Teach Your Kids About Badass Black Women

Beyoncé videos and children’s books to teach intersectional feminism

Beyoncé Art — Cropped Photo by Brianna Santellan on Unsplash

Today, my 4-year-old and I had a great talk about institutionalized racism and intersectional feminism.

Actually, we had a ton of tiny talks, while watching lots of Beyoncé videos.

I sometimes overtalk on subjects I’m passionate about, like the struggle against racism and sexism. But I’m finally realizing we’ve got to reach people where they’re at, and where my 4-year-old is at is that she loves dancing and cute clothes.

How do you start a conversation with your kid about race?

People of color have conversations about race by necessity. White people sometimes try to put off talking about race, because it makes them nervous.

My kid is a white-passing Jew. I’m a Jew who reads as ethnically ambiguous. I grew up feeling othered, and I’m doing what I can to raise an ally.

Today, Beyoncé helped us talk about race, but usually, we turn to children’s books. So many children’s books that explicitly deal with race center on two topics: slavery and the civil rights era.

Yes, teach your kid about slavery, and the struggles for rights (past and ongoing). Our favorite books on the subject focus on black empowerment in the midst of white brutality.

Four of our favorite children’s books that deal with slavery:

Freedom in Congo Square by Carole Boston Weatherford, ill. by R. Gregory Christie
Before She Was Harriet by Lesa Cline-Ransome, ill. by James E. Ransome
Love Twelve Miles Long by Glenda Armand, ill. by Colin Bootman
Show Way by Jacqueline Woodson, ill. by Hudson Talbott

Freedom in Congo Square, Before She Was Harriet, Love Twelve Miles Long, Show Way

But, when it comes to black history, slavery is far from the full picture.

If we only teach our kids the stories of slavery and segregation, stories of white power, are some kids going to think, “Well, maybe they/we did something to deserve it?” It is a hard thing to fit in our heads, that people commit atrocities for no good reason, so little minds (and big minds) try to rationalize, try to invent excuses, where there are none.

Again, it’s very important to teach kids the horrors white culture committed, and continues to commit. But let’s also talk about how it’s getting better because of the struggles of people of color and allies, and let’s make sure we teach our kids stories of black people and other people of color just living life, being awesome.

We need to teach our kids about slavery and civil rights, but we also need to help them see the rest of the picture: People of color are beautiful, powerful, smart, talented, and accomplished.

Our black kids need to see it. Our white kids need to see it. Everyone needs it.

It’s why so many families took their kids to Black Panther at a younger age than they would for other violent movies: The Afro-futurism was gorgeous and inspiring, and these sorts of portrayals set our kids up to love themselves, to love each other, and to grow up to knock down institutional racism everywhere they find it.

Here are two books my family’s loving this month, because they reach my kid where she’s at.

The women and girls in these books are inspirational to my daughter, and relatable. She wants to play with the kids in Princess Hair. She wants to grow up to do amazing things like the women in Little Leaders. And she wants to ride a cop car down into a flood like Beyoncé, but we’ll get to that in a moment.

Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History Children’s Book by Vashti Harrison

Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison is recommended for K-Grade 4, but I checked it out for my preschooler.

She was pretty interested as I read to her about Sojourner Truth speaking in 1851 about what we today call intersectional feminism: “Aint I a woman?”

But her favorite page was about Raven Wilkinson, the first African-American woman to dance for a major classical ballet company. Wilkinson, who died in December, was encouraged to wear pale makeup to hide her skin tone, but she never lied when asked about her race.

Raven Wilkinson, from Little Leaders by Vashti Harrison

My daughter knows about Harriet Tubman and Rosa Parks, but this is the page that really got to her, because she loves ballet, because the drawing of Raven Wilkinson included a tutu and a graceful pose.

At first I thought I’d failed my kid when I found her flipping through this book, picking her favorites, based on what they were wearing. I couldn’t believe my child was taking a book about powerful women and reducing it to a pageant.

But then I realized that her choices were never based on skin tone. Yes, she’s more interested than I’d prefer in their style, but at least she found these black women, with all different skin tones and hair types, beautiful, and she wanted to know more about them. So I count it as a win.

Princess Hair Children’s Book by Sharee Miller

A book that totally gets this is Princess Hair by Sharee Miller.

I seek out diverse children’s books, so Princess Hair was on my radar for a while, but I was trying to avoid princess worship, so I held off. And that worked… for a while.

But at 4-and-a-half, my kid is exploring how far she can go with her devotion to “ballerina-princess-unicorn-fairies.” Just screaming these words, with no context, gives her pleasure.

So this book is perfect for where we’re at.

Because she loves the aesthetic, she’s a captive audience for the underlying message: Black girls are beautiful and capable. Everyone can be beautiful and capable and have lots of fun.

Princess Hair by Sharee Miller

My kid loves curly hair because it reminds her of Mama. She loves her own wavy hair as well, which she just dyed purple and then cut by herself.

She loves the fros and the bows in this book, and so, as we flip through, discussing our favorite outfits and activities (drawing, dancing, bouncing, running, reading, sharing), I also get an opportunity to tell her why this book is so important. I let her know that, for far too long, books and culture told us that only kids who looked a certain way should feel like princesses.

Ballerina Kids Photo by IIONA VIRGIN on Unsplash

“But these princesses are beautiful! I love their hair and I love their clothes!”

“Yeah,” I reply, “Me too.”

So about Beyoncé.

Today, we watched probably 10 Beyoncé videos, mostly while snuggling, though she did get up to dance to Single Ladies.

She loved them. Duh. It’s Bey.

We talked the most about Formation.

Okay, Ladies, Now Let’s Get in Formation

Beyoncé — Formation Video on YouTube

The very first shot of this video says “parental advisory.” Maybe my parenting is a bit unorthodox?

We watched, and we talked. About Katrina and how the government didn’t respond well, because the system isn’t fair to people of color. I gave her my take on why Bey was on the cop car: when the city flooded, the systems left black people to struggle through the flood; here, we reimagine it, with the cop car in the flood, and a strong black woman on top instead.

“But she’s going down in the water too!” my daughter squealed.

“You’re right. Do you think she’s going to be okay?”

“Definitely. She’s gonna turn into a mermaid and swim!” she replied. “But why was that kid dancing in front of the cops?”

We talked about how police, as an institution, are mean and unfair to people of color. How cops are humans, not monsters, but many of them do mean things, and the institution itself is set up to do mean things unless cops try really, really hard not to.

We agreed it was awesome when the cops put their hands up at the end, because then the kid could feel safe, instead of scared.

This was far from our first conversation about institutional racism and unfair policing, but this time, she really listened. Because she had an in a gorgeous, talented, fashionable, confident woman who made her stop and care, who made her want to know more.

We talked about the hard stuff, about inequity and struggle. But we also discussed how confident Beyoncé was, how empowered, and what it means to slay.

In 7/11, we saw her having fun, and we saw white women could hang in her world too, dancing backup, of course.

In Run the World (Girls), we saw men could join the party too, once again, as backup.

“Black Girls Are Lit.” Photo by Kristen Reynolds on Unsplash

We’re super-picky about what we show her; she hasn’t even seen Frozen yet.* I’m excited to keep showing her videos and books featuring people of color, and badass women and gender-nonconforming folx — of all races, ethnicities, shapes, and sizes — in the forefront.

We need to teach our kids about slavery and civil rights, but we also need to help them see the rest of the picture: People of color are beautiful, powerful, smart, talented, and accomplished.

What about white men? Don’t worry, she sees them too; we all do.

My kid is a feminist. My kid wants to be an anti-racist ally. And if the way we got there was by showing her that anyone can put on a dress and dance, I’m okay with that.

Empathy for the win! Published in Gen, Human Parts, Heated, Tenderly —Feminism, Sexuality, Veganism, Anti-Racism, Parenting. She/They darcyreeder.substack.com

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