
When asked why many of its stores have a ''black section'' that lumps together everyone from romance novelists to preachers to the president of the United States — even though they have little in common beside skin color — Wal-Mart Stores Inc. responded without really responding.
''The book sections in our stores are designed to meet customer demand and feedback at the local level,'' read an e-mail from Phillip Keene, a media-relations official at the company's headquarters in Bentonville, Ark.
''Like many national bookstores, and book sections at retailers across the country, some of our stores have a section for African-American-focused books, while a store in a different area of the country might have a large science-fiction section or Western section. . . .
So Wal-Mart's argument here is that while black people in other sections of the country don't mind reading books by and about whites, the black population of Cleveland doesn't feel that way?
As Gawker points out, this seems less about Wal-Mart being racist and more about Wal-Mart trying any sales tactic it thinks will help them sell a few more 40% off hardcovers, even when those sale tactics seem inane and arbitrary to normal people.