My white classmates told me black girls don’t read—I became a writer
September 15, 2018

I’ll never forget the day my mom gifted me with the novel If I Just Had Two Wings. It told the story of 13-year-old Phoebe plotting to escape her life of slavery. In the book, Phoebe has a recurring dream that she grows a pair of wings and loses all memory of being born a slave. She too was a young black girl who dreamed of living outside of the codes, hierarchies, and expectationsthat a white society had dictated to her.

During my school years, you could often find me toting around stacks of books so high they shielded my face. Books challenged my beliefs and thought processes, and introduced me to other young girls like me who sometimes felt excluded. I was also a straight-A student who never shied away from assignments. One day, I openly remarked that I was going to read a book on the class syllabus marked as optional. A classmate questioned my decision, and I responded by telling her that I found the subject interesting. She turned to face me before shrugging and saying, “seriously, because the real black girls I know don’t read for pleasure.”

I was jarred by her comment. In reading as vociferously as I did, I found other young black girls like me who had to overcome challenges and situations that sought to limit them. I read stories about how black girls used reading as a path to freedom or as a way to create better lives for themselves. In Carole Fenner’s Yolanda’s Genius, I found a fellow black girl bookworm who used her academic excellence to ensure her brother had better opportunities. In the classic young adult novel Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry, written by Mildred D. Taylor, I read about black children who had limited access to books but the tenacity to fight for equal access to education during segregation.

As one of the few black students in my mostly white private school, I found myself coded by an unspoken set of rules. Color was not just a way to describe your skin tone. It was a set of behaviors, mannerisms, and expectations that allowed people to categorize you without getting to know you. It’s the reason people often assumed I could dance well, or complimented me on being well-spoken. It explains why my peers often insisted that writing rap lyrics should be a hobby of mine or that I might be able to sing Gospel music well if I tried.

Read the whole story at Hello Giggles.

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