ANASTASIA HIGGINBOTHAM has written a courageous children’s book that seeks to dismantle institutionalized racism and white supremacy, one conversation and action at a time. Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness challenges adults to face their own discomfort and biases in order to validate the truths that children intuit. In this exclusive interview, Anastasia discusses her process of expanding her world view and becoming a disruptor of the very best kind.
Deb: “What prompted you to write this important book?”
My answer is a who and a what. Who inspired me were Black women: Noleca Anderson Radway, Brooklyn Free School Executive Director; Reverend angel Kyodo williams, Zen priest and co-author of Radical Dharma: Talking Race, Love, and Liberation; and Anyanwu Uwa, The Human Root Co-Founder and Executive Director. Noleca made me see white power in action and in myself; Rev. Angel dared me to connect with my deepest conditioning into whiteness and grow from a place of heartbreak; Anyanwu insisted I view myself as worthy. What inspired me is everything that the Black Lives Matter movement shows us about state-sanctioned murders of Black women, men, trans people and kids by police, plus no accountability for those crimes and new ones committed against the BLM activists themselves.
Deb: “What have you learned about yourself in the process?”
Making this book has removed veil after veil (it’s still happening) of illusions I had about my own uselessness in the fight for racial justice. I am beginning to develop a healthy racial identity for the first time ever. Rather than feel disgusted by my whiteness – and suspicious of everyone else’s – I can expand my worldview, correct the smearing and distortion caused by a whiteness mindset (the one that lies to us all about white superiority), and see, love, embrace, and engage with people from a more healed place. Also, it’s like wearing x-ray-night-vision spy goggles—I see white supremacy now in all its hiding places. I’m not scared to shine a light on it and root it out of everywhere, including out of me.
Deb: “What are the most challenging aspects (for you personally) of engaging in conversations about white supremacy with white people?”
When the white person I am talking with needs proof that white supremacy is real and something they should care about. I don’t understand the hurdle I’m trying to help them see or get over, and I get confused. I wonder if they need me to convince them that this is an issue worth caring about? Is their instinct toward caring that broken and buried inside of them? When that seems to be the case, I despair.
It’s also hard when I want to help someone understand that white supremacy is a system embedded into everything—government policies, banking, housing, courts, schools, elections, healthcare, where the city dump is located, etc. And they want to defend their personal stake in being a good person, a.k.a. not a racist. This is not the point or the goal. There are evil systems at work here. Let’s break them. To me it’s as simple as: “Hulk smash!”
Deb: “How about with people of color?”
I sometimes dissociate when I am talking about race and whiteness with people who are seen as Black—people who are experiencing anti-Blackness from a white dominant culture all day long. I feel myself floating beside myself criticizing every word I say, telling me how ignorant I sound, predicting that I will say something hurtful and outrageous. But I have learned to coach myself back into my body and just be humbly there, reading the person’s facial expressions and body language, letting there be lots of room and as much safety as I can help to create so we can both be fully present, honest, and open.
Deb: “And on the other side of the coin, what have been some of the unexpected joys of these conversations?”
Love. So much love and connection. With everybody. The chasms created by racism and fear and alienation disappear, then and there, and common ground appears on that very spot where we stand. Feels like something starts to grow between us and beneath us instantly.
Deb: “In her book, White Fragility, Robin DiAngelo says, “The body of research demonstrates that white children develop a sense of white superiority as early as preschool.” How can we start the conversation with young children before they initiate it?”
I don’t have any studies to back this up but I make a point to associate the colors black and brown with immense power, beauty, and radiance, for starters. Point out the beauty of a brown tree trunk, rich black dirt for growing all the things that keep us alive. Black mountains, vast brown deserts, all the colors of chocolate, and other delicious black and brown foods. And of course, the beautiful people who enjoy an abundance of melanin in their skin. I give blackness all the credit for the gorgeous serenity and mystery and thrill of nighttime. When reading children’s books where evil is represented by the colors black, I skip it. I don’t use the word black to describe something or someone scary, evil, or ugly (even if it’s only describing the bad guy’s clothing or where they live). I never associate the words white or light with innocence or goodness. Anti-blackness is everywhere in our language and so is this idea that we should go to the light and avoid the dark. The entire Star Wars franchise is based on this, so good luck navigating that mess. I don’t talk about having a dark sense of humor or a black mood. I find other words. They exist.
Deb: “What else do you want readers to know about you and your process of writing the book and dismantling white supremacy?”
White people can be each other’s allies in this work of disrupting white supremacy—that’s where our ally-ship is most needed and effective. You don’t have to be an author or a leader in a movement. Be present to the other white children and adults in your life, in your family. Read and study about whiteness so you can see where it tricked you and distanced you from your own instincts to connect and relate to whole groups of people who are targeted by white supremacy. Learn to see the systems of whiteness at work and tackle that system (instead of other people or yourself) in meaningful ways every day, every day, every day. Remember: “Hulk smash!”
Photo Credits: Erin Bogle, Webber Park Library, Minneapolis, MN
Available now at: https://www.dottirpress.com/not-my-idea/