[Featured Image Description: Book cover for ‘Lila and the Crow‘]
Every day, I see comments from friends, family, and even BFLers like this:
“I’m waffling between educating my white kids about all the terrible things that happen to children of color and protecting them from the truth. They’re so young. I don’t want them to be traumatized.”
This choice about what to tell our kids and when – is a privilege.
Those of us with daughters, children of color, and disabled kids have no choice but to teach our children about discrimination and violence – so they can survive.
My son is prone to meltdowns when he’s overwhelmed. Now that he’s in kindergarten, I worry every day he’ll be expelled, arrested, or killed by police.
I worry, because I know how overwhelmed, understaffed schools deal with ‘out of control’ kids. It doesn’t matter if a meltdown harms no one but himself. It doesn’t matter that disabled people are way, way, way, WAY more likely to be victims than aggressors.
Don’t you dare let that tiny voice in your head derail this with a ‘Actually, not all cops.‘
FOCUS. Our babies are in danger.
So I don’t have a choice about whether or not I teach my son about police brutality, and how vital it is that he hold himself together at story-time. I want him to survive more than I want him to live without fear and trauma.
All this fear I live with – and my boy is white as paper. Our school district is within the top 20 best districts in the country and I love our teacher and principal.
Then all it takes is one bad meltdown.
The only thing that keeps me from losing my goddamn mind is that he has light skin and comes from a wealthy community, so maybe, maybe an officer will blink twice before pulling out his taser. I hold tight to this luck, and it makes me sick knowing most don’t have this unearned armor.
Choosing not to discuss hard topics is a privilege.
If your child is in preschool, they are old enough to start learning how they benefit from our kyriarchy so they can dismantle it.
When marginalized communities tell you to be an accomplice, to #DOtheWORK, that #SILENCEisVIOLENCE, this is what they are talking about.
Let’s roll up our sleeves. Let’s get our children uncomfortable. Let’s start those difficult conversations.
Choose a story start talking. You don’t have to have all the answers. This doesn’t have to be traumatizing.
You do have to having tough conversations with your kids.
Remaining silent is an act of supremacy
The following stories help children understand what it feels like to face bias and discrimination in daily life.
These are not books that normalize diversity. Normalizing minority protagonists is super important – but reading ONLY feel-good books in an unrealistic bubble of acceptance contributes to a color-blind fallacy that helps the privileged pretend discrimination is over. (Re: “We have a black president now! Racism is over!“)
Fellow Obama-mamas, racism isn’t over. Voting for a black dude that one time is not the end of your career fighting for equality.
Do the work – every two weeks, read one book
Even the busiest of us can manage that. Let’s get on with it.
Captioned age ranges are for when my sons got ‘the gist’ of the story with discussion & alternative readings – most contain text for much older ages.
Understand your economic privilege
This one is easy. I think we can all agree that poverty is bad. No child will be traumatized by the idea of not having a bike or donating a dinner to a family. So if you’re new to this, let’s start here.
Understand your male privilege
For every girl who’s been told she’s too small, too weak, to flighty, and too delicate – there’s a ‘I was just joking, jeez’ bro interrupting her every move. Make sure your boys don’t grow up to be those bros.
Understand your white privilege
Complex characters of color with agency – before, during, and after the civil rights movement. ‘Fish for Jimmy‘ is an introduction to the internment of Japanese citizens by the US government, and ‘Freedom Summer‘ draws a clear line between the unwritten, unequal rights of citizens in black or white skin.
‘Lila and the Crow‘ is a modern-day example of classroom bigotry, and the racism might seem unrealistically blatant. It’s completely accurate. The fair-skinned bully must have been reading from the same script as the Motherland-Haling Nazi who sat in front of me in Mrs. Balsamo’s first grade classroom.
[Edited to add: It’s not okay that Lila’s bullies were never held accountable, and she shouldn’t have had to adjust to withstand their attacks on her own. BUT THIS IS NOT A FAIRY-TALE, this is a story about the experience of girls of color. This was my exact experience facing white bullies in elementary school and it validates the experience of girls of color who don’t have adults to step in and fix things.]
Understand your non-disabled privilege
Beyond the disability inspiration porn of courageous wheelchair users, insightful blind besties and powerful Deaf protagonists (love them, but they’re common and you can find those anywhere), and barfy books that center on non-disabled* friends and seeing-eye dogs instead of actually disabled people, these stories portray an inclusive model for invisible disabilities that are only challenging in the context of our culture.
*Edited to add: You can catch my explanation in the comments as to why, as a disabled woman, I use shameless identity-first language.
Understand your hetero-normative privilege
Your child will have a trans friend, classmate, co-worker, or spouse one day. Get in front of the bigotry other kids and daycare providers are filling them with before they say (or do) something hurtful to a non-binary, trans, or gender-fluid kid. ASAP.
Understand your body size privilege
Little people are people. Fat people are people. Average people are people. (And I know dinosaurs are not people, but the story of accommodating size rather than contorting is worth it). All people (and dinosaurs) deserve to feel comfortable and welcome on earth.
If you’re feelin’ kinda huffy and want to email me to say it’s DANGEROUS to read books with fat protagonists without pointing out how they should diet/die/wallow in pity – NOPE. SHUT MOUTH. LEAVE IMMEDIATELY.
Fat people are people – worthy, lovely, and deserving of happiness and respect exactly the way they are. Full stop.
Understand your freedom from religious persecution privilege
‘Garden of Peace‘ is an allegorical tale (a bit too symbolic and complex for littles, but SO gorgeous it’s worth mentioning here) on the birth of Sikhism focusing on the tenets of kindness, courage, determination, and becoming warriors of change.
‘I Dissent‘ follows the childhood and growth of the Notorious RBG as she faces discrimination for both her female and Jewish identity, and ‘Lailah’s Lunchbox‘ shows kids what it feels like to be the odd-one-out in the cafeteria during Ramadan fasting in a sweet example of how we can all be better accomplices.
Understand your colonist privilege
We stole this land. Even if our ancestors weren’t the original colonists, we play a part in the continued subjugation of Indigenous Americans and First Nations people. We are still destroying what little land we haven’t sacked, erasing and mocking traditions and culture of an oppressed people and propogating substandard living conditions with deadly healthcare and education services. So like, the VERY LEAST we can do is understand the damage we’ve done so we can cut it out already.
*Thanks to BFL reader Sarae P. – to sharing this resource addressing the problematic line, ‘The Tainos are all gone.’ (They’re not).
Understand your local-born citizenship privilege
As a first-generation ABC (American Born Chinese), I have access to education, employment, safety, and basics like food and shelter in ways my father and grandmother did not. While my race still puts me in danger of US internment if we go to war with China (becoming more and more likely every day!), the odds of me being detained by ICE without warrant, tortured, and deported to a country I’ve never visited are slim.
I’ve never had to run for my life. I’ve never faced an impenetrable wall or been extorted by predatory coyotes and corrupt border patrols.
Understand your language & cultural fluency privilege
Understand the feelings of classmates leaving home for a new land, where we don’t know the customs or how to communicate.
Seriously just one book every two weeks.
SO EASY, right? Go to the library. It costs nothing to fight hate.
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