Discussing structural racism with children: a strategy to promote social justice and health equity
Reviewed By Jon Michael Miller for Readers’ Favorite
The Cycle of a Dream: A Kid’s Introduction to Structural Racism in America by Kimberly Narain is an easy and direct short book describing the origins and the development of systemic racism in the United States. It is beautifully illustrated by Mike Motz, who demonstrates and focuses the reader’s attention on the topic under discussion. The book hits all the high-water marks of this disgraceful history without oversimplifying them too much. Though it places the onus of the ingrained system on whites, understandably so, it makes clear that not all whites have been prejudiced. Dr. Narain defines key terms: settler, slavery/slave, slave master, plantation, abolitionist, segregation, white flight, protest, and boycott. Though condemnation of white domination is inferred, the tone of the book is not accusatory, but leaves little doubt, especially in the illustrations, of where proper blame lies. But Dr. Narain does not leave us with a feeling of accusation but with a hope that by most people using her list of actions racism can finally be overcome.
As I (a white) read through this book, I tried to imagine myself back in the fifth or sixth grade when actually I was reading oversimplified and highly idealized biographies of our presidents. I’m pretty sure I would have come out of this book with a different attitude than I began, a clearer understanding of our history from a black point of view. I’m sure I’d have been angry about the horrific underbelly of our nation’s history. I might go home and show my mom and ask if it’s all true. “Separate water fountains, really?” I’m not sure what she might have said, but I am absolutely sure that many whites, even adults, would benefit from the simplicity and directness of Dr. Narain’s storytelling. It’s an ugly story, but beautifully presented, and perhaps some justice is finally emerging, as this book indicates, after a long and horrendous struggle.
This book stunningly and honestly lays the story bare. So, just as an experiment, I showed the manuscript on the screen to my seventh-grade grandson, asked him to read it and tell me what he thinks. I knew he would understand the story—it couldn’t have been more clearly presented. Between studies and sports, it took us only half an hour to finish it together. “Don’t worry, Grandpa,” he said. “There was a lot that was wrong, but we can make it better.” So, Dr. Narain’s book did its job, at least in this case, and I think it’s an important small step for mankind. I hope educators will incorporate it into their teaching. Though black kids will realize their history and feel its pain, white kids may emerge from reading it with more empathy for the present situation faced by many contemporary blacks.