Kids’ book ‘Our Skin’ in NYC schools blames racism on whites

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An “inflammatory” children’s book being distributed to New York City schools teaches kids as young as 2 that the concept of race was created by white people who claimed they were “better, smarter, prettier, and that they deserve more than everybody else.” 

The book “Our Skin” was penned by Harlem activist Megan Madison and Brooklynite and library worker Jessica Ralli, and published last year. It begins with a simple discussion of skin tones — then launches into a screed that blames the idea of race on white people along with an illustration of scary-looking human skulls encased in glass and sitting on shelves.

“A long time ago, way before you were born, a group of white people made up an idea called race. They sorted people by skin color and said that white people were better, smarter, prettier, and that they deserve more than everybody else,” the book declares.

It goes on to say “That isn’t true or fair at all!” with a picture of  a “Caucasian” man holding up the “Most beautiful skull.”

The book, aimed at those ages 2 to 5, has been distributed to at least one Manhattan kindergarten, one on Staten Island as well as a school in Brooklyn and appears to be part of the Department of Education’s new “Universal Mosaic Curriculum.” The DOE announced the plan under former Mayor de Blasio to standardize instructional materials and “better reflect” the system’s demographics. It is to begin in 2023.

The book “Our Skin” was penned by Harlem activist Megan Madison and library worker Jessica Ralli.
Ellis Kaplan

The tome is on a suggested reading list parents can access through the website TeachingBooks. It is part of the “Universal Mosaic Independent Reading Collections” for kindergartners created by the DOE’s Library Services, the site says.

Brooklyn parent leader Vito LaBella called the text “inflammatory.”

“That page alone in my mind is just preaching hate,” he said, referring to the text about sorting people by skin color.

LaBella said at least one school in southwest Brooklyn’s District 20, where he’s a member of the Community Education Council, received the books. The principal had been told by former Schools Chancellor Meisha Porter they would be coming. They were to be delivered to kindergarten classes, but the principal was holding off, he added.

Harlem activist Megan Madison
Megan Madison co-authored the children’s book.
Amazon

“There were no instructions or curriculum guide with them,” said LaBella, who is seeking the Republican nod to challenge state Sen. Andrew Gounardes.

He said he planned to discuss his concerns about the book at Wednesday’s CEC meeting.

A Manhattan parent of a kindergartener saw the book in his son’s school this week in a box marked “Mosaic curriculum.”

The dad said he looked through the book and stopped cold at the page saying white people invented race.

“The book itself is fine and a lot of what is said in the book is productive and I think very helpful in a discussion of race,” he said. “However, there’s just an excerpt from it that I think is so damaging that it should disqualify the whole book.”

Jessica Ralli
Jessica Ralli is coordinator of early literacy programs at the Brooklyn library system.
Amazon

He said he would address his concerns with the principal.

“Racism should be talked about, but it should be talked about correctly,” he said. “I think that telling 5- and 6-year-olds that white people are all responsible for all racism is not helpful. It’s going to be very traumatic for many 5- and 6-year-olds who are going to blame themselves and blame their parents.”

The book’s narrative adds that “racism is also the things people do and the unfair rules they make about race so that white people get more power.”

There is no discussion that groups other than whites might be racist.

Chien Kwok, a parent leader and member of the Community Education Council in Manhattan’s District 2, said he stumbled across “Our Skin” on the TeachingBooks site.

Our Skin
The DOE says the book is “not part of our prescribed curriculum.”

“The DOE should be sensitive to the fact that not every family will agree with what’s age appropriate,” Kwok said. “They need to be transparent and have a way of opting out and providing alternatives that families are comfortable with – especially in the younger ages.”

One Asian-American mom from Queens asked whether the book is for “a black or white audience — or for all children?”

“When you see these anti-racism books they almost always leave out Asians. It’s always spoken about in a white vs. black narrative – which is not what the city is – it’s a city of immigrants,” the mom said.

Elana Fishbein, head of the Pennsylvania-based group No Left Turn in Education, which opposes a “leftist” agenda in schools, said the book is brainwashing young kids and that the authors seemed to feel parents have almost a moral obligation to have their children focus on skin color.

Our Skin book
A Manhattan parent of a kindergartener saw the book in his son’s school this week in a box marked “Mosaic curriculum.”
Ellis Kaplan

“Nobody can tell you they’re not teaching CRT,” she said, referring to critical race theory, a subject mostly taught in colleges which argues that racism is embedded in United States legal systems and policies.

The use of “Our Skin” created an uproar in a New Jersey town last fall where the school board eventually decided the book could only be used as part of a lesson plan and not read without supervision.

“It should not be placed in the general classroom library,” Westfield, NJ., Schools Superintendent Raymond González said, according to a report. “Rather, this book is best to use as an interactive read aloud where educated professionals can skillfully present this information.”

The “Our Skin” authors also wrote kids’ books about gender and consent.

Our Skin
The book’s narrative adds that “racism is also the things people do and the unfair rules they make about race so that white people get more power.”
Ellis Kaplan

Madison, 34, is a “trainer” at the Bronx-based Center for Racial Justice in Education, a nonprofit that contracts with the DOE to “empower educators to dismantle patterns of racism and injustice. She referred a reporter to the authors’ website.

There, they defend the books as age appropriate and say that criticism was expected.

“We know that the harmful ideologies that these books push back against are dominant and powerful in our society….But we’re not scared. We are firmly grounded in our professional and ethical responsibilities,” they wrote.

The Brooklyn library system, where Ralli, 42, is coordinator of early literacy programs, has 56 copies of “Our Skin” in its collection.

The DOE says the book is “not part of our prescribed curriculum” but noted that schools can buy books on their own.

When a book is “challenged,” the DOE said it convenes a “Materials Evaluation Committee” made up of parents, teachers, a school librarian and others to examine it. The department wouldn’t say if the book was being evaluated.

Our Skin
The DOE announced the plan under former Mayor de Blasio to standardize instructional materials and “better reflect” the system’s demographics.

“Our public schools do not shy away from books that teach our students history and can be used to deepen their understanding of the world around them. We value and honor our students’ perspectives and identities, and we provide opportunities for family voices to be heard on topics including school book lists,” a spokeswoman said.

Additional reporting by Cayla Bamberger and Susan Edelman

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