“Why?” Is a book that perfectly mirrors the reaction to children who are trying to understand all they see and hear around them. Diggs reported he was inspired by questions by his own son, and surely everyone with a child will be very familiar with the “why” phenomenon.
In this case, the Black children asking the questions are curious about protests against racism. The adults reply honestly. For example, a little girl asks her granddad: “Why are those people marching?” He replies, “Our people are marching because we have been stomped on and stepped over for way too long. Way, way too long.”
More controversial activities are included, as when a young child asks, “Why are those buildings burning?” The adult answers:
“Because, little one . . .
when we get tired of shouting
and not being heard,
when we have cried so many
tears from always getting hurt,
when we scream out for help
and continue to get ignored,
when we march and march and
march but are not really moving –
when all this happens. . .
Sometimes buildings must burn.
The buildings burn for us.
The anger burning those
buildings is us.”
The message has not gotten through to whites, however. In fact, it is being drowned out recently with white backlash in the form of “The Great Replacement Theory,” i.e., as articulated by Renaud Camus, a popular proponent of the theory, the belief that native white Europeans are being replaced in their countries by non-white immigrants from Africa and the Middle East, and the end result will be the extinction of the white race. A domestic terrorism database shows that Right-wing extremism began gathering fresh momentum after the election of Barack Obama, the nation’s first Black president. Now domestic terrorism incidents have soared to new highs in the United States, driven chiefly by white-supremacist, anti-Muslim and anti-government extremists on the far right.
Blacks are believing, with justification, that “thoughts and prayers” are just not enough. As Garnell Whitfield, a former fire commissioner in Buffalo, who lost his mother, Ruth Whitfield, in the mass shooting by a white supremacist on May 14, 2022, stated:
“‘You expect us to keep doing this over and over again, forgive and forget,’ said Whitfield, who was accompanied by the civil rights lawyer Ben Crump. ‘While the people we elect and trust in offices around this country do their best not to protect us, not to consider us equal.’”
On May 30, 1963, President Lyndon Johnson spoke at Gettysburg on an occasion marking the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg.
In a notable speech, he observed:
“One hundred years ago, the slave was freed.
One hundred years later, the Negro remains in bondage to the color of his skin.
The Negro today asks justice.
We do not answer him – we do not answer those who lie beneath this soil – when we reply to the Negro by asking, “Patience.”
It is empty to plead that the solution to the dilemmas of the present rests on the hands of the clock. The solution is in our hands. Unless we are willing to yield up our destiny of greatness among the civilizations of history, Americans – white and Negro together – must be about the business of resolving the challenge which confronts us now.”
Taye Diggs helps to raise awareness of these issues. He said in an interview about this book:
“I’m sure children all across the globe were looking at what was happening here in America during Black Lives Matter and wondering what the deal was. And I wanted to do my best to give an accurate portrayal of at least my perspective and the way that it applies to my son as well.
Sometimes, the answer to these questions can be uncomfortable and there isn’t necessarily an answer, or not an answer that is going to make either party happy and I wanted to experiment with that in this book.”
“Why” is the fifth collaborative children’s book between Diggs and multiple award-winning illustrator Shane W. Evans. Evans uses textured mixed-media watercolor and pencil drawings for characters that brilliantly reveal a panoply of emotions from confusion to frustration to understanding to hope.
Evaluation: This exploration of the conversations parents and children of color are having about race and injustice is one that remains timely. When, oh when, will it be just a sad reflection of history? Highly recommended for all ages and races.
Published by Feiwel & Friends, 2021