Monday, January 17, 2011

Reading and Black America Pt. 1

This blog was inspired by a number of things: an e-mail I received last year about the spending habits of Blacks as it pertained to clothes, electronics, furniture, and books. A post on FaceBook by my favorite author, and my eyes as I see who shops the bookstore in which I work…

Why has reading gone down in Black America? (actually, reading has gone down in ALL of America but I want to focus on my people for a minute). Unfortunately, this has been a problem with us for a few millennia. I think a lot of the (early) reasons my people didn’t read was history and conditioning. When we were given a forced first class ticket on the wooden Titanics we weren’t allowed to bring anything with us except our language and our pride. We didn’t have time to pack up our iPads, notepads, and journals. And even if we did, we wouldn’t have had time to write because we were too busy with frivolous stuff. You know: like picking acres of cotton, running from the master trying to rape, trying to keep our family together, clearing hundreds of acres by hand… simple stuff like that. So when the day was over we were kinda tired and didn’t have time to boot up the computer and write a few chapters or do research at the library.

That standard practice went on for a few hundred years and certain lessons became ingrained. We were not allowed to learn how to spell, read, or write and to do so was punishable by death. And I don’t mean a nice pretty death like lethal injection, a single shot to the head, or even beheading. No, I mean DEATH! Being whipped while being hung from a tree, being chopped in half while hanging upside down, or being raped to death. Think I’m lying? Pick up a history book and read for yourself. Call me a liar again and I’m gonna get that mad midget Spike Lee on yo’ ass. So over the years, despite the efforts by our ancestors, our language was slowly and meticulously weaned out of us. You take away a person’s language you take away their means to learn. You take away a NATION’S language you take away their soul, their identity, their culture, their pride, and their uniqueness. That was done to us. Day after day. Week after week. Month after month. Century after century.

After a few hundred decades of this we pretty much forget about the language of our ancestors and only spoke English. We were not allowed to learn how to read or write. The only ones that did, and this changed from plantation to plantation and owner to owner, were the house slaves. Or the “house niggas”. I’m sure you’ve heard that derogatory term before, but if you haven’t… “house slaves” were the names given to the slaves that were allowed to stay inside with Master Charlie. Usually they were the younger girls (YOU figure out why) or the light-skinned offspring from the massa making his trips in the slave quarters. They were also the slaves that had special “talents”. The ones that caught on quick, the ones who knew how to help massa and his lazy ass wife, the ones who had the cooking skills of an Italian chef, and the ones who would sexually service the plantation owning couple; one or both. They were also the ones who would usually turn on their people to please their massa. They got to stay in the house when it was warm. They got to stay in the house when it was cold. They ate better food then the field slaves. They didn’t have to do the back breaking work that their other brothers and sisters did. What they failed to see was that no matter where you worked, a slave was still a slave. A slave who was at the whim of their master wasn’t any better or any worse than the slave that had to hoe the field. Each had to deal with their own piece of hell. Unfortunately when you treat someone a little better they start to think they are better. So when you have house niggas being treated better than field niggas…

So the house slaves were usually the only ones who learned to read and write. So the term “house slave” became a term that was almost as derogatory as nigger. So in a six-degrees-of-separation type thing: house slaves learned how to read and write ---> slaves that knew how to read and write looked down on slaves who didn’t ---> these slaves began to be looked at as “sell-outs” or “race traitors” ---> NOTHING is lower than being seen as a race traitor ---> if becoming a race traitor is what you become after you learn how to read and write… why bother? That mentality is then passed down from generation to generation for over 400 years. Somewhere along the time line we started thinking that being educated was only for the White people. No? Have you ever heard anyone ask a Black person, “Why are you talking white?” “Why are you acting White?” “Why are you saying that, you sound White”? As if being educated is only for White people! I know I’VE heard it! And I even went to a Black university!

Unfortunately there are some lessons that have become a part of our culture and this is one of them. Reading isn’t for us, it’s for them. Why should I read when it’s really not that important? There’s nothing in books for me and they aren’t written for me anyway. Books are too hard for me to read. I’ve heard every single useless, stupid, no good, worthless, idle, inept, lazy, and weak excuse there is. AND QUITE FRANKLY IT TURNS MY STOMACH! My enslaved ancestors had a pretty damn good excuse as to why they didn’t read…

What’s yours? What's. Yours?

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