In every racial stereotype there is a tad of truth. Those who are the recipients of the stereotyping don’t like to admit it because to do so is to give credence to whatever images abound for that group.
Recently on Facebook, a story began circulating about a barbershop that was advocating literacy to their young clientele as they waited to get their hair cut. After reading that story, I turned on the radio to hear a commercial for a group that is seeking retirees who can dedicate time during the school week to help children read. The public service announcement professed that by the third grade, black kids in Chicago were failing to keep up with their white counterparts.
Now one of the most famous stereotypes that abounds is that if you want to keep a secret from black folks, all you have to do is put it in a book. The implication is that black people don’t read. Sadly, that insulting stereotype turns out to have more than a tad of truth to it. If there is any consolation, literacy is a problem for the entire country. Yet when one has a group of people who have historically faced the problem of limited-to-poor educational resources and opportunities, it has to be appalling to know that all over this country, as a group, black children are reading poorly — especially black boys.
Yet I bet if you went into their homes, every last one of their parents own a Smartphone, X-box, flat-screen television, Blu-Ray player or some other form of technology that is produced and created by people who can read well. That leads to a separate stereotype about black folks as consumers, but I digress.
I admit that the older I get, the less patience I have for the dumb stuff. Thus I was not one of the “rah rah” crowd as I read the post lauding a barbershop with books on hand for the children to read. The story, originally published by the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) and making worldwide news, was about a young man making the rounds at barbershops in Harlem, the most famous and iconic of black neighborhoods, who is putting books out that would appeal to young boys.
As I read further, the man said the idea came to him one day as he was getting his own haircut. He saw one of his students come into the barber shop and while the child waited to get his own hair cut, he had nothing to do. So the idea came to him: He could promote literacy by having books available for the young boys to read. Really? There was a time when if there was one thing the majority of barbershops and beauty shops had on hand it was a plethora of magazines or books that their patrons could browse as they sat and waited to get their hair done. When did that change?
The story goes on to tell how a 6-year-old came into the barbershop with his father. The kid made a beeline for the books and after reading one of the books, reiterated to “anyone who would listen” the story he had just read. The article included a photo of the child and his father. Both were dressed in the prerequisite sportswear top and baseball cap.
I had a problem with the “anyone who would listen” portion because that is the crux of the problem. Children are not here so that they can just be dressed cute. No one had to instruct the father to put the baseball cap on his son’s head. Yet a stranger had to put books in a barbershop so his son’s mind could be fed the same way his stomach is fed.
The father being oblivious to the need to educate his son speaks volumes about how and why the stereotype about black folks and books abounds. The father is probably not a reader, so he passes his disinterest on to his child and the cycle continues. Yet I bet no one had to instruct the father to purchase and put a major league sports team baseball cap on his son’s head.
Proof positive that before we get insulted by stereotypes we first need to be cognizant of the truths within.