Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Let's Talk About Race by Julius Lester

Lester starts this picture book for older children with the inviting words “I am a story. So are you.” He goes on to talk about how each person has many elements in their story – from family names and places to likes and dislikes. Race is just part of your story. Many people think and say their race is better than others, but under the skin we are all the same. He explains that people may have those beliefs because they feel bad about themselves or are afraid. He says very clearly that they are wrong about one race being better than others. In writing this book for upper elementary and middle school children I think he is trying to simplify the discussion in order to focus on the common values of humanity. The illustrations by Karen Barbour are vibrant and beautiful.

The one thing that I don’t particularly like about this book is the emphasis he has on race being only skin deep. He says if we all took off our skins we would all look the same and no one would know what race each person was. I think that is too shallow a portrayal of race. It is not just about skin and skin color. If that were true we could all strive to be colorblind and that would solve the problem.

The fact is that race is about a history of violence, oppression and hatred. It is also about struggle, courage, freedom, repentance, forgiveness, reconciliation and strength. It is not about skin color, which is just a marker. Our race tied up in ethnicity and self-identiy. I am not white because of my paleness and freckles, I am white because I have been raised that way, that is the history of my people and I am marked by my culture. I think if we took off our skin we would still have our racial identity. Don’t you?

One could use this book to teach the Quaker testimonies (SPICES) of equality and community.

Julius Lester has written many other wonderful books including non-fiction, poetry, novels and children's books. He has won numerous awards. Here is a list of his books at his website.

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Anonymous said...

What the above comment is reffering to is ethnicity or culture, not race. Race for example is black, white, asian, latino, so forth. If an asian was born and raised in America and spoke only English would that make that person white instead? No. Please recognize the difference in terms, then we can focus on solving the problem.

Cloudscome said...

I wrote this review a year and a half ago and now I think I have a different view of race and ethnicity. I realize "race" is a social construct based on appearance and cultural stereotypes. If we didn't wear our skins maybe we wouldn't have race. But we also have racial identity based on family, community, language, how we are raised, etc.

An Asian raised in a white family is still Asian, of course. My Black sons raised in a white family are still Black.

I think I was trying to say we claim our race and it is more than skin. But maybe what I meant was ethnicity and not race at all. I ought to go back and read this book again and think it through some more.

I certainly know that Julius Lester is way ahead of me on this.