Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Black History, etc.

When I first started working at the reference desk seven and a half years ago, February was a dreaded month. School aged kids would be dragged into the library in the evenings by parents who most likely would have much preferred spending the cold winter evening at home, basking in the blue glow of their television sets. The children would be led to my desk and instructed, "Tell the librarian what you want."

The child would stare at me (in complete awe, naturally) for a moment and then whisper, "I need a book for Black History month."

I would nod patiently and ask, "Okay. What kind of book?" even though I already knew the answer.

The child would say, "A book about someone," and sometimes pull out a list of approved biographees (yes, that is a word, look it up)...because black history month is technically black biography month.

So off we'd go to the cart of books already pulled off the shelf by a nice librarian (not me) to choose a life story of an inspirational African-American like Magic Johnson (put ball through hoop, contracted HIV), Jimi Hendrix (played guitar, dead of an overdose at 27), Tupac Shakur (rapper, bad poet, shot dead), or Jesse Jackson (don't get me started).

I gently attempted to steer them."What about Langston Hughes or Mae Jemison? Or, hey, George Washington Carver - he was the peanut guy! or maybe Condoleezza Rice?"

They'd turn their little faces to me and blink quizzically. "Who?"

And then they'd add, "Can I have a book with not a lot of pages?"

At this point, I am screaming in my head.


Lydia said...

tell them that the books without a lot of pages about notable figures are next to the books about leopards.

Rustmeister said...

I once had to do a presentation on W.E.B. DuBois.

Check him out, he's an interesting fellow.

Carteach0 said...

Lol..... you shoudl see my students faces when I tell them "I know the answer, you don't. Look it up, and don't see me till you have the book open to show me where you found it!".

They are so CUTE when they make guppy faces.

Tam said...


More and more I want to take up Billy Beck's mantra of "Onward through the Endarkenment."

Double sigh.

Nicki said...

Ah, Breda! I know your frustration. It's almost as bad as voting for a candidate based on whether or not it has a "hoo ha!"


You KNOW I had to!

BobG said...

I always found Carver interesting, myself.
If you really want to mess with them, get them a biography of Idi Amin, unless the person has to be an American.

Less said...

C'mon! WTF!?

Why you gotta diss brother Jimi like that? I guess you aren't "hearing" the music - perhaps just listening...


If I were a black parent, I think I'd have my kids do Richard Pryor or Eddie Murphy - now that'd be funny, especially if I could get 'em to memorize the boxing barber ship scene from "Coming to America"...

Anonymous said...

I think my mandatory report was on Ray Charles, but I would've done George Washington Carver in a second. Or Benjamin O. Davis.

Earl said...

Not half as interesting and sad as the current state of the former Rhodesia. We really don't do History, of any color well. We should try harder, there would be less PC.

Joseph said...

I am originally from Chicago..."Jesse Jackson? Don't get me started..." I fully understand.

I did a college paper on Colin Powell, because I wanted to know more about him. Research can be interesting, ya know?

Mike W. said...

I agree with Less, dissing Hendrix is BLASPHEMY!

Jeffrey Quick said...

But they'z not FAMOUS AAs; they aren't on the television.

If I were a teacher, I'd be assigning figures myself. "OK, you get to do Howard Swanson" (better and more interesting composer than William Grant Still...who I'm sharing a program with on the Suburban Symphony Concert of 5/ there or square, Clevelanders). I'd find the kids with the pinkest parents and make them do Sowell and Williams and Condoleeza, make the rappers do Thomas A Dorsey. "You want to do a sports guy? Fine, here's Jesse Owens"

But yeah, I think we need to get more Africans into Black History Month. I vote for the Emperor Boukassa. Or who was the Ugandan king who made the Ugandan Martyrs?

Tam, you know in your heart that Beck is right...always right, even (or especially) when he's being obnoxious about it.

Glenn Bartley said...

Tupac Sakur is given out as an approved biography for a school paper. What a shame our so called educational systems has hit the skids.