This Book Is Anti-Racist: 20 Lessons on How to Wake Up, Take Action, and Do the Work

Book review by
Lucinda Dyer, Common Sense Media
This Book Is Anti-Racist: 20 Lessons on How to Wake Up, Take Action, and Do the Work Book Poster Image
Empowering activist guide to defying and disrupting racism.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Glossary at back defines words ("cisgender," "neurotypical," "oppression," "chattel slavery," "ancestral trauma," "Latinx") the author feels important enough to be underlined and in bold in text. Includes list of books for further reading (both nonfiction and fiction), select bibliography (primarily books for adult readers), and short list of documentaries.

Positive Messages

Racism is a part of our world, but it doesn't have to be. Every action you take gives you a chance to learn and grow. Own who you are and who you're going to be. Love yourself as well as those around you.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Briefly profiles several role models in fight against racism who readers may never have learned about in class: Toussaint L'ouverture and Jean-Jacques Dessalines (both formerly enslaved) were leaders of successful rebellion that freed Haiti from French control. Yuri Kochiyama spent a lifetime resisting racism, working for rights of the marginalized. She worked with Black activists, advocated for Puerto Rican liberation, protested Vietnam War, called for reparations to be paid to Japanese Americans wrongfully interned. Richard (White) and Mildred (Black and Indigenous) Loving were plaintiffs in landmark case in which U.S. Supreme Court struck down state laws banning interracial marriage.

Violence

Mentions but no graphic descriptions of stabbing death of a young Black British man by gang of White men, the police bombing of a townhouse in Philadelphia where members of a Black liberation group lived, and the killings of Trayvon Martin, Philandro Castile, and Sandra Bland.

Sex
Language

Growing up, author Tiffany Jewell was sometimes called a mulatto rather than biracial. "Mulatto," she explains to readers, means a young mule, the offspring of horse and donkey. The term came into use because racist people often compared biracial children to mules. She cautions readers that the term is racist and should never be used.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Tiffany Jewell didn't write This Book Is Anti-Racist: 20 Lessons on How to Wake Up, Take Action, and Do The Work for readers who want to continue to sit back and do nothing. This is a tough, in your face, stand up and be heard book that challenges the idea that young readers (even those in grade school) can't make a difference in the fight against racism. It's organized into four sections that focus on identity, history, taking action and responding to racism, and working in solidarity with others. These are tough topics -- most kids have never thought about their "social identity" or how they might spend their "privilege" -- but Jewell presents everything in a way that both remains accessible and never talks down to readers. This is a book that parents can, and hopefully will, read along their kids. The Activities section at the end of each chapter (for example, create a list of your identities, notice who has power in the world, write a family history, make a list of all the possible outcomes when two young Black men are stopped by the police, describe your vision of justice) will give both adults and young readers an opportunity to reflect and act on what they've learned. References to violence include the stabbing death of a young Black British man by a gang of White men, the police bombing of a townhouse in Philadelphia where members of a Black liberation group lived, and the killings of Trayvon Martin, Philandro Castile, and Sandra Bland.

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What's the story?

THIS BOOK IS ANTI-RACIST begins with "Waking Up: Understanding and Growing into Your Identities," a section that challenges readers to discover their own identity and explores the concepts of race and ethnicity and the differences between personal and institutional racism. "Opening the Window: Making Sense of the World" looks at the importance of knowing your own history, pivotal events in the history of racism, and stories of those who fought against it. The chapters in this section take on (without overwhelming readers with too much information) colonization, colonial rule, the slavery trade, the revolt of the enslaved in Haiti, Caribbean immigration to Great Britain, and the civil rights movement. "Choosing My Path: Taking Action and Responding to Racism" asks readers to build on what they've learned in the previous chapters to learn how to stand up, speak out, and even disrupt when necessary. "Holding the Door Open: Working in Solidarity Against Racism" includes a long and specific list of ways readers can be an ally to those fighting racism: Read books by and about the Global Majority; recognize when you hear racist phrases or see racist behavior and report it to a principal, parent, or trusted adult; stand up against anti-immigrant attitudes and police brutality. Throughout the book, Jewell uses "folx" instead of folks because it's a gender-neutral term created by activists. She also doesn't use the term "minority" in describing people of color because, she rightly points out, they are the majority in the world.

Is it any good?

A powerful blend of activism and optimism, this is a book for young readers who want to step up, speak out, take action, and see the world in a whole new way. This Book Is Anti-Racist offers parents and kids an opportunity to talk about subjects that may rarely, or perhaps never, have been discussed. What's our family history? Did our ancestors fight against racism or enable it? Do we have privileges simply because of our skin color? Do we speak out against racism and injustice, or have we been taught to stay silent? Why is remaining silent no longer OK?

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what This Book Is Ant-Racist taught them about discovering their own identities. Are there parts of your identity that give you special privileges or power in your school or community? Are there parts of your identity that exist outside of the dominant culture in your school or community?

  • If you hear someone using a racial slur or a "microaggression," what's the best way to deal with the situation? When should you call someone "in" and when should you call them "out"?

  • If you were packing an "anti-racist toolbox," what would you put in it?

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