Trish's Reviews > "Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?": A Psychologist Explains the Development of Racial Identity

"Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?" by Beverly Daniel Tatum
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's review
Mar 25, 2010

it was ok
bookshelves: 2009-read, non-fiction
Read in April, 2009

I'm sure this is a great book for a college age white kid who grew up in a predominantly white area. There is a lot of stuff here that would be beneficial to those who have not yet been exposed to many racial conversations.

However, to a middle aged person living in a racially diverse city (Oakland), there was not much in this book for me. I am not the target audience. In Oakland, we talk about race, argue about race, and ignore race in turn. In my child's classroom there are: "American" white; Italian, Brazilian, Israeli, mixed black/white, black, mexican, asian, children of same-sex parents. Here goes my review anyway....

I think the black kids are sitting together in the cafeteria because teenagers are sheep and like to clump together; race being just one way of "clumping". Look at the stoner table, the jock table, the goth table, etc. And if you look closer, you'll also see kids move from group to group, trying on different identies; this is what adolescents do.

This book describes a very black and white world (no joke intended), where the world I see outside my window is all sorts of shades of grey (actually brown, I guess). The book is also limited to a very American perspective - I'd subtitle it "Development of Racial Identity in non-ethnically diverse American Cites and Towns". And I'll even go further and say it's a historical perspective that is already (thankfully) becoming outdated (written in 1997; much has changed in the last 12 years - Obama, anyone? The argument of no Black people as role models or in positions of power does not hold.)

I don't support her promotion of segregation (she seems to champion all black schools/colleges), and was put off by her bragging about whites being "irrelevant" during her college years. Isn't the point she's making that whites have historically treated the blacks as irrelevant? And if so, how can she promote this as good, even when it's the other way around? And if the blacks go off by themselves, how can she possibly think that this will make them more "relevant" to the dominant (White) culture? In my opinion, it is better to have more a more diverse teaching team in mixed schools/colleges so that children see all sorts of role models as they grow up.

I hate the us and them language - exactly who is defining who is in what group? Are we going to get out a shade card to see if someone's skin is dark or light enough? I found the subtitle of the Mixed Race section offensive (don't remember exactly, but something like "Don't the children suffer?"). Just that assumption that this is what people think was off putting.

I disagree with her position that only whites can be racist (although I've heard the argument before, and understand her point about positions of power and institutional racism, etc. I just don't agree.) In my opinion, every race can be racist. ("Discrimination or prejudice based on race" - from the dictionary. From wikipedia: "People with racist beliefs exhibit stereotype-based prejudices towards individuals and groups of people according to their race.")

I think she failed in her Affirmative Action section; she basically said "Now that I've explained White privilege to you, you understand why affirmative action is necessary." But the pro/con argument is much richer than that.

The sections regarding non-African American people of color were not very valuable; they ended up reducing other ethnicities/cultures to superficial stereotypes (Asians= "good immigrants" or something like that). I could not get used to calling Native Americans "Indian", and was surprised she put the group I'd call "Indian" (from India) in the same group as Asians, and think it's not really informative to lump Indian, Persian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Laotian, Pakistani, etc. into one "Asian" group. They are totally different. This part could have been left out of the book completely.

Overall, for people who have not thought much about race; who have come from a place where they take their societal position for granted and have not met many people of color, this is a valuable starting point for conversations. I assume that is why this book is being assigned as required reading in college courses.

However, for someone who lives in an ethnically diverse place, this book did not have much to add to the conversation.
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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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message 1: by [deleted user] (new)

I'd be curious to get your reaction to the book - it's good but I'm not done yet. Had to take a break while dealing with it in the real world!

Trish I have to admit it's a bit of a slog - but I'm pretty determined to see what she says. I want to see how applicable it will be in real life (as you said, it's right in our face every day.)

message 3: by Timica (new)

Timica Campbell I think that even in ethnically diverse places, this happens, and not just with the high school kids you are used to dealing with. I do believe that she has some of the things wrong when discussing whites, but a large number of blacks do believe what she says in the book. It gives a great insight to anyone who did not grow up black in this country of how to negotiate issues of discussing race with blacks.

I went to a majority university and a lot of this applied there too. Especially, when she speaks about how white people view blacks there. Most people first assumed I was only there because of affirmative action, and only hearing about my awards and gpa in high school could change their minds. No one white has to deal with this. Even though her book was written in 1997, it still held true 10 years later when I was in undergrad.

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