Can we Talk?

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I knew that writing about Harriet Tubman for my newest book, Before she Was Harriet (which releases today) would be a difficult task and that is exactly why I waited years to do it.  Since childhood, Harriet was my hero.  Courageous, rebellious, fierce, she was everything the anxiety-ridden, fearful me wanted to be.  Her story stood in stark contrast to others I’d read in my grade  school textbooks that in my child’s mind, portrayed enslaved peoples as willing participants in a system orchestrated by “savvy” whites over “docile” blacks.  As the only black in a classroom of whites, I felt shame wash over me during these lessons where my entire ancestry was painted as one of victimhood.  In all of these stories of slavery, Harriet Tubman emerged as the outlier, proof of a people with a rebellious, fighting spirit.

As the years passed and my education broadened to include a more accurate history, I often found myself engaged in heated discussions with many who clung to those textbook versions of historic events.  And in those arguments, I often came away battered and bruised and angrier.  But that is what difficult conversations do.


Slavery is the piece of history no likes to discuss.  It creates deep divisions and reopens wounds.  Emotions range from guilt to defensiveness to shame to fear.  But when is a good time to have difficult conversations?

Some of the most difficult conversations I have had are with one of my closest girlfriends who differs from me in nearly every way—racially, culturally, socioeconomically, geographically, religiously.  We met during our freshman year of college, and I was drawn to her assertive, politically incorrect style, which was in direct contrast cover

to my New England tact and liberalism.  She came armed with strong opinions and stereotypes, compassion and curiosity in equal measure at a time when I was raw with the pain of too many classrooms of people who didn’t look like me who told me told me that my history was less than when I now knew better.  We talked. We argued.  We challenged.  And surprisingly, it was as invigorating as it was respectful.  Through the years, we went our separate ways, moved away, made new friends, and came back together, stronger in our beliefs but softened too by how the ugliness of the world could be cushioned just a bit by a friend with whom you could ask hard questions and receive honest answers.  Gradually it was trust and then love that allowed us to talk without fear of judgment and have genuine discussions.    On many topics, we will never agree, but the difficult conversations continue to grow us in our understanding of each other and the worlds in which we live.


I will be the first to confess, I struggle with initiating more of these honest conversations outside of my echo chamber.  I am not all that interested in hearing why you believe (insert opposing political and social viewpoints here), but I do recognize the importance of having the  conversation.  They can clarify our thinking, help us sort through difficult topics,  remind us the world is full of people with a variety of viewpoints and every so often, those varying  thoughts can also offera new perspective.

.Conversations are a step in the right direction, but when we can’t find people with whom to share difficult conversations, an understanding of history may be the best weapon we have in combatting the “isms” we all face.

The writer Chinua Achebe once cited the African proverb, “Until the lions have their own historians, tales of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.”   As a child, all those years ago, the full story, the truth, was owed to every child in my classroom.  Not just the stories in the textbooks.  Not just Harriet’s.  But the many more that reflect the wide-ranging experiences of peoples that provide an accurate, alternative view of history to provide context and deeper content.

When is a good time to have difficult conversations?  Books for children that commemorate diverse historical figures may just be a good place to start.


Lesa Cline-Ransome


About Lesa Cline-Ransome

Children's book writer, reader, mother of 4, partner to one, dog lover, nester, walker, runner, truthful optimist, answer seeker, listener, negotiator, Boston girl, music maker, party starter, party ender, political, foodie, explorer, winter lover, fast talker, fighter, woman's woman
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5 Responses to Can we Talk?

  1. Pingback: Writerhood : Lesa Cline-Ransome’s thoughts on writing, motherhood and everything in between | Rhinebeck Community Forum

  2. David M Jennings says:

    Until we are willing to actualize the truth about Afrika and the role of Afrikan in the birth of civilization from the perspective of race and modern man/woman, no amount of true dialogue can exist. Our children and our commitment to the 7 generations, deserve to know the truth about the history of the development of the human being. This cannot be accomplished until we are willing to accept a restructuring of the eurocentric falsification of history, religion, culture, science and human development. This will demand only the strongest minds and fearless of heart as it will challenge everything you have had ingrained into your beliefs and values since even before your first breathe. Deep in the souls and spirit of Aboriginal and Indigenous peoples we know that something is not right and though we sometimes can’t seem to grasp what it is, our people were born with an intuitiveness and spirituality indescribable in words that the senses can’t deny when something is not right. That, for you my Sister, is your gift of expression through your writings. I know to many my words seem harsh and prejudicial but it is only because I am unwavering in my resolve to speak to truth. I don’t know how to be anything less. As I read your words I knew in my heart that you can understand what I am trying to say. If I am wrong then please forgive me for taking up your time. Love unconditional sis! David Grey Owl Jennings, Aho Ashé

  3. Katherine White says:

    Bravo- Harriet Tubman’s life was always a pivotal historical study and discussion focus in my class . I’m so happy that you are continuing that conversation . Looking forward to reading your book. Thank you.

  4. Pingback: Simply 7 interview with James E. Ransome–“Before She Was Harriet” – Jena Benton

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