October 17, 2021

Aisha White: You Have an Anti-Racist Book List – Now What?

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Dr. Aisha White is the director of the P.R.I.D.E. program at the University of Pittsburgh and a consultant for Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. This piece is from earlier this year, but the fall is a good time to reflect on how to use anti-racism text in a classroom (if you’re in a state where that is still allowed).

I have many fond memories of time spent with my three youngest grandchildren. But one moment stands out as particularly memorable. It was the day I read them the book, Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation, by Duncan Tonatiuh.

Separate is Never Equal is a wonderful, uniquely illustrated picture book about the first Supreme Court school desegregation case involving the Mendez family. It tells the story of the struggle of Mexican Americans to gain the right to attend public schools.

As I started the reading, the room was quiet. But when I reached the section of the book when the darker children (who also have black hair) are told they cannot attend the local public school, my grandchildren started to make comments. “That is not cool,”, my oldest granddaughter said when the administrator told the children they could not register.

The comments kept coming: “That’s rude,” or “That’s not nice,” were just a few. When I finished the book, my grandchildren agreed the school was acting unfairly. They were happy the family won the lawsuit and pleased no more children would be barred from attending school.

What came after the book reading is even more important.

“Do you believe there are people around today who still think like the people at the school?”, I asked them. My oldest granddaughter answered immediately, “Yep!” My grandson agreed. My five-year-old granddaughter was not so sure. “No,” she said. She immediately looked as though she had said something wrong. After that, we talked more about their answers, about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and about discrimination.

For me, those conversations are easy. My grandchildren know how much I love picture books and know-how open I am to have conversations about race and discrimination. If you’ve been given a list of books about discrimination or race but are not so comfortable about discussing them, my first words of advice are to get comfortable first.

What follows are some tips and pointers on how to having these valuable conversations. Read the full piece here.

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