In this op-ed, writer Tayo Bero explains the significance of Noname's book club and social media campaign to encourage people to divest from big business.
This past weekend young people across America got their library card, many for the first time, thanks to a challenge issued by rapper Noname. The event was called Library Card Registration Day (a.k.a. #FuckAmazonDay on social media), and it asked people to come out to their local libraries on January 11 and register for a library card.
Fully organized and documented online, Library Card Registration Day was a response to the proliferation of online bookstores as well as corporations like Amazon, which Noname points out have played a major role in reducing patronage at brick and mortar bookstores and libraries across the country.
"Library Card Registration Day is basically an 'F you' to major corporations who have privatized the way we consume goods and services," she said in an interview with NPR about the initiative.
Research over the last several years has shown libraries (particularly on university campuses) take a steep decline in visitors, while major bookstores have also seen their doors close and windows shuttered.
Last year, the San Diego Public Library opted to begin scrapping late fees, realizing how many people were being kept out of libraries because of them. A local study later showed that nearly half of the library's patrons whose accounts were blocked because of those late fees came from two of the city's poorest neighborhoods. The American Library Association even acknowledging these fines as "a form of social inequity."
So overall, people aren’t (and in many cases can’t) use libraries and access books the way they used to in the past.
Adding to the urgency behind Noname's initiative is the fact that many of the smaller, independent bookstores that are disappearing had once served as gathering places for Black intellectuals and changemakers at crucial points in history. Several independent Black-owned bookstores were founded during the Civil Rights era, and continued into the 70s and 80s to be a safe space for Black thought leaders, feminists, queer activists, and anyone else looking to understand talk about or change the Black experience.
These bookstores were so powerful and effective in their goal of bringing Black people together that the FBI began targeting them in the 60s, calling them “propaganda outlets for revolutionary and hate publications and culture centers for extremism.”
And being the daughter of an independent bookstore owner herself, Noname (b. Fatimah Warner) has seen firsthand both the importance of these spaces and how their demise has impacted the ability of African-Africans to meet and engage. Her own mother’s own store in Chicago had to close after 20 years “because of Amazon,” she told NPR.
It’s in part why she set up Noname Book Club, a space for young people to experience works by and for people of color. Each month, the club picks two books written by authors of color for its members to read. They also host free in-person meet-ups to discuss the pick of the month “in a safe and supportive environment.”
But it’s not just about physically going to the library or even how we get our books. As part of the callout, Noname also urged followers to cut ties with Amazon completely, including ending their subscriptions.
“They’ve created a consumer model that is extremely addictive and removes human compassion. We don’t think about the workers who are underpaid and exploited. We just want our next-day delivery,” the rapper wrote in a Twitter post.
In the last few years, much has been reported on the working conditions within Amazon's facilities, many of which are filled with workers from communities of color. Many believe that the breakneck speed of Amazon’s service (and the company’s subsequent massive global expansion) have all come at a human cost, turning its warehouses into injury central.
A 2018 report by The Atlantic and the Center for Investigative Reporting found the internal injury records at 23 of Amazon’s US fulfillment facilities. That report revealed that the rate of serious injuries at Amazon was more than twice the national average for the warehousing industry. Amazon had 9.6 serious injuries per 100 full-time workers that year, compared with an industry average of 4. And as the nation’s second-largest private employer, those numbers are not just bleak, they are horrifying.
Movements like Library Card Registration Day highlight the role we can play as consumers in changing that culture, while also promoting the importance of supporting local businesses and institutions that foster engagement.
Noname’s movement to support libraries and local bookstores is crucial because it lives at the intersection of a number of issues affecting the most vulnerable communities: access, consumption and workers' rights. #FuckAmazonDay challenged many people to think differently about not just what we consume, but how we do it, and ultimately who is bearing the cost of our “societal advancement”.
And, in many ways, initiatives like Library Card Registration Day and Noname's Book Club are vital to the survival of Black intellectual spaces. They help give new life to the texts that are shared, creating a safe space for Black people to experience those works surrounded by others like them.
Originally Appeared on Teen Vogue