Too many of our Black boys hate reading.
It’s like a book was talking about their momma’s edges, and in return Black boys boycotted reading pages with words on them. Too many do not take pleasure in holding the spine of a book in their palms, being engulfed in a character’s triumph and struggle. They do not have an infatuation with smelling a new book like it’s a greased-up jumbo slice pizza, dog-earring a page they cannot wait to get back to, accidentally missing a meal because they were too deep within a plot of a story, straining their eyes trying to read under their bed sheets past midnight.
And it’s our fault: Educators and Parents.
Here are three things we can do to stop making Black boys hate reading:
1. Disassociate Reading With Whiteness
Marley Dias’ recent campaign to collect over 1,000 books with Black girls as the protagonist was the greatest thing of 2016, and landed her a book deal in 2017. She was tired of reading about “White boys and their dogs.” Black boys are also tired of reading about White boys and their dogs. They should not have to always read about the trials and misadventures of White people. It reinforces the myth that books are for White people, and reading is “something that only White people do.” Black boys need to read about Black boys. They need to see young, male, Black protagonists with depth and complexity. Black male characters have to live in books as vampires and athletes and wizards and explorers and detectives and scientists and nerds and bullies and super heroes, because Black boys are not one-dimensional.
2. Model Habits of Avid Readers
Black boys need strong examples (plural) of what it means to be a reader. They need to see their parents reading. They also need to see their teachers reading for enjoyment, not just books they assign to students. Consistently. If no adults close to them read, why would they read? Children mimic adult behavior. If Black boys do not see us reading, we are messaging that it is unessential to our lives. Adults also have to talk about what they’re reading to kids. Say what life lessons you’ve learned from a book, how you identify with a character, what you loved. Tell them who you want to give the book to next, and what the next book is on your reading list. Then ask, “What do you like about what you’re reading?” instead of “Have you been reading?” We have to be so consistent that we can then assume reading is already taking place.
Teachers have to refrain from taking away incentives and privileges when students misbehave, and then substituting them with reading a book. It creates a connection between reading and pain, causing reading to be a vehicle of violence.
3. Do Not Use Reading As a Method of Oppression
Reading a book is not a punishment. It is not a component of your behavior system. Teachers have to refrain from taking away incentives and privileges when students misbehave, and then substituting them with reading a book. It creates a connection between reading and pain, causing reading to be a vehicle of violence. Do not use students reading silently at their desk as a way to manage behavior. As adults, we do not pick up books and begin reading as a strategy to control ourselves; we use books to enhance our understanding of the world, or to briefly reside in a fictional one.
We can mold Black boys into being life-long readers, but we have to stop creating the barriers that prevent it.