beyond colour

African-Canadian author addresses racism and bullying in a way all can understand

Photo: Bobby Schaub

“I have this belief that all children on this earth are good. And I think if they get the right messages and the right information then they will act in a good way.”

This is a belief that Kinota Braithwaite keeps close to mind and it shaped how he handled a situation that he thought his own children wouldn’t have to face. 

Braithwaite is African-Canadian, and grew up in the Toronto area. As he explained at a presentation he gave at Tokyo American Club in February, he’d had to face racism from classmates that took a variety of forms, and handled it on his own terms. But he hoped that with the passing years, the stain of racism would be something that could be relegated to the past. 

However, when his daughter Mio, who is biracial, was bullied at her Japanese elemen­tary school for looking different from her class­mates, he faced the realization that some things hadn’t changed.


He dealt with the situation as a teaching moment — Braithwaite is a Montessori School instructor — and arranged to visit his daughter’s class, where he presented a lesson about bullying and racism to his daughter’s classmates, which was translated by one of the classmate’s mothers. The children took the lesson to heart, and the bullying ended. 

However, he realized there might be other children out there, facing the same kinds of issues, whose parents might not be able to handle the situation as skillfully as he did. In a conversa­tion after his presentation, Braithwaite said that he knew he needed to do more. “I had a feeling that this kind of bullying would continue in Japan, and I needed to do some­thing about it. So I decided to write a book that teachers can read to their classes, and parents can read to their children, as a way to say — ‘This is not the right way: we can do better, and we can treat people with kindness and respect.’”

Mio The Beautiful is the first book that he wrote. The colourfully illustrated, bilingual book tells Mio’s story and encourages those who read it to understand that people need to be judged by who they are, not how they look. Mio the Beautiful has been followed by two other books — Kei The True Friend (based in part on experiences of his son, Kei) and Mio’s Wish: Growing Up Biracial in Japan. Mio The Beautiful was translated by a fellow Montessori teacher, while the second and third books were translated by Makiko Shimada, a professional translator. 

Braithwaite said that he met the illustrator for all three books — an Indonesian artist named Taiga — on Instagram. He was impressed by the work she was posting on her account and reached out to her. It turned out that Taiga was also a fan of anime and manga, so the Japan connection was easy to make. They’ve yet to meet in person; Braithwaite sends her the stories along with pictures and descrip­tions of the scenes and Taiga helps bring the stories to life. 


Braithwaite with his daughter Mio and son Kei. Photo: Bobby Schaub

Given Braithwaite’s family background, it should come as no surprise that he took a literary approach to addressing the situation of racism and bullying. His grandmother, Rella Braithwaite, was an important figure in African-Canadian civil rights. She wrote a regular column about Black history in Contrast, Toronto’s oldest newspaper for the Black and Caribbean diaspora, as well as several books about the roles that African-Canadians played in Canadian history. This included work that discussed her ancestors, who escaped slavery in the United States by way of the Underground Railroad and joined the first African-Canadian community in Wellington County, Ontario. In addition, she assisted Ontario’s Ministry of Education in creating a Black studies guide to be used in the province’s classrooms. 

In a fascinating parallel, Braithwaite explains that his grandmother was inspired to begin her work in response to her own child: “She started [her work] as a result of her son Cecil, who came home and said, ‘There are no Black heroes.’ She was taken aback, and she took it upon herself to write books about Black history.”

Braithwaite said that his own interest in Japan stems back to his grade five teacher, who did a unit on Japan and Japanese culture that stayed with him for years. As an adult, he saw an ad about teaching English in Japan, and as it is for many expats in Japan, one year turned into several. He has also lived and taught at Montessori schools in the Czech Republic and Austria.


Braithwaite spoke on racial identity in Japan, at Tokyo American Club in February.
Photo: Yuuki Ide, Tokyo American Club

Given his experience in Canada and overseas — particularly in Japan — he feels that there is often a difference when it comes to the roots of racism and prejudice here: “In Canada, there’s a history of this happening and people know that it’s wrong. But sometimes in Japan, people can be racist, but it’s out of ignorance. Of course, this isn’t an excuse, but it can come from a place of not knowing any better.” His books look to shed light on the topic, and share lessons in a way that younger — and older — readers can understand and sympathize with. 

[His next book] will give parents and their children … help in dealing with separation or divorce.

Even though Braithwaite had modest hopes for Mio The Beautiful, it has been extremely well received, particularly among international schools. It was chosen as a Sakura Medal nominee, having been recognized by interna­tional school librarians across Japan as an exemplary book. He’s hoping that this book, and his others, will eventually get attention from Japanese schools. 

He regularly gets messages from parents and teachers about the positive influence his books have had on their children — sometimes boosting their self-esteem and in other cases helping to put an end to cases of bullying in the classroom.

Braithwaite’s next book, he explains, will touch on a topic that often appears in the foreign press in Japan: what happens when mixed families separate. “In Japan, when you are separated or divorced, there’s this sole custody law, and sometimes, one parent doesn’t have the opportunity to see their children,” he said. “It will be a book that will give parents and their children who are going through situations like this some help in dealing with separation or divorce.”

In addition to his books, Braithwaite also gives talks about racism, bullying and prejudice to organizations, and maintains an active presence on social media. But despite the complexity of the problem of racism, he feels that the simple, heartfelt message of a book like Mio The Beautiful can have a profound effect on readers of all ages and backgrounds. “This is one children’s book that can change the way that you think about the world. And it doesn’t matter if you are six years of age or you’re 60 or 80. I’ve written this book with a universal message that all children are beautiful, and that we can unite around this cause of stopping racism, and stopping bullying,” he said. “I think if we had everyone working together on one common goal we could make Japan an even better place. I like Japan a lot, but I think we can make it even better for kids coming up.”