Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced. – James Baldwin
This past week, the United States has had the metaphorical floodlights focused on one of our most enduring faults. Under the glare of these lights, we have been forced to look, full in the face, at the truth long spoken of by black and brown Americans, that racism is alive and well. Still. Today.
Now is our chance to face our collective historical and present truth, together, with humility, kindness, and respect. Now is our chance to teach the next generation, the generation under our care, a different way forward. Now is my chance to acknowledge that my words and actions may not change the world, but they can change me.
We have seen the brilliant quote by Nelson Mandela many times this week:
“No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin or his background or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
But it leaves many of us asking, “How?” It sounds so simple. But what does it look like, to “be taught to love.”
We are the teachers and parents charged with teaching the next generation how to go forward differently. To do that, we must honestly face our history and teach it to them accurately. We cannot shy away from uncomfortable truths. As the James Baldwin quote above states, “Nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
But it is not enough to teach only the history. We must actively teach and reinforce accurate ideas about race. It is not helpful to teach children to be “colorblind” or to never speak about race. It is confusing and troubling to tell children to “not see color.” We all see color. These platitudes perpetuate the idea that our racial differences are a bad thing that should never be noticed. Let them ask questions. When we shun questions about race, we make it seem taboo. Our racial differences are not a taboo, divisive thing. It is our negative responses to racial differences that create a divide. We have to actively teach that God’s creation is beautiful, that skin comes in a variety of shades, all beautiful, all perfectly acceptable, and lovely. They need to see this modeled.
To help us navigate these discussions and prompt these conversations, there are many, many good books that you can read together. Over the past week, I have seen several excellent lists. I have compiled a list of my favorite lists. These books are fantastic resources for your home and/or classroom.
- Social Justice Books – For this particular moment, I highly recommend their “Black History” list.
- Unity. Kindness. Peace” and “Working Together for Justice” (Association for Library Services for Children)
- Social Justice: Teachable Moments and Books on Democracy and Citizenship (School Library Journal)
- Picture Books that Teach Kids To Combat Racism (What Do We Do All Day?)
- Books to Help Kids Understand the Fight for Racial Equality (Brightly)
- Kids Books to Spark Conversations about Empathy (TinyBop)
- Empowering Middle Grade Novels for Kids Interested in Social Justice (Barnes and Noble)
To these I would add my own Black History Month book list and three books that I have read in the last year: Stella by Starlight by Sharon Draper, Steamboat School by Deborah Hopkinson, and Frederick’s Journey: The Life of Frederick Douglass by Doreen Rappaport.
Under the glare of these floodlights, may we have the courage, respect, and grace to face the truth and work towards change. Under the glare of these floodlights, may we begin new conversations. Under the glare of these floodlights may we mend.