‘This Book is Anti-Racist’ author Tiffany Jewell coming to Albany

In her book, “This Book is Anti-Racist: 20 Lessons on How to Wake Up, Take Action and Do the Work,” biracial author Tiffany Jewell describes a white elementary school teacher she had when she was a student in Syracuse.

“My teacher’s prejudice was overt,” Jewell writes. “She did not like Black and Brown children. She did not like our city school. We didn’t understand why she was our teacher. Why was she allowed to stay there?

That was the year Jewell realized all people are not treated equally. “It caused me to look at the world differently. As I got into middle school I became very involved with feminist issues, and in high school I was deeply involved with environmental justice, racial justice and gender equality, but it was my first job teaching at a preschool in Philadelphia when I came upon anti- bias education and thought, this is it, this is exactly what I want to do with my life.”

The work she did with those young children brought about an evolution in her. “The children were excited to learn about who they are and where they came from, and I began to find my people, by connecting with other educators who were involved in anti-racism education.”

Jewell will give a talk and be part of a later question-and-answer session in Albany on Tuesday, April 12, as part of the New York State Writers Institute’s spring program.

Her book, intended for 11-15 year olds, was published in January 2020, was recommended by Oprah Winfrey and became a national bestseller. It is beautifully illustrated by Aurelia Durand and is filled with valuable information about social identity, race, ethnicity and racism. There are also 20 writing activities for young people to learn about themselves and to better understand racial oppression.

“I knew this topic would shake up some people in the dominant culture, but even before the book was published it was already on a list of banned books, and it’s frequently taken off the shelves of libraries,” Jewell said,

Her book clearly explains what it means to be anti-racist. “Most people are clear about what it means to be racist, and just about everyone will say they are non-racist, but sometimes being non-racist is being complicit with the racist society we’re living in. If you’re non-racist you know that you’re a good person and have no prejudice, but are you doing anything to prevent racism? Being an anti-racist means that you’re active. You’re constantly fighting against the injustices of the world, and your vision is a world where we’ve abolished all types of racism.”

Jewell wanted to incorporate the writing activities in the book because she believes it’s the easiest way for someone to connect with an issue on a deeper level. Many of the writing activities are intended for young people to learn who they are, where they came from and hopefully teach them to be in a constant state of awareness. “I never saw myself as a writer. I have a bachelor’s degree in English, but I never really liked to write. I found my writing voice and my love for writing years ago when I was working with the 6- and 7-year-olds I was teaching.”

She had her young students write in her class. Sometimes they would illustrate a story with no words. She wanted them to have fun with language, and she began to have fun along with them. “I was trained early as a writer to get it perfect the first time. That’s why it was never fun for me. I know now it’s impossible to be perfect, and today writing is a joy. I even like the revision process when I go back and polish up what I’ve written.”

Jewell knows her work as an anti-racist writer and educator will take the remainder of her life. “I did have some wonderful teachers as a student in Syracuse who helped me see the public school education system wasn’t entirely broken. Many of these teachers showed me love every day in the classroom, but on an institutional level there’s so much work to be done. Not every student can reach the bench marks of common core, and the way our schools are funded in this country are incredibly inequitable.”

According to Jewell, having a fair and equal education system in our country is one of the best ways to turn away from the systemic racism that permeates throughout the entire culture. “It all comes down to power. Is the dominant culture ready to give up or even share their power with the oppressed?”

A clear message in her book is the importance of showing courage to take a stand to fight and call out racism. “We can’t wait for someone else to do it. If we see something wrong we should do more than take a video of the event. We also need to speak out, otherwise we’re complicit and everything will stay the same.”

Jewell knows how easy it is to get discouraged about how strong racism is in this country. “All you needed to see was how so many of the senators were questioning Ketanji Brown Jackson at the confirmation hearings. They belittled her qualifications and treated her with much disrespect.

Despite the difficulty of her work, Jewell is very optimistic, as is the book she wrote. “I am an optimist. I have always been hopeful, and it doesn’t take much for me to get inspired. I love my work with young people. I love seeing how they are so willing to work about bringing change. They understand inequity and injustice on a very clear level.”

She was happy to see so many students in Florida protesting the “Don’t Say Gay” law. “It inspires me to see peaceful protest like that. My experience has shown me that young people will take what I can teach them and run with it. They feel it. They see it. They care.”

Tiffany Jewell in Albany

Presented by The New York State Writers Institute

WHEN: Tuesday, April 12. Craft Talk at 4:30 pm; Question and Answer Session at 7:30 pm

WHERE: Multi-Purpose Room, Campus Center of the University at Albany uptown campus, 1400 Washington Ave., Albany

HOW MUCH: Free


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