What kind of extremists will we be?

Published: 06.06.2020 Updated: 06.08.2020
The question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love?
Martin Luther King Jr., 1963, Letter from Birmingham Jail

The team at diversitydatakids.org is mourning the tragic loss of George Floyd and many other black lives to senseless violence and racism. We have dedicated our careers to examining the deep racial and ethnic inequities in our society because they are, regrettably, integral to the way our society is structured and integral to the many unfair and painful ways our children are denied opportunities to live full lives.

James Baldwin wrote Little Man, Little Man (1976), his only children’s book, for his nephew TJ. In the 2018 afterword, TJ’s sister Aisha said that by writing the book to respond to her brother’s request that Uncle Jimmy write a book about him, Baldwin showed TJ and other black children that they mattered, that their lives, their stories, what they did day in and day out as children, mattered.

Today, like Baldwin, we have to scream individually and collectively that Black Children Matter, that their lives matter. Baldwin said children are not easily fooled. They see, experience and suffer the inequities in our society. We cannot tell black children that their lives matter if, when they look around, they see otherwise.

It is unacceptable that we have the same inequity in infant mortality today and that many other aspects of our society signal the same unfair and racist valuation of human life.

In 1967, Martin Luther King said that the fact that the mortality of black infants was twice as high as that of white infants showed the nation’s willingness to value black people as 50 percent of a citizen. It is unacceptable that we have the same inequity in infant mortality today and that many other aspects of our society signal the same unfair and racist valuation of human life. Black children are more than twice as likely to live in poverty, nearly eight  times more likely to live in the lowest opportunity neighborhoods, twice as likely to lose a mother and 50% more likely to lose a father by age 20 than white children. These figures and many others reflect our values, our actions and inactions. Unfathomably, many Americans are not aware—or don’t want to be aware—of these deep divides.    

Our willingness to maintain and accept the ugliness and devastating consequences of these inequities for black children shows our children who we are, what our values are. It is urgent that we move to correct these injustices. The pursuit of equitable opportunities for our children to live and thrive can no longer be postponed.

The pursuit of equitable opportunities for our children to live and thrive can no longer be postponed.

Like many others, we at diversitydatakids.org are talking to our children of any age about George Floyd, about what is happening across our country and its roots in racism and violence. We are reading Little Man, Little Man with them, and we are joining them in protest. We hope they will become extremists for love through their activism and their unceasing rejection of racial injustice.  

Dolores Acevedo-Garcia
Erin Hardy
Rebecca Huber
Nick Huntington
Pam Joshi
Grace Lee
Nancy McArdle
Clemens Noelke
Lindsay Rosenfeld
Kate Giapponi Schneider
Nomi Sofer
Michelle Weiner

June 2020

Dolores Acevedo Garcia
Dolores Acevedo-Garcia
Director, Professor of Human Development and Social Policy