Anastasia Higginbotham: Author's book 'Not My Idea' slammed for 'whiteness is the devil' claim
MANHATTAN, NEW YORK: Christopher F Rufo, a documentary filmmaker, and journalist, a staunch critic of critical race theory -- or at least what conservatives think it means -- published a list of schools on Twitter that taught from a book to young student he thinks “traffics in the noxious principles of race essentialism, collective guilt, and anti-whiteness.”
Rufo, whose recent profile in The New Yorker describes him as a conservative activist who weaponized critical race theory, wrote on Twitter, “At least 25 public school districts in 12 states are now teaching ‘Not My Idea,’ a book that claims ‘whiteness’ is the devil, luring children with the promise of ‘stolen land [and] stolen riches’."
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“P.S. The idea that ‘whiteness’ is a form of ‘stolen land and riches’ derives from one of critical race theory's founding texts, ‘Whiteness As Property,’ authored by Cheryl Harris in 1993. They've directly adapted CRT for elementary schools,” he wrote in his following tweets.
SCOOP: At least 25 public school districts in 12 states are now teaching "Not My Idea," a book that claims "whiteness" is the devil, luring children with the promise of "stolen land [and] stolen riches."— Christopher F. Rufo ⚔️ (@realchrisrufo) July 8, 2021
Critical race theory is driving public education—and must be stopped. pic.twitter.com/FRzpxywwbj
P.S. The idea that "whiteness" is a form of "stolen land and riches" derives from one of critical race theory's founding texts, "Whiteness As Property," authored by Cheryl Harris in 1993.— Christopher F. Rufo ⚔️ (@realchrisrufo) July 8, 2021
They've directly adapted CRT for elementary schools.https://t.co/rt7cJnu7cC
The Daily Mail reported that one of the schools on the list is a private Manhattan elementary school that charges $55,000-a-year for tuition. Corlears School in Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood has reportedly recommended the book for children over eight years old.
What is ‘Not My Idea’ and who is its author?
The full name of the book that Rufo mentioned is ‘Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness’. Anastasia Higginbotham, its author, began a series of children’s books called ‘Ordinary Terrible Things’ in 2015. Aside from ‘Not My Idea’, the series so far contains titles like ‘Divorce Is the Worst’, ‘Death Is Stupid’ -- which was was named one of New York Public Library’s 100 Best Children’s Books of 2016 -- and ‘Tell Me About Sex, Grandma’. ‘Not My Idea’ begins with a White child seeing footage of a police officer murdering a Black man on television and the child’s mother trying to shield her from the images. “We don’t see color,” the child’s mother says, but the child senses there is more. An afternoon in the library then uncovers the reality of White supremacy in America. As per Higginbotham’s website, the child then “connects to the opportunity and their responsibility to dismantle White supremacy -- for the sake of their own liberation out of ignorance and injustice.” Writer DJ Cashmere in the New York Times described Higginbotham's books and artwork as "disarmingly simple," adding that her books are "light on plot and character. They resist exposition and resolution. They have a subjective, almost dreamlike quality. They read more like poems than narratives."
Speaking to The Atlantic staff writer Conor Friedersdorf, who had criticized Higginbotham’s approach in ‘Not My Idea’, the author explained why she wrote the book. “My children’s school was hosting workshops for families about how whiteness affects us,” she said. “Those conversations, led by Black women, shifted my experience. Before, I was mad and sad about racism, but I was alienated from it, as if it were happening over there, to someone else. It became something I understood from the inside out, a body awareness of the racism in me that was not a moral failure but a failure of attention, a failure to notice its presence and root it out, choice by choice.” She said, “I thought, ‘Kids will understand this. Kids will get that this game is rigged and they will want no part of it.’ The earlier we tell them, the sooner they can choose how they want to be. I started with a shooting because videos of police officers killing unarmed Black people were coming out one after the other.” She said, “It’s our responsibility to help children cope with life exactly as it is and grow in the process, whether it’s divorce, death, sexuality, or violent White supremacy embedded into all of our systems.” Higginbotham further explained, “The book I made teaches young children about whiteness -- it is not about police brutality... In ‘Not My Idea’, White family members turn away from the child’s pain in the face of racist violence, and so my book points them to the library.”
“Whiteness is the reason these killings by police happen”, she said. “The white cultural mindset that tells us White is good and innocent, while Black is bad and dangerous. Whiteness is the reason cops make split-second decisions to fire their weapons into the body of an unarmed person who is Black, while not even reaching for their weapon during interactions with armed and violent criminals who are White. You ask what is the appropriate age to tell children about police brutality, but which children do you mean?”
“The siblings, cousins, children, and grandchildren of people whose family members are targeted know about it,” she explained. “You mean White children. When is the right age to tell White children about a system so cruel, we fear it will be traumatizing for them to even find out about it? Yes, I think it’s appropriate to teach my book to White kindergartners.” Racism is not complex, according to Higginbotham. Rather, "the human beings who perpetuate it are." She told Friedersdorf. “I have perpetuated racism without believing in it -- that is complicated. Racism itself is ridiculous. Elevating a people’s worthiness, morality, intelligence, cleanliness, aptitude, and dignity based on skin tone — that is a terrible idea, it was not my idea, and I will spend my life revealing and unlearning that nonsense and making sure kids can, too, as young as possible.”