BULLETPROOF. Communities

A New Book Teaches Students That #BlackLivesMatter

by Aarian Marshall

September 5, 2015
A Black Lives Matter protest in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in December 2014. Via Flickr user Fibonacci Blue

Duchess Harris teaches American Studies at Macalester College, a small and selective school in St. Paul, Minnesota. Still, she’s noticed that many of her first year students simply don’t show up prepared for class.

“I would laugh with my friends that are in the math department and say, ‘Never in your life have you had a student who showed up who didn't have algebra,’” she told Pacific Standard’s Francie Diep in an interview last week. But most of Harris’ pupils show up having never seriously discussed race in a school setting before. “I just asked them, ‘How did you manage this in high school?’ They said, ‘You know, we didn't talk about these things in high school.’”

Courtesy ABDO Publishing

That’s why Harris and her coauthor, the journalist Sue Bradford Edwards, wrote Black Lives Matter, a forthcoming book aimed at sixth to twelfth graders. The 112-page book covers the tragic shootings—of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and so many more—that set off the #BlackLivesMatter movement, but also the deep social and economic issues that the movement has brought to light.

Though the authors say the book is appropriate for children and teenagers of all backgrounds, Harris has a specific demographic in mind. She tells Pacific Standard:

This is useful for kids of all backgrounds, but often, black parents have a different skill set that is informed by a lived experience. My husband's black. We have three kids. Our kids see how we are treated. They see how they are treated. Not as much needs to be translated, right?

But I live in Minnesota, so I have lots of white friends who have come up to me and said, "How do we explain this to our kids?"

Harris says public schools in St. Paul have expressed an interest in using the book after it is released in November. The book’s publisher, however, stresses that Black Lives Matter isn’t neccesarily intended to be taught in schools—it’s meant for any child with an interest in the movement. 

But not everyone is excited by the prospect of teaching children about #BlackLivesMatter. Larry Elder, a conservative radio personality, told Fox News last week that the book is a product of “mass hysteria.”

“It’s indoctrinating young kids, teaching them that black people are victims. And by the way, you as white people should feel really, really guilty about it,” Elder said.

Meanwhile, Harris says it’s impossible for Elder and other critics to have actually read the book—because they haven’t been sent copies.

“I wanted to make a contribution to the community that I live in and see my kids' generation do this better than other generations have,” Harris says. She’s starting with her daughter’s St. Paul charter school, which has already signed on to teach Black Lives Matter

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A New Book Teaches Students That #BlackLivesMatter