I chose these books well before Black History Month to help answer my observant child’s questions and expand his understanding of social justice after we’d watched and discussed the post-election episode of our favorite show black-ish (“Lemons“). Though K had been plugged into the campaign from catching clips when my husband watched the news (for my sanity I opted to read articles when I was in the headspace to manage small doses of the absurdity), he only learned of the election results when black-ish aired them in mid-January. Even though I’d explained the night before, during our beloved president’s farewell address, that Obama had less than two weeks left in the White House, it didn’t sink in that someone new would be occupying his office. When K asked if we could vote over the next 10 days to keep Obama as president, I told him about term limits but still didn’t have the heart to announce who would be next.
So my baby, who had rallied hard for Hillary Climpton, was thoroughly shocked when No. 45 was revealed! (He had made HRC and the “other one” into LEGO figures and built a version of the White House with my niece one weekend.) That black-ish episode reflected every emotion and tension-filled conversation that my friends and I had experienced. At 6-and-half years old, K clearly understood and stated in his own words: “[That man] made the brown people and white people turn against each other.”
When the show ended, our bedtime lesson on the mistreatment of people of color began. I touched on the decimation of the Indigenous when this country was colonized by Europeans, slavery, segregation, civil rights and the current fight for justice and equity. I talked about our own family’s history, pointing out that we wouldn’t be who we are if those who came before us had not been able to marry because of their different races. That he wouldn’t be possible if those laws were still in place to prevent his dad and I from being together. I explained that those same harmful attitudes and actions are still present today and that No. 45 spewed dangerous words and ideas that encouraged bigoted people to think they were free to hurt anyone who was different from them. Worse yet, he picked more bigoted people to be on his team and together they can help make decisions that hurt everyone in our country, especially those who are not white, Christian, rich, educated and male.
I shared some hard truths about how scared and angry people are with what has been happening, pointing out that the same disagreements we watched unfold in a scene with Dre and his co-workers on black-ish were occurring in real life between friends and family members. K asked if people had known about all the mean and offensive things that had been said before they cast their vote. I explained that, sadly, those hurtful words had been stated loudly, publicly and repeatedly. Even still, people who would be considered decent, intelligent, and kind endorsed the candidate who incited so much hate.
Wanting to know how he was processing this all, I asked how he would feel if he learned that people he knew had voted for No. 45. Without hesitating, he said, “It’d break my heart.” I admitted that I felt the same way then turned the focus to how we can work to love and protect our community. (I checked in with him the next day, asking if he’d forgive them. To which he shrugged and replied, “Probs.“) As we finally settled down to sleep, I assured him that we’d keep him safe and then sang the metta-prayer I wrote for him when he was an infant with more fervor:
as the day turns into night, it’s time to send our love and light near, far and wide to everyone.
be happy. be safe. be well, have peace. good night, sleep tight, dream sweet until morning light.
I immediately picked out these books to give K a clear picture of the people who took bold and courageous risks to fight for our freedom to be treated as humans. This particularly troubling moment in our country — where the politics of the new administration are steeped in racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, Islamophobia, injustice and inequity — demands more than ever that we pour into our babies that which nourishes their spirits, builds their esteem, cultivates their resilience, and strengthens their love for self and heritage as well as their understanding and respect for others. Whether fictive characters or historical figures, I am committed to selecting stories for my son that feature people of various ethnicities and cultures…every single day of the year. Representation matters and the history of North America belongs to all of us and is ours to tell.
I, Matthew Henson: Polar Explorer | Carole Boston Weatherford
Rosa | Nikki Giovanni
Malcolm Little: The Boy Who Grew Up to Become Malcolm X | Ilyasah Shabazz
The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage | Selina Alko
Barack Obama: Son of Promise, Child of Hope | Nikki Grimes