Why are all the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?
– Beverly Daniel Tatum
I just finished the 20th anniversary edition of this book – with an updated prologue and epilogue. Like my last Bookish entry (Memmi) this one is going to take a while to digest.
The first thing to say is this really shouldn’t be your first book on race and racism. Or even your third or fourth. It’s dense. It requires a lot of unpacking. And although she explains that she decided to write the book when she realised she needed to “bring an understanding of racial identity development to a wider audience” (pg77) the book is not something that most people will find easy to digest.
I should probably start with explaining that it’s not about “race” but how one’s own identity – encompassing race – develops. I learned a lot but I am stubborn and carried on through the stats and took notes and had the luxury of time to sit and think and read and sit and think and read. I think that for most people it’ll just be beyond them in terms of time and energy to invest. And that’s a shame. I think it’ll just be too much for all the people who could really benefit from learning what is in here.
Here are some great, big picture lessons though:
Race is a social construction.
Race is a human-invented classification system no different than the Dewey Decimal system. Geneticists agree.
Society is important
A big part of defining yourself can come from what the world around you says about you and about others like you. Everyone needs to see themselves reflected in the world.
We need to talk about race and racism
If we want to move past a racist society we all have to step up – and white people most of all. You have to work to identify your own sphere of influence and consider how to use it to interrupt the cycle of racism.
Racism doesn’t just harm Black, Indigenous, People of Colour – though obviously it effects them most directly.
We all lose – when human potential is left by the wayside because it doesn’t seem to fit with the perceived norm.
We need to talk about racism – the break the silence. White people might be afraid of doing or saying the wrong thing – I am always concerned about this – but the work cannot always fall on the shoulders of Black, Indigenous, Asian, Middle Eastern peoples (to name but a few). The consequences for me to speak out are far less harsh than for some others.
I cannot wait to know all the information out there; I can no longer wait for perfection; I have to keep taking my small, deliberate steps each and every day. In those steps I find hope.