Read A Damn Book

“Some people graduate, but we still stupid.” – Kanye West (Graduation)

As the idea for this post formulated in my brain I realized once again this might be one of those posts where I’d probably be preaching to the choir. Then I thought harder and came to the conclusion that maybe I wouldn’t be. I’d like to assume that the majority of readers who frequent this blog are educated but what I’ve come to realize is that the fact that you are educated doesn’t necessarily make you smart. That’s beside the point I want to make today.

Reading is fundamental.

3 words but they encompass so much more. It’s become so cliché that I think it has lost almost all meaning. I ride the train to work every morning and a social study experiment could be done on any sample population you wanted. The subgroup I want to focus on is young black males.

When I ride the train I listen to my iPod while reading so I’m pretty much in my own world. Occasionally I may look up from my book and notice what other people are doing. I’ll see people doing everything from listening to their iPods, playing games on their phones, doing crossword puzzles or Sudoku. It’s hard for me to not think in terms of race so when I usually see someone reading a book1 it’s usually not a black person. On top of that I don’t think I’ve seen a black male reading a book on the train.

This got me thinking.

Why don’t black men read more? Ask yourself when was the last time you read a book (that didn’t have pictures). How many books do you read on average per year? Even my friends who have degrees and are educated don’t read for leisure.

I think more than any other group of men black males are perceived as lacking in intellectual skills. Stereotypes via racism and sexism as being more body than mind, black males are far more likely to appear dumb. I remember this culture going all the way back to grade school. A young Tunde would read books such as Goosebumps and Fear Street series by the great RL Stine. Before I got into sports I would rather read during recess than play football or kickball. In the eyes of my peers I was perceived as “weird”. In black culture it seems black boys, disproportionately numbered among the poor, have been socialized to believe that physical strength and stamina are all that really matters. Either you slang crack or you got a wicked jump shot. They have been taught that thinking is not a valuable labor.

These black boys who have been socialized grow into black men who know that they’re not supposed to be critical thinkers and they try not to be. A black man, even an educated one, who thinks critically, is still regarded suspiciously in mainstream culture. I think we should do a better job reading for leisure. Reading to improve our critical thinking skills. I know that often at the end of the day we’d rather deal with mind numbing bullshit but I implore you to pick up a book (assuming you don’t read regularly). There’s a reason a lot black male prisoners, with time on their hands, more often than not relish the opportunity to learn reading and writing skills. Yet in reality these are skills they should have learned in school early in life. Do you ever wonder why when almost all hope is lost men under these circumstances often immerse themselves into books?

1. Sometimes I hate technology. Companies would have you think that you’re not cool if you don’t own a kindle or a nook or a reader. I’ll pass on that. I still prefer buying books and nothing beats seeing words in print or books in your bookcase. 

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40 thoughts on “Read A Damn Book

  1. nowsayitwithme

    This was great. Especially this footnote:
    Sometimes I hate technology. Companies would have you think that you’re not cool if you don’t own a kindle or a nook or a reader. I’ll pass on that. I still prefer buying books and nothing beats seeing words in print or books in your bookcase.

    I think that’s why I enjoy listening to music and either writing in my journal or reading this still new Robert Greene book. I’m gonna be reading this book forever because it’s like a textbook on seduction. But I’m an advocate of words on paper. A bound book in my hands. None of that nook and kindle shit. Not to take any credit from people who read books on nooks and kindles BUT that’s more for technology and well, I love books. I still can’t wait until I get to have my own diagonal bookshelf built ^_^

    Nice read. I haven’t comment in ages. But.. for good reason.

    Reply
  2. thejadednyer

    The only thing I miss about commuting to work is being able to read on the train; reading on the bus makes me nauseous. It used to be such a centering experience to be squished into a subway car yet in an imaginary world far, far away.

    Reply
  3. LaLa

    good post. whenever one of my students says that they’re bored I tell them to read a book. I don’t think a students has ever done that once. we have books for them to check out and read, I can count on one hand the number of students who have utilitzed it. let alone boys. at the other site they have a book club, but it’s all girls. I would not be able to pull that off here.

    Reply
    1. madscientist7 Post author

      yes girls are more prone to read than boys. i think its because reading is considered for the most part a docile activity. men are supposed to be aggressive and manly. -_- unfortunately being smart and using your intellect is not viewed as such.

      Reply
      1. LaLa

        I think you made a very good point. That’s what girls were supposed to do while the men were out working…become cultured through reading and playing instruments and such.

        There’s one kid (whom I can’t stand, lol) who I always take the time to ask what he’s reading. Dude stays in the library. I think the last book I saw him with was like a Sherlock Holmes anime…but I want him to know how great it is that he reads outside of school.

  4. K.Nicole

    So glad to see a black man comment on this, “In black culture it seems black boys, disproportionately numbered among the poor, have been socialized to believe that physical strength and stamina are all that really matters. Either you slang crack or you got a wicked jump shot. They have been taught that thinking is not a valuable labor.”

    It’s something I’ve been saying for a while. I have seen so many “educated” BM that do not read books for leisure. One of the great things about reading is the way it opens your mind. I think if more people read, less people would be closed minded because reading allows you to see the world from another POV that you may never experience in your everyday experience.

    I have two young sons, and my eldest at 4 is a reader (I taught him to read at 3 and he now reads on a 1st-2nd grade level). I hope he always keeps his love for books, but even as young as he is there are people that want him to be more “jocky”, when we can already see he’s an intellectual and that is manly too.

    Reply
    1. madscientist7 Post author

      that’s really good. when i have children i’m going to actively invest in their education and let them know that its ok to be smart and question their surroundings. i think its healthy.

      Reply
  5. Lioness Rising

    I never though about black men and reading. I though black people in general needed to focus on reading more. But now that I think of it I don’t see black boys reading as much. BUT most very educated black men I know are reading, just different things. Most are history buffs so they read non-fiction, politics, anything that will make them seem even more impressive in conversation.
    As for myself, I spent all of elementary school stuck in a book. I would get hooked. I remember getting my first Harry Potter book and reading it in two days. My mom kept yelling at me to get some sleep. Now I set goals for myself. I’m reading Game of Thrones since its the closest I’ll come to the HBO series ( no HBO).
    Another issue I have is the type of books that some blacks read. Urban Fiction 9 times out of 10 is not acceptable. I know every black girl my age read Coldest Winter Ever in middle school but once I got to my HS (private white) I was embarassed to be seen reading a book that wasn’t challenging, well known etc. Leisure books should still be intellectual. Black kids need to be introduced to books of a high caliber.

    Reply
    1. LaLa

      I started the 1st Game of Thrones book…haven’t finished it :/. I partly blame the fact that I watched the series…so I know what’s gonna happen.

      I think Coldest Winter Ever is one of the better urban books. Sister Soulja can write well…at the very least. I’ve seen a number of urban books with so many errors, it was embarassing. I agree with black children being introduced to books of higher caliber, but I think that starts w/ overall exposure. Sometimes they don’t look to explore other types of reading b/c they don’t know what’s out there. Quite sad.

      I remember in elementary school we’d get the Scholastic catalouges to order books…I wonder if schools still do that

      Reply
  6. K.Nicole

    I agree that Coldest Winter Ever though Urban themed, was not a real “Urban” book in the sense of the other urban books, she is a good writer so she elevated the subject. I wouldn’t offhandedly reject an urban themed novel by a good writer.

    I read all kinds of literature and I would love to see more black people reading black literary fiction. Also, if there are any black males looking for a book from a male perspective, these are my reccomendations:

    The Brief Life of Oscar Wao – Junot Diaz
    Black Boy – Richard Wright
    The White Boy Shuffle – Paul Beatty
    Tuff – Paul Beatty
    Autobiography of Malcolm X

    Reply
    1. LaLa

      I just finished reading The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Not what I was expecting at all, but I really enjoyed it. Tried reading Black Boy after reading Native Son…couldn’t finish it. I’ll have to resist. Malcolm X I will read again before the end of 2012. I loved the book. Never heard of the other two, but I’ll put them on my list

      Reply
      1. madscientist7 Post author

        i read black boy after reading the native son as well and i think it gave me a lot of insight on his vision while writing the native son. can’t say which book i enjoyed more.

    2. LaLa

      Another good read from a male perspective Makes Me Wanna Holler by Nathan McCall (autobiograpy). He also has another book…a series of essays on social issues What’s Going On.

      Reply
      1. madscientist7 Post author

        yeah i understand. i don’t think i would have fully appreciated if i read it as an adolescent. this is why i want to go back and re-read some books that i read a long time ago.

    3. Lioness Rising

      As I said, Coldest Winter Ever wasn’t horrible for my age group but after that the other books I picked up were below grade.

      Oscar Wao is one of my favs. From the moment I picked it up I was smiling and laughing. I studied in DR so I connected with lots of the cultural connections.

      I am going to check out some of the others suggested.

      Reply
  7. Janina Jeff

    Nice read. I agree with everything. I wish more people, in general, especially black men would read more. I love the fact that black women have embraced book clubs. Women have been doing it for years. It provides a social and intellectual environment for advent readers. I know me personally being in a book club has definitely motivated me to read leisurely, outside of scientific papers.I’ve noticed that men in general don’t have book clubs, regardless of race. I am not sure if the idea of it seems strange but I think it would be a good idea and may even motivate men to read more, especially black men. In Hill Harper’s book, “The Conversation”, he points out the fact that men usually feel uncomfortable sitting around talking about topics outside of sports and sex. Not sure if this is true but it would be nice to see a group of black men sitting around discussing a book. While I hate this quote it just maybe true “If you want to keep something from a black man, put it in a book. He will never find it.”

    Reply
    1. madscientist7 Post author

      so i just put on twitter that i’m going to start a book club via twitter. i would do an actual book club but i doubt that many people near me actually would participate.

      Reply
  8. elle

    This post is excellent. I used to do volunteer work at the public library and would notice how the majority of Black children would flock to the computer to play video games versus picking up a book. I couldn’t imagine growing up and not loving to read. Reading was my escape. I could pick up a book and lose myself in the story for hours. The first book I read and fell in love with was Where The Red Fern Grows. A few years ago someone gave me a copy of it and that was probably one of the best gifts I’ve ever received. If I’m blessed to have a child I will do everything I can to make sure they know how fundamental and enjoyable reading can be.
    Good post!!

    Reply
    1. madscientist7 Post author

      let me tell you how over winter break my senior year in high school my teacher assigned le morte d’arthur to read along with a comprehensive packet of critical thinking questions. i used to work at a pharmacy. i read while at work and got through that book and questions in less than a week. my classmates hated my teacher for ruining their break. i actually enjoyed the book and is still one of my favorites.

      as far as libraries, i used to check out no less than 10 books a week during the summers growing up. i got full use out of my library card. its sad to me that children don’t take advantage of their opportunities.

      Reply
  9. Wu Young, Agent of M.E.

    “Do you ever wonder why when almost all hope is lost men under these circumstances often immerse themselves into books?”

    I think under the circumstances reading becomes a final escape from the hell that is prison. I wish brothers picked up more books than guns on the outside though.

    Reading has to become habitual for black guys. I read a few issues of The Amazing Spider-Man when I was in grade school and that opened the flood gates to everything else. I won’t knock e-readers but I love to hold a good book in my hands and tear through it page by page.

    K.Nicole is right about Oscar Wao being that move too.

    Here are some of my favorite books:
    -Right as Rain and Drama City by George Pelecanos. (His books are set in DC and are almost like reading and episode of the Wire.)
    -The Gun by C.J. Chivers
    -Anthills of the Savannah by Chinua Achebe

    Reply
      1. Wu Young, Agent of M.E.

        The Gun is really well done. It’s long and mainly about the genesis and spread the AK-47. Deeper still it shows how the Soviets and us would put rifles into the hands of anyone to protect the spheres of influence.

  10. SilentScorpion

    I do agree that reading for leisure is such a lost skill amongst many African Americans. I believe people in general, especially black youth, need to find enjoyment and satisfaction outside of organized sports. I grew up reading the Babysitters Club, Goosebumps and all of those fictional novels. My parents let me fully indulge in as many books as my heart desired.

    Yesterday when I was on the train I saw a young mother and her son both pull out novels to read. I’m embarrassed to say I was both shocked and impressed. Why did I have such a reaction to this to something that’s was normal in my household? Its because I NEVER see it.

    Reply
  11. fourpageletter

    You had me at RL Stine!!!

    In my house, books was it. It was the only thing my mom would never deny us. Both my sis and i always had our noses in books, I would read to my younger sibs, my lil bro was all about and had probably every RL Stine book written.

    My sis raised my neph to have a love of books, and he still reads @ 21.

    I refuse to buy my lil neph any toys. Books only.

    It starts young and starts at home.

    Reply
  12. Rodney

    I strongly believe in the benefits of reading. I remember kids used to tease me for “acting white”, what the hell?! Being intelligent and using your brain is acting white? So, following this logic “acting black” is “keeping it real” by being willfully stupid? Let me say I love my people but we have to become more knowledgable about the world and how it works. The world will never,NEVER respect you if you idolize ignorance. It’s time for more of us to drop the slang, the guns and the violence and pick up a book ( on a side note, I’m a strong advocate of e-readers,I still love physical books but the convenience of e-readers cannot be beat. However, no matter what people read on, people please just read!)

    Reply
  13. A Woman's Eyes

    I am a big advocate of reading. Just this Christmas, all the children in my family received books from me as a gift. Not just any book but books where the main characters are children of color who are connected to the world they belong to and the worlds they explore. Reading to our children is valuable. My kindergartener begs to read a bit longer before I turn the lights out for bedtime. Even though he reads at the 2nd grade level, he still cherishes my reading to him as well.

    I have found eReaders to be useful if one reads a lot but does not reside in a living space that has room for physical bookshelves to hold all their books, or if one wants to read a book before deciding whether it is worth owning. I will never stop loving and purchasing physical books, despite owning a Kindle. I find owning physical books to be a balm to any concerns that technology might crash or be shut down or blocked in a nationwide crisis or local power outage where your eReader has lost its battery life.

    Reply
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