It began first in 1926, when American historian Carter G Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History decided to dedicate the second week of February in reliving black history — a matter they considered essential in the integration of the race in mainstream America. The movement took its modern avatar much later, in 1969, when teachers and students at Kent State University proposed a Black History Month. The inaugural celebration took place in Kent the following year and continues to be an annual fixture across the US, UK, Canada and Ireland. This week, a look at books on overcoming racial biases:
“The sky is blue during the day and black at night. If colours could talk, they would tell different stories about what they see when it’s their turn to light up the world,” writes parenting expert Doyin Richards in What’s the Difference?, a picture book (2017, appropriate for 3+ years) that approaches race through colour awareness. With illustrations that highlight different skin tones, Richards establishes that, in the end, what matters is what we can achieve together despite our differences in classrooms, homes, workplaces and in society.
The story of William “Bill” Lewis, once a slave on a Tennessee plantation, is brought alive in Hammering for Freedom, a picture book by Rita L Hubbard and illustrated by John Holyfield (2018, Lee and Low Books, appropriate for 7+ years). Because of his craftsmanship, Bill is allowed to keep a little money for himself. How Lewis builds on that pittance to put together $350, the price of his freedom, and then for the rest of his family forms the crux of this endearing and overwhelming tribute to human will.
I Love My Hair, by Natasha Anastasia Tarpley and illustrated by EB Lewis (1998, Hachette, appropriate for 4+ years), is a timeless classic that turned 20 last year. When Keyana is teased in school by her peers for her very curly, very different hair, she takes her hurt and her grouse to her mother — after all, her hair does take a long time to be styled, so maybe, there’s some truth in what her friends say? As her mother tends to her hair, she gently takes Keyana through the cultural and individual identity that her hair represents. This is a book that can set the conversation rolling on race and identity from an early age.
Starr Carter is trying her best to patch together a life of contradictions — the impoverished black neighbourhood she comes from and the prosperous prep school that she attends, where her classmates are mostly white and immune to her struggles. Things come to a pass when Khalil, her best friend, is shot dead by a police officer and Starr is a witness to it. As Khalil is portrayed as a gangster and a drug dealer in the media and pressure piles up on Carter to give in, what will she do? The Hate You Give (2017, HarperCollins, appropriate for 13+ years) by debutante writer Angie Thomas, is a reminder of the systemic racism that our societies are steeped in.