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Read 'Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria'

Liz Dwyer

Walk into any school and you'll see students sitting in segregated groups. It's no surprise since they go home to segregated neighborhoods in an America that has a tough time having honest, productive conversations about race. Beverly Daniel Tatum's book "Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria" is a must read for understanding the psychology of racism and learning how we get past our reluctance to talk about race with children at home and in education settings .



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  • writerkate

    That looks like a book I'd like to read. Almost fifty years ago, in college in the Sixties, I tried sitting at the "black table" in the cafeteria several time, and failed embarrassingly. (Embarrassing to me, that is; I've no idea if the others at the table were bothered at all.) I've seen it at intervals over the years since. Since I hold as an ideal the elimination of barriers between people of any possible type, that failure has always bothered me profoundly.

  • KarenSz

    As an early childhood educator, I have used the lessons learned from this book often. I also agree with Zainab Anees that "Nurture Shock" is recommended reading. Add both to your list!

  • pbabcock

    I asked exactly that question when I was in high school in the early 1960's in the Bay Area. It was never answered. We still badly need the conversation.

  • Richard Starr

    The question is more than why are they sitting together.
    The question is, what happens if a non-black attempts to sit with them or if one
    of them attempts to sit at a different table.

    There are positive and negative forces involved with both groups.
    A black person attempting to sit at a "white" table will be mocked by other
    black people as "trying to be white". A white person attempting to sit at
    a "black" table will likely be met with hostility in much the same way a kid
    who is not part of the "cool crowd" attempts to sit at their table.

    Any black person that meets with hostility at a "white" table has recourse.
    If they are not welcomed, such acts must be backed up something, anything,
    that is not race based or the social consequences are severe.

    I think what we are seeing is both the comfort of the familiar since most of these
    kids are neighbors or have seen each other for years, as well as certain cultural
    bits of inertia that are slowly dissolving.

    • Ernie Est

      There is a lot of truth to what you say, Richard Starr, in my opinion. In school there is a lot of cliquish behavior regardless of race. Are we defining racism to mean any awareness of race as possibly
      determining what is or is not advisable action (i.e. as a white
      maybe I'm not welcome at a table of blacks)? To me,
      racism should mean "animus toward another based
      solely on his/her skin color, as opposed to their behavior".

      In my experience very few whites I have known in recent
      years (as culture has changed dramatically in this area) are
      racists, judging someone purely on the basis of race. My
      interactions with blacks have been almost entirely positive
      or neutral. However I am well aware that there are plenty
      of people of all races who would do me harm if they got
      the opportunity and I am wary of anyone who might fit
      into that category.

      I propose this phrase: "I don't care about the color
      of your skin, I care about the color of your intentions
      towards me". My colors might be red (hostility),
      green (love), or purple (neutral).

      Another very irksome trend is to call people who
      disagree with you "racists", especially if they
      have anything less-than-complimentary to say
      about someone of color. "It couldn't be because
      they honestly disagree with how that person
      behaves, it could only be because they hate
      ____ people". If we are truly going to develop
      as a society, we need to get past this type of
      thinking. Only if everyone, regardless of race,
      is accountable for their own behavior are we
      going to have a civil society. Thus I propose
      one more phrase:

      "I'm not a racist, I'm an idiotist". And idiots
      come in all colors!

      • Richard Starr

        Racism is the belief that an individual has certain characteristics because of their race when there is no scientific proof to affirm it. This is true even if those beliefs happen to be "positive".
        And it applies even when apply these beliefs to ones own group.

        The simple truth is, even if it were true that on the whole a group tends to have a characteristic it does not mean that it applies to every individual of that group. For example, women on the whole tend to be physically smaller and weaker than men, but it does not follow that ALL women are such when compared to ALL men. In fact, there are some women that are quite tall as well as strong to the point that they are in fact taller and stronger than the majority of men.

        As to your phrase, I'll stick to the classics.
        "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

        As to the last phrase, my former boss said the following.
        "I'm not a racist, I hate all people equally.".

        Part of the equation we now need to contend with is the reluctance to report race based crimes when committed by non-whites on other groups as racism. Especially when the victims happen to be white.

        There is a book I heard about.
        The title being "White Girl Bleed a Lot"
        The title coming from a statement made by black "youth" who part of a group attacked a girl because of her color.

        As you said, idiots come in all colors.

  • Barnaby Pung

    White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh gives some insight into what exactly privilege is and how it is manifest in ways that provide inherent or implied power by virtue of birth traits. It is one of, if not the, first article of its kind written by a white individual. I often use it as a selection in critical thinking classes I teach. Most often my classes come tothe conclusion that while accurate in some respects, the discourse is a bit outdated (1988) and comes from the perspective of a college professor, so there is potential role bias as well. The conversation almost always turns to socioeconomic factors and in turn to discussions of social and cultural capital. Which begs the question of the role of socioeconomic status in the power and privilege dynamic.

  • Maestro Benir

    From a British/African/Muslim experience point of view (and someone who has spent a couple of years in American schools - 20 years ago!) - I can advise you with clarity: Your country is indeed de-facto "re-segregated" - and THIS time, the minorities have ZERO leverage – and will ultimately lose this round of American "race conflicts" // The ironic thing is that ALL peoples of the Americas are largely of the same ILK: mixed-race, mixed-cultures, and mongrelised religion. What's happening is (you) are instinctively sorting a pecking order, aren't you? All one needs do is observe your cultural landscape; your literary product and your abominable entertainment propaganda: You are clearly trying to establish some social hierarchy.

    Only your caste system is rather boring. Its callow, devoid of historical perspective and its oddly, a "colour based", inverted totem pole of imagined superiority (not even "race" per se) based on the same aesthetics fancied by Slavers of the "pleasure islands" during the war-like expeditions of the Crown of Aragon.

    How you will sort this is the scary part of the story. You need only look at the older, mature empire of Great Britain - which is the longest surviving empire in history - and ping the timeline for your fate. If the Americas veer off, as the Aragonese did, you will disappear - as Spain indeed did. You will be relegated to a boring murmur - as Spain is today.

    If you implode, collapse upon yourself as Austria did, you will have an even shorter effect on history. The other failed empires of the USSR and its counterpart in China are clamouring for (your) crown - but they will never be able to sort it. Their priorities are hopelessly out of whack. Britain has seen similar efforts from Denmark, France and Germany - and you (should) know that result!

    How you proceed has everything to do with this timeline in history. Your race/culture mixing is no different that what has happened in Spain, North Africa or even India/Asia -- do you want to build a brutal CASTE SYSTEM and have to endure what those states have suffered? Their suffering makes your diluted "Civil Rights" clashes look like carnival rides. How does your "Ku Klux Klan" compare to the Nazis? The "KKK" never had the balls to seize (a) state – and run it into WWII! ... Do you want terms like "Ethnic Cleansing" and "Corrective Rape" applying to your country??

    The SOONER the USA realises that you are a ONLY a former, feudal, rogue, colony of MUTTS - the sooner you will claim your proper Ethnic identities, RESPECT those historical provinces of others identities - and move the fuck on.

    Otherwise, Great Britain will be waiting, with another life preserver - to pull you out, and to take your booty.

    And your present "tea party" won't stand a chance this time.


    • johnwcowan

      Your history is horseshit. "Longest surviving empire"? Please. The Holy Roman Empire lasted from 962 to 1804, and its two successor empires brought that down to 1918. The Roman Empire lasted from about 100 B.C. to 1453. The Chinese Empire is three thousand years old and still kicking.

      As for "proper ethnic identities", there's nothing proper about them. Every nation on Earth is composed of MUTTS. We are the descendants of the wretched refuse of your teeming shores, and we have done damn well internally. Even if we lost all our external empire (which would suit me), we'd still be nearly continent-sized.

      • Maestro Benir

        There were no "Holy Roman Empires", m8. Their fax machines were all clogged up. Their only knowledge of any previous reign was via "legend" and word of mouth - no mobile phones then! :)

        There were iterant, random "empires" that (you) like to CONNECT and pretend to be an empire. Yes, in 1453, at least the fat, bloated, lazy vestiges of Constantinople were any easy kill for the ISLAMIC, Ottoman (real) Empire. But those myths sell comic books - makes u LOADS o cash! :) The Greeks, the Romans were savages. And they FAILED. The Aragonese: savages, too. And of course the Nazis ... well, even your comic book history channels 'got that one correct! :)

        You should thank your stars, too! Those other "empires" would definitely BREED YOU OUT. Britain, chose to grow a GENUINE ethnic identity - a BRITON - and expand THE language #ENGLISH and culture, enabling ISLAM, enabling AFRICA and even the USA ... you love it!

        Don't hang your head - all it takes is ONE generation to get back on track! And only 5 years to secure a British passport! See you back in civilisation! ;)

  • Zainab Anees

    another must read is "nurture shock" by PO Bronson and Ashley Merryman, a new age parenting book and bestseller, which has a specific chapter devoted to "why white parents don't talk about race" which clarifies what we may think we are doing for the betterment of our kids and what its actually doing in increasing racism in society.