The title of this column was going to be “Teaching Racism”—because I had been telling my kids how traditionally certain people think about other certain people, and I was planting those seeds, and it made me so sad — but I figured nobody might read a column with that headline. I am also struggling with what to focus on as May closes Mental Health Month and turns into June Pride Month.

Ice cream
Strawberry swirl ice cream was enjoyed on the sidewalk where The Accident, as Beaconites refer to it, took place. (Photo by K. Martin)

I’m a pretty chirpy person. My husband says he married me because I am “bubbly,” so when I’m not so bubbly, or bubbly with an edge, it can throw off an equilibrium. My daughter has been called my Mini Me, and if you see her, she looks quite … perfectly happy. But she always likes to play the strongest witch in a battle with a billowing cape. She recently lamented to a stylishly edgy friend from Cold Spring when she said: “I don’t look like how I feel.”

The first event to throw me off was the one with the child hit by a car in Beacon while eating ice cream. On May 9, two cars hit each other in the middle of Main Street. One hit parked cars in front of the Howland Public Library and the other jumped the curb and hit a grandmother and pinned her grandson under its back tire. My children cross the street, and they use the sidewalks, and visions of cars hitting them keep appearing as we walk together.

Next was the wild awakening of the decadeslong occupation of Palestine by Israel. If I thought writing about Black and white racial issues was hard, this proved to be a whole new world of hard. In childhood, I was aware of how my Arab friends navigated the American world; my family’s first instincts after 9/11 were to protect them from Islamophobic thinking. Last month, as buildings in Gaza fell and we watched videos of children being shot or pulled from bombed buildings, my own children asked me what was wrong. What was going on?

Weeks later, I had my daughter talk to my Muslim friend about Ramadan, the monthlong observance. She has school friends who were fasting but I wanted her to learn about the charitable opportunities they seek — the parts she can’t see beyond fasting — so that she could learn the depth and appreciate the actions.

Just like when my children first learned about the reason behind Martin Luther King Jr. Day, how he had been shot and killed and why, I felt the pang of: “Why do they need to learn this? Can’t we all just live blind? And love each other from scratch? Clean slate?” 

We can’t. Because that disappears people. Sadly, in order to make massacres such as what occurred in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a century ago this month appear in white education, it requires a lot of people to be “anti-racist” and buck the norms of comfortable — what I call Cotton Candy Racism.

Cotton Candy Racism is when we absorb racist, misogynist and classist stereotyping in new episodic Netflix and old movies (like, from the 1980s and 1990s). We eat that sugar so easily. When someone threatens to take it away by, say, changing school curriculums, we get upset. The New York Post had a story about an extreme case: a father who was in such withdrawal of his sugar fix that after discovering his 9-year-old daughter was learning “anti-racism” at her private school, he moved the family to Florida.

Thank goodness I don’t like cotton candy. I do indulge in cookie dough. But May had been a lot. I encourage us to put down the sugar, pick up a vegetable and figure this out.

Behind The Story

Type: Opinion

Opinion: Advocates for ideas and draws conclusions based on the author/producer’s interpretation of facts and data.

Katie Hellmuth is the publisher of A Little Beacon Blog and owner of Tin Shingle and Katie James Inc. She is happy to be raising her family in Beacon. Location: Beacon. Languages: English

One reply on “Kid Friendly: Cotton Candy Racism”

  1. Katie Hellmuth Martin’s column seems to be a soft slap at the recent attacks on school boards throughout the country, and recently in our own backyard in Carmel, over the teaching of certain theories about racial discrimination throughout U.S. history, up to and including today.

    Ms. Martin eloquently describes her feelings about protecting children from the shocking, negative and disheartening aspects of life. I understand how she feels. But she also expresses an important truth by stating: “We can’t. Because that disappears people. Sadly, in order to make massacres such as what occurred in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a century ago this month appear in white education, it requires a lot of people to be ‘anti-racist’ and buck the norms of comfortable — what I call Cotton Candy Racism.”

    I understand wanting to protect children from ugly truths, including our country’s racist history. But it is crucial to our intellectual and societal growth that we offer our children the facts, theories and studies on race and how it affects all people in America. Whether our children are of African, Asian, European, Middle Eastern, Native/Indigenous or other heritage, it is essential that they learn everything there is to know about our history and how we got to the country we live in today, without the sugar-coating, white-washing or censorship.

    To that end, it is important to understand that so-called “critical race theory” — a theory that racial bias is structural — has been discussed and taught for decades, mostly (as I understand it) at the graduate school level. But in light of the 1619 Project, the murder of George Floyd, the revelation of the Tulsa Black Wall Street massacre and the Juneteenth observance (to mark the fact that in some states slavery continued even after the Emancipation Proclamation), it has become urgent and widespread to examine the concept of critical race theory.

    Responsibly, many school districts are including this discussion in their curricula to provide a fuller and more accurate picture of U.S. history and promote critical thinking among students. Unfortunately, many politicians are seizing on this enlightened approach to studying the blight of racism as a means to incite their base with disinformation and chaos in preparation of the 2022 midterms. Politicians and misguided parents who are doing their bidding are vilifying school boards in an attempt to elect board members who think the same way they do and eliminate any critical discussions about racial issues and history. This is a travesty for our schools. To an inglorious trail of trying to overturn a presidential election, blocking essential legislation and suppressing the rights of voters, we can add derailing academic discussion and enlightenment.

    I urge parents to approach this controversy with an open mind, and to voice their differences in a civil, responsible and constructive manner, and to remember that a 21st century version of book burning will not prevent a curious student from reading and learning anything they want on the internet, including some version of the truth on social media. I believe that to do right by students, the concepts of critical racial theory and other important topics should be taught in school and discussed freely with their teachers and among classmates, friends and at home with their families.

Comments are closed.