Monday, September 13, 2010

Story Rx: Reading about Racism

Today was my 6 year old's first day of first grade. And as it happened, it was only yesterday that we read Ruby Bridges Goes to School. It's not surprising, because it's one of her favorite books, and we read it at least once a week. But today, I couldn't help but be struck by the bravery of 6 year old Ruby Bridges, the first African American student at a newly integrated elementary school, whose first day of first grade those many years ago was so very different than ours today.

My daughter goes, again and again, to this slim nonfiction volume from Scholastic. She pours over the images, including racist "Whites Only" signs. Now that she can read, she struggles through the words too - including the word "segregation"... a word she pronounced clearly in her little, bell-like voice.

At first, I was nervous that the racism the book describes would be too much for my daughter to bear. We are of color, and discuss prejudice openly - the fact that some people are sometimes cruel to others based on their skin color. I am in fact in agreement with those educators who say that the most sure-fire way to educate anti-racist children is to speak explicitly about racism. Not simply niceties such as "everyone is the same" or "all colors are beautiful." But to articulate to children the realities of prejudice and your own feelings about it - that it is wrong, and that all human beings regardless of color must struggle against racism in all its forms.

And yet, I cannot help my maternal instinct - the desire to protect my littlest one from the cruel realities of this life. Luckily my daughter's own fascination with the story of Ruby Bridges wins out every time - and we return to the brave 6 year old's story again and again.

Today, I cannot help wonder at the bravery of Ruby Bridges' mother - the woman who walked, head down, among those grim-faced Marshalls, through the jeering crowds of bigots, right behind her beautiful, pig-tailed child. Would I have had the courage to send my most precious baby into such a place - no matter how just or righteous the reason?

Ruby Bridges Goes to School is one of our favorite books to talk explicitly about race. Another is Jaqueline Woodson's Show Way. What are yours?

1 comment:

  1. Jaqueline Woodson's Show Way is amazing... and (as we learned) if you ever get a chance to hear her read it aloud -- it will move you to tears.