Here’s the deal. Not all classrooms are created equal. Not all children go to a school that is diverse in skin color or socioeconomic status. Some are still very segregated, which is a whole other messed up subject. I was recently discussing cultural appropriation in the classroom with one of my Facebook groups and this is what I had to offer after many fantastic suggestions from my peers across the country:
“I would work in something about how often when having “culturally appropriate material” or reflecting our kids, we only have books about black/brown kids being black/brown. (Chocolate Me, I’m a Pretty Little Black Girl, I Love My Hair). While it is imperative that our kids’ blackness is celebrated, it’s also vital to have books with brown kids just being kids. (Goggles, Shortcut , Rachel Isadora fairy tale books, etc) Because we would never have books about white kids trying to feel good about their skin color because it’s assumed that people already accept them. Many of these other books (although good intentioned) come from an assumption that brown kids feel bad about the color of their skin/ hair, so here’s a book to tell you that you are ok and accepted. And if you didn’t feel bad before, now you know that society assumes you should.”
Kids need to see themselves in the literature. Like REALLY see a reflection of who they are. And guess what? My kids are kids who love being kids.
Let’s be real. I am a white woman. I teach a classroom full of students who I do not look like. My classroom is not diverse. . . at all. That is the reality we currently live in. When I began teaching, I just bought books that I thought were great read-alouds. I’m not joking, I didn’t have a library that reflected my kids, but rather books that reflected the classrooms I grew up in (mostly white and scattered with diversity). The more I became aware of my own privilege/fragility, I realized that I had to have books that reflected my kids. . .
Except I DIDN’T.
Enter my White Savior period. I stocked my library with books like “Chocolate Me!” and “Nappy Hair.” Books that are telling black kids that it’s okay to be black. Books that are all about black kids being black, rather than black kids being kids. Now, don’t get me wrong. I was celebrating their blackness but coming from the assumption that society does not think that they should innately feel good about being black. I read books about Harriet Tubman, MLK, and Rosa Parks. I felt 100% confident that I was representing my children and that I had literature that reflected them.
I’ll never forget reading, “Big Hair Don’t Care” and telling my kids how beautiful they were. One of my little girls said, “Are there really people who don’t like my hair? My mom always tells me that my hair is beautiful.” I realized then and there that she was already comfortable with who she was. I assumed, as does our world, that she may have felt bad and I wanted to validate her beauty. All I did was tell her that there are people who do not celebrate her beauty. I gave her this dose of the ugly cruelty in our society before she ever needed it. I was contributing to the oppressive system that is made for people like me, rather than making it better. I tell people this and they say, “but your intent was good.” My intent was naive. My intent was lacking. My intent was not and is not enough.
Then about 6 years ago… enter my work wife, Chris. I walked into my current school with such a savior mentality. Without making it sound like she was ever talking about me and to me, she would discuss white teachers who just have books about Harriet Tubman and cooking pies with Grandma in the South. She would talk about what a disservice it is that our school has all white women teaching our brown/black kids and the decor on our walls, the words we use, the strategies implemented, and library are not even close to a reflection of our kids. Chris may be the greatest teacher I know, because she teaches in a way that makes real change. I heard her entirely and hung onto every word she said (I still do). I understood and I made change.
I’ll never forget her description of “Goggles!” (Ezra Jack Keats). She said, “That is one of my favorite books because it is a story about real kids playing outside, getting into a predicament, and having to use their smarts and problem-solving skills to get out of a sticky situation. The characters in the story reflect our kids not only in skin color and age, but they ARE JUST BEING KIDS.”
My kids can see themselves in that.
I still have books that are celebrating blackness- and I always will. But my classroom library is now a REFLECTION of my students. They are black. They are kids. There is not diversity in my school. Therefore, the books they see are not either. At the end of the day, I want my kids to see themselves in the literature. I want them to feel fully represented, seen, and heard.
I have been extremely vocal about this throughout the past few years and have done GoFundMe’s and advocated for this fight in more classrooms than I can count. I have had numerous teachers over the last four years or so reach out to me asking for a comprehensive list. Finally, here is a tiny start to what is in my library. This took a ton of time to gather the images and links, so I appreciate any feedback or suggestions. I am not in my classroom yet, so this is all from memory and past Amazon orders. 🙂
I am not perfect. I am growing constantly. I want to do right by my kids for the right reasons. I may make changes/updates as I move forward and am grateful for my fellow accomplices in this fight.
I also want it to be clear that these are affiliate links and although it is a very small amount, if you click on the link and then purchase, my son and I will receive a tiny percentage of that money. Choose to use them or not because at the end of the day, I want my journey and these books accessible to teachers who teach a population like mine. This is a tiny way for me to not only be compensated for a list that I could not find and spent many days gathering, but also it’s a way for me to track how many classrooms will benefit from this blog post.
Let me know how your classroom library is doing and THANK YOU for taking the time to reflect and represent your students.
CLICK ON THE IMAGE OR………
FIND AN * A L P H A B E T I C A L * L I S T * WHEN YOU SCROLL TO THE BOTTOM ***
*Images are in no particular order. When I uploaded, this is the order chosen and I’m too scared to try and move any of the images. 🙂