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Racism Explained to My Daughter

by Tahar Ben JellounNew Press; $13.95



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When our children ask about racism, we often wince internally, left momentarily speechless. The questions are usually innocent, but the answers may seem too heavy to bear. How often, as a parent, do you long for a script when those wondering eyes are fixed on you?

For moments like these, there is Racism Explained to My Daughter. The book begins with simple dialogues between a father and his child. You could lift many of Tahar Ben Jelloun’s thoughtful responses directly from the page. His honest, fact-based responses will expand a child’s world view, yet his loving touch will leave optimism intact.

The essays that follow Jelloun’s conversations contain wonderful insights into how parents of diverse backgrounds struggle with the same questions from their kids. You will find yourself nodding in recognition or, as with William Ayers’s essay, laughing uneasily. When Ayers’s child asks him, in the loudest of voices, on a crowded New York subway car, “Daddy, what’s a kike?” you may feel your cheeks flush. The lesson? Teachable moments don’t always occur when it’s convenient.

Parents will empathize with Lisa Delpit, who writes in her essay, “As much as I think of you as my gift to the world, I am constantly made aware that there are those who see you otherwise.”

As adoptive parents, one of the most painful parts of raising our kids may be to admit that we all deal in stereotypes, that we all can be cowardly. But if you’re open to improving the way you talk to your child about race, this book’s simple dialogues between a father and his daughter are a great place to start.

Reviewed by Deborah Johnson, an adult adoptee and counselor, who writes AF’s Parenting Transracially column.

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