I’ve always loved books. As a young child, I was always buried in a book, newspaper, or anything I could get my hands on to read.
A few weeks ago my kids choose a house favorite for our bedtime story, Come with Me, by Holly McGhee. We’ve read the book well over a dozen times, but that night, for the first time, my oldest read the book to us. The words were familiar and the text offered her a mirror—an opportunity to see herself and our family reflected in the illustrations, and the book also provided her with a window to see someone else’s experience.
Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop says, “Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange…When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror. Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience.”
For me, hearing her read that night struck me—you see, she’s growing in her independence and confidence as a reader, and hearing her read the words aloud make me proud, and without knowing it she helped me to comprehend the book in a new manner. There was something about the mix of her fluency, youthful voice, and confidence at particular parts that made me think differently about the world we live in.
The book begins with a little girl watching a changing screen and experiencing a range of emotions. Through a series of interactions and experiences, her Papa and Mama help her figure out what she can do to make the world a better place. In the end, the little girl decides to invite a neighbor to go on a journey with her, “Because two people together are stronger than one.” As my daughter read these words, I found myself applying them beyond the text. I wondered, how much stronger and better might we be in our antiracism journeys if we took the time to invite someone to join us?
When was the last time you invited someone to think critically about the world around you? Who holds YOU accountable as you work toward being antiracist? We know it’s hard work, with an uncertain destination, so walking alongside someone helps us to stay the course, especially during rough terrain and circumstances.
As I did a self-check on my own antiracist journey, a few key pieces surfaced that have helped me to be accountable for my own progress. They might also help you.
First, find someone willing to hold the mirror up for both you and themselves. Committing to antiracism means that you commit to understanding your own identity, beliefs, privileges, values, assumptions, and attitudes beyond what’s visible. Until we can see our own humanity, it’s tough to authentically see others.
Next, be a listener and create space for vulnerability and mistakes, a space for open and honest dialogue where we can discuss race and racism directly, without the use of coded language that centers whiteness. Whiteness frequently dictates the ways that we engage in conversation about race and racism. It determines who’s comfortable, what’s comfortable, who holds the power, what terms acceptable to use, and what’s an appropriate tone of voice when communicating, to just name a few. If we continue to engage in surface-level conversations that center whiteness, change will move so very slow, if at all. Expect that mistakes will be made because we are all learning, unlearning, and growing. As mistakes happen, be prepared to name them, own them, make amends, and continue to learn and grow.
Finally, embrace where you are on your own individual antiracism journey. No two journeys will ever be the same – each of our lives are unique, and over time we’ve been exposed to different people, places, and experiences that have shaped our world view. Sharing, not measuring against others’ progress, should be what we all strive to do.
In the end, your journey is uniquely yours. Over time, I hope that you find yourself looking back at how far you’ve grown, and that you look at the journey ahead with strength and determination. There is strength in numbers, and we need all the strength that we can get to work collectively toward an antiracist future.
Be sure to invite someone to join you, with a simple ask, “Will you come with me?”