Sunday, August 7, 2011

Books as keystones

Years ago, before I was diagnosed with Hyperthyroidism "Grave's Disease", I had to undergo a series of tests.

At the medical center that had the proper equipment to scan me for goiter, my nervous mother beside me in the waiting room, I currently read "See Jane Win", ground-breaking book by Dr. Sylvia Rimm.
In this brilliantly-written study over a course of 1,000 successful women, Dr. Rimm, who co-wrote the book with her two daughters, also 'Dr.s' in their own right, posed several scenarios that a young girl raised under such conditions becomes successful in life regardless of socio-economic, ethnicity, or even by family education status.
retrobookshop.com (c)


The more I read, the more I agreed with the cases of 1,000 women. From all walks of life, women who grew to prominence in their chosen path, or a career that became theirs, began as curious girls, often  thirsty for knowledge, versed in certain math- or science-related fields, had taken music lessons, had several interests, hobbies, etc.

Finally, I was called to the reception area, where sat a young woman who shared my ethnicity.
We greeted one another, and after I answered her questions related to my impending examination, she asked me what I was reading.
I explained, quite enthusiastically, what the book was about in a nutshell.
She looked at me and quite dismissively shrugged and said, "Well, I only read books written by Black people."

That stopped me cold. That made me upset. And then infuriated me.

Was she not a woman? Did she not care, as a woman, what MADE a successful woman, and what evidence there was to support the reasons these 1,000 Women became successful?

No, she must've believed that such subject matter or topic could only come from someone Non-Black, and therefore, refuse its wisdom or knowledge.

Now I love many of the Black writers of the past, I love my Black writers now, and I am a Black writer myself.

However, how could she say such a thing?

How could she, in her race-loyal ways, belittle the sum of human knowledge to only reading topics EXCLUSIVE to one race? And if she only reads Black writings, would that be only Black-American, Black-Caribbean, or Blacks from African nations or other overseas places?
And if this is the case, does she read writings from Black professionals, regular Joes, or only those that work in a medical office?

If she is Christian, then she cannot read the Bible, since many of its writers were not 'Nubian'. And she probably does not know that the famous movie about race and the all-consuming fight among Blacks of 'Light vs. Dark' "Imitation of Life", was actually written by Fannie Hurst, a young, Jewish woman?

We learn to be writers by having something to say. But first, we must read widely to have something in our head in order to write.

I hate to think of how little this medical office employee knows, or how limited and narrow is her experience.
Most frightening to think still: she's college educated, or, at least received certification in her field. How did she bypass this prejudiced view when digesting her own textbooks?

We owe it to ourselves as human beings to read widely, to take in as much of human wisdom as is available to us.

It's been seven years since this conversation and it still burns me. I only hope this young woman has grown a little from having such childish views.


*An earlier version of this essay is published on Miami Dade College's online magazine at Reflections Magazine titled Books as keystones

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