Discussing Racism with Children

By Laci R.

Racism isn’t a new issue. However, it is one that people all over the world have recently come together in order to take a stance against. How do you bring the conversation into your own home? Were you ever directly told about racism, yourself? 

I’d like to share some vital information: 

  • As early as 6 months, a baby’s brain can notice race-based differences.”
  • By ages 2 to 4, children can internalize racial bias.”
  • By age 12, many children become set in their beliefs—giving parents a decade to mold the learning process, so that it decreases racial bias and improves cultural understanding.”

(Authors Ashaunta Anderson, MD, MPH, MSHS, FAAP & Jacqueline Dougé, MD, MPH, FAAP 
Last Updated 7/29/2019 
Source American Academy of Pediatrics (Copyright © 2019) 
https://www.healthychildren.org/English/healthy-living/emotional-wellness/Building-Resilience/Pages/Talking-to-Children-About-Racial-Bias.aspx)

It’s not always easy to provide an explanation to a child; whether it’s the mechanics of something (why a toy will no longer beep and light up), safety (why it’s important to hold hands and look both ways before crossing a street), or why some people are treated poorly, hurt, and killed based on nothing other than the color of their skin.  
 
Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story about Racial Injustice by Marianne Celano shows children as they discuss with their families the incident of a local black man who was shot by the police. These discussions look different in the home of Emma (who is White) and Josh (who is Black) but share a similarity in the feeling of injustice. The use of historical and present-day context is utilized in a way that promotes compassion and eagerness to learn. The story shows Emma and Josh applying what they learn when a new student from another country named Omar arrives at their school. This book provides general guidance for parents and caregivers full of vocabulary definitions, conversation guides, and additional online resources to visit to continue the conversation about racism.  
 
Opening up a safe space for children to learn about racism and how to be actively anti-racist is a necessary step in parenthood, guardianship, and adulthood in general. It’s crucial to be proactive during such an impressionable time.  
 
The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson is a story about Clover, segregation, and a determined friendship. Clover’s mom says it isn’t safe to cross the fence that segregates their African American side of town from the white side where Anna lives. The two girls bend the rules set in place by their grown-ups by spending time together sitting on the fence that separates their homes. This is where they are allowed to exist in the same space, one they have created themselves. A lyrical narrative and thoughtful watercolor images show how this friendship is formed during a time when it seems impossible. 

It’s important to keep in mind that these discussions and questions that arise will look different in every family based on a variety of details and factors, including race. Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness by Anastasia Higginbotham invites white families and children to become more invested in the reality that is racism and, in turn, to cultivate justice.  This story explains how each of us are affected by power and privilege from the very moment we’re born and offers an honest explanation for kids about racism, white supremacy, and civic responsibility. Pair these books with others about racism and segregation such as: Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh, Ruth and the Green Book by Calvin Alexander Ramsey, and Let the Children March by Monica Clark-Robinson (also available from Libby/OverDrive in eaudiobook format).
 
It can be daunting to know where to start despite the vast amount of resources flooding our social media accounts. Keep in mind that the conversation about racism can easily become a fruitful one, full of eagerness to learn and the desire to be kind. I strongly believe in the importance of embracing curiosity, including the tough questions. If you don’t have an answer ready for the child in your life, be sure to let them know you’ll have one for them soon- and then, follow up. Whether it’s just the beginning or you’re continuing the conversation about racism, don’t ever let the discussion end. No matter what.

Laci is a Children’s Instructor and Research Specialist at HCLS. They love a wide variety of music, spending time in the garden, Halloween, cats, and crafting. Their “to read” list is always full of graphic novels and picture books. 

Celebrating Pride Month

A photograph of a rainbow flag with red at top and purple at bottom, symbolizing gay pride.

For members of the LGBTQ community and our allies, June is not just the start of summer: it is Pride season, a time of year dedicated to celebrating our authentic selves and affirming our right to exist. In the United States, Pride Month is held in June to honor the anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall Uprising, which catalyzed the Gay Liberation Movement in response to police brutality and social stigma.

The fight for equal rights is ongoing. Discrimination is far too common, especially for our black sisters and brothers and gender-diverse siblings. There is still much work to be done. We must learn about and remember past struggles. We must take action towards further social change. And to maintain strength, we must also find moments of hope and joy.

In my own attempt to share queer hope and joy, I have put together this brief list of book and film recommendations available online via RBdigital, cloudLibrary, OverDrive, and Kanopy. Whether you identify as LGBTQ, I hope the following titles provide a source of entertainment, education, and inspiration.

If you would like advice on how to browse LGBTQ content on these digital platforms, or are interested in more recommendations, you can Ask HCLS or (eventually) visit me at work.

eBooks

Gay Like Me: A Father Writes to His Son by Richie Jackson

The LGBTQ community is unique from many other socially marginalized groups in that most LGBTQ youth do not grow up with community members who share the same marginalized identity. However, this is not the case for Richie Jackson and his son, who are both gay.

Short in length but full of heart, Gay Like Me is an engaging, intimate work of nonfiction that addresses the joys and the challenges of being a gay man in America. Jackson connects the past, present, and future as he recounts his life experiences and offers advice to his college-bound son. I found this book to be a quick, engrossing read. I was deeply moved by Jackson’s fierce celebration of being a proud, openly queer person in a society that doesn’t always recognize or support our truest selves. This message is even more inspiring within the context of a father addressing his son. That’s the core of this book: a father’s love.

With broad themes of love, parenting, and self-discovery as well as specific experiences of gay culture, history, and sexuality, Gay Like Me resonates with both LGBTQ people and allies.

Available on OverDrive.

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

This title appeals to readers interested in highly lauded, nonconventional literary fiction. Written with a lack of standard punctuation or capitalization, the style blends poetry and prose in a way that Evaristo refers to as “fusion fiction.”

Girl, Woman, Other portrays the interconnected lives of a dozen black, British characters—all female or nonbinary—with a diversity of ages, sexual orientations, occupations, and so on. With its exploration of intersecting identities, told from the varying perspectives of characters that share a racial identity, I am fondly reminded of There, There by Tommy Orange. Where Orange challenges the idea of a singular Native American experience, Evaristo also makes clear that there are many narratives for black British women.

This novel requires one’s full attention. The poetic structure gives weight to each line, beckoning the reader to focus and truly listen to each character. With its celebration of underrepresented voices, the characters of Girl, Woman, Other deserve to be heard.

Available on OverDrive.

eAudiobooks

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe 

Written by Benjamin Alire Saenz, narrated by Lin-Manuel Miranda 

I can confidently say this is my favorite YA novel of all time, as well as one of my favorite novels, period. I own the audiobook on Audible, and I have two treasured physical copies on my bookshelf. 

The simple yet poignant writing style tenderly captures the voice of a lonely Mexican American teen named Aristotle, or “Ari” for short. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s narration beautifully brings this story to life. Set in El Paso, TX in the 1980s, the center of the story centers on the development of Ari’s relationship with Dante, a boy his age who is his opposite in so many ways—and yet, they complement each other. Through joy and tragedy, the two boys grow to understand deeper truths themselves, each other, and who they want to be. 

If you enjoy a “slow burn, friends-to-lovers” storyline with a wonderfully satisfying ending, this one is a must! A beautiful celebration of love in all forms, I cannot recommend this book enough.  

Available on cloudLibrary and OverDrive.

Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us (Revised and Updated) 

Written and narrated by Kate Bornstein 

One of the first gender-focused books I read when I was coming to terms with being trans, it has a very special place in my heart.

Originally published in 1994, Gender Outlaw has been described as, “ahead of its time,” but I would argue that it is the rest of the world that has been lagging behind. Bornstein, now aged 72, is living proof that nonbinary gender identities – those that do not fit the male/female, man/woman binaries – are not new. However, the language used to describe gender identity has significantly evolved since 1994, which is why Bornstein updated this book in 2016 to reflect those changes.  

While our cultural and communal understandings of gender still continue to shift and grow, the core ideas expressed here are forever revolutionary, and listening to Kate Bornstein’s narration feels like wisdom from a loving, quirky, genderqueer grandmother. 

Available on RBdigital.

Films

Hearts Beat Loud (2018)

This comedy-drama is quite possibly my favorite queer-inclusive movie that I’ve watched with my parents. The central storyline tells of a daughter and father bonding over music, struggling with the decline of business at their record shop, and adapting to change as the daughter prepares to move across the country for college. The father-daughter bonding over music is beautiful, especially given that a source of musical inspiration for the daughter is her relationship with another girl. I love how her queerness is a non-issue; she simply gets to exist and love as her authentic self.

Stories that highlight LGBTQ+ struggles are certainly important, but it’s also important to have stories in which queerness is not a source of conflict. There is no grappling with internalized homophobia, experiencing harassment, or even “coming out,” and that makes Hearts Beat Loud so refreshing. The film celebrates this story of two girls falling in love, which is naturally intertwined with a story of growing up and moving forward while still remaining connected to one’s roots.

Available on Kanopy.

Vito (2011)

To all lovers of history and activism—this documentary is for you. The film follows Vito Russo, a gay activist, film historian, and author. Russo took a leading and long-lasting role in creating social change, as a founding member in organizations such as GLAAD and ACT UP. His research regarding representation of gay themes in film was groundbreaking, bringing awareness to the power that media images have, and remaining relevant to this day.

My own interest in studying LGBTQ media representation was ignited when I first watched The Celluloid Closet, an adaptation of Russo’s landmark book. My appreciation and respect for Russo only increased when I watched Vito. It is a moving portrayal of him, his accomplishments, his struggles, and the social context in which he lived and died. This story is inspiring, heartbreaking, and so important to LGBTQ history.

Available on Kanopy.

The Way He Looks (2014)

Are you a hopeless romantic interested in foreign films with satisfyingly cute endings? Look no further than The Way He Looks, a tender Brazilian film about Leonardo, a blind teenager who grows increasingly fond of Gabriel, the new boy at school. Frustrated with the taunts of his peers and the concerns of his overprotective mother, Leo strives to gain independence and live his life on his own terms.

This inadvertently strains his relationship with his best friend Giovana; fortunately, their friendship grows stronger. The friendship that develops between Leo and Gabriel has its drama too, full of romantic uncertainty, burgeoning sexuality, and mutual pining. Fortunately, their feelings for each other are brought to light in the most tender way possible, and my heart is flooded with warmth whenever I watch their final scenes.

Available on Kanopy.

Ash Baker is an Instructor and Research Specialist at the HCLS Central Branch. They have been working at HCLS since graduating May 2019 with a bachelor’s degree in Sociology and LGBT Studies. Their favorite TV shows with LGBTQ representation include Steven Universe, Pose, and The Bold Type.