Day 6

Afrocentric bookstore sees a boom in sales during anti-racism protests

After two weeks of protests over the police killing of George Floyd, Canadian bookseller Sean Liburd says he's seen an unprecedented surge in demand for anti-racism resources.

'Certain things cannot be ignored any more,' says Knowledge Bookstore co-owner Sean Liburd

Protestors march through the streets of Ottawa during an anti-racism protest on June 5, 2020. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Bookseller Sean Liburd has been fielding a lot of phone calls lately.

The co-owner of Knowledge Bookstore, an Afrocentric shop in Brampton, Ont., says 95 per cent of the books on his shelves are written by people of African descent.

In recent days, he's seen an uptick in business, much of it from white customers looking to purchase books from "anti-racist booklists" they've seen online.

"The phone rang all day yesterday. I spent my night answering emails and yesterday at 8 o'clock when I last looked, it was over 1,200 people that had been on the website from Canada alone," Liburd told Day 6. 

"And that is something that we've never had."

Some of the most popular titles on those lists include Desmond Cole's The Skin We're In and Ibram X. Kendi's How to be an Anti-Racist. 

Desmond Cole's The Skin We're In: A Year of Black Resistance and Power jumped 185 per cent in sales for the week ending May 31. (Doubleday Canada, Martin Trainor/CBC)

Across Canada, many bookstores have already sold out of those titles, and publishers and booksellers are scrambling to keep up.

Liburd says the unprecedented amount of interest he's received aligns with his personal sense that the protests of recent weeks are different from past demonstrations over anti-black racism.

"The seriousness of it, the urgency of it, is very different to anything that's taken place before," he said.

"People are being more outspoken. They're being more expressive. I think they're actually trying to be a bit more understanding."

The fact that so many people have been compelled to take to the streets despite the risks associated with COVID-19, Liburd said, underscores what's at stake.

"Catching this virus has taken [the] backseat to what is considered a greater fight right now," he said. "People [are] willing to lose their life in a different way because they want to be heard, they want to be seen, they want to be recognized, they want to be respected."

Ibram X. Kendi is the author of How to Be an Antiracist. (Jeff Watts/American University, One World)

Liburd believes that in the present moment, that struggle is registering with many non-black Canadians.

"A lot of other people, a lot of other races, other cultures — I think they're recognizing it. I'm not sure if they are recognizing it as deep as they need to, or if they can. But they are at least recognizing it."

As he continues to field new orders from across Canada, Liburd has a message for his newfound customers: buying anti-racist books isn't enough.

"This is a system and it doesn't disappear with a couple of small steps," he said. "The voices will have to continue to be heard. Real changes will have to be made."

"Certain things cannot be ignored anymore."

Written and produced by Annie Bender. To hear more from Sean Liburd, download our podcast or click 'Listen' above. 

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