Erasure and the Othering of Texts

Percival Everett’s Erasure takes a look at how racism affects various aspects of our lives that we may be unaware of. An excellent example of this is when Ellison ventures into the bookstore to look for his novel only to realize that they are in the Africa-American literature section. A place, as he points out, that is wholly inappropriate for the type of novels he writes and makes it impossible for anyone who might be interested in his re-workings of obscure Greek texts to find them.

I think the point Everett was trying to make with the bookstore scene is how racial classification permeates our life in ways that we don’t even think about. Referring to someone’s work as African-American fiction is automatically labeling it less than. It is already being made an “other” to other texts they may be very similar and this othering makes the work less acceptable to more audiences.

And when the text has undergone this othering process then it automatically shuts off any conversation about what the text is really about. There are many works found in the African-American literature section that don’t belong there. Biographies of MLK Jr. or Sojourner Truth should be found in the same place I’d find works on Roosevelt or Reagan. Brenda Jackson, or Bebe Moore Campbell should be found where I’d find Jude Devereaux or Sandra Brown. But that’s not what happens. Instead, if it is by a black person and, in the case of many biographies, about a black person then it is automatically placed in the black book section which sends out the idea of : Hey, this book is by someone black, and must be about someone black and therefore only for black people. That sort of attitude immediately shuts off an entire audience that may find a use for or enjoyment in a novel that they may never encounter because it’s labeled as being for, “African-Americans.”

How does this othering of Ellison’s work fit into the other themes of othering that occur in Erasure? Is this labeling of works by blacks as automatically African-American literature a form of racism? And how does the labeling of work as African-American literature ultimately affect Ellison and his ability to make it as a writer in Erasure?