African Americans / Book Reviews / Books / My Reading / People of Color / Race / Spelman / US / youth

A Refreshing Page Turner – “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?”

During my sophomore year of college a new president was inaugurated at my alma mater Spelman College, Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum.

In the mist of all the excitement and pomp and circumstance, I purchased the two books Dr. Tatum had written: Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race and Assimilation Blues Black Families in White Communities: Who Succeeds and Why? Unfortunately, well maybe fortunately as I was working on completing my degree doing research among other things, these books have sat on my shelf for the better part of about nine years until recently.

During a recent vacation, I decided to take a few books along to finally read and Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? was one of them; I read the book in about two days. Why Are all the Black Kids is a refreshing text that contrary to the catchy title discusses more than why all the Black kids are sitting together. Tatum discusses the development of racial awareness and identity in children from all ethnic and racial backgrounds, focusing on her area of expertise — the Black/White dichotomy. The book is a mix of academic knowledge, information received while in the classroom as well as stories from her own experience as a parent.

As an alumna of Spelman College, I learned a lot about Black/African Diaspora history and gained a whole new way to look at the world, a transformation so infamous to the Spelman experience that the gentlemen across the street at Morehouse even had a term for the freshman women who were absorbing all this new found information – ADWized. However, the information that Tatum shares about the stages of racial awareness and identity was something that was not shared in my ADW experience and while reading her book I said to myself that I wish I had the information in this book when I was in junior high and high school — frankly it would have done wonders starting around the fifth and sixth grade.

One of the main reasons why I was able to get through this book quickly was because I could relate to what was being shared and I identified with many of the students Tatum used as examples to support her points in the book. Furthermore, I connected quickly with the book as soon as Tatum shared why she uses the term people of color, a term I have been using more and more during the last year and a half or so (I don’t like using the term minority because it is diminutive and reenforces the “othering” that is common place in mainstream/European descendant US culture that has trickled down to the other US cultures effecting the self-esteem and effective action of people of color).

Why Are All the Black Kids is broken down into five parts: An introduction that shares the terms Tatum uses in the book, a section on understanding Blackness in a White world, a section on Whiteness in a White world, a section on Beyond Black and White and closes with a section on Breaking the Silence. As fruitful as it was for me to read the section on Blackness, as a Black female in the US, I feel that some of the real hidden gems in the book, especially considering the title of this piece, are the sections on Whiteness in a White world and Beyond Black and White. The latter section includes a discussion on the ethnic and racial development for mixed race children something that is still not widely discussed in the United States.

There are so many excerpts I could share but I choose the quote below because when I read it I felt it described the essence of my struggles growing up as a “smart Black kid.” Also this quote reflects one of the main reasons why I ended up attending Spelman College, the only Historically Black College and University (HBCU) I applied to. I wanted to be in a space with people “like me” i.e., other smart Black kids. Ironically, at least from the US perspective, going to Spelman I also learned that diversity is not just about race but it can be class, personal interests, family background and more:

One young Black woman from a predominately White community described exactly this [lack of full acceptance by Black and White peers] situation in an interview. In a school with a lot of racial tension, Terri felt that “the worse thing that happened” was the rejection she experienced from the other Black children who were being bussed to her school. Though she wanted to be friends with them, they teased her, calling her an “oreo cookie” and sometimes beating her up. The only Black friend Terri had was a biracial girl from her neighborhood.

If you are a parent, an auntie or even a close friend of a child or someone with children of any age — get this book in their hands! What Dr. Tatum shares in this book is vital information for parents and children alike. I have only been back from vacation a bit over a week and I have already let a friend and fellow graduate student with children borrow this book with all its markings and all.

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3 thoughts on “A Refreshing Page Turner – “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?”

  1. Hi…fellow SheWrites member here as well.

    I’m Hispanic, and live in a predominantly white town. When in any setting, I find myself drawn to talking to the other minorities (I know you dislike that word), whether they be Black, Indian, Serbian, Bosnian, or Asian. Even when I lived in another area, this was the case. That is not to say that I don’t have friendships with white people; I do… It is just that I end up sharing more in common with minorities…they are typically liberal, operate on the fringes of suburbia (meaning they’re more observing, rather than participatory) and they tend to drive their children to succeed more in academics rather than sports. I am not saying my town in a miscocosm of American life, only that this is what has proved to be a case in my little suburb (of Houston, Tx).

    What is funny about this, is that I come from South Texas, a place where the vast majority of the population is Hispanic… and yet have never wanted to live their because of its lack of diversity…

  2. HI DNMP – fellow SheWrites sister here. Yet another great book to add to my reading queue (groaning.) Not sure whether to thank you or curse you.

    I’m white, but grew up in a multi racial family from the time I was 11. I blogged about different facets of the experience from time to time, and recently blogged a somewhat controversial post here: http://writinginflow.blogspot.com/2011/06/slut-vs-nigger-can-offensive-terms-be.html that I would love your feedback on.

    IMO, racism isn’t dead, and we still need to talk about it, but we also need to find ways to be inclusive because there are Asian people, Hispanic people, and others who also experience (and perpetuate) racism. Only if we keep looking at it and talking about it can we ever hope that it will go away.

    • Beverly, thanks for responding. Glad you enjoyed the post and thanks for sharing your post. I just left my thoughts.

      You are completely right racism is not dead and we do need to talk about it and especially within the dynamic of the US (focused here because this is where I live) TODAY not at the point of its founding.

      Many of the political issues and debates today are reflections of the delay of the hard conversations about race and ethnicity that NEED to be had in the United States.

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