Why are all the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations about Race by Beverly Daniel Tatum, PhD (1997/2017)

Why is it that when White kids sit together, people rarely comment–or notice?

Of the many books I’ve read on race and racism, I think this is the best one. Though it was written more than 20 years ago (this revised and updated 2017 version includes a 72 page prologue and many updates throughout), this book is more relevant than ever. It is readable, informative, and approachable for anyone. From the position of a racial educator, Tatum explores the intersection of history, psychology, and identity, including White identity, a topic many Whites haven’t given much thought to because as a dominant group, it’s easy to ignore the realities, experiences, and inequalities of subordinate groups.

I have so many pages marked-up in this book, from the beginning where she addresses terminology (including prejudice vs. racism as well as privilege) to the middle section where she offers numerous books and resources to the end where she explains the Atlanta Friendship Initiative, something I’d love to see take hold in my twin cities community. Some specific concepts and passages that struck me: “Because they represent the societal norm, Whites can easily reach adulthood without thinking much about their racial group…being White may go unexplored because it just seems “normal” (186, 189) Yet, “active exploration of what it means to be Black is an almost universal experience for African American adolescents due to the encounters with racism they commonly have. The same is not true for White youth” (189)

Tatum discusses individual identity vs group identity, affirmative action (so often misunderstood), as well as specific sections on other minority groups like American Indian and LatinX, and near the end, she digs into the importance of meaningful/productive dialogue, the inevitable discomfort, the paralysis of fear, and the cost of silence. Because Tatum is an educator, the book carries a tone of well…educating. Not shaming. Not degrading. Not ridiculing. But also not accepting the status quo, not accepting that this work is too hard. Not accepting that we don’t have a race problem. We do. And it’s everyone’s job to bring change. It may not be our fault (my fault/your fault individually), but it is our collective responsibility to examine ourselves and our prejudices, to broaden our knowledge, to seek out positive images of marginalized groups, and to “interrupt a cycle” that’s been passed on to us.

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