S1: This ad free podcast is part of your Slate plus membership, the following podcast contains explicit language.
S2: Welcome to Mom and Dad are fighting parenting podcast for Thursday, August 13th. The Radical Rabbit Hole Edition. I’m Jimmy Little of you, a writer, cultural critic, contributor to Slate Parenting Parenting column. And most of the kids are asleep. Slate’s relatively new evening chat show. And I’m mom to Nyima Bevan. And we live in Los Angeles, California.
S3: I’m Elizabeth Lukins. I write the Home School and Family Travel blog that Stojko I’m a mom to three, little Henry eight, Oliver six and Teddy three. And I’m currently located in Navarre, Florida.
S4: But filling in for Dan this week, we have a very special guest host. Please welcome to the show Denene Millner. Hey, hey, girl.
S5: The name or the uninitiated is an award winning journalist and New York Times best selling author, I think many times over founder and editor of the parenting website, My Brown Baby Dot Com and the host of two shows, Speakeasy, with the name and a seat at the table. Thank you so much for being here, Danny.
S6: Thank you for having me. I’m a big fan of the show.
S5: Oh, thank you. And I am a big fan of you and your writing and your working your voice. And I’ve been following you and reading you before.
S4: I was a parent myself and your once little people that started you writing children’s books are all grown up now. How old are your children to name?
S6: My once little people are good and grown. That Lyla is eighteen and Mary is twenty one. My youngest daughter is about to make me an empty nester. If it were not for wow, she’s going to be here for the first semester. But yeah, all of my kids are officially old enough to be gone.
S3: They’re grown. Grown. We were just chatting. She’s like really like launch them like in a way that every parent I think would be so proud of. Like they found themselves and they’re off to places where they’re they’re really growing and learning and being amazing young women. I’m super proud of them.
S6: Mary is a senior premed at Yale and she’s just killin it there and really enjoying it. I’m kind of anxious about her going back for senior year, but she is going back because she won a research grant for some study that she’s working on that has to do with women’s reproductive health and she actually has to be there. So she’s going to go back to Connecticut and study on the campus. But Lyla is going to be here with me for at least a semester. Like I said, I’m feeling good about that.
S5: I just want to go a an intentional, small silver lining right now to get a little bit more time with your baby. Yes. It’s okay to have you this week on the show. We’re going to be talking about a couple of questions we got from listeners. We have one from a mom who’s worried about her teenage son who has gone down and right. Rabbit hole. And we have a question about teaching empathy to a little people when they’re showing some signs of egotistical behavior. And as always, we have our triumphs and failures and recommendations. So let’s start with triumph of failed.
S7: Elizabeth, which one do you have for us this week?
S3: OK, so I have a fail, I guess. You know, I talk about my garden a lot on the show. I love, like our home schooling and being outside and growing our garden. So we’re in the season. We’re like we’re finally getting fruits and vegetables from there. And I love that we go outside to harvest them. And of course, the kids have put in all this work. Now, we did get those early pumpkins from my discussion on how I had to fertilize my pumpkins themselves. But we finally got some pollinators in the garden and they helped me out. So the kids were out there this week picking their peppers. And we have all these different kinds of like red peppers, yellow peppers. But of course, because the vegetables are not grown in the store, they are like crazy looking. Right? Like we don’t use any chemicals. There’s like worms and our cucumbers. And I’m like, you guys, this is fine. This is like how they used to do it. We were just going to cut them out and we’re going to, like, make a salad. My kids are like, no, they don’t want the stuff that doesn’t look right. We’ve put all this effort into it and I’m trying to teach them like we can grow our things. And not all fruits and vegetables need to look perfect. Nothing. They want nothing. The worms were a little gross. OK, so we cut those out and put those in the salad and then but, you know, our peppers are kind of like all mangled and there’s things like shriveled on the vine and. Yeah, anyway, so I’m eating a lovely fresh salad from our garden and enjoying it. And the kids are just like talking, you know, about all the bugs that we had to cut out and how the peppers look crazy in any of us. So I fail in that I got them to grow things, but I have yet to get them to realize, like, the value of that and that our things don’t need to look perfect to eat them. I think they’ve they’ve just been around the grocery store too long. I don’t know.
S6: But then there’s bugs girl like.
S8: I know. See, I also often recommend I feel like that’s the healthy. You should know that there are other critters that like to eat this food. You and I got pollinators and the pollinators are great and I’m like, wait, cornets and think this is exactly what I mean by it.
S3: But see, I had to actually self pollinate a bunch of stuff, which is like one of the most phallic things you will ever intentionally do with your children. And so when I was like, well, this part of our gardening lesson is over, you know, and see everything I grow. But alas, I will I will get them next. This year I will eat my bug fruits and vegetables. And next year I hope that they will enjoy this too. But I hope that I leave you with that. We’ve had worse to Elizabeth. I know. I know that for sure. You know, it’s a small problem to have. At least I’m growing vegetables. I am very excited about that and glad to know that I could produce like one one thousandth of the calories that I needed. Sure.
S8: Probably more so.
S9: Well, I’m glad that you’re growing and celebrating your growing, just like I celebrate when I actually have cooked the vegetable of life. Yeah. Putting it in the microwave or getting it from a restaurant. What about you? The. Do you have a triumph or a fail?
S6: You know, I have to go back back into time because my kids, you know, they’re good and grown. So I don’t know if I have any recent triumphs or parenting fails. But I do remember one time when my older daughter Marie was in fifth grade, we were there for a parenting teacher conference and we were standing outside. And, you know, the teachers always get the kids to do things and draw things or display some kind of artwork or class work outside the classroom. So you can really see what your kids have been doing while you’re standing outside waiting to sit in the little chairs and get told whether your kid was good or bad. And so we’re standing outside and we see that they were working on adjectives. And I guess the assignment was for the kids to take pictures out of magazines and then put adjectives onto them. And so, you know, like a yacht with fancy soccer ball was exciting. Dogs were fun. But everywhere that there was a picture of a black person, specifically black males, it said evil. It said evil, it said mean. It said nasty things that were all negative. And so I’m sitting here and I’m looking I’m looking for my handwriting and, you know, trying to find that. And I’m looking at the words. And then all of a sudden I’m like, there’s a pattern here. And oh, my goodness, this is not cool. What is going on here? So I got really frustrated and and quite frankly, angry because I couldn’t understand how the teacher didn’t catch how all of these different adjectives were like just sort of spread across this big, gigantic poster out in the hallway. And she didn’t notice the pattern. So we’re standing there. My ex-husband and I are standing there and we’re talking and another parent comes over and she says, I think you’re just making a big deal out of this.
S9: Like, who was this in Atlanta?
S6: This is an Atlanta child now. It was in Snellville, Snellville, Georgia, which is where it is, right?
S8: Exactly. Way different.
S6: But it was a pretty diverse like it like the school was a very, very diverse school. Well, it was diverse in terms of the students, but not necessarily teachers. And this teacher was a really good teacher. And so I didn’t want to, like, crawl into her, you know, but we were going to have a discussion. But this parent just kind of came over and tried to tell us that we were looking at this wrong. She got told and told to move away. But then when we got into the classroom, we talked to the teacher and completely used our time talking about Marie to talk about this poster and the parents when is seeing it, bringing it to the teacher’s attention and then going out of our way to fix that. So it was like, how are we going to fix this? Because it’s not good enough for you to apologize. It’s not good enough for you to just take it down, which is what she did. She took it down. I need some kind of assurance that you’re going to actually address this with these kids. She’s like, well, what can we do? So I came in and I just talked to the kids and read to them for an entire couple of weeks, coming in every other day and reading books to these kids and talking to them about the context of the books. And I wasn’t reading to them books about the civil rights movement or slavery or anything that kind of broke down to them why what they were perceiving was wrong. I talked to them about look at Jamal, your fellow student, you know, does he look evil? Does my husband look bad? Yeah, I’m sure you have a cousin. And this was a conversation I had to have my own daughter because she couldn’t understand why this was a bad thing. Like why why is it bad that there’s evil? I was like, when you have in your mind that a black person is evil, a black boy or a man is evil, then you create in your mind stereotypes. And here’s what stereotypes do stereotypes make it so that when your cousin or your big brother or your dad or your papa is walking down the street and somebody has in their mind the stereotype that black men are evil, then what do you think they’re going to think about them when they’re walking down the street? What do you think could happen when they’re walking down the street? And then how does that translate into. So that was a conversation that I have with the kids. But more importantly, I was reading to them books that kind of took them out of the idea of looking at black people as enslaved people or people who were involved in the civil rights movement and looking at them as human beings. So it was books that had to do with everyday common experiences that they could identify with as human beings so that you can see these human beings as human beings.
S3: Yeah, I’ve noticed how much those characters like having those characters in books, not just for black children, but like for my three little white boys, too. For them to be able to say, like when they meet someone like, oh, this is just like to a scientist, this is just like this character and not just like, yes, we study Martin Luther King and we talk about Malcolm X and these things. But to be able to identify characters and things, they’re getting, you know, also people in their lives. But things were reading and things were bringing in, just like you say, in a more natural context, it doesn’t feel like this lesson is being forced on you, but it’s just like this is life. Exactly.
S9: That’s a great story. And that’s part of the reason that we want to have you on and today on Slate. Plus, we’re going to be talking about children’s books and your work as a children’s book author and how important it is that all children are seeing a diverse array of skin colors and nationalities and abilities and orientations, et cetera, et cetera, in their books so that they can understand the world in which they live. So looking forward to doing that a little bit later. And for our Slate plus listeners, you will get a chance to check that out. So please be sure to subscribe to Slate. Plus, if you haven’t already before we do the business, I’ll just share briefly my triumph. I actually have a triumph this week. It’s usually a fail. It’s usually like, how did you fail at parenthood or adulthood this week? This isn’t a parenting triumph, but it’s a personal triumph. I drove and I’ve talked to a number of times in the show about being still even though it’ll be a year in October, which is crazy. I still feel pretty new to California. And I came here from New York, where I’ve been living for a really long time and had not been driving. And so car related things are still new and novel for me in so many ways. And this weekend I drove to Big Bear Mountain and I drove all by myself. It took almost four hours to get there. Shouldn’t have taken that long, but the traffic on Thursday was kind of crazy. And I drive the speed limit like I’m not like certain areas. Like once I’ve been on the highway for a minute, I’m OK. I’m cool. I’m comfortable. Like it’s the sixty five. Everyone’s driving 80 to 100. I can meet you in the 80s somewhere. You know I can do that. I’m not going to get so much faster than that. Driving around those mountains was like. And I’m not going to lie. I think if I had known how intense the drive would be, especially at that last hour, like when you’re actually in the mountains climbing up the mountain. Yeah. And you see the sign that says like 7000 miles above sea level, it’s like, oh, I was almost there. I was going to the Big Bear Retreat Center. I did like a kind of socially distance retreat with a group of other black women, most of whom are doing some sort of social justice work. I’ll say organizers, folks who work in government, writers, activists, it was just really good. I was very happy and lucky to be counted in this group of people where we were like separate together for a couple of days and had our own cabins and stuff and got to just rest. But that last hour, when you go from like the highway to the mountains and you’re kind of just going around and around and around and I’m doing great. I’m like, this is cool. Wow. I can’t believe I did this. And I noticed that people were like snapping at the thing, they come to turnabouts or whatever to take pictures. And I was like, oh, I should stop and take a picture. And that was the first and I didn’t get out the car. But this was the first moment in which I just simply looked down. And dad is going to hate me. I’m not a nice person and I’m like, I’m not. I am a city. Yes, I take me to the one hundred and thirty fifth floor of an apartment building somewhere in Manhattan. I will feel very comfortable and I’ll still get that fluttery feeling in my stomach if I like rain on the window. Different, but it’s totally different. Like I think parents like legit mountain. It’s a little bit like a mountain as mountain. So like very mountainous. So like I am proud of myself for making it through. I’m not going to at one point, like there was like a pull over for slow drivers. So I pulled over and had to catch my breath a little bit because I was like, who? OK, you know, but I made it and I was there and I got to sunbathe topless and just be outside. And I went on my very first hike. But hiking sneakers, you know, that’s a very big thing in L.A. Everybody hikes and I haven’t done it yet is one of the things that you can still do, you know, and like not be close to people. And so I got to take a little hike. And it was really nice. My triumph was stepping outside of my comfort zone because I am a city girl like. See, I t why like I’m dying in the suburbs out here, you know, as it is the like taking it from the suburbs to the mountains was a lot, but I did it and with nature I’m so proud of, made sure I had and I liked it. I was, I did go outside yesterday like I walked out while I was there, like yesterday it was so wow. I only could do yoga outside for a few minutes. They got really hot where it was, but like I said, to go inside. But like I worked outside and it was great. And I did not feel bad about Nyima not being there because Nyima has already been to Big Bear. That’s right. And she went with her dad and step mom and her little brother. Right. One school ended this year was a trip that they planned before the pandemic. And so they modified it a bit and they got to go and it was great. So shout out to Big Bear and to nature. That’s my big triumph for the week. So before we get into our listener questions, let’s just handle a little business. Tune in two nights Thursday, August 13th, to my Slate Live show. The kids leave. I’m back.
S7: I know we were going to try to do. I’m so glad we didn’t attempt to do a show last week because one, I did not leave the house any time like I was supposed to do Stone’s podcast. So Best was a podcast like five o’clock in the evening. And I did not get on the road until like four. So that didn’t happen. We were a little worried about the Internet service being spotty on Big Bear, but I’m back and we’re going to do the show again.
S10: It’ll be live. We’ll be drinking, we’ll be having fun. And I’m going to be talking with beloved former mom and dad are fighting co-host Kaval Wallace now.
S9: Yes, I’m really excited to talk to Carvelle about lots of things. I want to hear his experiences with being like not just the black host of mom dad are fighting, but more so like the black contributor. Take care and feeding, you know, because I think the responses that we get to our responses to reader inquiries are not always the same as what some of our colleagues get. And also be curious to hear a little bit from his perspective as a male parenting writer as opposed to a woman, because there’s a whole lot of condescension that some of the other women, including the white women contributors to the column, get that I don’t think the men get. And I just want to know how how in tune to all that stuff he is. I want to know and I want to thank him because he set me up for all this.
S11: Carville was the one who recommended me to do the column. And I don’t know if and certainly that’s how I ended up hosting the show. So I’m grateful to him for giving me my straight life.
S10: It’ll be fun. So make sure you tune in at 10:00 Eastern, 7:00 p.m. Pacific on Slate’s YouTube or Facebook page, and we’ll have the links in the show page. And if you missed, the previous episodes have been three so far with comedian Roy Wood Jr. with retired porn actress Cinnamon Love and with activist and scholar Jamal Bell. They were all very interesting conversations and you can still watch them. All right. So to stay up to date on all of Slate’s great parenting content and shows, please sign up for Slate’s parenting newsletter. It is the best way to be notified about all of our cool parenting things going on, including care and feeding. Mom and dad are fighting and much more. And it’s a fun personal email from our missing cohost, Dan Quia directly to your inbox each week. So sign up at Slate dot com backslash parenting email. And if you are looking for even more parenting advice, join our parenting group on Facebook.
S4: It’s super active. It’s moderated so it doesn’t get out of control. I come on, like once a month. Oftentimes I like just read comments. I’m tagged and and like them or I read a thread that I’ve been tagged in and I and I like the comments to let folks know that I do appreciate the nice things you say. But don’t let my Facebook aversion scare you away. It’s a really great parenting community. I have a number of my, like, real life friends who are in it now. It’s awesome. So just search for his late parenting on Facebook, finally, do not forget to tune in to our bonus mom and dad fighting episode. They will appear in your normal podcast feed every Tuesday. All right. Let’s get to our first listener question, which is being read, as always, by the fabulous Shasha Lanard.
S12: Dear mom and dad are fighting. I am the mom of a 13 year old boy who is truly a great kid. My hubby and I are the picture of white privilege in the Deep South, though we come from extreme poverty ourselves and fought our way out. We do not treat people differently based on anything, but we understand we are part of a racist system that we were raised in, and even though we are educated, people didn’t really appreciate the insidious nature of the system until this past year. As such, we’ve had hard conversations with our son and our minority friends and are really working and striving to be part of the solution. I know I probably sound so white privilege right now, but I really don’t know how else to say. We are really doing our best to be our best people for ourselves and for our community. We have allowed our son to have a tick tock, he’s not allowed to post, but he is allowed to watch different things on Tick Tock on June 18th. You guys did an episode where the named Ben Shapiro came up by Rebecca talking about her son, Henry. I had never heard of Ben Shapiro. And oddly, two days later, my 13 year old son started talking about how he felt that reparations were ridiculous and that he should not have to pay anyone for things that he did not do to them. And complaining about Pride Month when we only have one day to celebrate the military Memorial Day. I asked him, where are you hearing this information? And he said, have you ever heard of Ben Shapiro, mom and Dad? I literally almost crashed my car remembering what Rebecca had recently said about this man. Since then, I have listened to Ben Shapiro and for obvious reasons, we do not believe this is a person my son should be exposed to, and that is all I will say publicly about that guy. I know we can delete the app. That’s not what I’m asking. We believe that deleting the app is not the way to teach our son to resist this type of thinking when we are not with him. And that is our goal. Resist all forms of hate speech and action and user privilege to enact change. Now we are watching Ben together, so basically we can shred him with our knowledge and our son understanding why we feel this is an inherently dangerous and ignorant belief system. We want more action, though. And I started hunting for young men on Ticktock that he can watch that feel differently. However, when I try to find someone who is the opposite of Ben Shapiro, I can’t seem to find anyone that is not portrayed as a seriously dangerous terrorist radical a.k.a. Ben in liberal clothing. I don’t want to just not allow him to hear this information because he’s a white, privileged male living in the south. And this is not the last time he will hear this garbage and it will be targeted towards him, especially to influence his mind. We want to and have taught him to choose, love and resist this type of hate speech. But clearly, we’ve screwed up somewhere. Any advice on places to send him and us that speak the way teens are really taking in information? It is shocking. And clearly we had just had our heads in the sand. How quickly he was sucked in by what I see is. All right. Speech. I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas and please don’t yell at us too much. Sincerely not raising a terrorist.
S4: OK, well, huh. I’m not going to yell at you too much, but I will start out by saying that, you know, I don’t know who you came across on Tic-Tac that you thought might be a counterpoint to Ben Shapiro and you found them to be and Shapiro in liberal clothing. I will say I’m not a tech talker. I am thirty six years old. I’ll admit that is not a space in which I reside very often, certainly not for political education. I go there to watch cute dance videos with my kid. But I will say while there certainly are very problematic folks that have a left leaning point of view, oftentimes it is the same sort of issues that you have with Ben Shapiro, not in terms of being extreme, but in terms of being misogynistic or homophobic or racist. Right. It’s not that they are going too far with the liberal stuff, and that’s the problem. And if that is the concern for you, then you may want to take some time thinking about just how progressive or liberal you might actually be. So if you’re offended at the idea of someone talking about, say, black liberation or full equity for LGBTQ people or feminism, then that’s not necessarily the work of been in liberal clothing. Right. That’s a reaction to a society in which there are systems of power and privilege that are afforded almost exclusively to people who are white, to people who are class mobile primarily. It’s the people who are male, to people who are heterosexual as those gender, et cetera, et cetera. That said, I think that beyond trying to find propaganda to de radicalize your son and that’s a challenging thing. I had the conversation with some folks about that this weekend, that the left doesn’t necessarily do propaganda in the same way that the right does for moral and ethical reasons. Right. And so there should be a shinier, easier to digest version of here’s why reparations should be available and here’s why women deserve the same rights and equality as men. And here’s why. Even, quote unquote, good white folks need to check their racism. But oftentimes that information is presented in ways that are a bit headier, that want you to actually take in the information and to read and to understand, as opposed to simply just having some viral worthy talking points like a Ben Shapiro.
S13: It’s not always as sexy or glamorous or compelling if your son is a white male and even though his parents grew up in poverty, he has not. And so he doesn’t necessarily have a reason to feel downtrodden or cast aside by society. But folks that are talking about liberal, quote unquote or progressive issues, they’re not tapping into him and what he’s lacking from his life. Right. They’re asking him to acknowledge the privileges that he has and how he’s given a certain amount of power and space in this world that he should not be entitled to, that he is entitled to on the virtue of his birth. And telling someone I want to take away your things is not always the best way to get them on board with your message. But it’s also necessary, right when we’re talking about white male privilege.
S14: With that, I think that going beyond wanting to find their counterpoint to him, I think that you want your son to be immersed in a real political education. Right. And that’s the project that you all can take on as a family, I would say, especially right now, because there’s a very good chance that your life in some way has been offended by a coronavirus. And even if you all are no longer or have not been under a shelter in place order, there’s a good chance that things just aren’t what they were, you know, eight months ago. And then you have more time together in the house. And so you need this. In that time, reading people’s history of the United States, right, reading the autobiography of Malcolm X, watching the news, watching MSNBC and CNN and talking about all of the voices that he’s hearing.
S9: Right. And talking about why does this person turn you off? You think it might be because she’s a woman?
S15: Do you think it’s because this person is queer? Like, what makes you uncomfortable about what they have to say? You know, talking about Fox News, talking about fake news and dishonesty and the fact that Ben Shapiro is not just offensive in terms of his analysis, but the folks like that are spreading information that is categorically untrue. There’s no easy answer to this. You know, and it’s a great thing that you say, I’m not raising interest. I don’t want to raise the truth. And now is the moment in which you’re going to have to take some serious, sustained action to ensure that you don’t, because your child has already had his nose opened by somebody that’s tapping into that thing where people want to feel censored and they want to feel important.
S16: And men like Ben Shapiro feel threatened by the idea of other people claiming their power. And look, if you’ve always been able to escape accountability, if you’ve always been afforded certain privileges in society, then somebody saying that that’s not right is going to feel like an attack. There are also people who are very clear on what they’ve been given and are seizing upon the minds of boys like your own as an economic opportunity. Right. They’re very clear. They think that white men should be in power, that they’re in power because they deserve to be in power and they want to keep it that way. Right. They’re not responding to any sort of danger and nothing’s being done to them. They like the way things are and they want to maintain that. So you are going to have to do some serious hard core work to address that.
S17: And you are not going to find the answers to that on Tic-Tac that certainly want to hear my co-hosts if they have any specific suggestions for places that this family can turn to for reading and understanding and viewing. And I’m also going to ask that our listeners leave some suggestions or maybe some of you all that have some take out accounts that are better that you’d like to suggest that this kid follows. But my big thing is taking this off a six pack and going deeper.
S6: I could not agree more. You know, this isn’t about finding a Tic TAC page that your son can listen to that will be counter to the craziness that he’s taking into his ears and into his mental space. This is about you being a parent, right? This is about you taking the time to teach your child about how to move in this world as a person who has empathy for others, as a person who is a thoughtful thinking person. And you can’t do that by suggesting a tick tock page that they could watch and digesting it in 15 seconds to 30 seconds to a minute worth of video. You know what we used to do with our kids? And I I used to be a columnist at Parenting magazine, and we got a lot of these questions a lot of the time, you know, like how do we talk to our kid about race and used to look at all of the statistics and the studies that said that white parents tend not to talk to their kids about race until after something goes down. Right. Like somebody messes around and call somebody the N-word or they happen upon a white supremacist Facebook page or our website or something. And they’re digesting this and they don’t know until it’s too late. Well, like, the way that you talk about race is wrong, right? The way that you’re you’re ignoring race is wrong. You need to look at race and the conversations that you have with your children in the same way that you talk to your kids about sex. Like if your son’s girlfriend pops up pregnant, it’s now not the time to talk to her about safety. And it’s too late. Right, right. Right. Same thing with race. You don’t wait until your kid is listening to this garbage. So, like, say, maybe I should have been talking to him about race and let me find a Tic TAC page. No, those conversations come from your family and he’s taking cues from you, whether you realize it or not. Right. He’s taking cues from you when you surround your whole family and your whole social circle without having any black friends, without being in places where where you might take in black culture, without sitting him down and giving him books to read that stretch outside of what you think is a norm and talking to him about how to digest what he is being fed, the stereotypes and things that he is being fed, if he’s listening to rap music and wears his pants low. But he still thinks that like he’s the king of the world and that everybody else is beneath him and he doesn’t understand why reparations are necessary. You’re not doing your job by letting him listen to hip hop music. Clearly, you have to sit him down at the table and have this conversation, something that my ex-husband and I used to do all the time with our girls, because race was always talked about in our house, we had no other choice because we are black people. But so we are going to talk about this because you have to know how to digest what’s about to be said to you, done to you what you’re going to hear. But we would sit at the table every day and have dinner. I was a big proponent of that. And to this day when my girls are home, we sit down and we have dinner. But every day I would cook dinner or he would cook dinner every once in a while and we would sit down. That would be our time to talk and sort of digest what happened during the course of the day. And somehow we would always manage to turn the conversation to a learning experience about race that even happened when we were going out and driving in the car. We talked to them about gentrification. Just going to target, right. When you see a bunch of low income housing with yellow police tape around it, you know exactly what’s about to happen. Here’s what’s going to happen. Girls watch. In two months, those houses are going to be gone. And they’re saying that it’s full of asbestos and that’s why they’re being taken down. Let’s see what happens in three months when they start building luxury condos there. Now, let’s talk about who lived in those houses versus who’s going to be able to afford them. Now, let’s talk about the men who are ringing Target and Home Depot and Lowe’s and why they’re out there looking for jobs at six o’clock in the morning and why the white women are the ones walking up to them and making these kinds of transactions with them. Let’s talk about that. It’s races all around you. You have to open your eyes and actually be smart enough to talk about it with your kids. So my question is, what is the parent doing? What books are you reading? What shows are you watching? What conversations are you having? And then who are your friends? Where do you hang out? Where do you go and find emotional, mental and physical sustenance? And then once you do that, once you take that assessment, then you might find that you haven’t been doing your job. And when you find that you haven’t been doing your job, now it’s your turn to not only get your kid to reading the right books and being around the right people and watching the right television shows and listening to the right music, it’s your job to.
S3: And both of you guys just summed up so many wonderful points about this, I thought about this also from the perspective of like if you’re sitting down and watching Ben Shapiro and I think you both touched on this idea of like, let’s not find somebody else to replace this, because what you want from your child is not to go out and seek someone that’s giving you the right message. Right. But you want your child to be able to interpret this message and what they’re receiving, because even if you get rid of Ben Shapiro or find someone else, he’s going to get this again and again and again or see it happen or whatever, or hear this dialogue from his friends. And so I feel like one of the things you can do in addition to what you this is not like the end. I think both of you had excellent points on steps to take now, but also to think about talking about critical thinking. So specifically like what is it that rings true or that he likes about these messages that Shapiro is saying because he has an essence, like a bully, like he comes out and he he is preying on the minds of these this age, you know, these teen white males, hey, you have all this and they’re going to take it from you. And even in the examples that you give, I just wonder, like, can you say why are you upset about reparations? How does that harm you? Let’s talk about what reparations look like because like. Yes, OK, you know, if we pay reparations like that, money is yours. But like, they’re not going to take so much money from you that you can’t afford anything. So why why is that a problem in the same way that like, why can’t I’m a military family, I can celebrate pride. And when I’m celebrating Pride Month, I’m not like but no one is celebrating my husband and no one is celebrating what we do like. In fact, there are many people who both of those things celebrate. So I, I think when you really ask your kids and I love that you said do this now because I am not perfectly and I am certainly every day trying to do better with my three little boys and trying to do better for myself. But when they bring up these conversations or when they say things, I think one of the things you can say in a very loving way is why do you like this message? Like, what about this? And instead of sitting down and watching it with him and saying like, well, this is wrong and this is wrong, because I think sometimes that can draw them further into that. I don’t know. I don’t have teenagers. You’re right. But I think that you can say defend it to me and tell me what you think about this. Then let’s go look up facts, because so much of what is being presented and you hit on this is like if you think things are too liberal, like go look at the facts. I’m not saying you have to agree with all of that or agree with every step that needs to be taken. But let’s look at the facts about what has actually been done to these different groups of people, by our government, by society, and then start talking about how do we make this better, because part of what people like Ben Shapiro and the and the far right are trying to make it feel like is this is a scary time to be white. And the reality is that we have been given so much privilege by society that bringing everybody where we are. Should not be scary, and I think that if you do the reading because that will inform what you’re saying, what you’re doing, then these conversations become a little bit easier to have about the actual thing, because Ben Shapiro is not defending any of these things. He’s just saying be scared of this, be scared of this. They’re coming for your way of life. And I think that to a white teen in this moment, male living in the south, that can feel very appealing. And so what I think you need to say is make it such that the facts demonstrate something else and you want to set him up so that he can go find the facts so he can hear these things and know, like, does this check. And I think that absolutely applies to both sides. Right. Like, if you hear something that too much meshes with what you think, I often think like I better Google this and find out if this is true. Like this sounds too good to be true. So trying to implement those skills. The other thing I really wanted to say is that if you are listening to this and you have kids like me that are eight, six and three, you have to do something now, no matter how young your kids are. And like you said, having those conversations with them when you’re driving and you guys, your kids ask you, they ask you about these things and all you have to do, like you don’t have to read a book about when the moment is. They see things and they ask and it is the most natural time to just have that discussion. And it doesn’t have to be weird and it doesn’t have to feel awkward. And the more you talk about it, the more it’ll just be something you talk about. But I, I think so often we’re scared of making kids scared, but all we’re doing is delaying that to this moment. So if you if your kids are armed with this knowledge that these things exist when they get to be teens, I think then this conversation is a little bit easier to have. I feel for this mom, though. I mean, this is like my I joke all the time that like having three boys. There is my big fear. It’s my big fear. I feel so lucky to be raising three little boys. I love them so much. And they like no matter how much change happens, like in in ten years and 18 years when they’re older, like we’re still going to live in a world in which they are privileged and they are in charge. And I, I want them to know that and want to make change and not be here. And it’s hard and it’s scary. And I. Yes, yeah. It’s very hard. That wasn’t like a pity.
S18: I just want to add, I think it’s important that the you know, the letter writer that you in your household, that you all are very clear that there’s a difference between having differing opinions. Right. Because one thing that the right does so well is pretending that, you know, it’s not fair for you to say, I can’t you know, you can feel the way you feel. You can think black lives matter. Why can’t I think that they don’t you know, like you can say it’s OK. You think that women should be able to do what they want with their bodies? Why can’t I say that they cannot. Right. And really making a distinction between one truth and falsehood and understanding how things work. So the idea of why should I have to pay back reparations for something I did not do is dishonest intellectually because it erases the value of white privilege. And what this historical wrong and the continued wrongs that have happened as a result of chattel slavery, how they have benefited people who quote unquote, never, you know, I haven’t done anything. My family, you know, I didn’t own slaves or whatever, but also point out how much money the United States government spends in his name right now. Right. On things that he would not believe in and things that he might not find. OK, and I think that that part is so often missing that it’s easy to just like because this is just propaganda. These are just headlines. So it’s just like, you know, you have the visual of you having to write a two hundred dollar check every month. So some black people who are just sitting on their butts, as opposed to thinking that in the same way that your tax money pays for roads or should or pays for schools and pays for wars and pays for violent policing and has certainly paid for a lot of things that most of us on both sides of the aisle might not be in agreement with. That is what the idea of reparations is exploring that, you know, that you have a personal toll that you will experience because there’s a conversation about making black people whole in terms of what’s owed to us by the United States government. So thank you, letter writer, and we wish you all the best. You’ve got a lot of work ahead of you. But as the name said, black families, other families of color and families where there are queer parents or queer children or trans children and transparence cetera, et cetera, do not have the ability to just wait until something has happened. To talk about identity for too long, a lot of white folks have acted as if simply talking about race at all, you know, is a bad thing. That black is a bad word. You know, like you want to watch somebody get really uncomfortable as a white person. To read a sentence that says black or African-American, you know, and if that’s the case with you, if you thought that just being nice to people and not saying bad things about people in front of your child was enough to keep them from harboring some really ugly attitudes about other groups of people. And again, this can include women. So be clear, like the Ben Shapiro of the world, and not just a danger to people of color. Right. And there’s a lot of white women, a lot of white mothers who have not made the commitment that you’re attempting to make that that Elizabeth has made to saying I’m going to raise boys that are healthy, well-adjusted, to love themselves, but also do not feel entitled to run the world. That’s the task before you. So good luck. No pressure, but all of our lives depend on.
S3: That’s right. You should feel the pressure. I think if you don’t feel the pressure, you need to do some more reading.
S18: That is very fair. Thank you, letter writer.
S9: Best of luck to you. And if any of you all have a question for us, please send it in at mom and dad at Slate that come on to our second question again, being read by the fabulous Sasha Lyonheart.
S12: Dear mom and dad, help my super egotistical four year old’s behavior is driving me insane. My first child has always been very willful and extremely verbal. We’ve made the mistake of treating him with more expectations than our age appropriate. But due to his verbal skills, it is so hard not to. He can tell me exactly why he’s not supposed to do X, Y, Z, but then he does it. Our biggest issue right now is daycare, our daycare has been open during covid his social skills with the kids have always been a little challenging, but it seemed age appropriate until this year. He seems to seek negative attention by knocking over kids towers, ripping up their papers, etc. Not all the time, but when the mood strikes him. I guess he does this with his baby sister. Thankfully, she doesn’t care yet. He doesn’t listen. When someone says no adults, kids, you name it, he always has to do it one, two more times before the person gets super frustrated. I’m a pediatric physical therapist and I work closely with pediatric occupational therapists. I’m constantly asking them if they think this stuff is normal and they always say they feel it is. At this age, daycare does say this egotistical, narcissistic behavior is normal at this age, but they continue to comment that social skills are still challenging. My fear is that he will get older and into bigger classes and alienate himself from his peers as well as get a bad label from the teachers. How can we help him learn empathy? How can we help him listen when someone says stop?
S3: Well, I say welcome to the fuck you forced.
S8: I’ve been there twice and getting ready to enter it again with the virus, with the virus study.
S3: The virus is October will bring his four year old birthday. So I do really feel you. I have been through this with not sweet weird Oliver, but with Henry. And then now Teddy is definitely approaching this first. I think I say this a lot like don’t board the crazy train when you’re dealing with these kids. The first thing is to sort of take your emotions out of it and be able to say, like, OK, this child is not me and I’m doing my best to raise this child. But they are also like their own person. So I don’t need to assign to them all of this anxiety and fear and craziness that I have about this behavior. So from that perspective, I try to say, like, OK, why am I seeing this behavior? Because for the most part, kids are not trying to be assholes, right? I mean, they are a lot of the time, or at least some of mine are. But in general, I feel like I’m seeing some other kind of emotion. And so what I like to do is do the like name it to tame it. Like when you knocked that over, it must have been because you were angry. Were you trying to get your brother’s attention? We have a lot of that, but trying to help them identify what that feeling is and why they’re using this behavior. I think then the thing is, is to not necessarily like jump on and correct a bit like we don’t knock things down, then people will be our friends. Like that is just like white noise to children. Right? Like, if you were doing something, you don’t want that either. They want to feel kind of heard and then help them like, well, if you are angry, we could hit this pillow or we could scream or we could, you know, some other way. If you think it’s anger, if you think it’s like attention, you can say we could build this with them. I think that at four, like, role playing is really great with them at home using their toys and practicing. There’s not much you can actually do about the daycare situation because you are not there. I think you could talk to the teachers about how they handle that, but setting up a situation and saying, like, when you go to enter the play, like I see you’re building this tower, could I build build that with you would be really fun if we did this, like, role playing that you’re entering that moment. And the other thing is, I think trying to be action oriented. So, so often we want to like parent from the other side of the room. I mean, I get it. I am like tired and don’t really want to get up for the hundredth time to fix whatever fight. But my physical presence going over and holding their hand and saying, like, when you knock this over, like, I see that you’re angry, but you made all of a really sad or you made me very sad or whatever. How can we fix this? Let’s build this together and offer that like teaching that act of the apology. I do think there’s some kids do this and they want to see a reaction, so don’t beat yourself up about it. Certainly if this continues to go on, you could say like, well, do we have a sensory issue here? Like, is it more about the like knocking it over? Is there some sort of issue in feeling hurt or feeling that? Which is why he’s just saying no over and over again. But I think that the thing you can do right now is try to have your child know that when these incidents happen, that there’s like this system that you’re going to follow, you’re going to help them process the information and move forward. There were two books there. There’s one called The Way I Act, and the others call it The Way I Feel. And they’re both by Steve Metzker and they’re just wonderful, like big illustrations with different names of feelings and names of actions. And that was something that has really helped my kids tie how they’re feeling to these pictures of kids doing different things and giving them that vocabulary to be able to tell me how they’re feeling. Because if a kid says, like, I’m frustrated, you can say like, OK, that is really frustrating and be able to go from there to be like but knocking down a tower is not the best way. You know, we’re ripping up this piece of paper. But eventually as adults, we kind of learn, like I have that feeling inside, like I have certainly wanted to kick something or wanted to rip something. But helping say like this is just frustration. And how does an adult deal with that? Like, that is the path you’re leading your kids on. But I also want to say hang in there because it’s tough.
S6: I love that you’re advocating teaching the child emotional intelligence. That’s exactly what we should be doing as parents. But I’m also a firm believer in some consequences, like if you don’t act the fool, you don’t get treated like you’re acting a fool. Now, if I told you to stop and you felt the need to do it two more times before you actually start, well, now this is a conversation that we need to have. And it’s it’s not necessarily about your feelings and your emotional intelligence. This is about you not listening to what? I said to stop doing and so now we’re going to come over here and have a conversation about it, and if it happens again, then there’s some consequences that need to be had. Right. So like God, my skill set and he just set expectations that listened because my patience is thin. I didn’t believe in hitting children. Right. And never hit my kids. That was that’s not what I’m saying when I’m trying to. Please, please. No, I’m not saying Betaseron. No, don’t don’t hit don’t hit the babies. That is not a good way to teach them anything despite by physically hitting them at all. But in the times that Laila and Mari and my stepson Mozi may have stepped out of line, we got really creative with the consequences. Right. And people sometimes, particularly in the black community, people do believe, like, you know, hit on the butt and this is over. And because we didn’t think that we got labeled as like the ones who were the weaklings amongst the Negroes. And so I can relate to that. I would say that we’re weak or that our kids are wild, like, hello, I got one in jail, Lafayette and what did George Washington. And I did. OK, great, great. But, you know, like putting them in the corner wasn’t what we wanted to do either. I just moved the chair from downstairs to upstairs. So really beautiful slipper chair that I bought from ABC carpet at home. There’s a point to this story and it’s a lovely chair. It’s gorgeous. I paid a lot of money for it and there’s two of them. And one day my daughter Leila thought it was a good idea to use her fingernail to carve her name into it. And it still says Leila channels. To this day, when I was moving it upstairs, I was like, look at this child’s name carved into my chair. And her consequence was, hey, OK, now you get to find out how you go about fixing this. And I’m also going to need a five page letter about why this was not the best idea to carve a name with your fingernail into my my leather, my expensive leather chair. But you’re also going to you’re going to apologize. You’re going to explain why this wasn’t a good idea. You’re going to explain what it takes to own something that you love, where that money comes from, how hard mommy worked for it. Yeah. How we take care of our things and why it’s important to take care of our things, particularly our special things that are meaningful to us and how you treat those things. And then it’s going to end with a nice little apology for mommy and also some consequences that you think that you should participate in to make up for that. And she had to come up with her own, like, reparations. What I’m going to do to make this right. Right. And so it was like, OK, I guess I could wash the dishes for a week and I can, like, dust the furniture that I carved my fingernail into. If you buy me some leather stuff I can like, you know, shine it up or whatever for the next for the next month, like, you know, it is a matter of holding your child accountable and letting them know that there are consequences, that you don’t get to run around here like a little banshee and do whatever you want to. First of all. Second of all, you’re the kid and I’m the parent and I’m a little bit smarter than, you know, a lot smarter than you. And you will do as I say, because by the time you get there, I’ve sat down, had a Coke, and so I need you to listen to me if there are reasons why we do things in the way that we do them and if you don’t understand it, well, Google exists or sitting them down and having a conversation about it exists, talking about the consequences and making them come up with their consequences on how they’re going to make it right. It’s a good way to get your kid to stop acting the fool.
S19: I agree.
S16: Most children are capable of learning empathy and of learning why their actions are incorrect or harmful or hurtful in some way. It’s not always easy to enforce consequences, right? Especially if your kid is super sweet and cute, you know, or maybe they’ll tell a funny joke or do something adorable or you just so. Oh, well, he’s only, you know, he’s so young she doesn’t know any better.
S9: I talk to my daughter a lot about my feelings. And there came to a point where I was wondering, you know, am I doing too much of this? Am I giving her too much information?
S20: But I didn’t want her to simply think that mom is upset because you knocked over a cup of milk on the couch because now she has to clean it up or because she told me not to have it on the couch in the first place, but about what goes into purchasing the couch. Right. Like you said, like someone worked hard to buy these chairs and you went out of your way to do something that would not have been OK if this were a thirty dollars here from Target or if it was something that was not explicitly yours to own in that way. But this was also something that cost a lot of money and. It’s more of your mom’s hard work and not just the work and trying to fix it up, but the work to get it there in the first place and understanding the value of somebody works hard, not just so she can have nice chairs, but so we can live in a nice house so we can have nice things, so we can have the things that we need. Right. That all this stuff is connected. And so, you know, I’ve given my daughter some speeches and so I’ve heard her dad gives them and we’ve done this in public and I’ve seen other people’s kind of reactions be mixed. There are folks like we don’t think either. There are definitely a lot of people that believe in that spare the rod, spoil the child stuff. It’s an effective if that wasn’t reason enough to not strike a child, it does not work, giving them what might feel like too much information to them about why what they’re doing at daycare just isn’t working, I think would be helpful.
S11: And the fact that your letter writer, your friends who are working with children’s mental health are telling you that, look, this looks OK, you know, like they’re not seeing any red flags raised. They’re like, hey, you know, you work with kids, they work with kids. They’re telling you that this is pretty much just something that they’re going to have to grow out of. I’d say just as everyone shared with you here, talk to your child about what they’re doing, how it makes people feel. Right. So it’s like, how would you feel if I, you know, hit you right. Once you’ve hit a classmate or a little buddy or you’ve struck one of your parents?
S19: Yes. Letter writer. Please just continue being you know, I think you may be quite naturally wanting a solution that doesn’t involve having to have endless hours of conversation with your child about their behavior. Unfortunately, there isn’t one. You have a four year old. That’s what it is. There’s no trick. There’s no and it’s just part of the job. It’s explaining the entire world to them. There are things that you didn’t realize that you were going to have to explain why the sun goes up and down. Right. Or why warm water is important when you’re taking a bath. We can’t just splash around in cold water. We won’t get clean. You know, if you didn’t think you were going to have to until you did and now you do. So I’m wishing you all the patients I understand. I wish I could tell you it gets better. I think we talked about this. If it wasn’t on here, it was on the other show not too long ago. It came up to like, you know, we the only age that really has branding is terrible, too. Right? So you would think you would logically assume that adds two things after two, that things get better at three and perhaps better at four.
S9: And it’s not true. Three is worse than two.
S6: Three is when we were all day. Who was here at school?
S19: Was it or is it may not be harder than three, but it’s complicated in some very different ways. The more verbal they get, the more they look like somebody who understands the world and they’re not.
S3: I like to think you’re going to get it at some point. So if you’re in your twos and things have been great, watch out. If the twos really terrible because Oliver was like, terrible to and after that we’ve we’ve been OK. So I think, you know, everybody gets it right.
S6: Right. I remember three being just like, oh, my goodness.
S3: Yes. I’m I’m actually hoping our fourth with Teddy will be OK because three has just been the virus.
S10: That is three, the letter writer. Good luck with your little brother. That’s going to become a full blown pandemic in your house. And that’s just what they do. We hope that we were somewhat helpful, even though we just kind of laughed a little bit.
S11: Thank you so much and best of luck to you. And please be safe with your little one being back in day care. That’s all for our listener questions this week. If you have any questions or any conundrums that you’d like to have us weigh in on, please send us an email to mom and dad. It’s late dot com or post it in our Slate Parenting Facebook group. Before we get out of here, let’s do recommendations. Elizabeth, what do you recommend this week?
S3: I have another fun little website that we’ve been playing with called Chrome Music Lab, and it lets you experiment with music. It’s been really fun, actually, for all three of the kids. Henry can obviously do more like advanced fun stuff, but even Teddy, the virus can play around with it and occupy himself. And it doesn’t feel completely like wasted time, like he’s learning some music notes and you get to see sound waves, which he thinks is really cool. I would recommend a pair of headphones so that you don’t have to hear their musical stylings as well. But it’s been a really nice way to just like Saddam and forget him while I’m playing with the other two or giving them all a rotation through that so I can get some stuff done, which these days is that’s a good one.
S9: I think we’re going to have to check that out to Chrome Music Lab and we will have links to all these, of course, in the show notes name.
S6: What are you recommending with my imprint, Denene Millner books. I have two books coming out, the one this month in August and one coming out in September. The first one is called Me and Mama. It’s written and illustrated by a. A woman named Cosby, a Cabrera, and she makes Necas, am I pronouncing it right there, Dolz but anyway, she also writes books and illustrates them and she is one of the most creative people I’ve ever met in my life. And she has a beautiful singing voice, but she has this book called Me, and it’s about a little girl who goes on a walk with her mom on a rainy day and it starts from the morning and tracks their sort of interactions all the way through the night. And during the story, the little girl is comparing all of the things that she has with the things that her mother has. The reason why I purchased this book for my imprint was this one page where her daughter is comparing her plastic cup to the mom’s ceramic cup. You know, she’s hitting it with a spoon and hers goes, makes one noise and she hits the other with the spoon and it makes different noise. And her mom says, be careful because minus breakable. And on the next page, the cup is broken. And the mom says sometimes things just break and then they go on about their day. And what I loved about that line, what made me call her agent and say, yes, absolutely, I want to purchase this book. That line just said something to me about how black mothers should be viewed versus how we tend to be viewed. We talked earlier about me saying I’ve never hit my children. I consider myself a disciplinarian, but not in the way that people think of black mothers as disciplinarians. Right. And so in this book, this mom is saying to her child, OK, you made a mistake. You did something that I told you not to do. It’s horrible that my favorite cut broke. But sometimes things just break and we’re going to go on about our day. We’re going to understand that that we did something that we weren’t supposed to do. And that’s not the end of the world. And we’re going to go about our day. And it was just like the sweetest way for a mother to interact with her daughter, particularly a black mother and her black daughter in a book that can be read to everybody and that everybody can read and take notes from. And so I recommend that one also recommend if Dominican where a color. This is also a book that’s on Denine books in print, and it’s written by a ratio and it’s illustrated by Brianna McCarthy. And the book is about the beauty of the Dominican Republic and all of the colors. But it’s talking about all of the colors of nature and comparing it to the colors of skin tones. And if you know anything about the Latino culture, they have just as many issues with color ism as black people do. And so or whether they are black people. So as many as African-American people do, I put it that way. And so she wrote this beautiful book that talks about the beauty of all of the colors and she compares them to nature. And we also published it in a Spanish version as well, so that it’s not just a conversation for English speaking people. And so those are the two that I recommend a read them to your baby’s bottom for your library, to your churches, give them to your neighbors, diversify your friends bookshelves and let them see some some black folks, you know, and celebrating their humanity.
S7: Absolutely. Diversify your bookshelf, Denine. Where can folks purchase your books? So why would you prefer that folks purchase your books?
S6: Oh, goodness. You know what? I really, really would love it if folks honored and respected and helped out there independent booksellers. You can call your local independent bookseller, your local bookstore, and they will order them for you just as easily as anybody else. Well, it may may not show up on your door two days later like some of the other places where you can buy your books. In this time, when we’re looking at businesses closing left and right and facing financial uncertainty, what a great way to support an incredibly valuable business in your community. And that would be a local bookstore. So go there. But of course, all of the books are available wherever books can be purchased as some.
S9: Thank you. The name, please do your your children’s book shelves and your friends, kids of bookshelves a favor and check out some of the name milliner’s amazing children’s books that she’s written and or published by other authors. I will wrap up by recommending Girls Make Beats. It’s an organization that teaches young women, I believe, ages seven to 17, music production and deejaying. So my daughter is taking a remote class this week on how to produce music. She’s making hip hop beats, which is very exciting and fun for her. Her dad is a rapper and producer, so they’ve got all the equipment at the house already. But I think that even if you don’t have access to a lot of equipment, that it doesn’t take much to buy what you need to get your kids started. And it’s so fun. And there is. An important need for more women and all sides of the music business, particularly behind the boards as musicians, not just as singers and rappers, and it is really like today was day two and we’ll have a link to the girls make beats, Instagram page and the show notes. And you can see a little video of Naim was very first production and she just is so excited and happy to hear her own music. I think it’s a really special opportunity that girls can access across the world. Right. And like classes like this typically would be taking place in person. And because of the pandemic, they are online, which means that your little one can take this class from anywhere in the world. You don’t have to be based in the United States and farther than girls make beats is actually based in the U.K. So that is what I’m recommending this week. Shout Out to Freedom. That’s name is the name that she’s chosen.
S3: She’s the best man.
S8: I love that. I love that. So are you.
S21: That is our show for this week. Thank you so much, Denene Millner, for joining us. Thank you to our letter writers who gave us some stuff to talk about. And if you have a question, please send us an email at mom and dad at Slate. Dotcom are posted to the Slate Facebook group. Just search for Slate’s parenting. Don’t forget to join me tonight for the kids are asleep and to join us on Tuesday for our next bonus episode of Mom and Dad are Fighting. Mom and Dad Are Fighting is produced by Rosemarie Bellson. A special thanks again to Danny Milner for joining us today. And for Janine and Elizabeth, new campaign cumulative you.
S7: Hello, Slate, plus, listeners, thank you so much for joining us.
S9: Your support means the world to the host of Mom and Dad are fighting and all of Slate’s other great podcasts. So thank you for your support. This week. Elizabeth and I are joined by Denene Millner, who is a New York Times best selling author, a journalist, a mom to two very accomplished and beautiful young women. And she’s also the founder of Denene Millner Books. I wanted to talk to you, Denine, about all things children’s books. I wanted to start with your own journey as a children’s book author. How did you start writing them in the first place and how did it get to the point where you were starting your own imprint and publishing other authors words?
S6: Oh, my gosh. OK, so I had a couple of ideas for children’s books way back in like twenty five. I was still an editor at Parenting magazine. I couldn’t get editors to buy this book that I had in mind called early Sunday morning. I ultimately ended up publishing it on my own imprint, but it’s called early Sunday morning. And it was about sort of like the growing up experience of a little black girl having her first church solo and how the community came together to sort of help her find her voice and be brave enough to go out in front of this whole church and sing. And the editors that we gave it to were just like, do kids really go to church? And I don’t really understand this whole, you know, like doing your hair on Saturday night. Don’t they just do it in the morning when they go to go to church or, you know, like this idea that a whole meal is cooked in the morning, like, you know, like that’s not really something that’s familiar to us. And we don’t think people will be into this church stuff. And I was like, OK, well, first of all, it’s set in a church, but it’s not a church book. And it’s the universal theme here is that a community and a family are coming together to help this child find her big voice and be confident and to get over her anxiety of standing in front of people. And that is a universal experience. It’s just told through this experience of a black child and what black children in Chicago and Detroit and Compton and Selma and Birmingham and Atlanta are experiencing on Saturday and Sunday morning when they get ready to go to church. Just because you don’t go to church on the Upper East Side does not mean that no one else does. And so I couldn’t get anybody to buy it. So years later, my ex-husband had a book deal with a small publishing company out of Chicago called AGOT Publishing. And he came to Atlanta to take my ex out to dinner. And I kind of talked my way into dinner with the idea that I was going to try and talk to small publisher and to give me an imprint if I could get someone else to publish these these children’s books that I thought were great, then I would just like try and do them myself. But I don’t have the time to actually publish them. I wanted to do it through a publisher. And so I showed up to this dinner and Doug showed up with the same idea. He he knew that I was going to be there. He knew that I had this really popular website called my Brown Baby Dotcom, which was a I don’t call it a mom blog. I call it a website that that talked about the connection between being African-American parent and race. And so he knew that I had a huge following. He wanted to know if I would be interested in doing it. And I said I wanted to do an imprint. So we started in its first year, the imprint published four books, and one of them, Crown and Ode to the Fresh Cut, won a Caldecott Honor, a Newbery Honor, the Kirkus Award for Children’s Literature, Society of Illustrators Gold Medal Award, and won like all of these big, gigantic awards in my first year. And Simon Schuster saw that and just came and said, hey, would you like to do this on a bigger scale? And I said, yes. And so I switch the imprint over to Simon and Schuster last year. And our first books are coming out this year, so I’m super excited about it.
S9: Denene, I should apologize for being remiss and not talking about this during the main show. My brown baby is so significant I cannot overstate the ways in which as a black mother and my brown baby predates, we connected before I was a mom, you know, and I think that may I was familiar with your work for adults prior to my brown baby. But I think it was around the time that I was an editor for Ebony that I discovered this site. And even now, you know, all these years later, there’s just such a glaring absence of moms of color in particular. But really just, I should say, parents of color and the, you know, what we would call the mommy blogging space and that our experiences are always treated as being novel or in group.
S20: And I think that the example you gave with Sunday morning is so important because this is about this child finding her voice, like is the kid who was not raised in church. It is a book that I share with my own daughter. You know, we’re not raising her in church is not part of our experience, but it is important to us that she is confident and then she can lean on her family and her. To help bolster her confidence, and that’s the power of having diverse representation in children’s books like in the letter that we got this week from a parent who is concerned about her son becoming radicalized on the Internet, it’s like it’s easy to when you don’t have exposure to people to believe the worst about them.
S9: Right? Right. If it’s coming from familiar voices so you can listen to have been Shapiro or someone like that, if you’re only used to censoring white male voices. Right. I’m used to hearing about the agency of girls and people of color. I’d like to hear some of your thoughts on that, because it’s not just race. I mean, and obviously race is an important factor, but it’s also gender, right? It’s like in and even amongst children of color whose parents have taken great efforts to make sure that they have diversity in their toys and their bookshelves, that they’re saying kids who look like them are not, you know, boy, children are not always encouraged to have girl or woman heroes. Right. Right. Or to have queer heroes. So in your experience, now that you’re deep into the world of children’s books, how have you found that parents are responding? Are they having the same disconnect that those publishers and Upper East Side New York media were having when you were first trying to sell this book? Or are you finding that they get it?
S6: I think that we’re starting to come around to understanding that there’s more to the black experience in particular. And I and I focus on the black experience because that’s what I’ve built my professional life on. But this applies to absolutely all of the other categories that you talked about. But they’re coming around to them. But there’s still sort of this this default that everybody leans on, right? It’s like black people used to be slaves and then they marched in the civil rights movement and then everything was great. And Martin Luther King had a dream and then America was great again. And when you have little kids in this happened recently, someone hit me up on Instagram. She had seen me post something about early Sunday morning, the book that we just talked about. And she said that her son said to her, oh, my goodness, is this going to. Are they going to be are they going to burn up the church or are they are are the kids going to come out of church and get hit by hoses and dogs? Her son was seven. And so that goes to show you that books and the way that we feed them to our children, particularly as it relates to black people that, you know, like it’s severely limited. And if you walk into a bookstore right this moment, you’ll find a small number of black books if they’re not being conscious about it. And and in those small amount of books, you’ll find 20 books about Harriet Tubman, 20 books about Martin Luther King, some things about the four little girls. There’s even a book about called the Billie Holiday song Strange Fruit. There’s actually a children’s book called Strange Fruit about Strange Fruit. Now, if you know what that that song is about, it’s about lynching. Why in the hell would I want to read that to my child before they go to sleep at night? Like, you know, like, absolutely. There’s a place for these books. But we have to understand that that can’t be the only thing that we give to black children and white children. Any other child who’s reading a book. Because what comes on the other side of that is this narrative that black people are constantly overcoming or struggling. And that’s not necessarily all of our experience.
S3: The only time they matter is when there’s an event precisely. Hey, look at what what black people did precisely as opposed to like when you read a book about a princess or an astronaut or whoever, a child pretending to be this like that child should be able to be any color.
S6: Absolutely. I mean, think about a snowy day as Jack Keats. Right. And Peter is wearing a hood, a red hood when he’s outside playing in the snow and he’s playing the snow, he he wants to continue the experience in the house. So he shoves the snowball as pocket and then he’s sorely disappointed later on when he finds out that the snowball melts it right every day, experience common experience, a beautiful experience for a little kid. Now, imagine if George Zimmerman read a snowy day and he saw a little black boy with a hood and he fell in love with Peter and he understood that Peter was just like any other kid like to play in the snow and really thought that snow could last in a heated house and had a house to go to. And parents who loved him and, you know, wrapped him in warm towels after coming in from cold with his dog, then maybe Trayvon Martin in his hood wouldn’t have been so weird to him, maybe would have been so scary or threatening or like an excuse to pump him. Full of bullets. And so I’m a firm believer and this is what I’m doing with Tony Miller books, is that we need to be celebrating the humanity of black children. It’s a damn shame that we have to do that. But we do. But that’s why we are here. We are right. And so, like black children ride the bus for the first time and walk into kindergarten for the first time and they lose teeth and put them on their pillow and get scared of the tooth fairy. They you know, they have friends. They have parents who love them. They have dreams like everybody else. And I’m using to name their books to explore that. I’m also using to on their books to hire black storytellers and illustrators. Because when you look at the numbers every year, there’s, you know, children’s book numbers that are done by Lee and Load Books has a has an arm that takes all of the children’s picture books for the year and literally goes through and sees who how many have black children versus white children versus Asian and Native American Hispanic. And then how many of the people who wrote those books fall into those categories and how many illustrators fall into those categories? And every year it’s the same paltry number, right? Like nine percent. Basically, you could see you could find more books, more new books about turtles and cows than you can black people or Native American people. And so and then the people who are actually telling of that, nine percent of books that feature African-American characters only like a paltry number, like five percent, are actually written by or illustrated or illustrated by actual black people, which is crazy to me.
S3: And I think it’s important to be clear that it’s not because these stories are not out there and not because black people are writing books. They’re just like because I do think I do think there are people who just think like, well, if it were a bit like that door is available, why aren’t there more? So I think it’s in part, it’s not like your story at the beginning of the segment illustrates that the idea that this is somehow not an experience that shared, which I also wanted to point out is crazy because, like, the whole reason we read books is to be able to experience other experiences that are not familiar to us.
S8: So what are you talking about writing? I said that that is precisely my question. Like, what are you talking about?
S20: So I’m talking lions and tigers and bears and astronauts and aliens and all this stuff. You know, our children’s imagination can stretch this far. But when it comes to just the idea of a black kid going to church somewhere, it’s like, what is it about?
S8: Your mind’s blown.
S6: I don’t know if anybody’s going to fight with that. So, no, we will not publish it. And of course, like next to Crown and go to the fresh cut early Sunday morning was one of the first books to sell out because it made sense. You know, that’s that’s a mission.
S3: Can you give quick advice for you’re a parent walking into a bookstore, looking for the book. Like what should they be shopping for their for their shelf?
S6: You should be looking for books that speak to the everyday humanity of little human beings who happen to be brown. And so there’s nothing wrong with buying a book about Harriet Tubman. There’s nothing wrong about buying a book about Muhammad Ali, but make a point of seeking out books that speak to the everyday common experience of black children and hand them to your white children and take them to your white school rooms and put them into your white libraries so that people can see something other than themselves and dig into something other than themselves, so that they can see the humanity that exists in people who do not look like them. Then they won’t be running around listening to Ben Shapiro and thinking that he’s God. Thank you. The name. Thank you for having me.
S9: Thank you. Slate plus listeners, for sticking with us. And we will see you again next week.