When Britt Hawthorne moved from Illinois to Texas years ago to continue her teaching career, she noticed very quickly the vast differences between what the curriculum was like in the Midwest and what it entailed in the South. After seeing and experiencing the whitewashed, revisionist history that was being shared, she sought community, individuals who wanted to do things differently.
“I started to find my people,” she tells ESSENCE.
She turned to social media and found a Facebook group for the organization, Montessori For Social Justice.
“I loved what they were saying, I loved what they were doing and I thought, I could do this too, but with some help,” she recalls.
She began volunteering with MSJ, learning and going to conferences where she would eventually present. Those were the roots of what would become her work in anti-racism, which is to actively change behaviors, beliefs, and—going further—policies that allow racist ideals and actions to thrive.
“I’ve been doing anti-racist work for six years now, and it was before anti-racism became mainstream,” she says. “Overwhelmingly, I heard people say, ‘What else can I do? What more can I do to help myself and my children to understand and to have language?'”
She heard this the most after she decided to home-school her two sons. She made that significant decision when a teacher told her youngest child, four at the time, to “shut up.”
“We knew our home would be the safest place that would affirm their many identities, that would center Blackness and would also help them practice tools of anti-racism,” she says.
She soon started sharing a lot on Instagram about anti-racist parenting as she took on the task of home-schooling and found other people were interested in learning more. As those questions of what could parents do for themselves and their children began to flood in, she initially teamed up with Tiffany Jewell (author of This Book Is Anti-Racist) to teach workshops. When that work required much more from her than expected, Hawthorne thought a book on the topic would be the best, most sustainable option to move forward with. What started as an e-book she thought could be of great benefit to parents, with help from Christine Platt, author of The Afrominimalist’s Guide to Living With Less, is now a physical book, or parental guide, soon to be available on book shelves. Raising Antiracist Children will be released June 7 from the Simon & Schuster imprint, Simon Element.
“It’s full of practical strategies,” she says. “It’s scripts, it’s actions that you can do with any of your parenting partners, whether it’s your grandmother, your auntie, your beloved, your husband. It’s going to have something for everyone.”
It includes tools for everything from “Curating an Antiracist Book Collection” to “Conversations About Racial Identities,” and “Making Lists of Locally Owned and BIPOC-Owned Businesses to Support.” It took two years for Hawthorne to put together the work, with help from co-author Natasha Yglesias. And there were hurdles to overcome to bring it to fruition, including debates about inclusivity, from who should be on the cover to who the anti-racist conversations should be for (to which she says, “Our liberation should never be traditional or exclusionary”).
But the end result is truly, as she said, for everyone ready to learn and take action.
“The book really is for anyone who has children in their life,” she says. “A lot of it is about us unlearning and unpacking the myths and misconceptions that we picked up, particularly about ourselves, our own people. It’s about us having the tools of how do I identify a racist situation but also advocate against it?”
She utilized 15 contributing authors of various backgrounds, bringing the same type of community that inspired her anti-racist work into the creation of her book to ensure that people could understand what anti-racist parenting looks like for different adults and within different family dynamics of all races.
In a world where critical race theory has been deemed divisive and left people banning books and pulling out whole sections of textbooks to sanitize the history of this nation, Raising Antiracist Children is needed now more than ever. “In the era of anti-critical race theory and banning books, I think we see people holding stronger to their values and ideals but saying, anti-racism is important and wanting to advocate for anti-racism and making it something that happens every single day in their life, but unsure of how to do it and unsure of where their role is.” With that in mind, the book leaves parents asking what they know, what they don’t know and what the work is they need to do first so they can begin to try to raise an anti-racist child.
It hasn’t been the easiest work, but it is fulfilling for Hawthorne. Despite the times we’re living in, she remains encouraged by focusing on what she can do in the present to make changes and help others do the same.
“In the very beginning of my journey, I spent all of my time trying to earn an unofficial degree in racism. I spent all of my time reading about the problems and about the last 400 years. And not to minimize any of that, but I also needed to balance my effort, and the same amount of time I was spending to understand the problem, I needed to spend the same amount of time having actionable solutions,” she says. “That for me is what energizes me and keeps me going.”
“I have a phrase that says, ‘I don’t get overwhelmed, I just get clear.’ For me it’s really clear what the problem is. It’s really clear what racism is and who it affects. That’s all I really need to know. I don’t get stuck in those details or get into the weeds,” she adds. “Instead, I’m always thinking throughout my day, how can I spend money that’s going to be different? What can I watch and consume that’s going to be different? How can I open a door and let as many people in as possible? Just like with this book. I let 15 people come in and take up space in this book. I always think about that as a solution and that keeps me going because there’s still so much more. There’s so much more I can do.”
RAISING ANTIRACIST CHILDREN: A Practical Parenting Guide, goes on sale from S&S Simon Element on June 7 where books are sold. Learn more about Hawthorne and her work at BrittHawthorne.com.