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Children's book tackles racism in age of Colin Kaepernick

Anastasia Higginbotham takes a knee while reading to kids from her book about racism, "Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness." Submitted photo1 / 4
Anastasia Higginbotham's children's book about racism, "Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness." Submitted photo2 / 4
Anastasia Higginbotham uses collage illustrations to help tell a story in her books. Submitted photo3 / 4
Pages from Anastasia Higginbotham's "Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness." Submitted photo4 / 4

FARGO — Anastasia Higginbotham is a children's book author and illustrator, not an athlete, but to teach kids to stand up against racism, she's taking a knee next to Colin Kaepernick.

The quarterback is pictured in her new book, "Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness," so when Higginbotham prepared for readings, she drew a cardboard cutout of the controversial star and a stadium backdrop.

"Colin Kaepernick kneels for justice; he kneels for an end to police brutality; he kneels for equity in education and economic justice," she says. "So I'm going to kneel next to him as I read."

The Brooklyn author returns to Fargo-Moorhead this week to read from and discuss the book, the latest in her "Ordinary Terrible Things" line. The series uses children's point of view and the author's own child-like illustrations to discuss touchy subjects in books like, "Divorce is the Worst," "Death is Stupid" and "Tell Me About Sex, Grandma."

It is the first title from Dottir Press, a publishing house founded in feminism by former Fargoan Jennifer Baumgardner. She'll return home for the events and to promote another Dottir book, "Wakeful Night: A Structured Reflection on Loss and Illumination."

Baumgardner had worked with Higginbotham on previous books, but by 2014 they knew Higginbotham needed to tackle racism. Black Lives Matter was emerging in opposition to police killings of black men and the media coverage was so ever-present that no one could escape it, even kids.

"I'm not afraid to look at a painful history, a history in which people who look like me did things they never should have done. I want to look at that history," Higginbotham says. "It's my fight and my liberation that is tied up in black liberation."

Hard topic

Higginbotham says she was raised to recognize racism as evil and felt sorry for those who suffered from it, but she now sees that approach as somewhat "patronizing" and a root of Whiteness, something she describes as the centuries-old indoctrinating lie that "whites are in some way superior."

"As a white child myself, seeing myself as separate from issues of race, seeing racism as a problem happening to someone else, someone else's fight and seeing myself helpless to do anything about that, that has served the status quo," she says. "There's a lot of this clouding our thinking that tells us we can't do anything about it."

She has talked to her son about racism and whiteness since he was old enough to read books and watch movies together. When she would come across a troubling passage in a book, she would cover it up and write new text.

Her book art is a collage, combining her drawings with fabric, paper and handwritten text.

"Every chance we look for an opportunity to let them know that white superiority is a lie, that white innocence is a lie," she says about her family. "Question everything you're being told about your goodness and your value as a white person."

"It's a really difficult thing to talk about, even for those if us who are adults. It can feel like a loaded topic or like we're walking through a field of landmines," says Dana Bisignani, Women's Center Coordinator at Minnesota State University Moorhead. "But I think sometimes children are more open to having those discussions than even adults are. They're curious and eager. But parents want to protect them from the difficult, troubling or violent things in the world."

Higginbotham reads from and discusses her book at 3 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 19, at the Livingston Lord Library on the MSUM campus.

The author knows aligning herself with Kaepernick will turn some people off so much that they will lose sight of the book's message.

"There was no way to do this book well or do it justice by going soft," she says. "There's no way to talk about white supremacy without people getting upset, including people of color, black and indigenous people. The issue is so charged and there's so much pain and so much injury that's been unacknowledged that people deny that the only way to do it is to step directly into it."

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