The Teaching for Change Bookstore at Busboys and Poets in Washington, D.C., strives to feature titles reflecting the country’s population, including the 37 percent of Americans who are people of color, despite the fact that only 10 percent of books published in the past five years have been about people of color.
During a C-SPAN Book TV broadcast last week, Teaching for Change Executive Director Deborah Menkart discussed the need for diverse children’s books and noted that nearly 90 percent of the children’s titles sold by the store are about or by people of color. Rush Limbaugh’s Rush Revere books for children are not carried at the store because they don’t adhere to the store’s mission, she said.
The store announced in a post on its website this week that “Rush Limbaugh found out that Teaching for Change is trying to challenge this disparity and he is hopping mad.”
On Monday, Limbaugh offered his thoughts on the matter during a segment of his radio show, commenting, “This is exclusionary, it’s racist, it’s bigoted, and it’s the opposite of everything they claim to be. And it’s exactly what they accuse us of being. They claim that they’re tolerant. They claim they’re open-minded. They claim that they are colorblind and all that. They are the most bigoted, racist people.”
In response to Limbaugh’s outcry, Menkart said this week in a press release, “When we select the books we sell at our Teaching for Change bookstore in Busboys and Poets, our intent is to offer a selection that will help all children see themselves, recognize their peers, and craft their own future regardless of race.”
Following Limbaugh’s remarks, Teaching for Change was bombarded with calls and e-mails from his supporters, who expressed vicious and hateful comments about the store and its work.
“Please know that thinking people give no credence to anything that comes out of the mouth of that racist bully and his hateful acolytes. The work you are doing is powerful and life-changing, otherwise you wouldn't be targeted,” wrote one commenter. “I'm purchasing some books from your website right now and sharing this post to encourage others to do the same. Keep fighting!”
The organization has also been receiving e-mails and words of support from all across the country as well as from authors, said Teaching for Change Publications Director Don Allen.
In a Washington Post opinion blog on Wednesday, Alyssa Rosenberg argued against Limbaugh’s notion that Teaching for Change is a racist bookstore. “Not that Limbaugh knows this or cares about it, but Busboys and Poets is not exactly run like a Barnes and Noble, a big, publicly traded company,” said Rosenberg. “And when it comes to independent bookstores, staying viable may not just be a matter of stocking the books on the bestseller list.”
A local, neighborhood bookstore should be serving the needs of the people living nearby, said Rosenberg, and “for Busboys and Poets, that means selling books by minority authors and with minority subjects and main characters.”
The controversy comes in the throes of a campaign to promote more diverse books, which was the subject of discussion at May’s BookCon, where a panel on the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement drew hundreds of attendees. “Authors, parents, librarians, teachers, and booksellers from across the country are exposing the invisibility of children of color in children’s books and demanding that publishers fill the gap,” Teaching for Change noted in its post.