There’s been a marked increase in challenges of children’s books that combat racism and immigrant bias. With social media and citizen journalism, there have been many instances of police brutality that have been recorded in the past couple of years. With this, the rise of challenges of children’s books addressing police brutality and racism such as Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story About Racial Injustice by Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins, and Ann Hazzard and illustrated by Jennifer Zivoin.
The Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association (MPPOA) is the largest association representing public safety professionals in Minnesota. Recently, MPPOA challenged a reading and use of Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story About Racial Injustice, which describes a recent police shooting in the town and two perspectives, a white and black family. Each family had multiple views about the police shooting.
The MPPOA stated explicitly in the letter to Minnesota Governor Tim Walz that they “request the state to cease the recommendation and use of this book as a form of instruction for elementary aged children and request a follow-up conversation on the approval process of this book.” The association cited concerns like the books says that “cops are “mean to black people” or “shot them because they were black” or police officers “stick up for each other” to help police officers get away with doing bad things.” The letter also says that the “book encourages children to fear police officers as unfair, violent, and racist.”
While not mentioned in the statement, the book was taught in Quorsho Hassan’s fourth-grade classroom. Hassan is Minnesota’s 2020 Teacher of the Year, a fourth-grade teacher at Echo Park Elementary in Burnsville, and the first Somali American Teacher of the Year. She read the picture book to discuss George Floyd’s dying at the hands of the police. George Floyd’s death happened close to their town in Minneapolis, which is about a 20-minute drive away from Burnsville.
Hassan explains to the Sahan Journal, a non-profit digital newsroom that reports for and about immigrants and refugees in Minnesota, that the statement took some sentences out of context from the book.
“They chose to grab certain sentences to make it look like I was teaching my students to hate cops,” Hassan said to the Sahan Journal. “What I was doing is I was validating my students’ fear of cops that’s real and that I also have. But also making sure that they’re aware that police respond and interact with people differently based on how they look and how they talk. And that needs to be something that we talk about at schools.”
MPPOA’s letter concludes with a request that the Minnesota Department of Health and the Minnesota Department of Education stop recommending the book and cease using it in lesson plans for elementary-aged children. The Minnesota Department of Health and The Minnesota Department of Education issued a joint statement standing with their recommendation that the book helps students talk and upack about issues about race.
Also, there’s been a marked increase in aggression and bias toward immigrants in the form of open hostility and physical aggression. The author Kelly Yang addresses racism and bias against immigrants in Front Desk, a middle-grade book challenged by parents Melanie and Michael Cohen in the Lower Merion School District in Pennsylvania.
The parents stated that they did not think it was the school district’s responsibility to teach anti-racism that it lies with parents to teach anti-racism and moral values. Also, they remarked that the implementation of an anti-racism curriculum is racist to white children because it is indoctrinating children that white people are inherently racist.
The color blindness and lack of cultural awareness in Cohen’s’ statement are alarming:
“We should encourage our children to find a commonality to establish friendships and personal connection. Our children have friends of many colors and religions. They only see them as people, playmates, classmates, other kids,” said the Cohens.
How can you be friends with someone of color without understanding the culture from where they come from and their lived experiences — Good or bad.
Some parents think that the study of white privilege and racism in schools is detrimental to black children. Elana Yaron Fishbein, a Philadelphia mom and social worker, created the No Left Turn in Education organization that posted Cohen’s letter to the Lower Merion School District on Facebook.
Fishbein believes that cultural proficiency programs will raise a generation of black children who will lack responsibility and learn to play the victim because of anti-racism messages. This rhetoric hinders the progress of anti-racism education and ultimately leads to book challenges in schools.
Kelly Yang responded to Cohen’s challenge in a statement on Twitter that kids can relate to kids from other experiences, like using the lens of empathy that “our experiences matter. We matter. The purpose of school is to prepare kids for the world so they can grow up to be responsible adults and help change the world. How are they going to change it if they don’t understand what people from all walks of life are going through?”
Frankly, this nation has built its strength on the back of slavery. Slavery is the manifestation of racism. As a nation, we’ve lived on the other side of the Jim Crow laws for less time than they were around to oppress BIPOC folks. Slavery has afforded white people a 400-year head start, so at this point, anti-racism must be addressed in books and the classroom. Racism is systemic, and so the dismantling of it must be systemic.
Challenges of books expressing other lived experiences protected by the U.S. Constitution are a missed opportunity for parents to explain and educate their children about different lived experiences.
Before joining Lynn University as an outreach librarian, Sabine was a teacher and librarian at YOUmedia Miami, a media technology program at the Miami-Dade Public Library System for teens and before that was a content specialist in programming and production with WPBT-TV South Florida PBS in Miami. Currently, she is an adjunct professor at Lynn University’s College of Communication and Design, and is one of the primary faculty advisors for the student newspaper, iPulse. As an outreach librarian at the Lynn Library, her research specialties and liaison area are to the Communication and Education students. Sabine is writing her first book on empathy-based library marketing and communications and how to be equitable and inclusive in libraries with ALA-ACRL. Her Master’s degree in Library and Information Science and Master’s degree in Mass Media and Journalism are from Clarion University in Pennsylvania.