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Anastasia Higginbotham: Not My Idea

via Anastasia Higginbotham

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Good to know

  • Dottir Press reached out to me to see if I was interested in reading Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness. I was like, mmmokay maybe. I had low expectations.
  • They sent me a free copy. This book had me hopping up and down, I was so excited. I’ve been looking for a book like this for YEAAARS.
  • I immediately reached out to Dottir to ask if Anastasia was interested in doing a Maker Spotlight.

Sneak peek: Anastasia Higginbotham’s Maker Spotlight Interview

Anastasia Higginbotham – June 15, 2018

What inspired you to create 'Not My Idea?'
My answer is a who and a what. Who inspired me were Black women: Noleca Anderson
Radway, Brooklyn Free School Executive Director; Reverend angel Kyodo williams, Zen
priest and co-author of Radical Dharma: Talking Race, Love, and Liberation; Anyanwu
Uwa, The Human Root Co-Founder and Executive Director. Noleca made me see white
power in action and in myself; Rev. angel dared me to connect with my deepest
conditioning into whiteness and grow from a place of heartbreak; Anyanwu saw me as
worthy. The effect was to remove veil after veil (it’s still happening) of illusions I had
about my ability as a white woman to dismantle white supremacy inside my own mind
first. What inspired me was the Black Lives Matter Movement and what it shows us
about state-sanctioned murders of Black women, men, trans people and kids by police,
plus no accountability for those crimes and new ones committed against the BLM
activists themselves.

Who is this book for, in terms of age range, race, privilege, and communities?
I conceived the book for white children of open-minded white parents who have been
misled – as I was – into believing racial justice is going to happen eventually, like it’s all
going to work out somehow. It’s a kind of magical thinking, whiteness mindset and a
distortion of Dr. MLK, Jr.’s words: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends
toward justice.” Trusting that things will work out is not what he meant. I want to shake
us free from our delusions and call us into community. I made the book as a tool for
white people to circle up, read and educate ourselves, talk it out, cry, and fight it out too.
That was the original idea—but I am now surprised to find that Black and brown people
use the book with Black and brown children. This reveals another layer of my ignorance.
I believed that Black and brown people already know everything about race, and it’s
only the white people who are confused. But while white people are confused about
forces of white supremacy working through us, Black and brown people are confused
(and traumatized and exhausted) by navigating systems of oppression—including white
people like me and my kids who don’t always know when we’re doing it. We all need to
to learn how to see white supremacy where it lurks (in us!) so we can weaken its control
over our thoughts and behaviors. Now I know my books are for everybody, all the skin
tones, whatever your privilege is, ages 8 and up.

What single takeaway do you want readers to get from this book?
This moment now is the chance of a lifetime—an invitation to be part of something that
can transform and heal the world. We get to shut down white supremacy. Imagine how
that will feel! Living under white supremacy is soul-crushing and basically has us as
accomplices to genocide and mass murder 24/7. Dismantling white supremacy is joyful,
heart-expanding work. It’s also delicate, highly technical work that’s satisfying to get

good at. Kids love playing spy. Be a spy, man. Catch whiteness lying to you and your
friends. Catch it stealing your soul. Catch it doing wrong. As DeRay Mckesson, @deray,
says: “Watch whiteness work.” We have to find out how bad it hurts us to collude with
white supremacy—then we get to find out how good it feels to give that up.

How do you feel about the way white parents have handled topics about race?
What common excuses and reactions keep popping up?
What’s deadly, and I do mean deadly, is when we let racism be about someone else.
Every time white parents speak of racism as something another group is going through
and all we can do is sympathize or offer support, this is very harmful. Imagine a
husband saying his wife has a problem with domestic violence, “She keeps getting
beaten. She tries and tries but the fist keeps landing on her.” Whose fist??? If you stop
beating her, one of her problems is solved immediately. She still has the trauma of your
violence, the mistrust, and the fact that no place on earth feels safe. But you could stop
actively punching her, you know? Now. Do it now.
When white parents are like “I don’t know what to do,” and “I don’t want to get it wrong,”
that’s a very helpless starting place and inhibits our growth. Blunder on! But here’s
something that has to happen for it to work: your heart has to break. It has to. Learning
the truth about how we have upheld white supremacy is heartbreaking. When I think of
how much damage I’ve done I don’t feel guilty, I feel sick. In my gut. When I’m sick,
what do I do? I study and try to understand my illness so I can heal. I try to find the best
medicine and take it as directed until I see improvement. Education is medicine.
Community is medicine. The truths that Black and brown people have been telling us for
centuries are medicine. Side effects include: pain, heartbreak, and an incredible urge to
love everyone a lot more. Let’s do this for ourselves, for each other and with each other
as white people.
Also, pause and consider that you never agreed to carry racism forward. It was
programmed into you without your consent. Be mad about that. We should all be furious
at the lies we’ve been made to believe, the education we’ve been denied, the ways
we’ve been manipulated—paid off basically, to keep quiet. We can ground ourselves in
a love for justice, make it the thing we want most of all, and the truth will come into
focus. We can model that kind of fierce love and courage for our kids.

Why is it important for white authors and illustrators to use their privilege and
challenge other white folks to fight for racial justice?
It’s important for everyone with influence and an an audience to focus on racial justice,
infuse it into everything. Small business, big corporation. Every industry. Everybody has
impact on someone or some little piece of the world, which means everybody could
have a positive and healing, transformative impact. Our responsibility is to make it look
easy because it is easy. Not easy in the sense of “we can fix this”—we can’t. But it’s
easy to care about, easy to be stirred up. Once you really care about something,
change comes easier.

 

What is the Ordinary Terrible Things series, and how is it different from other
children's books?
Each book in the Ordinary Terrible Things series starts in a moment of everyday crisis:
your parents just told you about the divorce, a loved one has died, your search for
answers about sex has left you bewildered and full of shame. I center the child there
and let them walk through it. I make sure the child gets nourished along the way,
whether by nature or a therapist or an attuned parent or straight-talking grandmother.
The narrator’s job is to let the whole situation be how it is and bring compassion. Watch
how this kid pulls together the very resources they need to be okay, for now. It’s not
meant to teach but to show: You are already doing this. Those wild feelings you’re
having, the short temper, the ruined sleep, and no concentration??? That’s your wisdom
showing itself to you, making you listen. You were born with that. Pay attention.
My series is different because it doesn’t solve problems or explain life in a way that
makes things right in the end. It says, “Yeah, none of this is okay, but it’s happening
anyway. How are you? What’s this like for you?” That’s different—and can be very
threatening. Parenting is stressful and we want to be lied to a little: “Tell my kids they’re
safe.” But I really disliked being lied to as a child. I want kids ready and empowered to
stand in the truth of their own lives. That’s as safe as it gets.

Do you participate in any other projects or organizations that BFL's Incendiaries
might find interesting?
I’m a huge fan of The Human Root – that’s Anyanwu Uwa’s company – which is
integrating Not My Idea into its anti-bias work with schools. I recommend following
Reverend angel Kyodo Williams—you can hear her talks online, find out if she’s
teaching near you, register for free webinars about justice, love, and liberation, or just
support her work. I’m also a big proponent of Brooklyn Free School whose mission is
social justice and they let kids play hard every single day.

If you are a parent – what challenges do you face in raising kids in the
US/whichever country you live in?
As a parent of white sons in the U.S., my challenge is to counteract a culture that is
nonstop shouting lies at them all the time about their superiority and importance above
everyone else. My work is to show them the lies without diminishing or degrading them.
Also I’m aware they might experience a mass shooting here, and they or their friends or
family members might be killed right in front of them.

What keeps you up at night? Either from excitement for the future, or worries?
Well, the shooting thing can keep me up. I stay up wondering does everyone know how
much I love them? Am I showing it as well as telling it? I wonder am I feeding the
channels that feed the people who need it most—whether the need is love or shelter or
justice or sanctuary or acceptance or all of these? I get upset if the answers are no. I

get excited and alert when the answers are yes. Yes, you’re doing what you meant to
do. Yes, those people are wonderful and you get to love them. Yes, there’s a chance to
do some good here.

How can Incendiaries support the work you do?
This interview is incredibly supportive. I’d love if you would review Not My Idea. Also,
my sex book came out quietly in 2017 and a lot of people have not heard of it. If you
ever do something about sexuality education for kids, would you consider featuring Tell
Me About Sex, Grandma?

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