By Shveta Miller, published on Book Riot, January 2020
Good talks we have with our children tend to happen in private. They might take place when we’re snuggled on a couch or while in the car, eyes occasionally meeting in the rearview mirror. A child might be on our laps, our breathing in sync, as we navigate big questions together.
When I was teaching in NYC public schools, I used to commute on the always crowded crosstown bus. One afternoon, I looked up from the high school essays I was reading and noticed a caregiver and a child reading a book aloud together. I heard them notice details on each page and laugh at the characters’ antics. How special, I thought. Such a private moment on display for all these tired commuters to hear or tune out. I felt honored to witness it.
Now I’m a parent having these talks at home with my own child, often wondering what territory we’re about to enter and how to keep the conversation flowing as long as possible. I can’t help but wonder how these talks go in other families. But I’m no longer a crosstown bus commuter, and I don’t get many opportunities to eavesdrop on the good talks children have with their trusted adults.
Reading Mira Jacob’s graphic memoir Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations put me back on that crosstown bus. And the first few pages relayed a conversation that put me on the edge of my seat. Jacob invites us to witness an impromptu discussion she and her son have about race, equity, and identity. Her son, wanting to know more about his idol Michael Jackson, asks increasingly complicated questions like “Was Michael Jackson brown or was he white?” which leads to “Is it bad to be brown?” Jacob’s responses alternate between objective honesty and overcompensating enthusiasm. When her son ultimately asks, “Are white people afraid of brown people?” she quietly considers, “Sometimes.” When he chillingly wonders, “Is Daddy afraid of us?” she emphatically states, “NO.”