In the summer of George Floyd’s death, residents of Martha’s Vineyard developed strong interest in the topics of race and racism. Alexandra Pratt, director of the West Tisbury library, said people were interested in looking at books and resources about race and racism. Books such as “White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard For White People to Talk About Racism” by Robin DiAngelo, and “How to Be An Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi, were in demand. “We couldn’t keep them on the shelves. These books were very popular,” said Pratt.
According to Pratt, white parents on the Island were starting to have more conversations with their children about race and racism, so she wanted to provide a workshop for the community that focused on parents, educators, and children, leading to the workshops with Wee the People.
“Growing up, for me, we didn’t talk about race. You know, the idea of color blindness,” said Pratt.
Wee the People is a Boston-based social justice project, typically aimed at children ages 4 to 12, according to its website. Pratt had tried to get Wee the People to come to Martha’s Vineyard for a workshop for a few years now, but it had not been possible. It was COVID that forced Wee the People to conduct workshops through Zoom, making it possible for Pratt to “provide this service to the community.”
Wee the People led two workshops, one on June 23 and the other on June 28. The first was called “The ABCs of Racism: Fostering Conversations & Action about Race & Justice with Kids,” and the second one was “Decolonize This Space: Building Racial Literacy and Anti-Racist Practice for Educators.” The library said the workshops are “recommended to librarians, teachers, parents, and anyone who works or interacts with children across the Island.” The workshops were led by Francie Latour, co-founder of Wee the People. Around eight people took part in the workshops.
Both of the workshops seek to develop awareness of race and racism, what they are, and where issues can be seen. Latour said “The ABC’s of Racism” provides the baseline information about race and racism’s historical and current issues. “Decolonize This Space” shows how people, particularly teachers who aren’t familiar with the topic of race and racism, can discuss racial equity. It also teaches participants how to “unlearn dominant narratives” that sustains systemic racism, inequity, and injustice.
Latour said many types of people take part in the workshops, but white people may be the ones who benefit more from them. “It makes white folks really uncomfortable to sit with and talk about the fact there is a racial hierarchy they benefit from,” said Latour.
In the American context, one’s racial identity is relational to another group’s racial identity, according to Latour. Wee the People’s workshops teach that “whiteness” exists because of the lack of another group, making the definition more about the social impact of skin color rather than skin skin color itself. “Whiteness is only being tall because somebody is on their knees,” said Latour.
Additionally, the workshops provide parents and educators with the tools to intervene properly rather than freeze, “freak out,” or silence children who unintentionally say something or act in a racist manner. Instead, Latour said it is better to “validate them,” and figure out what they meant by their words.
Latour hopes the workshops can become a way for participants to explore racial identity in a safe manner. She has received positive feedback about that. One participant, Beth Mosshart, said Latour did a “wonderful job” in leading the workshops. Latour listened carefully, and when someone made a comment, she was able to bring it into the broader discussion, relating her own personal experiences. Mosshart said the workshop was very inclusive, and people were willing to share ideas and thoughts in a “fairly unguarded way.” She also thought the lessons were easy to grasp, making them accessible to those who took part in the workshop.
Mosshart hopes this will better prepare her for different situations. “I hope that when things that get said or written that I read that are not aware of the way, I think, the Black and brown people are still under the heel of the way the white world is set up, then I may be able to interject a little bit of perspective using that information she [Latour] shared with us.” While Mosshart doesn’t have close friends who have racist tendencies, she has “many acquaintances” who don’t think white people have had an “easier time than people of color [within similar economic brackets],” or that the system works against minority communities. Mosshart hopes she may now be able to share new perspectives if the topic arises.
Mosshart was “very sad” she could not attend the second workshop.
Wee the People was founded in 2015 by Latour and Tanya Nixon-Silberg. It started from a need to properly talk to their children about identity and what it means, which Latour and Nixon-Silberg realized other parents also struggle with. “We are both Black mothers to mixed children of color. We all carry a lot of identities. Some of them matter to us, some of them matter to the world, and some are both,” said Latour. “This was a way to respond to an important need to talk to kids from an early age about justice and equity.”
Pratt said the West Tisbury library will do similar issues-based programs in the future, and have done so in the past. Examples of previous events include workshops about LGBTQ issues through Keyflag Boston and a screening of the 2014 film “I’m Not Racist … Am I?” alongside a facilitated discussion by Point Made Learning. Pratt said race and racism is a subject Martha’s Vineyard residents are very interested in, and they “want a safe space to talk about them.”