• Toni

The Dangers of Reading

Updated: Feb 4

Reading has become a non-existing practice for melanated people. We as Black people have disconnected ourselves so far from literature and reading that now we treat reading as a chore, attaching negative emotions with it. This was not always the case, and we didn’t get here alone. Here’s my theory of how and why white people tore us away from the art of reading.

Pre-slavery, and yes, I went there, we enjoyed reading. We were authors, philosophers, healers, and everything else under the sun. It is important to note we had our own language and culture because once we were forced to relocate to America, by the transatlantic slave trade, our ancestors were forced to take on a new culture. Be mindful that with this new culture they were taught the bare minimum and never given information that could help them or their current situation. Our ancestors were only permitted to learn things that benefited the malignant white people, reading did not make that list. Reading was so prohibited that if caught reading or learning how to read unimaginable consequences were delivered rather that was a beating, some form of humiliation, or even death. I think this is where the negative association with reading and literature began. Our ancestors started associating reading with pain, suffering, and death. As a human being, we are hard wired to survive, by any means, and if that means not being able to read that seems like a good deal, right?

Let’s be clear, our ancestors knew how to read, just not in the European- Americanized language. But why was reading so problematic? You see, the entitled white people saw how powerful, well organized, and intelligent our ancestors were. If our ancestors were to learn their language and culture, they would figure out a way to be liberated and free.

But now, children are being born on foreign land and with each generation creating a bigger barrier between them and their culture. So now our ancestors are 250 years into slavery and very few, if any, know their original culture and language and have only picked up a hand full of words and phrases used by the malignant Europeans. With each generation, they were warned about the dangers of reading, passing down the same rule of ‘Don’t let them white folk catch you readin’ because their legacy and lineage could go extinct. This practice carried on for the remainder of slavery and several years after. We now have entire families and communities that are illiterate. Who would teach them how to read? Not the malignant white folk.

Our ancestors began teaching themselves and each other to read and I honestly think white people had to create more barriers to prevent and curtail Black people from reading. I think the publishing of really big and thick books became more popular because it stirred black people away. To someone who is new to reading, who would want a fat 650-page book to read?

Then you have literacy test. Literacy tests were created to prevent Black people and immigrants from voting. Basically, the test consisted of questions that asked unimportant and tricky things like ‘circle the longest word in this sentence’. With this particular question, there are two words in that sentence that are the same length which can cause confusion. Bottom line is, if one question was wrong it was an automatic fail and you could not vote.

Funny thing is, during this time there was a study at Duke University that asked these college students to complete a literary test and 70% of them FAILED. Let that sink in.

On top of all this, Black people were jailed because they were reading in a white library, probably because the ‘Colored’ library had limited resources and material.

I’m sure there are many other strategies and tactics used to prevent the Black community from reading but all in all, reading has still been associated with some form of pain and humiliation.

Present day

Now we have been conditioned. We as a whole don’t read or don’t read enough. And if we’re being honest, many of us can’t read well or fluently either. However, reading is just like anything else, the more you do it the better you get at it.

As adults we make up excuses for not reading and because we don’t read, our children don’t read and now we have another set of generations that aren’t aware of how powerful, liberating, and freeing reading and literature is. Reconnecting ourselves to the art and practice of reading is overdue.

The benefit of reading includes but are not limited to:

-Improves brain connection

-Reduces stress

-Increase comprehension & vocabulary

-Helps with depressive symptoms

-Prevents cognitive delays as you age

-Educates you about you and connects you to your roots and culture

As I close, I would like to bring attention to the African Library at UTC that was just burned down April 2021. This library held historical material, artifacts, books dating from 1830, and other important African literature.

What was the cause of this fire you ask? No one seems to know............

The enemy wants to keep us illiterate, distracted, and controlled. Literature is the key to freedom. No literacy no freedom.

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Love, Toni

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