In the black community when someone wants to talk to you about something and they say let’s have “real talk” we simply mean be as straightforward as possible, no sugar-coating or political correctness. Well, right now I’m about to have some “real reading talk” so I’m going to be as straightforward about why our Black and Brown children are doing poorly in reading and why a lot of times you hear these same children say they hate reading. I’ve had some great conversations with authors, teachers, parents, children and I’ve read books and articles about this daunting issue. So, what I’ve found is that there are 5 main reasons as to why there is only about 17 percent of African-American children that are reading proficiently by the fourth grade and why most of the children who struggle in reading don’t even care about picking up a book.
First, the children do not have hardly any books at home so therefore they are not able to see adults reading at home. It should be an outrage when you find in most African-American children’s homes that are low-income there is approximately 1 book per 300 children where they live.(Neuman & Celano,2001) So, obviously, since there aren’t any books in their homes the kids and the adults are not going to be reading.
Second, when our children do get a chance to get a book they don’t see characters that look like them or read books by authors that look like them. Now of course some people may say well that it has improved, before there were only about 3 percent of children’s books that had characters of color and about 2 percent of the authors were of African descent now we have about 12 percent of the children’s books that have characters who are black or are written by African-American authors. Just like our dear brother Malcolm X said, “If you stick a knife in my back nine inches and pull it out six inches, that’s not progress. If you pull it all the way out, that’s not progress. The progress comes from healing the wound that the blow made. They haven’t even begun to pull the knife out. They won’t even admit the knife is there.”(Ballot or the Bullet, April 3, 1964)
Which brings me to the third reason of why Black children are doing poorly in reading and they hate to read which is the books that they are given to read in schools are not made relevant to their lives. Alfred Tatum talked about in his book Teaching reading to Black Adolescent Males, that he appreciated when his teacher in eighth grade gave him The Autobiography of Malcolm X to read when he came into class with his “Chicago curl” hairdo because she recognized that he needed to be educated on why he most likely chose to get his hair curly because of the stigma that African-Americans were and still are dealing with today believing that course and nappy hair is ugly and that straight, wavy and curly hair is beautiful.
The fourth reason that I found why Black and Brown children have very low reading scores and reading is something that is loathed, is that reading is not valued in the homes of these children. For example, when I asked about 12 second and third-grade students all African-American except for one student who was white and Hispanic did they get any books for Christmas besides all the toys and video games they were so excited about getting only 2 of them said they received books and ironically the white and Hispanic boy and only one African-American boy got books.
Now the last reason underscores and is the foundation as to why our children who need help with reading the most are not picking up books is because of the trauma of white supremacy and slavery. When you see an overwhelming majority of African-American children who are not reading on a basic level by the fourth grade, and we see prisons are being built based on the reading levels of that population of children and then to top it off these children are really turned off by reading we have to get to the core reason and have that “real reading talk” as to why this is. When we tell our children the history of what slavery has done to people of African descent all around the world and how reading was forbidden because the white supremacists knew that once the enslaved person learned how to read and, become educated they will no longer be fit for slavery then I believe this will help to reshape our children as well the adults in the Black community’s thinking about reading and we will be able to embody the message that our beloved brother Frederick Douglass said, when he realized how to gain his freedom which was “Once you learn to read you will be forever free.”