Recent Books+ I've Clutched In My Hands With Joy: June 2020

This month I'm going to focus on one book. I won't belabor why. I think we all understand. #blacklivesmatter

I was raised in an extremely liberal and integrated series of neighborhoods in Chicago, attended a diverse elementary school and a middle school that was majority Black kids, and participated for a decade in afterschool activities that had explicit goals of bringing Black and white kids together in harmony. Integration and inter-racial solidarity was ostensibly the ethos of our local community, and, like my parents, I imagined myself a soldier of these values even after leaving home. In fact, like so many well-intentioned white people, I really thought I knew what it meant to understand my whiteness and how to parent my kids to be anti-racist when it came time for me to bring them into this world.

But I didn't. This was the real truth of me as an adult, and then me as a parent.

When my daughter was two, she pointed to a Black man on the street and said that he must be a "bad guy" because he had dark skin. My little toddler. I was, of course, shaken to my core by her comment; what had we done wrong?! We lived in a diverse neighborhood in San Francisco and she went to a diverse preschool in the Civic Center area. Hell, we were literally stopped in front of a statue of President Obama to fix her shoe at the time; we had just waved to the statue, as we did every day. Weren't we doing the right things?

The short answer is, of course, no. The long answer as to why, though, is the reason I needed to read Harvey's book--and why pretty much every white person I've ever met, no matter how awesome, could stand to read it, too. (This would be a wonderful baby shower book, by the way. No joke. Or first birthday, or second, third ...)

After all, Harvey's book is eminently practical, just like all the other parenting books we know and love. She gives us concrete language and techniques to use with our white kids to help them with their healthy racial development. It's plenty How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk, minus the cartoons. But it's also something uniquely needed, something that has the potential to help us fill in some of our deepest, most regretted personal voids; it has explained so much to me about my own life. So yes, it slices, dices and gets your baby to sleep at night.

You can get a taste of what the book is all about by listening to this interview with Jennifer Harvey's on an Integrated Schools podcast, "Raising White Kids with Jennifer Harvey." However, please understand that it is no substitute for the words on paper. 

Here are some of Harvey's closing words that touched me most deeply:

"[...] these are not times in which any of us can dare live without a broken heart." p. 200
"[...] the way white supremacy and white privilege, over time, impact the deepest parts of us. We have inherited intergenerational legacies of silence, of looking away, of pretending not to notice and of numbness to the pain of our racial legacies. The long-term effects of repressing the truth means we are people, she said, 'who don’t even know how to begin to feel what we feel.'" pp. 204-5
"[...] it may very well be terrifying to recognize that my children’s lives and your children’s lives depend on more of us understanding that we are all wounded when we remain in the clutch of that which is unhealed." p. 226

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"And so our goal as parents is not—and must not simply be—to teach our children to be more inclusive, embracing, and curious humans. These dispositions are important, yes. But our goal must be to bring them along with us (and, just as likely, to let them bring us along) as we work to change this world. Activism is absolutely required." p. 226