The issue of racism remains a touchy one and many people are unwilling to talk about it. Some do not even think that it exists in the 21st century. Beverly Daniels Tatum in her book “Why are all the black kids sitting together in the cafeteria” talks about this issue and gives insights on how to go about it. She is an American psychologist and a professor of psychology at Mount Holyoke College. She wrote this book from a sociological point of view in trying to understand the thought provoking question “Why are all the black kids sitting together in the cafeteria?” Her book shows us that there is the problem of racism and thus the need to talk about it because she aims “to help others move beyond fear, beyond anger, beyond denial to a new understanding of what racism is, how it impacts all of us and ultimately what we can do about it” (Tatum x).
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Racial identity is a topic that Tatum discusses at length. Racial identity refers to how a person constructs self-image in the American society that is race-conscious. She talks about the hesitance of parents to talk to their young children about the issue of race because the subject is taboo. Some do not talk about the subject, as they do not see racism as a problem while others fear creating racism in their children. I agree with her argument because this is a valid concern with many parents. Handling the subject wrongly can make children grow up as racists. However, it is important to move beyond this fear and start a conversation about racism and racial identity because many children grow up with stereotypes that they learn from the media, books, magazines and people from their own race. Racism continues even though segregation was abolished in America and people from the same race will often live in the same neighborhoods and thus children do not get a chance to interact with others who are different from them (Tatum 3). Thus, it explains why students in racially mixed schools often resort to racial cocoons such as all the black kids sitting together in the cafeteria. Tatum explains the meaning of blackness in a white context and gives reasons why a black person considers him or herself inferior in the society. Due to the socialization that he or she undergoes which shows him or her that he or she is not normal in American society. She tells of a story about her son who was told that he was black due to drinking chocolate milk and this shows that the problem about racial identity begins early in life and thus the parents should shape their children’s self-identity so that they can learn to value themselves.
Tatum talks about the existence of passive racism in society. It exists because people have internalized prejudices about other people and may not even be aware of that fact. For instance, racial stereotype jokes still exist and yet people do nothing about it. The author calls upon all the people in the society to talk a step towards eliminating racism even though not at fault in creating it because ”to say it is not our fault does not relieve us of the responsibility” (Tatum 6). The aforementioned point challenges people to get involved in racism elimination regardless of how much they have contributed or not to it, because whether we like it or not it influences us all. She challenges the notion that white is the norm in American society and urges the whites to develop their self-identity without feeling superior to other races.
The author Tatum talks about affirmative action as the only way of correcting the racial injustices committed against people of color. Because the system has discriminated against them for long and they need to be given this privilege to make up for the imbalance in schools, housing, banks, and many other sectors in the society. On the other hand, one would question whether this move would not be racism towards whites. Should a white person be denied an opportunity just because a black person applied for the same? The affirmative action may actually work in the negative for the blacks as they may feel they do not have to work very hard to succeed, as their positions will be reserved. Moreover, we are trying to solve the problem of looking at people based on their skin color and yet affirmative action seems to be reinforcing that notion. Affirmative action, I agree has some positives but I think it should be handled carefully as this is also a touchy topic.
This great book provokes and challenges our notion about racism in our society. The author tackles the issue head on and brings it to the limelight. We should talk openly about racism because silence about the subject is costly as it perpetuates misinformed and misguided information about other people thus creating fear between people. Communication is important in solving this social problem in American society because it will cause people to reexamine race relations. I hope that someday we will have students from different races sitting together at the cafeteria if we talk about racism today.
Tatum, Beverly Daniel. Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? New York: Basic Books, 1997. Print.