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How Do We Read Books Embedded With Racism?

<em>A Birthday Cake for Washington</em> has been the subject of much criticism because it portrays slaves as being happy.
A Birthday Cake for Washington has been the subject of much criticism because it portrays slaves as being happy.

Last week, a conversation on NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday, about reading books with difficult material surrounding race and gender to your children, sparked a lot of criticism.

NPR's Rachel Martin spoke with editor Jeremy Adam Smith about the controversy over A Birthday Cake For George Washington, a children's book that portrays a slave chef and his daughter preparing the desert for the president.

He's the author of a piece called "How To Really Read Racist Books To Your Kids."

The conversation prompted many people to respond to the article in multiple places online, so we're revisiting the piece and incorporating some of your comments.

This week, we speak with Andrew Grant Thomas, a father of two who's the founder of EmbraceRace, an online discussion community for parenting.

Here's What Some Of You Said

Commenter Kathleen Jimenez wrote:


With all due respect to your good work, your white privilege was showing this morning. No parent of color has the privilege of flipping past the pages about racism when reading to their children. Yes, even to a three year old. You passed up an opportunity to give your little one a lesson in compassion and empathy. Racism is not grown up material; it's life material. Your son chose the book, as a parent you can walk through it with him. From all your reporting at NPR it is evident you are a brave reporter. Hope you'll be an even braver mom..."

The website "Teaching For Change" wrote, in part (you can read their entire critique at the link):

"The statement that racist children's books allows families the opportunity to dialogue about racism assumes that the audience is white. After all, what parent of color or Native American parent has the luxury of choice to wait for a children's book to talk about race and racism with their children?"

"Teaching For Change" also noted a piece by NPR's Eyder Peralta on the same topic, but called it "an excellent segment."

Commenter Jhonna Amelia Turner wrote:

Huh. This discussion is clearly a representation of white privilege and the realities of many in-the-kitchen, liberal dinner party discussions about race, without a single person of color in the room. It's just that this time it was broadcasted. Reading about race, discussing it among friends, and feeling "ambushed by...racial imagery" does not equate to empathy. To understand the damage and seriousness of introducing books of racial misrepresentation, you have to know that the effect could be horrific and extremely tragic — especially at such a young age. For instance, my six-year old niece (who's black) for years wanted all her dolls to white. But not white just, blond hair with blue eyes ... white. The reason being was that my six-year old niece didn't understand that she was beautiful and amazing. She rejected any dolls that looked like her. In attempt to remedy this problem, I went straight to many bookstores to only find...nothing. Nothing that had to do with positive images of little girls of color (and color, I mean any other color besides white). Tragic, right.

This conversation is from two people who would probably consider themselves to be racially in tuned, but from reading/hearing, there are clear gaps of racial empathy. My question or thought is, how do you encourage others (clearly they're talking about white people, right?) to have this conversation with their children about race in books, if they are not equipped to do so? It's like having a loaded gun with an awful aim. The damage could be worse.

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