Every year, as a country, we take a day in January to honor a dreamer, a man who dreamed of what this country could to be so discharged by what he was. In the same vein, Ibram Kendi in her new children’s book, Hello racism, invites our children to dream like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. of a world that, frankly, should be the reality that all parents are working towards.
I know I have been. For the past decade, as a member of city council, mayor and now as an advocate, I have worked to create equal opportunity and end structural violence. I launched the first basic income program run by mayors in the country as mayor of Stockton, Calif., and now leads a coalition of 80 mayors doing the same with Mayors for a guaranteed income, a non-profit organization trying to make King’s dream of a guaranteed income a reality in America. I am also the founder of Ending Poverty in California, an organization focused on changing the narrative around poverty to enact policies aimed at eliminating poverty in the Golden State. As a black father with black children, good night racism resonated with my aspirations for a society worthy of my precious children.
When the book’s child protagonist falls asleep, Kendi reminds us that the moon, the elements, the universe, and indeed the Creator, have the same desires for all of us: that every child be safe, nurtured, loved, that it reaches its full potential. Under the cover of night, the child is able to conceptualize a brighter day, a day that brings peace to the nightmare that many live in a country where poverty, inequality and violence are rampant.
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The power of the dream and the hope it inspires allow us to finally say goodbye to racism, goodbye to inequality and goodbye to neglect, provided that when the child wakes up, adults join in creating the world that we all deserve. live. And there is no one more deserving than our children.
Yet the timing of this book is almost antithetical to the child’s dream. The racial wealth gap between black and white Americans hasn’t moved since 1964; COVID-19 has ravaged communities of colorand especially women of color; Black people are murdered by white supremacist terrorists while shopping; children are murdered on their way to school; the child tax credit, a lifeline to meet the material needs of children, has not been renewed after Congressional Republicans (and Democratic Senator Joe Manchin) blocked it; right to vote and the rights of LGBTQIA youth and children are under attack in Republican-led states; and books like Hello racism, who recognize race and injustice, are be banned in the states of the country.
Kendi knows this well, given her vast scholarship on how difference and racism have literally been woven into the fabric of this country from the start. As a historian, he also knows the complex reality of times like this, where it is easy to fall into nihilism but alternatively feel the urgency to fight for justice. The moment we find ourselves in clearly requires new visions and new imaginations of what we can be. We must dream of something better, if not for ourselves, at least for our children. They are the anchors of our dreams, the manifestation of what can be born even under the most trying conditions.
When I read good night racism to my 2.5-year-old son, his first words were “Dad, she’s sleeping,” excitedly pointing to the main protagonist. Even at his age, he recognizes sleep and rest as necessary and universal: I sleep, she sleeps, we all sleep, because indeed we are all human and have the same basic needs.
“Reading with my son, nothing we dreamed about seemed radical or even confusing to him.”
good night racism is written with children in mind, but it is also a great example for adults of what is lost in the exhaustion of living in a time of great division and economic insecurity. Reading with my son, nothing we dreamed about seemed radical or even confusing to him. I asked him, “Should everyone eat?” He looked at me like it was a silly question, clapped his hands and said, “Yes!
“Should Everyone Be Loved?” I continued. “Yes Dad!” he asserted.
The most enduring part of Kendi’s legacy may not be in the spirit he opened with Stamped from the start or the playbook he gave to adults and parents with How to be an anti-racist and anti-racist baby, but in his work reaching out to the youngest among us, enabling children to hold firmly to the lessons of love and equality that seem so obvious and apparent to them, as they did to my son. By continuing to speak with and to children, Kendi does a powerful job of counter-narrative and reminds our babies that their worldview and thinking is rational, even if the dysfunction of the world is not.
As we came to the conclusion, my son remembered one of his favorite books, good night moon, and eagerly joined in saying, “Good night!” to injustice and racism. The author’s dream was not yet “a dream” for my son. Rather, it is his current understanding of the world we live in – that we are true to the ideals we put on paper and the lessons my wife and I teach him. Her reaction to the book reminded us why the work her mother and I do, and our friends and allies, is so important. I don’t want him to wake up to a nightmarish reality. I want him to live a wide awake dream.
Disclosure note: Kendi provided blurb for my book, The Deeper The Roots: A Memoir of Hope and Home.