A Kids Book About: The Podcast

Jelani Talks About Racism

Episode Summary

Jelani Memory, founder of A Kids Book About and author of A Kids Book About Racism, talks about knowing racism by how it makes you feel.

Episode Notes

Jelani Memory, founder of A Kids Book About and author of A Kids Book About Racism, talks about knowing racism by how it makes you feel.

A Kids Book About Racism (view book)

Full Book Description:

Yes, this really is a kids book about racism. Inside, you’ll find a clear description of what racism is, how it makes people feel when they experience it, and how to spot it when it happens.

This is one conversation that’s never too early to start, and this book was written to be an introduction for kids on the topic.

About the Author:

Jelani Memory is an African American entrepreneur, thinker, and constant learner. He lives in Portland OR, with his wife and six kids. He still wants to be an artist when he grows up.

*If you want to be on a future episode of A Kids Book About: The Podcast or if you have a question you’d like us to consider, have a grownup email us at listen@akidspodcastabout.com and we’ll send you the details. 

Episode Transcription

A Kids Book About: The Podcast

S1 E01, Jelani Talks About Racism


Matthew: What is racism?

Alejandro: Racism is judging someone by the color of their skin or how they look to me.

Jonah: Racism is when someone is rude to a person with different color skin, it's kind of like bullying, but worse.

Jelani: Racism is a way of looking down on someone of treating them as less than. Of thinking poorly about them or excluding them because of the color of their skin.

And one more thing: this usually, and almost always happens to people of color or people with Black and brown skin.

Matthew: Welcome to A Kids Book About: The Podcast. I'm Matthew, your host, the voices you heard at the top of our show are from Alejandro, Jonah, and Jelani. Each week. We talk about the big things going on in your world with a different author from our A Kids Book About series.


Jelani: Hi, I'm Jelani memory. I'm a dad, I'm an author. And I'm an entrepreneur.

Matthew: An entrepreneur is a person who starts a new business, which can be a pretty risky thing, both personally and financially.

Jelani: And I'm the father of six kids.

Matthew: Jelani is the founder of A Kids Book About. He wrote the first book in the series.

Jelani: I wrote A Kids Book About Racism for my own kids. So I have six kids.

We are a blended family, which means I have four white kids and two Black and brown kids. And my skin color is chocolatey brown, so I'm a person of color. And I wanted to make sure my kids all the way from zero to 15 at the time would feel comfortable talking about racism and little did I know is that the only ones in the equation between me and my kids who are uncomfortable talking about racism was me.


Matthew: Have you ever brought up racism with your friends or with the grownups in your life? How did it go? Talking about racism. Doesn't have to be hard and finding the right words to talk about racism is something we all can work on every day, but first we need to be able to name racism when we see it. I asked Jelani about his experience with racism.

Jelani: I've experienced racism a lot throughout my life. The thing about racism is it doesn't always seem like racism when it happens. It's not as obvious as somebody calling you a really ugly, bad name based on the color of your skin. Sometimes it's the way somebody looks at you or what somebody expects of you or doesn't expect of you. Or thinking maybe you can't do something because of your skin color.

And so for me, I can think of moments as far back as when I was four and five and kids calling me names in class. And I can think of moments as, as soon as yesterday. People and the workspace who say things that are hurtful, but they don't know are hurtful. And racism, again, it's, it's tricky.

It's tricky sometimes to know when it's happening, but you often know racism. And when you experience it by how it makes you feel when somebody does something or says something or shows you something or believe something that makes you feel as a person of color, like you're not as good as them, or you're not. You're not like them.

Matthew: All right. I want to ask you something kids. And I'm asking you, knowing that it might make you feel a number of different emotions. Have you ever noticed racism happening in your world, maybe in your neighborhood or at your school, or maybe even with a family member, maybe it happened to you or to someone, you know, and care about.

How do you think it feels to hear someone say something racist about you or your family, or where you go to school or where you live? Sit with the emotions that come up, give them space to just be, this is a safe place and feeling these emotions may help you to better understand them.

How does racism make you feel?

Alejandro: Sad and angry.

Jonah: It makes me feel sad because people could and should be treated the same way.

Jelani: The fact that racism exists makes me feel sad. It's a really ugly and terrible truth, especially in our American society. And yet for Black and brown individuals. It's like the water we swim in. It's something that we experience often on a daily basis.

And many of the things that we do, um, whether that's going to the grocery store or getting hired for a new job or joining a new classroom or meeting a new friend, it's so common and so prevalent that in some ways it's normal. And when I say racism is normal, what I mean is that it's frequent and it happens all the time.

It's terrible. It's bad. It's no good, but it is a normal, everyday occurrence.

Matthew: We'll hear more from Jelani, including the answer to one of the questions you submitted right after this break.


Welcome back to A Kids Book About: The Podcast. On today's episode we're talking about racism, how to spot it, and how to talk about it.

Jelani: I wanted to make sure my kids would feel comfortable talking about racism. And little did I know is that the only ones in the equation between me and my kids who are uncomfortable talking about racism was me.

It wasn't my kids, my kids were totally fine with it. And that's the remarkable, amazing things about kids. They're ready. They're ready to talk about, just about anything. If only the adults in their life would have the courage to do it. So kudos to every kid out there, listening.

Matthew: Kids are ready. That's our slogan here at a kids book about, and it's one that's going to come up over and over again on this show.

Jelani: This amazing thing happened with my kids. When I gave them the book that I wrote for them, they were freely talking about racism, which they were already ready to do. But they were also talking about other big, important, difficult topics to talk about with me they hadn't talked about with me before And I think it's because my book somehow gave them the permission to talk about it with me. Mostly me sort of raising my hand and saying it's okay to talk about hard stuff. And I think oftentimes kids just need that permission. And oftentimes for us grownups, we need that courage to raise our hand and say, it's okay for you to talk to me. I'm ready to

Matthew: Mind if I make things awkward for a moment? I know you're probably listening to this episode with an adult. Maybe it's the grownup that you live with or someone in charge of caring for and looking after you, or maybe it's your teacher. I want you to look at them right now, right in the eyes, even because this next part is especially important for them to hear.

Remember what Jelani said a moment ago about grownups needing that courage to say "it's okay for you to talk to me." These conversations, aren't always easy to start, but they are always, always important.

Jelani wrote a book called A Kids Book About Racism, but he didn't stop there. A Kids Book About and has gone on to publish lots and lots of books, a lot hard to bring up topics.

Jelani: Starting a kids book about was a really fun and simple and organic. It was built around this idea of making these really incredible books that are anchored in the idea that kids are totally ready to get in there and talk about all of the hard stuff. The sticky stuff, the uncomfortable stuff of life and that it's the parents. It's the grownups, it's the aunties, it's the uncles, it's the teachers who need help starting those conversations. So kids actually have a leg up here. We made these books as a way for grownups to get up to where kids were to start starting these conversations, to talk about these things, whether that's death or cancer or depression or anxiety or loneliness.

I wanted to create these incredible books for more grownups to start these conversations with the kids in their lives. And now we've made almost 40 books on these really challenging, empowering, and important topics. And it's so rewarding to hear from kids all over the world, truly about the impact that these books are making.

And to hear their stories too. And the things that they're thinking about talking about and experiencing.


Matthew: A number of you wrote in with questions about racism today, we're hearing from Jonah in Maryland.

Jonah: Why do people treat people of color differently instead of white people? Because they are pretty much the same, but just with a different skin tone. Different skin tone doesn't mean you should bully someone or make them feel bad.

Jelani: That's a really important question and a tough question to answer because in some ways, We aren't different from each other at all. And just having different skin color doesn't mean that somebody's good or bad or wrong, or right.

And so racism is a thing that just shouldn't happen. And yet it does. And there are long complicated answers that go back, back into history and the realities of slavery in America. Or segregation, which is when black people were not allowed to live in the same neighborhoods as white people, or go to the same shops or restaurants or drink from the same water fountains.

But I think the reality is that racism happens today because some people believe, and many people believe that Black and brown people just simply aren't as good as people who aren't Black and brown: white individuals. That they aren't as capable as white individuals. That they aren't as smart as white individuals. That what they can achieve isn't as big as what white individuals can. 

And very few people would say that outright. They wouldn't say that as specifically as that. And yet somewhere in the back of their mind sits very small, little beliefs that guide a lot of their thinking and their actions.

Matthew: What do your actions say about what you believe? What do your actions lead others to believe about you? I want to end by giving you a question to think about. You might not know the answer for it right away and that's okay. I'll ask Jelani too. When you're ready to share your answer, tell a grownup you trust and then ask them for their answer too.

Ready? Here it goes.

What can you do when you see racism happening in your neighborhood at your school or in your world?


Jelani: When you see it racism happening in your neighborhood, at your school, on your zoom class. Oftentimes, it's hard to know what to do or what to say. And I'd love to tell you to stand up and fight for what's right.

And push back and say, that's not right, or that's mean. And I think that's a really good thing to do, but sometimes it's not as obvious when racism is happening and there's this moment where you feel unsure. You know, that icky feeling that you feel when somebody said something that doesn't feel quite right, but you don't know what to do about it.

And I often find myself in that situation where I go back and I reflect on that moment and I realized that that feeling was me experiencing racism. And so I think the really important thing to do is to be able to identify racism, maybe not in the moment, cause you won't always be able to do that. But maybe later on and be able to Mark it and call it what it is to use that name racism and let that inform interactions and moments. When you enter back into your class, when you talk with your friends again, when you go back to school, that help you identify those moments better. And then when you have the courage and the ability and the clarity to see racism for what it is, then stand up and say something.

And if that's standing up and saying something for yourself, because you're experiencing it as a Black or brown kid, or if it's standing up for somebody else. Or stepping in the way and saying, "Hey, that's not cool. That's not right to say. That's mean," or "That's racist."


Matthew: Thank you to Jelani memory author of a kid's book about racism for joining us today and to our two very special kid voices for helping make this episode what it is.

Alejandro: My name's Alejandro. I'm nine years old. I live in Albany, Oregon. I play violin against my will for sure.

Jonah: My name is Jonah. I am 10 years old and I live in Maryland. My favorite thing is playing Fortnite because I get to connect with my friends.

Matthew: Thanks, Alejandro. Thanks Jonah. If you want to be on a future episode of A Kids Books About: the Podcast, or if you have a question you'd like us to consider, have a grownup email us at listen@akidspodcastabout.com and we'll send you the details.

A Kids Books About: the Podcast is recorded and produced by me, Matthew Winner, with help from Chad Michael Snavely and the team at Sound On Studios.

Subscribe to the show on Apple podcast, Spotify, Stitcher, and wherever podcasts are found. And if you like this episode, consider sharing it with a friend teacher or grown-up.

Join us next week for a conversation about emotions with A Kids Book About author Nikita Simpson.