You Can Be Intelligent Yet Illiterate

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:

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:

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3 thoughts on “You Can Be Intelligent Yet Illiterate

  1. Not allowing people to read or be educated is a part of history going back centuries. Education truly IS power and those in power, even today, do not want to have the masses truly understand their motives, politicians for example. 🙂

    The Church is probably the one who was able to take the most advantage of the uneducated masses by teaching them the Bible via their political agenda.

    This is a great story from the TV show you mentioned … If more Black Americans were portrayed in a positive light on TV it could go a very long way for all of us!

  2. I remember learning to read in elementary school. The first time we were taken to the library to get our very own library card was the day I was given wings to fly….. Back in those day we had a Book Mobile (a library on wheels from the Denver Public Library) that came every Monday and my teacher Mrs. Carter would line us up and we would go get new books. That gave me a whole week to discover new lands and people and I never forgot that. Today I would consider myself a book junkie! I can be reading up to 3-4 books at a time depending where at what I am doing. I have passed this on to my children and can’t imagine a world with books.

    There is no shame in not knowing how to read. It is never to late and you are never to old…. I think the shame is not being person enough to admit it and not learning now matter what. There are places to go to learn and people who care.

    1. I agree Alecia. I can’t imagine my life without being able to read books either. I remember going to the school library 3-4 times a week for new books, because I read them so fast. I was called a nerd and everything else, but I’m better for it. Back then I easily read 100 books a year (only tomes like Little Women would take me longer than a few days to read).

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