I live in Northampton, Massachusetts, a bastion of liberal idealism but also one with a population that is almost 88 percent white. The first time I showed up to my child’s school’s Diversity Committee meeting, I was surprised to see I was the only person of color in the room.
What made this more of a blow was that this was something I was very used to. I grew up as the only Asian in a sea of white faces, affecting my identity to such an extent that all my work as a children’s book creator has revolved around its repercussions. Had I just chosen that same path for my own child?
Well, not if I could help it. When I was a child, the way adults dealt with race was by not talking about it. I realize now that it was everyone’s well-meaning way of trying to create racially blind kids, kids who “don’t see color.” But it didn’t feel that way. Instead, I felt as if I had this secret that everyone knew about but never mentioned because it was shameful. In the end, it just made me feel as if there was something wrong with me.
Which is not what I want for my daughter nor for any of her friends. Because now we know all kids are better off if we talk about race in an open and honest way, right from the earliest ages. Because, truly, no one can solve the problems of racial inequity if we can’t even talk about them. But during the Diversity Committee monthly meetings it became clear that, while everyone was well-meaning, most of us were also unused to talking about race—especially with our kids. And, in a population of mainly white people, how could we remedy that?
Of course, to me, the obvious answer was books.
I ended up becoming the chair of the Diversity Committee, and as a group, we decided to spearhead the “Community Book Stop.” With the help of a minor grant from our local grocery store, the River Valley Coop, we are creating a small, free library in the foyer of the school that will feature diverse books. And to help foster conversations, we’re gluing a general reading tip sheet in the front of each book (ex: “Don’t be afraid to bring up challenging topics”) and a blank booklet to the back so parents can record and share their thoughts.
It’s a simple idea but one we think will be effective. If these books are used the way we hope, they should bring conversations about diversity into the home and beyond. And while I know that seems like a small action considering what is needed in the world, I also know everything must begin from a seed. If we’re lucky, this little library, the books in it, and the conversations they bring, will plant the seeds in our kids that we can talk about our problems and, maybe, even fix them.