Those of us who create and share children's books don't do so in a vacuum. This has been a heartbreaking year of growing awareness of and horror at the depth and pervasiveness of violence directed at the African American community. The frequency of the news stories and the terrible circumstances and outcomes can overwhelm any viewer with a sense of helplessness and hopelessness.
But as advocates for children, when events shake our nation, we don't have the option of being paralyzed. We are compelled to respond, to try to do something - anything - to make the world better for our children. All of our children.
With that challenge in mind, here are some links to some of the most compelling ideas that I've seen in the last several months, ideas to propel us one step forward in what many people are calling the civil rights movement of our time:
- Robin DiAngelo, Associate Professor of Critical Multicultural and Social Justice Education at Westfield State University, has coined the term "White Fragility" for the ways white people respond to racial stress:
"Our socialization renders us racially illiterate. When you add a lack of humility to that illiteracy (because we don’t know what we don’t know), you get the break-down we so often see when trying to engage white people in meaningful conversations about race...
"This systemic and institutional control allows those of us who are white in North America to live in a social environment that protects and insulates us from race-based stress. We have organized society to reproduce and reinforce our racial interests and perspectives. Further, we are centered in all matters deemed normal, universal, benign, neutral and good. Thus, we move through a wholly racialized world with an unracialized identity (e.g. white people can represent all of humanity, people of color can only represent their racial selves). Challenges to this identity become highly stressful and even intolerable."
- Ta-Nehisi Coates' brilliant, much-talked about new book, Between the World and Me, written as an extended letter to his teenage son, is a searing, penetrating read, the cumulative effect of which is to catch a glimpse, at a visceral level, of the reality of living in a black body in America:
"The mettle that it takes to look away from the horror of our prison system, from police forces transformed into armies, from the long war against the black body, is not forged overnight. This is the practiced habit of jabbing out one's eyes and forgetting the work of one's hands. To acknowledge these horrors means turning away from the brightly rendered version of your country as it has always declared itself and turning towards something murkier and unknown. It is still too difficult for most Americans to do this. But this is your work. Its must be, only to preserve the sanctity of your mind."
- In a Brown Bookshelf post, "We Need NEW SHOES, More Than We May Know," children's book advocate Kirsten Cappy of Curious City poses this question:
"If books and stories change lives, if diverse books allow children of color to be seen and validated, then why is book purchasing not a major charitable action?"In the face of hundreds of years of race-based dehumanization and violence, institutionalized racism and white supremacy, I may feel paralyzed. But I can take the next step in educating myself. I can start conversations about race with any and everyone I come into contact with. And I can keep figuring out ways to get more books featuring Black lives into the hands of all our children.