Ted Cruz has thrust several books into the spotlight after his puzzling questioning during Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing.
During a hearing meant to assess whether Jackson is qualified to serve on the nation’s highest court, the Republican senator referred to critical race theory — an academic concept taught primarily at the college and graduate levels that has since morphed into a policy flashpoint – in K-12 schools.
As part of his interrogation, Cruz presented a handful of books he claims were taught at Georgetown Day School — an elite private school in Washington, DC, of which Jackson sits on the board. Among the titles he mentioned were “Critical Race Theory: An Introductionby Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic; “The end of the policeby Alex S. Vitale and “How to be anti-racistby Ibram X. Kendi.
Cruz, however, focused most of his questions on two children’s books – “Antiracist Baby” and “Stamped (For Kids)”. And his characterizations of those titles were grossly misrepresented.
Since the hearing, two of the titles referenced by Cruz have skyrocketed to topping bestseller lists. For readers curious about the content of children’s books, here’s what it’s really about.
The book: “anti-racist babywritten by Ibram X. Kendi and illustrated by Ashley Lukashevsky. This is a picture book for children.
Requirement: Cruz said he was “stunned” by the ideas in the book.
“Part of the book says, ‘Babies are taught to be racist or anti-racist – there is no neutrality.’ Another part of the book: They recommend that babies ‘confess when they’re racist,'” he said at the hearing. Cruz added that the book is taught to students at Georgetown Day School for older children. ages 4 to 7, asking Jackson, “Do you agree with this book that teaches kids that babies are racist?
Reality: Cruz’s characterization takes ideas found in the book out of context.
In “Antiracist Baby”, Kendi argues that children are not born racist but learn from an early age racist attitudes in the world around them. To counter these messages, writes Kendi, parents and guardians should help children learn to be anti-racist.
The book encourages children to openly acknowledge differences in skin color, rather than pretending they don’t exist. He asks them to celebrate the differences between cultures, not to see one group as better or worse than another, and to constantly learn and grow. He invites them to talk openly about race and admit where they may have failed.
Basically, “Antiracist Baby” advises children to “point to politics as the problem, not people” and proclaims that “even though not all races are treated equally, we are all human.”
The book: “Stamped (for kids): racism, anti-racism and you”, adapted by Sonja Cherry-Paul and illustrated by Rachelle Baker.
The book is a children’s version of the storybook for young adults “Stamped: racism, anti-racism and you“by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi – which, in turn, is an adaptation of Kendi’s bestseller”Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America.”
Requirement: Cruz called this book “astonishing”.
Opening the book, he said to Jackson: “On page 33 he poses the question, ‘Can we send white people back to Europe?’ This is what we give to children of 8 and 9 years old.
The senator continued: “It also says on page 115: ‘The idea that we should pretend not to see racism is related to the idea that we should pretend not to see color. This is called color blindness.
Cruz jumped ahead and quoted other lines from the book, including “Here’s what’s wrong with this: it’s ridiculous. Skin color is something we absolutely all see” and “So pretending not to see the color is pretty handy if you don’t actually want to eradicate racism in the first place.”
Finally, Cruz invoked Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech and argued that the ideas in “Antiracist Baby” and “Stamped (For Kids)” contradict the rights icon’s values. civics – a notion that scholars who have studied King say is a distortion of his work.
Reality: Once again, the passages read aloud by Cruz are a serious qualification error.
The phrase “Can we send white people back to Europe?” to which Cruz refers on page 33 appears as an aside in a chapter on the contradictions in how Thomas Jefferson talked about slavery and how he acted. The book explains how some white assimilationists, including Jefferson at one point, advocated sending black people back to Africa and the Caribbean — foreign places to many of the people in question.
In explaining the problems inherent in this idea, the book includes this: Do you see how the racist ideas of today are related to the racist ideas of the past? The phrase “Go back where you came from” that is sometimes said to Blacks and Browns today connects to the “go back” ideas of the past. Now you can trace the origins back to Thomas Jefferson. (By the way, imagine what Native Americans and blacks must have wished about their white oppressors: can we send white people back to Europe?)
Here, the phrase “Can we send the whites back to Europe?” clearly demonstrates how illogical the idea of sending people back “where they came from” is.
On page 115, the sentence Cruz referenced (“The idea that we should pretend not to see racism is related to the idea that we should pretend not to see color. It’s called color blindness “) appears again as an aside in a chapter on inequality in standardized testing. Although standardized tests seem equal on the surface, according to the authors, not all schools and students have the same resources – meaning that rewarding schools based on test scores deepens existing inequalities. The authors also criticized the idea that the way to address racism in education is not to focus on it, i.e. when they stop to address the idea of ”colorblindness”. .
The point the authors make in this passage is that to ignore differences in skin color is to ignore racism. Only by recognizing these differences from the start, they argue in the book, can society begin to address the problem.