Our Open Letter to Barnes & Noble CEO James Daunt

Thursday, December 2, 2021

James Daunt
CEO, Barnes & Noble
122 Fifth Avenue
New York City, NY 10011
Dear Mr. Daunt,

We are writing to you from Woodson Center’s 1776 Unites initiative, a Black-led, nonpartisan and intellectually diverse alliance of writers, thinkers, and activists focused on solutions to our country’s greatest challenges in education, culture, and upward mobility.

We recently read with interest a November promotional email featuring books by Black authors, and we respectfully ask that you consider broadening your recommendations. The selected titles discuss and define Blacks solely through the lens of victimization. This narrow view is profoundly infantilizing, which we are sure is not your intent.

Americans of all races need to hear perspectives beyond the panoply of grievance-oriented literature that is so prevalent in educational, institutional and corporate settings, including in your stores. We understand you are concerned with demonstrating your commitment to fighting racism, but please understand that the most damaging effects of going too far with “woke” virtue signaling – telling only stories of Black oppression and victimization – fall on lower income children of color, who are implicitly told that they are helpless victims with no power or agency to shape their own futures. 

There are so many stories of Black excellence that should be highlighted and celebrated. For example, after slavery, Black Americans achieved what was undoubtedly one of the greatest educational feats in human history, with Black literacy rates skyrocketing from just 20 percent in 1870 to almost 70 percent in 1910. Even against the backdrop of enduring, legal discrimination against Blacks in the form of Jim Crow laws and enforced segregation, Black people excelled. Being Black was not synonymous with grievance or low achievement then, and it shouldn’t be now.

You have the power to shape our country’s understanding of the Black American story. As a large global literacy company, it is imperative that you include stories that celebrate Black excellence and showcase the millions of Black Americans who have prospered to balance the demoralizing portrait your current list paints. Thankfully, highly gifted and accomplished Black American authors do not all see their own people so bleakly, so we are suggesting plenty of titles that would supplement your list well and paint a more complete picture of the Black American experience. You can view our book reading recommendations here.

We appreciate Barnes & Noble as an industry leader in helping to shape the intellectual development of readers young and old. We hope that, going forward, Barnes & Noble will include a diversity of Black voices in their recommendations in order to better reflect the variety that are indeed the key to our strength.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.


Robert Woodson, Sr.
Founder and President, Woodson Center/1776 Unites

Ian Rowe
Senior Visiting Fellow, Woodson Center /1776 Unites