A Black Astronaut? Discussed with Children? The Horror!

Karen Patrol Gonna Karen, and what would Back to School 2020 be without it?

Today’s very special episode features a mom in an affluent MO suburb who got angry about a story about (Black) astronaut Ron McNair as a boy in the 50s, trying to get a library card in his segregated hometown. It was shared with her second-grader’s class without her consent.

Kudos to the school principal, who’s reading it on Zoom to the kids, and to the parent who’s buying every second-grader in the school a copy.

My twisted little contrarian heart, dominated by my two Black-white biracial children, rejoices.

The book in question, RON’S BIG MISSION truly is an atrocious volume – you see a well-groomed, highly-intelligent little Black boy with a loving-but-probably-Type-A mom, who wants to check out a library book. Through intelligent discourse, and a bit of stubbornness, he persuades the racist adults around him to… (shudders)

… give him a library card.

A library card!

The story is told in an intelligent and compassionate way, that illustrates the nuances of institutional racism and the need to question the status quo, better than any kid’s book I’ve ever seen.

I’ve stocked up on copies at the Scholastic Warehouse Sale to put into every birthday party gift one year. The book is that good.

Age-appropriate back matter describes how little Ron grows up to be a NASA astronaut and sadly, perishes too young on the Challenger.

This book has been a too-tattered-to-photograph favorite in my house, ever since one of my kids came home crying after a soul-crushing day of Black History Month learning in school.

“All the white people hated Ruby Bridges because she was Black, and they tried to shoot her. And if we went on a bus in the 1950s, you wouldn’t be allowed to sit with us.”

Wouldn’t you know there is not one word in the curriculum about Madame CJ Walker, Benjamin Banneker, Mae Jemison, Thomas Elkins, DJ Kool, George Alcorn, Charles Drew, Tananarive Due1, etc.

All the names are hyperlinked. I highly doubt they teach you about these folks in school.

Racism significantly impacted their careers and lives (a given if you’re an American), but they all worked around it and made significant accomplishments that helped define this country.

I suggested at a parent council meeting once that Black History Month tell a little more of the full story of Black people’s accomplishments in the USA. I had an all-white audience + my husband as the token Black guy and immigrant, apparently speaking for the 60% POC student population.

My insane idea was met with the cocked heads and wide-eyed confusion of people who don’t like being called out, and a couple of, “BUT THEY CALL EACH OTHER THAT!!!” texts.2

It’s way too easy to tell the “Black people can’t do anything but stand up against racism” narrative. It’s tried and true. It’s comfortable. It requires no thought or reflection.

And it’s the best way to keep little POC kids’ confidence in the tank, so that both they and humanity are deprived of their highest potential.

Don’t get me wrong: We needed Dr. King, Rosa Parks, little Ruby Bridges3, and everyone who fought for the end of segregation. They had gonads of titanium, and they brought horrible societal problems to the limelight.

You know what else made humanity better? Almanacs, flush toilets, female CEOs, computer chips, blood banks, etc. All these were brought to us by Black people.

I’ll be buying a hardcover of RON’S BIG MISSION for my kids’ school library as soon as it reopens.

And everyone should check out Scholastic, who continues to do an amazing job pumping out inspiring (and affordable!) stories about great Black Americans from all fields of accomplishment.

1Hey, I am a bookworm. But give even high school me a choice of THE LIVING BLOOD vs Les Miz?

2No “they” don’t! And even if some do, no demographic has a monolithic value system and thought process.  “It’s probably best for all concerned if elementary students are discouraged from using vile racial slurs in school,” is… not a ridiculous statement.

3Why was Ruby Bridges chosen as the integration guinea pig? It sounds like to qualify to go to a better-funded, mostly-white school, she passed some rigorous academic exams with flying colors, at the age of five. And no, of course they’re not going to tell you that in school.


  1. Wow, so glad the school district didn’t give in and went above and beyond with their positive response! I hope the mom who made the complaint will allow herself to be educated. Awful, sad, ire-provoking.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am so happy to hear the school’s response as well.
      I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately (I recently sat on a panel about white privilege at work). A blonde Xennial growing up ten miles from Plymouth Rock, I never wanted for role models who looked like me. From Rainbow Brite, to Kirsten Larson, to all the famous white people (men) I learned about in history class.

      Then I married an Afro-Caribbean man, and we have two kids, and I had to look at how damaging is the lack of positive representation across races. Yeah, it feels icky and uncomfortable. It’s an unpleasant message that many people need to hear a few hundred times to really internalize it.

      People like her though are why I stay so over-involved as the archetypal disgruntled dissenter in local public education.


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