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Why Aren't Black and Latino Men Reading?
Right now, reading this, you're peering through the Informational Age but are you as a person gearing your life towards occupying the world/the tools you're using? More importantly when I look at the world through a people of color lens, the disparity is not a lack of ability or talent but a lack of occupation in the Knowledge Age. I've been thinking on how to bring this topic of reading and education all around from my relationship to the written word and how align this to Black and Latinos, particularly men.
Forward motion in society is built on knowledge. Whether it's been from I know how to make the stick and fire last longer to let's repair the Hubble telescope. We are now securely in a new Age. Ages are defined by epochs in history where the society and the future, based upon knowledge and level of technology, have moved humanity, not always as a mass, but there is movement and the movement will never go back. There has been an Agrarian Age (up to about 1950), an Industrial Age (1900 to about 1975), Technological Age (1960's to 1990's), Informational/Knowledge Age (1990's to Present).
Are you reading? What are you reading? I don't mean the Internet, or Facebook or Twitter---I mean are you a serious reader? I am wholly biased on this topic because I love reading, I have loved it since....well, forever---my mother has a picture of me at 3 years old reading her college textbooks. It was upside down but I was making a concerted effort to imitate her and my father. In fact, that's probably one of the seeds of my infatuation with literature.
My grandmother, Dorothy, read 5 books a week, faithfully. Potboilers, pulp fiction, westerns, thrillers, horror---I remember them being stacked on her nightstand and the sliding cabinet she had of hundreds of paperbacks. Unfortunately, my family, good intentioned were giving her books without total regard to what they were giving her so the content wasn't always grand literature. She died when I was 15, just coming into reading serious literature. One of the biggest missed opportunities I often reminisce on is that we didn't get a chance to share and discuss Toni Morrison, Raymond Carver, Carlene Hatcher Polite, Raymond Federman, Samuel Beckett, Shakespeare, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Proust, Pearl S. Buck, James Baldwin, Paul Robeson, Stephen Brookfield, Stuart Wilde, Sheikh Diop, Henry James, Jackie Collins, Paule Marshall, Octavia Butler, Peter Hamilton, Paul Beattie, Walter Mosley and the five thousand other authors on my personal reading lists. By the time I, the student was ready, unfortunately one of my teacher's, Dorothy Mae, had died.
I grew up collecting comic books and have had three large collections of comics, probably totalling around 20,000 in total. Each one maybe about a good 15 minutes of initial reading---so that's 5000 hours of reading in comic books alone. In the 90's around high school and college I got into magazines. My mother bought Essence magazine and Ebony so they were constantly around the house. But then I wanted to understand how to help her develop her businesses better; how to manage the incoming money so I picked up Black Enterprise magazine, also Forbes, Fortune, Entrepreneur, Time, Newsweek, The Nation, New York, The New Yorker. Recently I was moving boxes of books and such from a storage room---honestly, to a larger storage room---to eventually move back home and I realized I have every issue of Black Enterprise magazine since 1992. I have every issue of O Magazine since it began, about 12 years ago in 2000. I have fifteen years of Forbes and Fortune and then an assortment of others---Psychology Today, Strategy, Dragon magazine, The Law of Attraction, W, and then the beast---Vanity Fair. Every issue since 1994 when Roseanne Barr Arnold was on the cover in a bustier and garter set. Pretty much about 1000 issues which is another 5000 hours of total reading time.
The Motherload. I have some books. Quite a few in fact. Okay, it took me about two years after high school to get to college. In-between I was working full time as part of family responsibility to keep the mortgage paid but I was still thirsty for books. I made it a point to buy books every week from Barnes and Noble on 6th Avenue and 8th Street in Manhattan, my thinking being that if I read regularly eventually I would get to college and those books would be there. A few years before that my grandmother had passed away and I got all of her books, maybe 300 or 400 so I felt that I had a "collection" of not just comics but real books to build upon.
I then started writing voraciously, my first plays, screenplays and then novels happening between 12 and 21. I'd started a national amateur comic book company in my teens so by my twenties I'd written about 1000 comic book scripts, eventually abandoning that vein for literature, serious writing. Serious writing and reading are entangled for me. Books became not simply information but also instructional for me as well. I learned from Tony Robbins how to motivate myself, articulate my goals, map out strategies and from Robert Kiyosaki how to manage myself, money, businesses and integrate all three by changing my thinking about what a job was and was not. Toni Morrison taught me hwo to upend a system when the accumulation of her National Book Award, Pulitzer and Nobel Prize wins demanded that she herald the cover of the magazine at my college that I wrote for. The editors, children themselves, in their twenties but raised in a Caucasian White mindset fought me and I used every trick and argument in the book to get her on the cover. I prevailed. She prevailed. She eventually came to the university and it was an honor then and other times to be in her company because she represented the cinnamon trifecta to me: Princeton professor, renowned editor, successful writer.
By the time I got to college at the turn of the millenium, I had about 1000 books. When I left I had about 2000---I only sold back 1 book during those years. Integrated Algebra. Once back in New York City I started working high end full time, earning not an hourly wage but a salary, tens of thousands and then more and more and more and the true jump off began. I had to limit myself to $100 a week at Barnes and Noble, my previous splurge having been $300 at B&N (but I could justify that time because I was undergrad and buying my class books---ok, I was also buying every book the books and professors referenced.)
Then it got viral---Amazon.com. Amazon tipped it two ways for me---I could not only buy any book but they would suggest others. Secondly, I found there was a marketplace to sell my extra, unwanted books at too so I started another business that eventually had me sitting at home for years cherrypicking what professional jobs I wanted to do because I had a virtual bookstore. I sat at home on Amazon and Ebay---selling thousands of books, DVDs, cds all over the world. I would buy out libraries and bookstores around the country and sell the inventory. The business truth is that all inventory, especially of books doesn't sell out so I often had 30% leftover books. I have somewhere between 4000 to 5000 books because of my appetite and leftovers from my time as a bookstore. That seems like a lot but wait for it....I have about another 4000 books on my Amazon wishlist that I'm steadily chipping away at even as I continuously add books to it.
Reading & Technology
I read on average 250 to 300 books a year mainly because of my own interests but also because of teaching. Books are the currency of academia and education and schools, elementary up to Ivy league are chock full of books, free and for sale. Yes, I know what a Kindle is. Yes, I know what an IPad is. I prefer the heft, the smell, the decoration of a physical book and I fear that once I firmly step into digital world beyond simply books on my computer, I'll just be doubling up on a physical and digital version---I'll be part of the population who keeps publishing worlds alive.
That's the Race Problem in a nutshell: We are not inferior in capacity but more so in flexibility. However that learning of flexibility is in books, reading, writing; education. It's why education was, has been and is kept form not simply people of color but women and developing nations. Knowledge creates Power(ful people). Black and Latinos have a history with the Agrarian Age and the Industrial Age but not as much progress through the Technological Age. Our occupation of the Technological Age is possession or simply as Consumers. Remember Capitalism holds three positionalities for human beings---Producer (owners and entrepreneurs), Product (workers and slavery) or Consumer (you). The question becomes how many of the three modalities do you occupy? Even larger, how many of your family members occupy more than one? How many of your community? How many of your race?
Now align education to this. More pointedly align reading to this. We have to breakdown the value of reading. In those thousands of comic books spawned the idea to write, draw and eventually create comic books for me, to sell posters and copy role playing games in the lunch room of middle school. Suddenly I'd gone from simply a Consumer of comics to a Producer. All those magazines? They lead to starting a magazine several times in my teens and twenties and learning the publishing business. And of course books lead me to write and publish my work all over the world. The integration of smoothly moving my reading from one Age to the next has brought me from my Commodore 64 to my Commodore 128 to my first PC in 1996 (1 gig on the hard drive!) to this laptop which rests on another, next to a PC next to a Mac, as I instantly transmit this information around the planet. Responses to The Kyle Phoenix television show, the YouTube videos, the podcasts, the blogs, my articles, the magazine, are from Dubai, Russia, Nigeria, Japan, China, France, Spain, Greece, Australia, Brazil. Amazing!
I think of my grandmother Dorothy, dying in 1986 and now her name and image being beamed to all of you. She died, with all of her education and knowing, never being able to fully conceive what I can do with her image right now. Wow. Imagine that.
Now I'm going to throw it back even further. My grandmother was born in 1910. She graduated from high school in 1928, allowed to go to school because she had 5 brothers and 1 sister and it was easier to allow the girls to go because the boys were. They went by default to school. My great-grandfather completed high school. Beyond four generations I have no knowledge of my family---we sort of started in recorded memory after the Civil War. Now imagine that logically, Black, Narragansett and Caucasian people, the blood that runs through my veins, existed here for 300 years prior to that recorded memory I have. But I can guarantee part of the reason why I don't know of them is because of a lack of education because education meant incredible value then. I believe they wanted it, desperately. And directly, people refused, through the construct of slavery, reading and education to my ancestors.
My revenge, my retribution is my education. Every one of those magazines and books because there was a time when it was punishable by death for someone as brown as me to even touch, much less own one. Ironically, then and today, there are times when I and those like me are pariahs and target for knowing how to read and write. Race based slavery worked wonders, it's been one of the best systems of multi-century physical and mental exploitation and reduction ever constructed in human history. I am awed by it's scope and power. I am awed by the fact that people of color survived and thrived in, through and beyond it. I am even more deeply awed by the fact that it's as simple as education that unlocks the Power of human beings.
So, when I see Black and Latino men not reading, not writing---thumbing their IPhones on the train, rocking their Playstations, useless use of Facebook and Twitter, not a book in sight, not completing school, not buying one book at a time, building the revenge for their ancestors---I see the victory of the slave masters. I see how discrimination could be justified by another thinking being of another race. I see who undid Nat Turner and Denmark Vesey. Some of the people who didn't want slavery to end, were brown and they've passed that fulfilling wish down through generations.
The question of your engagement, even to this digital world, now is: Are you the revenge of your ancestors or the long term planned outcome of slave masters?
Thanks and enjoy! Don't forget to watch The Kyle Phoenix Show on Time Warner Cable, Verizon Fios or Comcast or the Thursday/Friday 12am/midnight simulcast on http://kylephoenixsite.com/