Why Do My Son’s Books Contain Only White People?

The other day while reading to Jonah, I noticed something that really disturbed me.

We were reading Policeman Small by Lois Lenski, a classic for toddlers and preschoolers.

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See it?

I noticed the same thing in a Curious George book.

Crowds of people, and all of them white.

All of Jonah’s books aren’t like this, but too many of them are. And I’m not ok with that.

Part of the issue is that we have a lot of classic children’s books, written decades ago by white authors. Policeman Small was originally published in 1962, and the Curious George series was published in the 1940s.

There were plenty of black Americans and other people of color living in this country during that time, so that’s not an excuse, of course.

What bothers me the most is when I start thinking about the reasons why an author/illustrator might include only pictures of white people in his book.

Was the illustrator’s ideal of a perfect little town all homogeneously white? Did he just not think to include black characters in even the smallest way? Was this an intentional, racist decision? Did these illustrations reflect the reality the author saw around her?

As a parent I start to feel pretty troubled when I delve down deep into these issues. If as a rule my child’s books contain only white people, what lesson does that teach about what the world is supposed to look like? About what kinds of people should be included in a neighborhood, school, church or city?

Am I participating in systems of oppression by reading my child books that look like this?

In my mind this also harks back to the election, and the unsettling discovery of just how divided the U.S. electorate is right now. A quote:

“The biggest difference between the two parties is the urban-rural divide…Politically, that translates into race and identity as the main political dividing line. Rural and exurban America is very white, and generally inward-looking. Urban America is very diverse and cosmopolitan.” (Source: NBC )

Many Trump voters live in places that look a lot like these books, and that they want to keep looking a lot like these books. Or perhaps used to look like this and do no longer. We see where, and to whom, that attitude has led us.

And that’s not an image I want to present to my son as an ideal.

I’ve written before about the fact that my childhood did look a lot like these books. I experienced essentially zero racial or cultural diversity until I was about 13 years old, when I switched from private to public school. This is one area where I feel that my parents really fell down on the job. (Love you Mom and Dad.) I am determined to do better.

Jonah’s external environment is already going to be very different because of living in a diverse urban city. But Jonathan and I are committed to exposing him to diverse examples of all the different ways that people can look through the media that he experiences at home.

Jonah is going to be getting The Snowy Day , a masterpiece of children’s literature featuring a black main character, and a few other books by this same author for his birthday. My goal over the next year is going to be to diversify his collection to include more books featuring diverse characters.

Easier said than done, perhaps: Children’s books, particularly fiction books, are overwhelmingly white.

Do you have a suggestion for a diverse children’s book or series that is appropriate for toddlers and preschoolers? I’d love to hear it!

 

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It Begins.

The country is reacting to the news that Steve Bannon, known white nationalist, has been named the chief strategist to president-elect Donald Trump. This is a fact.

Read an introduction to Steve Bannon and the alt-right here. 

Still want to tell me there is no reason to be worried?

For Those Who Are Not Ok

This post was also featured on Patheos’ Unfundamentalist Christians blog.

Well.

Donald Trump has been elected the next president of the United States.

How is that sitting with you today?

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image via pixabay.com

As regular readers know, I teach ESL to 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th graders at an “inner city” elementary school in Atlanta. My 45 students are all Latino but one, primarily 2nd generation Mexican-Americans. And this week has been, by far, the worst since I began teaching seven years ago.

I’m not sure which was the worst moment this week:

  1. On Wednesday, when 2nd graders who can barely speak English asked me why Donald Trump and other white people in America don’t like them, and one boy said brightly, “Mrs. Love, I’m white too, look!” as he held his arm up next to mine to compare our skin colors.
  2. On Wednesday, when my 5th graders asked me very detailed questions about when and how their parents (and possibly they themselves) would be deported. “How do we get papers for our parents? Is it too late now?” “What do we do when the police come to our house? Do we try to hide or…?”
  3. When I tried to offer reassurance that everything would be ok, these same students said, “You keep saying it’s going to be ok but it won’t be. It will be ok for you, but not for us.” And they are right.
  4. On Thursday, when multiple 4th graders told me their families were planning to preemptively move back to Mexico or Honduras before January 2oth. These are places these children have never known except through brief visits, if that.

As a reminder if you’ve been living under a rock, Donald Trump has promised to deport anywhere from 2 to 11 million illegal immigrants, and has said that citizen children of illegal immigrants could also be deported. Don’t believe he said this? Look here and here.

Every single one of my students is a U.S. citizen. Though I do not know the details, I suspect that some/many/most of their parents may not be. (Do you see how the upcoming Trump presidency is already making me scared to be definitive in writing?)

What I am hearing from my children is twofold: 1) We are scared of Donald Trump and what he wants to do to our families and 2) We are shocked that people in America, the only home we have ever known, are ok with this happening to us.

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image via pixabay.com

It is worth noting that I suspect my students haven’t encountered much racism in their lives up to this point. This part of Atlanta is overwhelming inhabited by people of color, and I had already guessed that that I was one of the only white people these children have known in real life. (Read more about that here.) Our school has two white students in it and three white teachers, including me. So this feeling of being an outsider in the place that is their home is entirely new for these children, and strange.

I watched the election returns in horror on Tuesday night. I will never forget the feeling of what a horrible, awful shock that night was – like a punch to the gut. I thought about *Maria, my 3rd grader who was so excited at the prospect of a woman president. I teach sheltered content 3rd grade Social Studies to Maria’s group, and our current unit happens to be on democracy and the three branches of government. Maria always draws a woman when asked to draw a picture of the Executive Branch. I thought about how disappointed she would be.

The nausea stayed with me for the rest of the week until about Friday afternoon. I had a hard time eating and sleeping. Wednesday was particularly bad. I cried off and on throughout the day.

And why was that? I know not everyone gets it. I’m seeing a lot of complaining on Facebook from conservative friends about “whiny safe-space liberals” and people being overdramatic. Even my husband, who is basically apolitical, bless him, encouraged me to try to relax and not tear myself up prematurely over something that hasn’t happened yet. I appreciate that.

But this is my response to those who can’t or choose not to understand why people are upset: If you have nothing to fear you don’t get to say that everything will be ok. Like my student said, we know everything will be ok for YOU. That’s not the point.

As a side note, I continue to be embarrassed by many of my fellow evangelical Christians, who overwhelmingly supported Trump. I just don’t get it. If a presidential candidate’s racism, sexism, misogyny and xenophobia are minor character flaws that you are able to look past, you are a) very privileged indeed and b) not at all looking out for the least of these as we are called in the Bible.

(Feel free to rail at me about how abortion is the worst evil our country has ever known. I am pro-life, for what it’s worth.)

So now what? That’s what I’ve been pondering since Tuesday night. I will be an ally. I will advocate for my students, their families, and the millions of others like them across this country. I will speak for them. I will write for them, starting with writing to my Senators and Congressmen this week. I will get more politically involved. I will be all in.

I will also hope and pray that everything will be ok, because I have this luxury. But I will work on behalf of those who fear things won’t ever be ok again.

*Name has been changed.

 

My News Feed As a Sign of Changing Times

I currently have 1,008 Facebook friends. Approximately 90% of them are Southern Evangelical Christians from my hometown and/or my college. I have always been able to rely on my Facebook friends to provide a slice of conservatives’ opinions about the current news cycle. In the past, I have usually disagreed with most of them most of the time.

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Image credit: pixabay.com

Take the 2008 election, for instance. My Facebook friends were figuratively frothing at the mouth when Obama was elected. I saw lots of posts about “Praying for this country in these dark days” and “Remember, our first allegiance is to God’s kingdom, not rulers on this earth,” and the like. There was some birtherism, too–“Everyone knows Obama isn’t a legitimate president,” “Show me the birth certificate” etc. I’ve written before about how I came to vote for Obama in 2008. As I appeared to be in the vast minority at the time, I was afraid to publicly disagree and start an argument, so I stayed silent.

The passing of healthcare reform in 2010 was more of the same. “Great to know that now our healthcare system will go down the toilet like Canada’s” and “This will ruin my doctor husband’s career” etc. But I was a little bolder this time. I remember I posted this funny graphic and then got some pushback about it. I didn’t want to get into an argument, so I took it down.

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Still funny. (Image credit: Pinterest.com)

So I have normally been able to count on most of my Facebook friends to make political comments that I don’t agree with, sometimes gently and sometimes in a more inflammatory way. Election years have always been particularly bad, and that’s with me deleting the most obnoxious posters, including the mom of a close childhood friend, because I just couldn’t take it anymore.

But I have noticed a change over the last six months that I believe is reflective of how many conservatives’ viewpoints may slowly be shifting, just a bit. First of all, a very small number of my Facebook friends openly support Donald Trump–I’ve seen maybe two pro-Trump posts. This is reflective of the views of prominent Evangelical leaders like Russell Moore, who has been very openly never-Trump. I don’t agree with Moore on many political issues, but I respect his integrity, disavowal of bigotry and nativism, and adherence to biblical values in the face of opposition from many other Evangelical leaders who are falling in line behind Trump. Most of my Facebook friends seem, like Moore, to fall into the “choice between two bad options” camp when it comes to this election: anti-Trump and anti-Hillary. I can respect that.

That brings us to the events of the past week. I have been so, so surprised to see the reactions on Facebook. What I expected was what I have seen every time before: all the reasons why Alton Sterling and Philando Castile deserved it, all the reasons why the killing of the cops in Dallas was much worse than the other shootings of the week, all the reasons why #BlackLivesMatter is wrong and #AllLivesMatter is right. And there has been some of that.

But overwhelmingly, I am finally seeing my conservative, white Facebook friends acknowledge the reality of systemic racism in American society, particularly American policing. They are posting about how #AllLivesMatter is hurtful and hateful to a community in pain. People who I disagree with politically on almost every issue are acknowledging that the shootings of Sterling and Castile were unjust, and that the Black Lives Matter movement is not to blame for the shooting in Dallas, either.

This seems to reflect something real that has happened in America this week. White conservatives are, just maybe, getting it. This is reflected in comments from unexpected sources, such as conservative leader Newt Gingrich, among others, who made this statement:

“It took me a long time, and a number of people talking to me through the years to get a sense of this. If you are a normal, white American, the truth is you don’t understand being black in America and you instinctively under-estimate the level of discrimination and the level of additional risk.” (source: Slate.com)

Back on Facebook, I have also noticed many more people refusing to stay silent. Rather than just ignoring an ignorant post on their newsfeed, or quietly deleting someone, many of my white Facebook friends are speaking up and becoming allies to the black community in very powerful ways. This is something I am trying to do, too. I’m ashamed I stayed quiet for so long, and I’m trying to fix that. This week when I have seen ignorance and hate, I have said something. Have I done this perfectly? No. But I am done with being quiet, even if it would be more comfortable to be so. I don’t like debates. I don’t like arguments. I don’t want to be seen as a Facebook troll who is looking for attention. All I know is that this issue is too important for silence. Black Lives Matter.

How Should We Respond to Our Privilege?

“Just because I’m privileged and other people aren’t doesn’t mean that’s my fault.”

This. This was said to me last weekend, word-for-word, in the context of a conversation about some people being unprepared to go to college due to poor literacy skills. I was trying to explain the root causes behind low literacy. (Ya know, because I work at an adult literacy agency and all.) When I stated that people like us who are born in middle-class families with long histories of educational success have a leg up in life, my conversational partner made the statement above.

What d0 I mean by privilege? “Privilege exists when one group has something of value that is denied to others simply because of the groups they belong to, rather than because of anything they’ve done or failed to do. Access to privilege doesn’t determine one’s outcomes, but it is definitely an asset that makes it more likely that whatever talent, ability, and aspirations a person with privilege has will result in something positive for them.” ~Peggy McIntosh. If you are white, if you are middle-class, if you are straight, you are privileged.

I walked away from the conversation, and I kicked myself later when I thought of all the things I should have said.

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I should have said, you’re right, it’s not your fault that you’re privileged, but it’s also not other people’s fault that they aren’t.

Rather than being merely a difference in where you happened to be born, attitudes that blame the less fortunate for their misfortune say this: You have a hard life because something is wrong with you. You (or your family) did something wrong and you deserve what you get.

I should have said that just because you, like me, happened to be born a white girl in an upper-middle class family doesn’t mean that you are somehow better than those who struggle.

I should have said that this statement ignores the existence of structural inequities in society that are oppressive to low-income people and minorities.

The”pull yourself up by your bootstraps” story that Americans idealize is a myth, most of the time. Ours is often not a country of equal opportunity, and to say otherwise is to ignore reality. For example, the gap between the rich and and poor is larger right now than it’s ever been. It’s much easier for people who are born with tremendous privilege to succeed than those who are born below the poverty level. This is just common sense.

I should have said that this statement absolves the fortunate from any responsibility to advocate for the less fortunate.

As Christians, we have a biblical responsibility to work for a just society. For racial justice, gender equality, equity of educational access, and in general, equal opportunities for all no matter the circumstances into which they were born. For gun control, so that people who are known to be troubled can’t walk into clubs and movie theaters and kindergarten classes and kill large numbers of people with freaking assault weapons.

Fellow Christians, we’re falling down on the job. Rather than saying, “I’m privileged and those other people aren’t, lucky me,” why not use that privilege to help those who don’t have it? To make the world better during the time that we are here? To tell people about Jesus, sure, but also to act like his hands and feet by making lasting changes in society?

I just can’t with the world right now.

5 Reasons Why #I’mWithHer

Just in case there was any doubt.

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Source: wikipedia.org
  1. She’s experienced.

Hillary’s been Secretary of State, a U.S. Senator, first lady of the United States and first lady of Arkansas. She knows how governing works. She has the knowledge necessary to be an effective president. As a former secretary of state, I think we could all feel very comfortable about her interactions with other countries.

In the real world outside of politics, we don’t like hiring people who don’t have experience related to the job they are going to be doing for us. I don’t like to hire a babysitter who has never been around toddlers before. We don’t hire contractors who have never renovated a house. So why is the title of political “outsider” (aka no political experience) seen as a positive quality in a person running for the most powerful position in the world?

2. She has real, substantive policy proposals with the knowledge to back them up.

Her policy proposals are detailed and realistic. She has a large amount of knowledge on a wide range of issues. No one running for president on either side during this election has been able to match her in this area. (Check this out and laugh when you compare the two.)

3. She’s a pragmatist.

Hillary isn’t especially inspiring. She’s not sexy. But she is practical. Related to points one and two above, she knows how things work, and she’s focused on solutions. She’s willing to reach across the aisle, compromise, and work with Republicans in order to make things happen. This is one of the things that Hillary gets criticized for the most by Bernie supporters, but it’s one of the things I like most about her.

Bernie’s impracticality is the reason I’ve chosen Hillary. Check out this quote from Michael Tomasky at The Daily Beast comparing the two:

“What Sanders does is that he stakes out moral positions that are laudable abstract goals. But I’ve been shocked sometimes by how little thought he seems to have given to how to get to these goals…Now, to Clinton. What she offers are solutions.”

4. She cares about the rights of women and children.

Hillary has been a lifelong supporter of women’s rights. (Perhaps not surprising as she is a woman herself.) In 1995, during a speech at the United Nations Fourth World Congress on Women, she famously said “Human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights.” Her main proposals as a presidential candidate related to women’s issues are ensuring equal pay for women and fighting for paid family leave and affordable child care.

One of Hillary’s consistent priorities throughout her career has been early childhood education, particularly for poor children. All the way back as First Lady of Arkansas, she introduced a home visiting Family Literacy program for the parents of young children called Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters. As a senator, she called for increased funding to states to establish free pre-k programs for low-income and limited-English proficient children. One of her highest-profile presidential proposals is to create universal, free pre-k for 4-year olds.

5. She will preserve the legacy of the Obama administration.

I don’t understand at all how people complain about how Obama has been the “worst president in history.”  Really? REALLY?? Let’s look at some facts, shall we? As of January 2016, unemployment in the U.S. is down to 5%, the lowest it’s been in seven years. Obama’s job approval rating is currently at 50%. He has run “an amazingly scandal-free administration” during his time in office. Osama Bin Laden is dead. We are no longer involved in the war in Iraq.

Through the Affordable Care Act, 18 million Americans have health insurance now who didn’t before. This has affected my family personally–when Jonathan was unemployed last year and couldn’t be added to my health insurance, he was able to get affordable health insurance through the ACA. And because I work at a small non-profit now, we purchase our own health insurance and get partially reimbursed for my individual coverage. I’m not sure if we would have been able to afford that without the ACA.

So when Hillary says she is going to defend President Obama’s accomplishments and build upon them, that means something to me. I think we’ve seen a lot of good things happen in the last eight years, and for the country to continue to go in the right direction the new President will need to build on that positive momentum, not tear it down.

Also, one last thing: There is no conceivable reality in which I would vote for Donald Trump for President. 

So there’s that.

What do you think? If you would like to share, who are you voting for, and why?

Why I Would Rather Be 28 than 18

Jonathan and I will have been together for 10 years this November. 10 years! That is over a third of my life. I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how I have changed over the last 10 years, and I think I’ve changed quite a bit, in mainly good ways. Holly Love at 28 is a different person than Holly Gushee was at 18.

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Check out these babies! I was 19 here, but close enough.

People talk a lot about “the best years of your life,” as in, “enjoy college, those are the best years of your life.” I find statements like this problematic. If certain years really are the best of your life, what about the rest of your life? Is it just all downhill from there?

I like to take a different approach. Common sense says to me that there are good and not-so-good parts of each different life stage, and that we should appreciate the best parts of the stage that we are in. And I’ve realized the best parts of my current stage are pretty awesome. Adulting has some good things about it, amirite? Here’s what I’m enjoying about being an “older” young adult:

  1. I’m not afraid to ask for what I need.

If I want something–at home, at work, etc.–I’ve learned that it’s okay to say so. It’s fine to say at work that I have too much going on and that I can’t take on another project. It’s fine to tell Jonathan that for my mental and physical health I want to make going to yoga a priority, and that we should be able to spare the money for me to do it. If I need something, I’ve learned to verbalize it and to advocate for it. It sounds so simple, but this isn’t something that I did much as a “younger” young adult, and this is something I’ve also noticed in the younger people that I work with. It’s so much more effective to directly say what you need than to hint around it, keep it to yourself and then get upset when you don’t get it.

2. I appreciate my body more for what it can do than for how it looks.

Having a child has fundamentally changed the way I feel about my body, for the better. Carrying, giving birth to and nurturing Jonah with my own body has helped me appreciate my body for the amazing things that it can do, and has helped me to cut myself a little slack for my body’s imperfections. Case in point: I am currently trying to lose about 8-10 pounds. Four years ago, I would have been pretty obsessed about this and upset that I was having a hard time fitting into my size 4 jeans. Now, it’s something that I’m working on, but it’s nowhere near my main concern.

3. I know the true value of money and material blessings.

Nothing will teach you the true value of money than going through a time in your life where you don’t have much of it. I had a very blessed childhood and young adulthood. This past year money was kind of tight for Jonathan and me, and it’s increased my feelings of thankfulness for what we have.

4. Some of my ideals have died. 

I planned to be a teacher forever. I wanted to change the world. But I’ve learned that my family and my mental health are more important. I don’t have to be involved in direct service to make a difference in the world.

5. I’ve learned that not everyone is just like me.

This is a big one. The first step to empathy is realizing that many, many people have a difference experience of life than you do. Since being out in the world, I have been exposed to many different kinds of people, and I’ve realized 1) my privilege and 2) that not everyone experiences life in exactly the same way as an upper middle-class Southern Christian white girl. Once you really get a glimpse of what life is like for others, it is much easier to love, and much harder to judge. (Many politicians need to learn this! *cough* *Donald Trump* *cough*)

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Present-day Holly, Jonathan and Jonah

What have you learned as you have gotten older? How has growing older changed you for the better?