WEEK 7: “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” by Beverly Daniel Tatum, Ph.D.

Now, as an Ethnic Studies minor, I will try not to gush over a topic that I am so passionate about. But I will say…

This was a great read. Tatum, a professor and frequent race workshop leader, does an exquisite job of describing and explaining the processes that ALL people go through in order to come to some semblance of racial identity. She has a solid knowledge of racial issues and histories (not limited to black people either, even though she explains that her specialty is white/black racial identities) and everything she says is pretty much on point with a thorough Ethnic Studies education.

I think there were two important ideas that Tatum spends time with in her book: 1) That white people have a “race” too, and it must be recognized and discussed as an identity just as with any other racial categorization and 2) American’s fear of discussing race in public (and, oftentimes, private) spaces is holding us back from moving past our disgraceful racial history.

I thought the book did well to direct itself towards a broad audience of educators and activists from many different backgrounds however, many lovely Goodreads members, did not:

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The reviews from the people shown above obviously missed the point. Some of the reviews on this book are hilarious, especially the ones that spew traditional “whites can’t do anything about pervasive racism so stop blaming us” arguments (with 20+ likes, yikes). But they come from “white” people (since one of the women identifies as Irish and Native American) who automatically get defensive about discussions regarding race and racial discrepancies. I thought about posting a response, but then realized my time was better served elsewhere because 1) there were a lot of positive, more insightful reviews of the book from other readers to balance out those particularly ignorant posts and 2) the people writing the offending responses simply haven’t read/thought insightfully enough about race relations in the U.S. to even sound like they know what they are talking about.

I think this absolutely exemplifies the problems that Tatum goes over. White people have their own issues with race that must be dealt with, it is a bi-product of living in such a highly racialized society. Tatum points out that in her experience, the white people she comes across who have not dealt with the role of race in their lives are either completely unaware of its significance or, feel some sort of guilt or shame over the privileges they have inherited. And white silence around race is indeed harmful to them as a social group in its influence of their psyche and even economically.

But then, what do I know…I’m just a young, Mexican girl from Northern California. Out of fear of becoming the person of color lecturing white people on what they should/should not do in terms of discovering their racial identity (because I know if the roles were reversed, that would not fly) I will merely say that I hope the white people who pick up this book will begin to investigate their lives in terms of racial categories, and make an effort to become less afraid discussing such topics with both their white and non-white friends. And I hope that it will inspire people of color to keep pushing on…no matter what stage of racial self-revelation they may be at.

Overall score: 7 – highly recommended for those interested in investigating their own racial identity, or more generally, how race influences identity.

(Scores are given on a scale of 1 to 10. 1 being “don’t waste your time reading this” and 10 being “you must read this at some point in your life.”)

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2 thoughts on “WEEK 7: “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” by Beverly Daniel Tatum, Ph.D.

  1. Pingback: Responses to "Why U No Feature Black People in Your Stories" | The Write Stuff

  2. Pingback: The Truth About Diversity and my Writing (part 1) | The Claire Violet Thorpe Express

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