Thursday, February 13, 2014

Collegiate Black Men and the circulation of black books

A couple of weeks ago in one of my classes (comprised of all first-year black men), we were discussing Ta-Nehisi Coates's book The Beautiful Struggle. Coates mentioned, in passing, a few book titles that the guys were unaware of, but that I felt were common when I was coming up.

"But," I said, "our library probably won't have a lot of those books."

"Why not?" someone asked.

"Well, we're at a white school, and I don't think it rolls like that, not like the black college I attended."

That led us to an extended discussion about underground black books and then to a little experiment. Groups of guys in the class agreed to go to the circulation desk and ask if our library had some of the books that Coates and I were quite familiar with such as Countering the Conspiracy to Destroy Black Boys Jawanza Kunjufu or anything by J.A. Rodgers, Naim Akbar, or Frances Cress Welsing.

Our experiment revealed that the library did not have the books. "The librarians were nice about it though." But, thankfully, our library does have books by John Henrik Clarke, Carter G. Woodson, and various others.

After I thought about our exchanges more, I realized that it wasn't just the library that made books available to me my first year of undergrad. I had in fact become part of a network of slightly older guys who were always mentioning various books that everyone...or at least everyone "conscious" was supposed to have read.

Also, during my senior year of high school, I was also on the fringes of an underground study group composed of black men college students. They started hipping me to books I should be reading. More importantly, they likely conditioned me to search out "conscious" folks and study groups once I started college.   

My first year of formal classes in college felt relatively easy in comparison to all that informal underground curriculum. 

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