Ted Cruz thrust several books into the spotlight after his puzzling line of questioning at Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing.
In a hearing ostensibly meant to assess whether Jackson is qualified to serve on the highest court in the land, the Republican senator brought up critical race theory – an academic concept taught primarily at the university and graduate levels that has since turned into a political flashpoint – in K-12 schools.
As part of his questioning, Cruz presented a handful of books that he claimed were taught at Georgetown Day School – an elite, private school in Washington, DC whose board Jackson serves on. Among the titles he mentioned were “Critical Race Theory: An Introduction” by Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic; “The End of Policing” by Alex S. Vitale and “How to be an Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi.
Cruz focused the bulk of his questions, however, on two children’s books – “Antiracist Baby” and “Stamped (For Kids).” And his characterizations of those titles were largely distorted.
Since the hearing, two of the titles referenced by Cruz skyrocketed to the top of bestseller lists. For readers curious about the contents of the children’s books, here’s what they are really about.
The book: “Antiracist Baby,” written by Ibram X. Kendi and illustrated by Ashley Lukashevsky. It’s a picture book for children.
The claim: Cruz said he was “stunned” by the ideas in the book.
“One portion of the book says, ‘Babies are taught to be racist or antiracist – there is no neutrality.’ Another portion of the book: They recommend that babies ‘confess when being racist,’” he said at the hearing. Cruz added that the book is taught to students at Georgetown Day School to children ages 4 to 7, asking Jackson, “Do you agree with this book that is being taught with kids that babies are racist?”
The reality: Cruz’s characterization takes the ideas found in the book out of context.
In “Antiracist Baby,” Kendi contends that children are not born racist but learn racist attitudes from an early age from the world around them. To counter those messages, Kendi writes, parents and caregivers should help children learn to be antiracist.
The book encourages children to openly acknowledge differences in skin color, rather than pretending they don’t exist. It asks them to celebrate differences across cultures, to not see any one group as better or worse than another and to be constantly learning and growing. It invites them to talk openly about race and admit where they might have fallen short.
Crucially, “Antiracist Baby” advises children to “point at policies as the problem, not the people” and proclaims that “even though all races are not treated the same, we are all human.”
Stamped (For Kids)
The book: “Stamped (For Kids): Racism, Antiracism, and You,” adapted by Sonja Cherry-Paul and illustrated by Rachelle Baker.
The book is a children’s version of the history book for young adults “Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You” by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi – which, in turn, is an adaptation of Kendi’s bestseller “Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America.”
The claim: Cruz called this book “astonishing.”
Turning open the book, he said to Jackson, “On page 33, it asks the question, ‘Can we send White people back to Europe?’ That’s what’s being given to 8- and 9-year-olds.”
The senator continued, “It also on page 115 says, ‘The idea that we should pretend not to see racism is connected to the idea that we should pretend not to see color. It’s called colorblindness.’”
Cruz skipped ahead and cited other sentences from the book, including “Here’s what’s WRONG with this: It’s ridiculous. Skin color is something we all absolutely see” and “So to pretend not to see color is pretty convenient if you don’t actually want to stamp out racism in the first place.”
Finally, Cruz invoked Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech and argued that the ideas contained in “Antiracist Baby” and “Stamped (For Kids)” contradict the values of the civil rights icon – a notion that scholars who have studied King say is a distortion of his work.
The reality: Again, the passages read aloud by Cruz are a serious mischaracterization.
The sentence “Can we send White people back to Europe?” that Cruz references on page 33 appears as an aside in a chapter about the contradictions in how Thomas Jefferson talked about slavery and how he acted. The book explains how some White assimilationists, including Jefferson at one point, advocated sending Black people back to Africa and the Caribbean – places foreign to many of the people in question.
In explaining the problems inherent in that idea, the book includes this aside: Do you see how racist ideas of today are tied to racist ideas of the past? The phrase “Go back to where you came from” that is sometimes said to Black and Brown people today connects to the “go back” ideas of the past. Now you can trace the origins right back to Thomas Jefferson. (By the way, just imagine what Native Americans and Black people must have wished about their White oppressors: Can we send White people “back” to Europe?)
Here, the sentence “Can we send White people back to Europe?” clearly demonstrates how illogical the idea of sending people “back to where they came from” is.
On page 115, the sentence referenced by Cruz (“The idea that we should pretend not to see racism is connected to the idea that we should pretend not to see color. It’s called colorblindness”) again appears in an aside in a chapter about the inequities in standardized testing. Although standardized testing appears equal on the surface, the authors argue, not all schools and students have the same resources – meaning that rewarding schools based on test results deepens existing inequalities. The authors also critiqued the idea that the way to address racism in education was to not focus on it, which is when they pause to address the idea of “colorblindness.”
The point that the authors are making in that passage is that ignoring differences in skin color is akin to ignoring racism. It’s only by acknowledging those differences upfront, they argue in the book, that society can begin to chip away at the problem.