BLACK VOICES

Why People Are Criticizing A 'Black Lives Matter' Book For Kids

Read it before you judge it, the author said.

As the Black Lives Matter movement continues to build major momentum after more than a year of activists’ work, some remain unclear about the movement's mission. Duchess Harris, professor and chair of American studies at Macalester College in Saint Paul, Minnesota, and journalist Sue Bradford Edwards said they want to change that with their new book.

Along with journalist Sue Bradford Edwards, Harris co-authored Black Lives Matter, a book targeted to middle school students with the goal of providing historical and cultural context for "the shootings that touched off passionate protests, the work of activists to bring about a more just legal system and tensions in the U.S. society that these events have brought to light," according to Abdo Publishing

Harris said the book's goal would be to "lay out the facts," weaving in historical context so that people can "get a sense of a pursuit for black liberation."

Edwards told The Huffington Post, “It’s a much-needed resource because there’s so much misinformation on the topic out there and so many people speaking with no facts. A lot of emotions running strong and not a lot of actual information and we’re just hoping that this will [help] some of the students around the country see what this is really about."

Though the book isn't set to be published until November, Harris said local schools have embraced its use in the classroom. Others are more skeptical about the authenticity of the subject matter.  

The Huffington Post asked Rashad Turner, lead Black Lives Matter organizer in Saint Paul, his thoughts about the book. He believed the authors are disingenuous about their intentions to create a Black Lives Matter book, adding that they hadn't consulted any of the movement's organizers for their research. "It's another hijacking of a movement, another scheme to exploit black lives for a few dollars," he told HuffPost, noting that he wasn't aware of her reaching out to Black Lives Matter leaders for research. 

Harris confirmed this book is not a product of the official Black Lives Matter movement and did not reach out to organizers while writing it. Edwards, however, notes that she did to no avail.

"I reached out to various organizers but unfortunately never heard back from anyone but understanding when I was researching this, that was when the [non-indictment] in the Mike Brown case was handed down... These people had their hands full."

Criticism stemmed from the opposite side as well, with some Twitter users expressing disdain for having a book that covers the movement in schools:

 

Despite some backlash, Harris said, "I welcome constructive criticism from those who have read the book."

HuffPost talked to Harris in a separate conversation and via email about her book, what it entails and her response to critics.

 

The Huffington Post: Why do you and Edwards decide to write this book? 
 

Originally, the press, which is Abdo [Publishing], located in Minnesota, contacted Sue because she lives in Florissant, Missouri. She’s a journalist and she covered Ferguson. So she started the work and then they reached out to me for something called content analysis. And I just got more and more involved with providing a historical framework and I ended up becoming the co-author and I was very exited to do that because I think that it’s good preparation work for students to have before they become undergraduates. 

What audience is this book for?
 
The book is written at an eighth grade level. It is marketed to 6-12th graders. I think it is useful for young people and adults of all racial backgrounds.
 
What is your ultimate goal in creating this book? 
 

The goal really is just to lay out the facts ... It’s basically Trayvon Martin to Freddie Gray but it is contextualized, taking you all the way back from slavery through 1960s black power to get a sense of a pursuit for black liberation. 

I think a book like this is necessary because we need a better skill set to discuss contemporary race relations in America. Duchess Harris
 
What timeline in black history will the book cover? What events will it mention?
 
It opens with a review of the events leading up to and following Brown’s death on August 9, 2014, which engendered the hashtag that birthed a movement. The book’s second chapter indirectly reframes this hashtag as a question -- do black lives matter? -- turning its attention to the original wound of chattel slavery, with sections also on World War II and the Civil Rights Movement. 
 
Crossing the space-time continuum, the third chapter, which outlines Oscar Grant’s death on New Year’s Day 2009, embeds a story about the Rodney King/Los Angeles riots of 1991. Similarly, in Chapter 6, we chart the increasing militarization of U.S. police forces over the span of five decades [and] centralize the six-day 1965 Watts Riots as a decisive moment in the training and armament of domestic troops, specifically, SWAT teams, which disproportionately target and incite violence in black communities.
 
This book has already received a lot of criticism. Why do you think it’s so controversial? What's your response to critics?
 

There’s definitely a portion of the country that’s opposed to Black Lives Matter and they think that learning about it means that children will be encouraged to support it and those are two different things, learning about something and embracing something. 

I welcome constructive criticism from those who have read the book.
 
What is the biggest lesson you hope readers will learn? 
 

 I hope that people learn that there are competing narratives to the master narrative and that it is important to know everyone's version of the story.

 
Black Lives Matter will be available on Amazon on Nov. 1.
 
Also on HuffPost:

 

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