Words of Color
Recently I asked three of my teenaged great nephews about the last time they’d been assigned to read books written by black authors at their schools. All three answered with a resounding never. Thus far not one of their teachers has exposed them to black literature. I find this particularly disturbing since unlike myself they do not attend private school. They are in the Baltimore City Public School System (BCPS). Why is African-American literature excluded from a curriculum set up to educate African-American students? Why are my nephews not reading literature with which they can identify as young black men? Why are they not encouraged to read books that will aid them in understanding and navigating the black experience in America? By now my nephews should have been well acquainted with the words James Baldwin penned in that letter to his own nephew in My Dungeon Shook.
Why aren’t black teachers making sure this happens? Are black parents insisting their children get the proper literary education? If so, why are their pleas going unheeded? I posed these questions to some BCPS educators. What it boils down to is politics. It seems the politics of education is serving to deny students of color their literary heritage.
My experience with literature was most significant to rediscovering who I was meant to become before the shadow of childhood trauma and the shade of the social injustice clouded my natural course. Words of color pulled me up out of the confusion and complexities of being on the dark side of racism to establish myself to myself and then to the world as a valuable, and intelligent black woman. I needed to breathe in the reality of my past and the possibility of my future. Words of Color did that for me.
Reading the literature written by people who look like me and are of like ethnic and cultural experience afforded me a sense of worth and value. As a teen, reading James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou, and W.E.B Dubois, being black in America began to make more sense to me. It was Black literature that moved me to a place where my crisis of identity began to feel less and less like a crisis and more and more like something in which to take pride.
It became my mission to seek out the works of African-American authors. What they had to say, to teach, to pass on was crucial to my understanding of the black experience, my personal experience. Once I came to understand the incredible strength and resilience that is innate to African-Americans, I was able to lay down much of the victim mentality that was stunting my psychological and emotional growth.
For people outside of the African-American experience to read and study Words of Color will perhaps broaden their scope of understanding people of color, and quite possibly put them in touch with an empathy that may very well crack the shell of racism in which they too were born.
(Excerpted from Beyond The Canon: The Necessity of African-American Literature)
By Roxanne V. Young