Anastasia Higginbotham is the bestselling author of several children’s books, including Not my idea: a book on whiteness. This book was specifically mentioned by Republican State Representative Steve Toth as he encouraged fellow lawmakers to support Bill 3979, a school censorship bill that severely restricts what can and cannot not be taught in public schools. Texas Signal spoke to Anastasia about the experience and her thoughts on the anti-criticism racial theory legislation that is being adopted in Texas and across the country. This conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity.
When did you learn that your book was being discussed in connection with a bill to restrict what can be taught in a social studies program?
I received an email from a professor. From Professor Marlon C. James at Texas A&M. They wrote to my publicist and said, “I’m trying to get Anastasia a message. I was [forwarded] a letter from a Texas state legislator. Dr James wanted to know if I would be able to write something down or just talk about the matter at that time. Because he knew that the book was shared by Steve Toth with every member of the House of Representatives, on the pretext that my book was racist.
Yes we wrote about it for Texas Signal.
For me, I was shocked. Tell me that I shame children?
Not at all the subject of the book.
It really is a recognition of humanity and the sensitivity of a child who would be able to recognize that something is seriously wrong. Something is wrong with the culture, and they are feeling it in their bodies. They know in their guts that there are people who are insecure, and that is due to the color of our skin. That we are safe from this kind of racist violence or racist discrimination. So I wanted to recognize that children feel it, and then invite them into a legacy of work for justice. I wanted to let them know that they are not alone. That there is a place for them. This racism was not their idea, they were born into something that is in the culture, and in the education and police, banking and housing system. They could make choices. They could understand. They might know it’s a system and it’s not them.
Steve Toth’s point, as I understand it, is that you shame white children with this book. And we shouldn’t be talking about these “divisive” topics. What would you have to say to that?
It’s the contrary. The shame is already there, but the shame is part of being born into a white supremacist lie. Shame is what they feel when adults don’t tell them, honestly, about the history that brought us to this moment and the current reality. What I do in the book is invite children to understand their own sense of justice. It’s as if people don’t want to hear these words spoken with children. So [Toth’s] thinking distorts the message of a book like mine and others. I am in excellent company. I have never been in such excellent company to be associated with Project 1619, but they intentionally distort and distort the message.
So people like Toth really don’t understand anything about the book?
They flip it over and reverse it. And then they act like victims and they lie. They leave white children in a place with no power and no self-esteem. You know, he denigrates their ability.
Act like victims and lie. That’s actually a pretty good description of most of the lawmakers we have in Texas right now. In Texas, we have passed a number of bills this year, as well as many other states across the country, which are referred to as “anti-critical racial theory”. As a person who is trying to expand the minds of children, how do you think there are so many books right now that are being produced? censorship? Not even just with anti-racist topics, but things like LGBTQ identity and a lot of other topics like that?
I just see it as really ugly. It is blatant censorship. It is the fear of the truth. It is a bias. It is bigotry. It is anti-blackness. They try to pretend that racism doesn’t exist, try to pretend that people are not in danger and try to protect the wealth in the hands of those who are already there.
I’m curious if you may have heard from parents or librarians after everything that happened?
Every day I get posts on my Instagram or emails like, “You are racist. You are the worst. You are the reason we have racism in this country. Ridiculous things come to me. I hear teachers, the same teachers I heard before, saying, “I still teach your stuff, I still have your books.” I hear from friends who in their different professions some work in hospitals, some in schools, others in anti-bias education, who say, “I still use your job as before. I have heard from parents. A guy from Wisconsin. He said they were debating [my] books to a school board. And they try to deny the funding. [Some] the parents were organizing themselves, but they lost. The community has come out overwhelmingly in favor of keeping materials in school.
However, when you hear about cases, where perhaps the censorship is prevalent, and we have had a few cases in Texas; do you have any ideas on that?
It’s dangerous. It’s scary for kids because, like we said before, they say they are the ones who are being censored, but it’s the exact opposite. They act as if they are there for the protection of the children, but [stuff like this] protects only their own power and their own position. A position within a culture which favors “white as a right”. It only favors them. It puts everyone at risk.
Would you like to add anything else? I still hope for good things in Texas, but now. My God. I think of all the topics or all the people that the kids were already at risk of not learning, and you add to that everything we’ve talked about. It’s a combination of, like, it’s so it’s so stupid, but it has such huge consequences.
He is. It’s so stupid, but it has huge consequences. It’s in the book. It’s pretending, but it has real consequences.