[Image description: A mixed-media collage featuring a white child looking pained with a ripped blue heart shape over their chest. Next to them, text reads: “But connecting means opening. And opening sometimes feels…like breaking.” From Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness, by Anastasia Higginbotham.]
The following text is excerpted from my interview with Anastasia Higginbotham. All images in this post are her intellectual property, and are used with permission. FTC Disclosure: Dottir Press sent me a free review copy of Not My Idea in hopes I’d like it (AND I DO!) – Ashia
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…and I do mean deadly, is when we let racism be about someone else.
When white parents speak of racism as someone else’s problem – that all we can do is ‘sympathize’ or ‘offer support,’ this is 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.
Maker Spotlight: An Interview With Anastasia Higginbotham
Author, Social Justice Advocate, Artist & Mother
[Image description: A mixed-media collage featuring a child with light brown skin drinking milk. From off the page, someone says “We have something to tell you.” From Divorce Is The Worst, by Anastasia Higginbotham.]
When white parents are like ‘I don’t know what to do,’ and ‘I don’t want to get it wrong,’ that’s a 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.
More books you might like: Captivating Stories to Recognize Your Privilege
Racism was programmed into you without your consent.
Be mad about that. You never agreed to carry it forward.
We should 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. Living under white supremacy is soul-crushing and has us as accomplices to genocide and mass murder 24/7.
You can be white without signing on to whiteness.
[Image description: A mixed-media collage featuring Black and White American civil rights activists. From Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness, by Anastasia Higginbotham.]
This moment is the chance of a lifetime
You have an invitation to be part of something that transforms and heals the world. Dismantling white supremacy is joyful, heart-expanding work. It’s also delicate, highly technical work that’s satisfying to get good at.
We get to shut down white supremacy. Imagine how that will feel! We can ground ourselves in a love for justice, and the truth will come into focus. We can model that kind of fierce love and courage for our kids.
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. 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. As DeRay Mckesson, says: ‘Watch whiteness work.’
The shootings keep me up at night
As a parent of white sons in the U.S., my challenge is to counteract a culture that is non-stop 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 in that way.
I stay up wondering does everyone know how much I love them? Am I showing it as well as telling it? Am I feeding the channels that feed the people who need it — whether the need is love, or shelter, or justice, or sanctuary, or acceptance, or all of these?
There’s a chance to do some good here.
[Image description: Pages from Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness, in progress on a cutting mat. Text on the pages reads: “Go with your instincts on this one. Racial justice is possible. But only if we’re honest with each other and ourselves.”]
None of this is okay
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 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.
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. The child gets nourished along the way, whether by nature, a therapist, 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.
From The Ordinary Terrible Things Series
Does your community offer books to help kids navigate difficult situations? If not, donate a book to your local school or library.
Because I’ve got my own ignorant spots to deal with, I made assumptions on the gender of her characters. I was delighted to be corrected by Anastasia – these characters are non-binary. Captions are for when my kids (or BFL readers) were able to get the gist of the book, but the official age range for most of these books is 8+. Click here to check out our discussion on Tell Me About Sex, Grandma in the BFL Facebook group thread on sex education. – Ashia
When grown ups try to hide scary things from kids…it’s usually because they’re scared too.
Not My Idea is a 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.
I want to shake us free from our delusions and call us into community. This book is 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.
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 us.
Our responsibility is to make it look easy because it is easy.
Not easy in the sense of ‘it’s easy to fix this’ – it’s not.
But it’s easy to care about, easy to be stirred up. Once you really care about something, change comes easier.
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.
Anastasia credits the Black women who fired her understanding of how to dismantle white supremacy: Noleca Anderson Radway, Executive Director of the Brooklyn Free School; Reverend angel Kyodo williams, Zen priest and co-author of Radical Dharma: Talking Race, Love, and Liberation; Anyanwu Uwa, Co-Founder & Executive Director of The Human Root, and The Black Lives Matter Movement.
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