Becky Gillespie: Exactly the right conversations
I appreciated Karen Brazas’ Other Voices piece on April 27 about the children’s book “Something Happened in Our Town (A Child’s Story About Racial Injustice)” by Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins, and Ann Hazzard. I had not seen this book, so I took the opportunity to check it out for myself.
While the opening conversations in the book are between a white family and their daughter, Emma, and a Black family and their son, Josh, regarding a Black man who was shot by a white police officer, these conversations within the two families are the starting point to extended conversations about race. Emma’s mom explains that the shooting was a mistake that is part of pattern, and the pattern is being nice to white people and mean to Black people — an unfair pattern. She then goes on to give an example of having a birthday party where Emma invited everyone in her class except the Black kids and asking how the Black kids would feel (sad or mad), and how Emma would be missing out because you don’t know who is going to be your best friend. Emma’s mother then tells her that she can help others be fair.
In Josh’s family, the discussion centers on this similar theme of white people being treated better than Black people. Josh’s brother does comment that “Cops stick up for each other … and they don’t like Black men.” The conversation continues with Josh’s father explaining that “there are many cops, Black and white, who make good choices” but they can’t always count on them to do what is right. The theme of the pattern of unfairness is explained when the family discusses the possibility of getting stopped by police because of their color of their skin, even if they don’t do anything wrong. Josh’s mother explains it’s not right and that everyone should be treated fairly. His father, while angry about the situation, explains to Josh that he can use that anger to make things better by working together with others to make changes. Josh is told that he can “change people’s hearts by sticking up for someone who is not treated fairly.”
The book ends with both Emma and Josh coming together to help Omad, an immigrant and new student in their class. Omad’s classmates purposely leave him out of the class soccer game, but Josh and Emma both remember what their parents told them about sticking up for people who are treated unfairly. “And just like that, Emma and Josh gained a new friend, and started a better pattern in their school.”
Based on reading the book, I submit that the focus of the book is recognizing racial injustice in patterns of unfairness and teaching children to make a better pattern by sticking up for those who are treated unfairly. The book advocates for what Ms. Brazas wants – “encourag[ing] our young ones to get along, to be kind and accepting of others, to teach fairness and peace” — it shows using kindness to bring people together.
I can understand Ms. Brazas’ concern regarding the three lines within the 40-page book that jumped out at her — “The cops shot him because he was Black … some white people think Black men are dangerous … the cops won’t go to jail because cops stick up for each other, and they don’t like Black men …” Taken out of context, it would seem to further sow division. However, these lines are discussed within the context of the conversation that Josh has with his family regarding the shooting in their town. If anything, these lines should prompt further discussion with others. Instead of closing off dialogue by removing the book from bookstore shelves, we should be asking ourselves: “Why do Josh’s brother and father feel this way?” To find answers to that question, we should be respectful enough to listen others whose experiences differ from our own.
Becky Gillespie lives in Nevada City.
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