I talk and speak about media literacy quite a bit. It’s a topic that I find fascinating, and the issues and implications surrounding the subject will be here as long as technology progresses. But there are two common misconceptions regarding media literacy and “regular” literacy that can be taken for granted:
- digital media literacy implies basic reading skills
- most adults in the 21st century are literate
Unfortunately, you can count the number of positive reality shows featuring Black casts on one hand. However, there is a bright spot with OWN’s Sweetie Pies, which features a Black family in St. Louis that runs 3 restaurants. In an episode last fall, there was a heartbreaking moment when one of its stars, Charles–the 22-year old nephew of the owner–admitted that he can’t read that well, and walked away from the camera with tears. He encouraged his 17-year-old cousin Andre to stick it out in school so his life wouldn’t be as hard as Charles’ is. (See a portion of this in the clip below.)
So many adults are illiterate, and it’s not their fault. Illiteracy is not caused by a lack of intelligence. (There are various kinds of intelligence.) It is often a result of outside factors or disabilities that can be addressed. Illiteracy is a problem that affects our entire society and not just individuals.
A few generations ago in this country, it was forbidden to teach a slave how to read. If you knew how to read, your knowledge increased. Fearing that black literacy would prove a threat to the slave system, Whites in the Deep South passed laws forbidding slaves to learn to read or write and making it a crime for others to teach them. The need to restrict slaves’ ability to communicate with one another became more pronounced. Today, those who are illiterate may walk around physically free, but in a way they are still enslaved and restricted.
Literacy resource: Literacy Connections
Some of my best literacy-related posts: