Random Thoughts on Reading and Privilege

The following are facts: I’m 6ft tall, dark and introverted. No one praises me for being any of those things, and, except for the silly skin-related nicknames I got in  senior secondary school, no one berates me for them either. They are all due to my genes. The people who should take credit for any good that comes out of those things should be my parents.

I regard my reading habits in the light of the facts above. I did nothing to be the kind of human whose primary source of pleasure is the written word. Again, the people who deserve credit are my parents. They were the ones who raised me in a house where books were placed higher than all other sources of entertainment and pleasure. When folks acknowledge my ability to read always, I feel awkward. It is the same way I would feel if anyone praised me for being tall, or introverted.

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“I consider a great thirst for books, and the time and resources to get as much as needed to satisfy that thirst, a privilege.” Source: Mo Riza via Flickr

I consider a great thirst for books, and the time and resources to get as much as is needed to satisfy that thirst, a privilege. One of my best students in Anambra state, a girl, was not very expressive. I suggested that she spend more time reading storybooks so she could help her vocabulary and grasp of English language. Then one day, she complained to me that she was sleeping too much. I asked why. She said she had to go to farm everyday after school, and throughout the weekend. My advice about books suddenly looked like nonsense. Girl was already punching way above her weight. She indeed started to read more books at the expense of play. She would clutch her bag to her chest during the break, and free periods, and read novellas.

I recently unfollowed someone on Twitter. Reason: he was always throwing aspirational words around about how people should take charge of their lives. Always speaking loftily about how jobs were limiting, how people should reach their full potential by ditching slave-like conditions of labour and going after their dreams. He was an upper-middle class guy with a good job.

Something tells me part of my anger towards him is because I have no paying job. *shrugs* I found it stupid that someone with the privilege to leave his regular job and pursue artistic disciplines, but isn’t doing that, would climb a soapbox daily, and consistently preach at people to do the same without acknowledging his privilege.

I make it a point to follow lots of folks out of my class because I never want to be myopic. I want to have an idea of how the world is seen by those who are comfortable. I may not be able to afford a trip to exotic cities every other week, but I’ll definitely follow someone who does and shares the experience so as to live vicariously through them. What I would not condone is they preaching to me like I’m doing something wrong to not live like them.

Cultural myopia is often framed as a disease of the poor/underprivileged.

Myopic (adjective) (someone):

i.   has not travelled or seen the world.

ii.  doesn’t read the right books.

iii. holds divergent cultural views.

Seldom do people talk about the myopia of those who know all about the good life but nothing about the majority of the world who aspire to simply live.

I believe books are still the best way to fight myopia. But I’ve also realised this belief comes easily to me because of my privilege.* I’ve been raised to cherish books. I have no decent pair of jeans but I have so many books I’ve bought this year that are still unread, yet I must not enter a bookstore with money in my pocket. So, when I tell people to read, I do not assume they will find it easy to stay with books for hours like I do.

A love for books may not be one of the facts of your lives right now. That is fine. What we can all do, however, is to work gradually towards expanding/improving our taste. This time last year, visual arts was gibberish to me. Now, I’m slowly working my way towards being able to stare at an abstract painting and not exclaim “rich people are stupid.” We are not all privileged, but we can work towards eliminating the handicaps life hands us.

So, please read. Read outside your interests. Read more literature. Read at your own pace. And if anyone ever tries to make you feel bad for being under-read (under-travelled, under-cultured, under-refined), calmly silence them and continue your work towards being a better you.

_____________________

*It is possible to read through this and wonder why people who cannot afford books do not simply go to the library to read. But this would also be a reflection of your privilege. I went through primary and secondary school without ever entering a well-equipped library. To put this in perspective: I’m a lower middle-class Nigerian who attended private schools.

_____________________

Images by Mo Riza via Flickr

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15 thoughts on “Random Thoughts on Reading and Privilege

  1. @Always speaking loftily about how jobs were limiting, how people should reach their full potential by ditching slave-like conditions of labour and going after their dreams. He was an upper-middle class guy with a good job. lol! Maybe he was not always an upper-middle class guy; maybe his good job is his dream 🙂

    I think if you have a platform to tell people to reach for the top, by all means, give them the ABCs as well as the challenges along the way, sharing from your life’s story.

    “Seldom do people talk about the myopia of those who know all about the good life but nothing about the majority of the world who aspire to simply live.”

    This is interesting; Adichie’s talk, The Danger of a Single Story comes to mind.
    This is where books also come to play. As you allude, they can cure myopia.

    Good one Ife!

    1. Yea, maybe his good job is his dream. Maybe I’m just being too sensitive. But considering how he constantly says 9to5 jobs are slavery, perhaps slavery is his dream. 🙂

      We will forever be locked in the vortex of that talk by Adichie.

  2. Privilege. It brings to mind something I read a year ago– I paraphrase, “I must remember that the fundamental decencies of life were distributed unequally at birth.” Of course there’s no direct relationship with your narrative, but its close enough. What I have, what I AM is all because I’ve been privileged to be birthed in a home and environment that allows me to take advantage of certain available resources. It helps put life into perspective– morality, choices. When someone acts out in a way I find unpleasant, I tell myself, “if he knew better this would never happen” and then I check my reaction. As for that guy you unfollowed lol, like Timi I also believe we should share what we’ve learned in our collective sojourn here, but I also realize that the manner with which we share our story matters too. If you come across as ‘preachy’, people get offended and shrink away. If you’re not assertive, people think you have no idea what you’re talking about *shrugs*. I’m shifting from my comfort zone bookwise and trying out other genres. Just concluded one book; I’m glad I took this detour.

    1. I think that quote you shared has everything to do with the piece Uju. It really does, and it’s entirely true.

      How is the shift in comfort zone—bookwise—going? What titles and what genres are you checking out now?

      PS: Sorry I’m just replying this. *covers face*

  3. Well said. Not only are we all given different cultural, economic and educational resources, we are dealt very different hands genetically. Life is definitely not a level playing field in any way. When I remember my father I see him surrounded by stacks of books: history, philosophy, science and literature of all kinds. My very intelligent brother, who taught political science and economics at a secondary level, has dyslexia which makes reading a struggle, so he has never read fiction for pleasure and gave up the study of law due to the overload of reading required. Following your bliss is a lovely theory….in reality it often ends up expensive for someone, and not necessarily the one following their bliss. I am delighted to connect with you. The internet is expanding my knowledge and understanding of life all over the world exponentially. I feel incredibly blessed to have lived long enough to experience this. Thank you for sharing your values and life experience so articulately.

    1. “Life is definitely not a level playing field in any way”.

      One reason I try my best to judge people less and be more open. Some people just think life is in straight lines.

    2. “Following your bliss is a lovely theory…in reality it often ends up expensive for someone, and not necessarily the one following their bliss.” Isn’t this the truth?!

      It’s a pleasure to connect with you too Eileen. Seeing you expand on my thoughts with the weight of a life lived is always delight.

  4. “Recently unfollowed someone on Twitter. Reason: he was always throwing aspirational words around about how people should take charge of their lives…”

    One reason I don’t fancy the typical motivational speakers. They dish out single stories without thinking that all situations are not the same. Every story has a back story, a side story. But not these folks. They know it all.

    1. Motivational speakers tire me, and what you said is just one of the reasons they do. To do their brand of ‘motovation’ often involves riding a story of all its nuance, and turning what detail is left into needless aphorisms. I’ll stop here to avoid turning this into a rant.

    2. Yes! One of my difficulties has been expecting too much of very intelligent people, who have
      very little self awareness, particularly on an emotional level.

      And theories can seem wonderful until you plug human beings into them!

  5. This is the best thing I’ve read in a long time! As I am at work, in the middle of doing some danfo-related research (which by the way, was how I found your blog), I cannot begin to list all the things I like about this article.
    But I just subscribed to your blog. I’ll be back. 🙂

    Thank you for writing.

    http://www.howmojistyledit.com

  6. Until I started to recognise my privileges as being mine, and mine alone, I could not appreciate others, for theirs.

    Why?
    In the last couple of years, I’ve been spending time in the rurals of different states in Nigeria. And whilst I’m mad at myself for my inability to weld a hoe properly like my 10 year neighbours son or that I cannot mount an Okada and zoom off without thinking about “what could happen”, or my inability to tell the difference between efirin, soko, utazi and other leafs that intersperse the Nigerian soup market that are littered in the bush and farms around me. I consider them being privileged. Buy then, what but the privileges I have? Would they ever match up? I think some privileges are more vital than some. This by uju summarises everything : “the fundamental decencies of life were distributed unequally at birth”

    Wait, like fun, are decencies and privileges relative?

  7. This is a beautiful post, Ifeoluwa. We must never forget that we all came into this world with ‘unequal fingers’. Some are blessed beyond the normal. Some are born close to blessings. Some have to struggle hard and take a long walk to freedom. Some don’t even have the legs to take this walk.

    I published a post on my blog yesterday on something similar to this and I titled it ‘Staying Human’. You might wanna check it out.

    mikeinioluwa.wordpress.com

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