Book Review: Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together In The Cafeteria? by Beverly Daniel Tatum, Phd/ by Kyle Phoenix
How do we resolve racism? In teaching, as a student, I'm often confronted by actions and materials and students that point out racism, point out discrimination, point out bias. But what we're often stymied by as we examine a labyrinthine system (if you want to have fun one day look at the history of the Supreme Curt and race) is the solution to this conundrum. Often the biggest problem we have is identifying the slippery and ephemeral identification of what racism is and what it has wrought. We keep looking and probing and trying to figure out why but we rarely do work on solutions to racism. This book purposefully confronts not simply the definition and repercussions of discrimination based on race but pushes further to what are some of the solutions.
Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum, currently the President of Spelman College has focused her work not simply to create this text but she shares a lot about her children, her aspirations for them and the keen eye of a teacher who takes raising her children to be racially conscious and cognizant. I remember when Why Do All The Black Kids Sit Together In The Cafeteria? first came out and sitting with classmates trying to discern that answer. And even more adventurously trying to figure out why some of us sat in mixed groups. Was it simply friendship or comfort? Were some of the sleights and micro-aggressions us being excessively sensitive to this slippery, invisible wisp known as racism? I remember a Caucasian student who admitted some of his racist thoughts and being at a loss for how they could simply pop to mind when he thought himself liberal and accepting. He wasn't. In fact there would be times in the future when he would turn blind to others based on race and stay stuck in his internal biases.
I'm often working with adults around issues of race and uncovering privilege---which means that on a very direct level I get to push racial buttons. I get to look at Caucasian people and say nigger, nigger, nigger, nigger from first minor surprise to when I get them to being blase about it so that we can genuinely talk about their perceptions around it. I get to share my own biases and snappy comments around race to bait the groups into the discussion ("I think White people are clever. Immature, but clever."---a nice mini-grenade I toss early into a workshop. "White people are one of my favorite people to observe."---another good one.) It's highly unusual for a Black man to get to be condescending to White people, to confront them with thoughts they normally wouldn't be privy to. Similar to how I'm not privy to their racism. That disconnect in action also lies at the heart of our disconnect to solution.
This is an excellent tome for strategies on how to look at yourself, look at others and answer not simply racism issues, not to only define them but to hold something that has direct, concrete methods for undoing it.
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