While discussing the difficulty that I was experiencing regarding my students non-desire to read anything of substance, an acquaintance shared a remarkably sad story that verified my complaints in an unusual manner. The story went as follows, “I know a brother who recently had his house broken into. And I am telling you that these thieves ransacked the place trying to find a hidden stash of money. It would be an understatement to say that they destroyed everything in the place. Unfortunately for the thieves, they never found the stash because the brother hid his money in the least likely of places, the books on his bookshelf. Incredibly, the only thing left untouched were the bookshelves and the books that they held.” At this revelation, I mused, “I guess what they say is true, ‘If you want to hide something from black folk, put it in a book.’”
Although these events led me to shake my head, however, as an educator and writer I must tell you that this event holds far more meaning and significance than one could imagine. Experience has taught me that we should not be so quick to dismiss the age-old statement of “If you want to hide something from black folk, all you need to do is put it in a book.” I have come to understand that it is increasingly rare to meet African-Americans, particularly males, who read classic black literature; black females are not above criticism in this regard as the vast majority of them have never engaged writers such as Alice Walker or J. California Cooper, however, they are extremely familiar with Zane and the filth they call “urban fiction.”
The decline in literacy within the African-American community is a crisis that has gone largely unnoticed. The decrease in literacy, particularly among African-American males, is only the calm before the storm. The alluded to “dumbing down” of African-American male students is as pernicious a danger to their existence as AIDS, police brutality or even the Trump Presidency.
Consider for a moment the following indicators that highlight the dire straits of African-American male literacy.
- The average African-American (male and female) 12th-grader reads at the same level as white 8th-graders.
- The 12th-grade reading scores for African-American males were significantly lower than all other racial/ethnic groups.
- Only 14% of African-American 8th-graders are proficient in reading.
For black males, the absence of literacy promises a future devoid of any understanding of African-Americans past struggles and extreme difficulty securing employment sufficient to take care of themselves and any offspring they may produce. There is absolutely no doubt that each of the above variables is crucial to African-American males’ maturation into adulthood. Obviously, there is no other path to satisfying the demands of African-American females possessing the desire to marry a black man than to grow them within our community via proactive socialization and the development of what can be best termed a black economy that rivals those of other groups.
A crucial aspect of every uplift effort within Black America rests upon literacy, the process of engaging information, synthesizing it, and then making logical decisions regarding how it can be best used to benefit our group. Until we get this simple process down, we will continue to experience the same frustrations that have seemingly dogged us like an ominous cloud.
Dr. James Thomas Jones III