A guest blog from Naomi Lake, member of Trent Vineyard Church
As a white woman I acknowledge I will never fully understand the everyday lived experience of racial discrimination, and that is a privilege I admit I cannot fully appreciate. All I know is that through my own different and considerably lesser experiences of discrimination, the thought of fellow human beings having to live with constant discrimination in most areas of life, both subtle and obvious, and the impact of it, is morally and fundamentally unacceptable to me. So I feel compelled to learn about and contribute to changing this in our city.
My desire to be a part of this ongoing work, building on the centuries of work that has gone before, is galvanised as a parent. I want my white daughters to grow up having a very different experience of education to me. I want them and their white friends to grow up not just seeing themselves and hearing white perspectives in their books, but for it to be normal to see characters representing their friends of all skin tones and experiences, positively, and as central characters. I want my daughters’ peers, including those of Asian, black and multi-racial heritage, to be able to see themselves in their books, the way my daughters do. To see themselves reflected in positive central characters in stories, to learn about the great men and women of their skin tones and backgrounds and to see people who look like them, that they can aspire to be like.
Unfortunately, this is not the narrative portrayed in the education I received growing up in rural England in the 90s. And I fear (although improved and still improving since then), it is still not the narrative in education or books now. Thankfully I did have parents who understood the unjust nature of our society, and therefore I grew up with a slightly broader perspective than my education cared to offer. That being said, I was never really educated about the widespread impact of racial injustice or its history; my education never equipped me to call out racism, spot it, know how it presents itself and how to be actively anti-racist
"These are things I am having to teach myself now as an adult. I can’t help but imagine the impact it will have if my children and their generation have a different experience"
What would happen if the next generation grew up learning and practising being actively anti-racist through their books and teachers? What would happen if they learnt about the history of their country and other countries, from the perspective of the continents of Africa, Asia, Australasia and South America as well as of Europe or North America? What would it do if they grew up seeing princesses, fairies and superheroes in their books reflecting the beautiful diversity of all human beings, rather than mostly being white skinned and blonde (although I am pleased to recognise this has started to change)? What would it do if they learnt about men and women from outside the European and North American continents, who have brought significant change to the world? What would happen if they had access to books that told the stories of those who lived in other cultures?
I believe picture books are the main way young children learn about the world around them and engage with stories, and if most books are only representing a white perspective or white characters, children will grow thinking this is how the world is supposed to be. It feels like it is my responsibility to broaden my daughter’s perspectives, to enable them to continue the dismantling of racism in our society; their education is a fundamental part of this. If we can bring this change through diversifying the books available to our children and the content of their education, we have the potential to make the next generation one that EXPECTS their society to be multi-racial, full of different humans with different experiences and perspectives, where anti-racism is the norm, where it is normal for people of different skin tones, ethnicities and backgrounds to be represented in leadership in all spheres of society. It has the potential to disrupt the underground and intricately woven narrative of white supremacy that has been and still is being perpetuated in our culture. Just through the simple act of diversifying the books in our schools, and shifting the perspectives from which our educational institutions teach, my daughters’ generation could grow up living in a different reality to the one I did. A reality that is fairer and better for everyone.
The thought of what my daughters’ generation could do fills me with the excitement and encouragement to keep at this work, because what it could do, would be beneficially life changing for everyone. Naomi Lake