Antiracist Baby by Ibram X. Kendi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Digital Review Copy (DRC) provided by Edelweiss+ and Penguin Random House in exchange for an honest review.
“Antiracist baby is bred, not born.
Antiracist Baby is raised to make society transform” (p. 3).
It is so sad, yet so true that children are never too young to experience racism. And it is way past overdue that they are given the stories and tools to also be able to learn what it means to be antiracist as soon as possible. This book gives children and their families nine potent teaching tools distilled by Kendi into easy to memorize mantras to begin to understand antiracist education and learn to recognize racist language, behaviors, and policies in the process. These lessons are measured out in a loving, rhyming world of brightly illustrated families and communities by Ashley Lukashevsky.
I wish I had had this book in 2011. When my son, who is Ethiopian-American, was three years old, we were walking through the school doors to go to his Preschool class and a little white girl grabbed the door at the same time, looked at our boy holding my hand and said flatly, “I don’t like brown skin. Brown skin is ugly.” Thunderstruck and horrified, I took a huge breath, got down to her level, she must have been just a bit older than my son, and said, “All skin is beautiful no matter what color. My son has beautiful brown skin. I love his beautiful brown skin.” If a four year-old could scoff, she did, and ran away. And I’m still not sure if our boy, who was still learning English, understood what had just happened. He just wanted to run to his cubby, put his things away, and go see his friends. He just wanted to be a student at our school who could walk through a door without being told his skin was ugly.
Later, when I reported/shared this story with a member of our administration, they told me that that wasn’t racism, that racism did not happen in our school, when I just told them with tears in my eyes that it had absolutely happened in our school that very morning. Besides, they went on, international schools “didn’t see color” because they were more diverse than any other schools due to the variety of nationalities we had in our student populations (we had over 60 at the time).
This experience, where my international school community’s false belief that focusing on “flags, food and fun” of intercultural understanding was enough to call ourselves a diverse learning community without getting into the messy multicultural intersections of race, gender, or class, would have been a moment where I would have grabbed a copy of Antiracist Baby to take to my son’s classroom and the entire Early Childhood program right then and there. Heck, I would have done an immediate read-aloud right in the school administration’s office.
We are all human. We can stand by that claim and still acknowledge our many joyful and unique differences. When we use the phrase “we don’t see color” and somehow expect children to not see color, it does not work because children are truth-tellers (just ask any mom whose roots are showing and their child notices and starts to point it out loudly in a checkout line) and they do see color just like they know who is tallest in the class. Children always notice differences, they know adults are lying when we pretend not to:
“Antiracist Baby learns all the colors, not because race is true.
If you claim to be color-blind, you deny what’s right in front of you” (p. 6-7).
Children are never too young to learn about their power to acknowledge and celebrate the strength in the differences between and among a world full of people of so many colors, ethnicities, cultures, and communities. And adults can take pages from Kendi’s book, pages 20 and 21 to be exact, to interrogate their positions on race and embrace the fact that we all can continue to grow. Kendi’s book, so simple and so not, gives us all a primer on how to imagine a world without racism.
And choose our actions accordingly.
Highly recommended for all ages.