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Our Children, Racism and the Black Lives Matter Movement

Post EU referendum Britain isn’t as pretty as it used to be. Closet racists have come out of the woodwork and racists that were already crawling nastily all over the woodwork anyway, feel that they have been given a free pass to display their ugly thoughts and behaviour. Since Brexit, story after story of hate crimes have emerged. And let’s not forget the Trump across the pond.

While we were fretting over this, and how we can reach out to our audience concerning it, the shocking events of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile being shot by police in the USA occurred. We really felt like we had gone back in time by a few hundred years. These incidents are not, of course, the first of their kind. But we pray they are the last. It’s hard to grasp the fact that we are in 2016 and so many people are racist: it seems that it is beyond belief. But it really isn’t. Why? If you think about it; racism is learnt; prejudice is taught; stereotypes are made; unconscious bias stems from somewhere. Why aren’t your children’s favourite book and movie characters black? Because there aren’t many to pick favourites from. There aren’t enough heroes and protagonists in books and movies that are black. Nobody chooses the side-kick as the object of their admiration. The world is always being saved (from unambiguously ethnic people) by white characters. And we’re not constantly being sold toys, yogurts and drinks by cute little black children. Just imagine Santa Clause was black. A world in which Santa was black would be a less racist world. Because the human mind works that way.

Now we’re not pessimists at Sweet Apple, and we don’t mean to bring you down, because we believe love will prevail. We believe that change can occur over time. Indeed organisations such as Inclusive Minds have been championing change on the children’s book publishing scene. We’ve attended many seminars with talk around diversity. However, many of us feel that progress is slow. In a recent article in the Guardian, author Catherine Johnson says: I think a lot of people – me included - are fed up to the back teeth talking about diversity. We all know the arguments. Books at present are exclusive; children need to see the world they live in reflected in their reading matter. So why isn’t it happening?

To us it seems very clear, that ‘small’ features which are part of the social, economic and political systems in which we all exist, add up to create an unconscious bias.

We believe that every little helps - every individual, every community has to be part of the change. We must all stand against injustice and bigotry, and to raise our kids to see all people equally.

Here are some small but meaningful things we can all do to teach our children empathy and respect for all, regardless of race:

Talk to your children

Have emphatic discussions about diversity with your children.

Discuss the Black Lives Matter movement with children who are old enough, and explain why people are upset about what happened.

Buy books with diverse characters

Seek out books with strong black characters for your children. Ask in libraries and bookshops if you can’t see any on display. Have a look at this list of titles to start with. Also, encourage your children to develop characters from ethnic minorities in their own writing and/or colouring.

Correct stereotypes

If you have family or friends who have negative stereotypical views of any race, please correct them. Lovingly and gently dispel their misconceptions. Ensure that their views don’t rub off on your kids.

Be there for others

If you know somebody who has been a victim of racism, be there for them. If you witness an incident, step in if it is safe. Talk to the victim rather than the abuser.

Make friends

If your children only experience you being friends with people who are racially the same as you, it will send them the message that others are not good enough, or are so different from us that we cannot relate to them. This is not true. Help your children to see common grounds between themselves and others. The same also applies to romantic relationships.

Make some noise

Campaign, rally and speak out against racism. Do whatever you can. Write to media outlets if you think they are propagating a negative stereotype. Write to publishers and producers calling for more diversity in their productions.

Together, we will make tomorrow’s world better than today’s.

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