Book Review Title Graphic

In honor of Juneteenth, I’d like to recommend a new book to those who are interested in the history of the United States and also offer an entry point for understanding why critical race theory is important to healing our country.

African family in traditional clothes at park.

Juneteenth: Freedom Day

Juneteenth is a solemn reminder that freedom is not free. It’s a day to celebrate the end of chattel slavery which didn’t actually occur until TWO LONG YEARS after the Emancipation Proclamation.

To me, personally, Juneteenth is an opportunity for me to fill in some gaping holes in my public education. It’s about facing the fact that my skin color gives me all kinds of privileges that have never been embedded for people of color born and raised in the United States. And it’s a time for me to share what I’ve learned about a people who had EVERYTHING stripped from their lives have survived in a country that tried to crush them.

Anonymous black people holding arms as a gesture against racism. Sign under their arms reads "Black Power."

Critical Race Theory

The lens through which we view this historical perspective is called Critical Race Theory or CRT. CRT has its roots in academia where professors and activists in a variety of disciplines review U.S. history with an eye towards how society, race, and law intersect to reveal new aspects of our country’s founding and construction.

The 1619 Project

This approach gained prominence a few years ago thanks to the incredible journalistic work of Nikole Hannah-Jones, founder of The 1619 Project. According to the New York Times‘ website,

The 1619 Project is The New York Times Magazine’s award-winning reframing of American history that placed slavery and its continuing legacy at the center of our national narrative. The project, which was initially launched in August of 2019, offered a revealing new origin story for the United States, one that helped explain not only the persistence of anti-Black racism and inequality in American life today, but also the roots of so much of what makes the country unique.”

Source: https://1619books.com/

There’s concern that learning about CRT or from CRT authors will deepen the racial divide in our country, but many who speak against it—or silently resist it—have never actually read a CRT book. Some may be open to it, but only because it feels like the right thing to do. Others are working tirelessly to bring old facts to light so we can all be more informed.

Protestors With Placards On Black Lives Matter Demonstration March Against Racism

The Challenge

If you’re interested in understanding history and/or CRT, then I have a challenge for you.

Would you consider reading a children’s book to become a more informed citizen? 

The 1619 Project: Born on the Water is written by Nikole Hannah-Jones, creator of The 1619 Project, and Renée Watson, a New York Times best-selling author.

It’s a picture book filled from cover to cover with beautifully illustrated scenes by Black artist/activist Nikkolas Smith. His art is intended to spark conversations around social justice and inspire positive change in the world. 

The 1619 Project: Born on the Water is framed by a homework assignment on family origins given to a young African American girl. She tries to do the assignment but becomes stuck tracing her family history any further back than three generations. It falls to her grandmother to share the history of her family prior to that, and it’s Grandma’s story that fills the pages of the book.

Grandma’s Story

Grandma starts her family’s story over 400 years ago calling to mind what life was like before slavery. Hannah-Jones and Watson write the grandmother’s words and effectively weave a vivid tapestry of culture stolen and heritage interrupted. 

By keeping the focus on a specific small group strangers kidnapped near the same time and shipped to Virginia, the reader is reminded that those who were kidnapped were humans thriving in their families, thriving in community, and embedded in their own culture.

A black lives matter concept with black and white people supporting each other

White People

The authors accurately identify the kidnappers and slave owners as white people. And I realize this could cause some of you to become defensive, but it’s the truth. And it’s a truth we must face if we are ever to move beyond the racism baked into our society. We are grownups. It’s time.

Long line of yellow school buses lined up at a school campus

Public School Education

I read this book to my husband this morning, and as I expected, it included information we were never taught in public school. There comes a point in our lives where we have to take responsibility for filling in the gaps of our education—especially around the history of our own country.

Being educated in public school meant we learned a white-washed history intended to instill a sense of patriotism and pride. This was accomplished not only by what they taught but—even more so—what they did NOT teach.

Recommendation

Even though The 1619 Project: Born on the Water is a children’s picture book, I highly recommend it as a GREAT starting point for anyone who wants to understand the basic premise of CRT; anyone who loves history; and anyone who is on their own personal DEI journey and/or reckoning with the history of slavery in the United States. It’s a book every white person should read. Full stop.


Graphics & Photo credits: All photos licensed for use on this blog by Laura Zielke. 

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”