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99 of 123 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A critical look at racial awareness and identity development
Not until recently have I, as a 20-year-old white American college student, really become aware of the extent of my own white privilege and what it means to be white in America today. Even the fact that I was able to go for so long without recognizing the significance of race in my life is a manifestation of my white privilege. Children of color, however, are generally...
Published on April 13, 2005 by Monika

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111 of 128 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Examine where you stand, even if you disagree
As you review all the "reviews" thus far written, you get a sense that Dr. Tatum's book has gotten people thinking and taking stands. I appreciate the straightforwardness with which Tatum introduces her subject -- racism. Sure, we can disagree with her definitions and use of rhetorics. But she made the definition clear and prominent enough so that we can disagree. It...
Published on January 3, 2005 by Junlei Li


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111 of 128 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Examine where you stand, even if you disagree, January 3, 2005
By 
Junlei Li (Pittsburgh, PA United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria: And Other Conversations About Race (Paperback)
As you review all the "reviews" thus far written, you get a sense that Dr. Tatum's book has gotten people thinking and taking stands. I appreciate the straightforwardness with which Tatum introduces her subject -- racism. Sure, we can disagree with her definitions and use of rhetorics. But she made the definition clear and prominent enough so that we can disagree. It is hard to measure oneself by a wishy-washy yard-stick. Tatum provided a solid yard stick by which you may examine your own stance, assumptions, and conclusions. In reading the reviews, especially the critical ones, it struck me that even those who strongly diagreed with Tatum understood her basic premises and her arguments. It is upon that understanding that we can disagree. I applaud the author for clearly laying out her arguments on a controversial issue.

The main strength of the book, to me, is in fact the redefinition of racism. You don't have to agree with it, but you do now need to examine whether a "system of advantage" exists and if it does, whether it should be included in the definition of racism. I am neither white nor black, so I cannot speak of black/white issues in first-person. But I come from a family with four generations of academics. The sytem of school, academia, and education benefits me greatly, and I suit the system particularly through by upbringing. By analogy, I am open to the idea that past explicit systems of racial inequality do not lose its effect in a mere generation or two, especially for the black race. Through my reading, I am questioning and examining my own assumptions as well as that of the author's. To that extent, I think the book is doing its most important job -- make you think.

The weakest point of the book is also in relation to the definition. The author included both internal belief and external system of advantage into her definition of racism, but only spent significant time exploring the system, but not belief. The author talks much about how the environment shapes the individual, but not how the beliefs of an individual (particularly, a black person) can alter the environment and his/her own fate. It places the black individual in a powerless position, except through the path of activism in racial issues. The book largely ignores the reverse stereotypes that many whites feel from the blacks. The book simply does not name it, or implies that it doesn't count as "racism". Whatever the name, minority stereotype of the majority exists, and it should/can be addressed. I am a racial minority, and I hold such stereotypes.

The integration of identity theory with the racial issue is a valiant attempt. Sure it's not perfect, but it is a working hypothesis and I applaud the author's ability to present it in a way that is understanable and arguable.

The weakness of the identity theory presented is the overemphasis that we develop positive self identity only (or at least, first) by "sitting together" with our own kind. By that suggestion, must whites first sit whites during teen years, and rich with rich, poor with poor, woman with woman, man with man, athletes with athletes, nerds with nerds? Sure, that IS a big part of identity forming. The cost of "sitting with your own kind" is that your development gets stuck in a rut. You have few exposures to fresh ideas, ideas that would conflict with each of our narrow and individual views (and thus stimulate you to oppose, assimulate, or digest). Cognitive theories of child development places much emphasis on "cognitive conflict" in conceptual development. Though the author do advocate cross-racial dialogue, it struck me that the author overtly favors within-racial identity development, particularly for the black youth. Perhaps the argument is that blacks are "conflicted" enough by a white society, so they need not seek more. Are the black youth in America so oppressed so as not to be able to reap much benefit from other groups in identity formation? I don't know. I do question the argument "same kind first, and then cross lines" ... My gut feeling is that both should proceed more or less simultaneously.

Each of us, as readers, have our own ongoing identity development in relation to the question of race. The author, through this book, is beginning a cross-racial talk. Her clarity and honesty in the positions she had taken confront our minds, as if a "different" person is suddenly sitting at our lunch table". To that extent, I greatly appreciate the book, even while disagreeing with some ideas, agreeing with some ideas, and still digesting others.
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99 of 123 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A critical look at racial awareness and identity development, April 13, 2005
By 
This review is from: Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria: And Other Conversations About Race (Paperback)
Not until recently have I, as a 20-year-old white American college student, really become aware of the extent of my own white privilege and what it means to be white in America today. Even the fact that I was able to go for so long without recognizing the significance of race in my life is a manifestation of my white privilege. Children of color, however, are generally confronted by the fact of their race at a much earlier age. Their process of identity development differs significantly from that of most white children. This is the issue psychologist Beverly Tatum discusses in her book. She opens with the question that forms the book's title: "Why are all the black kids sitting together in the cafeteria?" It is common to see high school students self-segregate, socializing in groups composed mostly of others of the same racial background. But why is this?

Because Tatum herself is a black woman, she predominantly addresses the identity development of black individuals. She cites psychologist William Cross in describing the stages of development: pre-encounter, when young children simply absorb the messages they receive from those around them, not yet having reason to question them; encounter, when an individual first becomes aware of racism through some "event or series of events that force the young person to acknowledge [its] personal impact" (55); immersion/emersion, when the individual works actively to learn about and affirm their own racial identity; and internalization/commitment, when the individual has established a positive personal identity for him/herself. Throughout, Tatum offers explanations for the behaviors many black adolescents may engage in which may puzzle their white counterparts, including the reason for student self-segregation along racial lines. Tatum also provides tips for black parents looking for ways to help their children successfully deal with the racism they encounter and develop a positive sense of self.

Tatum then goes on to discuss the identity development of white people. Because white individuals are a part of the dominant culture in the United States, they are often oblivious to the fact that they, too, are a part of a racial group. "But I'm just normal!" they may say (93). However, this mode of thinking can and does cause significant problems for whites and people of color alike. Tatum analyzes these problems and their roots, and explains how white parents can raise their children to have a positive awareness of race. She debunks the popular idea that it is best to be "color-blind," revealing the damage this ideology does and why racial awareness, when free of negative prejudices and stereotypes, is actually a good thing. Tatum also discusses, more briefly, the identity development of Latino/Hispanic, Native American, Asian American, and biracial individuals, and the issues unique to each ethnic grouping.

White readers may have some trouble with this book for a variety of reasons. Some may be offended, as several other reviews here clearly demonstrate. The book raises issues most white people have never had to think about before. When confronted with these ideas for the first time, it can feel like a personal attack. But Tatum is not engaging in white-bashing or "reverse racism" as some might claim. Nowhere does she accuse all white people of being actively racist. In fact, she points out that the majority are not. Her primary concern here is the ingrained cultural behaviors people often engage in without even realizing that they may be, and most likely are, hurting someone of another race. It is these more subtle, more insidious manifestations of racism that Tatum seeks to bring to our attention, so that we can all work to weed these often-unconscious behaviors from our lives.

Another common reaction among white readers is to be overwhelmed with a sense of guilt at the realization that one's past actions, done unconsciously and without any racist intent, were actually hurtful and offensive to people of color around them. The biggest piece of advice I can offer readers who find themselves experiencing such a reaction is this: Do not beat yourself up for things you may have done in the past without knowing better; Tatum acknowledges that she herself has made mistakes, and a sincere apology is usually sufficient to gain forgiveness, if it has not already been granted without your asking. And even if it is not, you cannot change the past and you will accomplish nothing by dwelling on it. Rather, use your newfound awareness to move forward in a more positive way.

"Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?" is a profoundly important book. One other reviewer stated, and I agree, that this should be required reading for all American high school students. And I will go further to say that many of the issues Tatum writes about here should be discussed with children at even younger ages. It is never too early to begin educating one's child about the realities of race and racism, and help them form a healthy personal identity. While this book's primary importance may be in bringing awareness to white readers, it should in no way be restricted to a white readership. People of color - be they Black, Latino, Native American, or Asian American - will find plenty of worthwhile material here as well. Throughout her discussions on race, Tatum offers readers of color tools they can use to develop and maintain a positive sense of self in the midst of a racist environment. I highly urge everyone - and I do mean everyone - to read this book.
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113 of 143 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best book on race relations since 'From Superman to Man', November 23, 1999
By 
Ellen Brown (San Diego, CA USA) - See all my reviews
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Dr. Tatum explains beautifully many previously undiscussed aspects of race relations in America. But she also goes beyond what IS to explain WHY it is. Her explaination of how each of us develop our own sense of racial and ethnic 'self' provides great food for thought. Tatum's background, area of expertise, experience and sensitivity combine to make her the perfect author of such a work. She gave me insight into my own long-held feelings of guilt about being a benificiary of white priviledge. Particularly poignant were stories of how she discussed racial issues with her own children as they were growing. Every chapter so intrigued me that I would like to read an entire book dedicated to each of the topics.
In a perfect world, this book would be required reading for all Americans and should be assigned to every high school student in this country. I don't remember the last time I was as moved by a book and I can't wait for her next one! Thank you, thank you, thank you Dr. Tatum! Each of us who is ready to take a look inside ourselves and be completely honest about our own biases needs to read this book! It will make us better Americans, better humans and better friends.
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37 of 45 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Vital handbook for our country, March 14, 2000
This book ended up being both informative and intersting, a set of adjectives which frequently do not walk together.
However, Dr. Tatum has masterfully tackled a controversial topic, explained it in a perfect blend of academic and common-sense language, and put forth a pro-active plan for thinking which is innovative and exciting.
This book starts us from the beginning by deconstructing the very ideas of "white" and "black," and by discussing the terminology itself. From there, she begins to talk about social models of behavior and more complex ideas, but she never loses the "essential" nature of her subject.
Dr. Tatum's book is perfect for anyone who ever plans to have children or who works with them, because it deals with the effects that race relations have on kids. This under-studied field is, in my opinion, one of the most important because it is children who are harmed the most by polarized race relationships. Dr. Tatum discusses tools for dealing with children throughout the book, citing practical examples and giving the reader a place to go from the last page of the book into real life application.
Highly recommended.
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47 of 61 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must read for understanding who we are as Americans, October 12, 1999
If you are to read one book on American culture this year, let it be this one. This is the clearest, smartest and most accurate description of race, and racism, in America and it should be required reading for every student throughout the country. Working years in urban high schools, being white and seeing hopes and dreams grow and then be dashed with so many of our kids, I have struggled to understand the nature of our culture and who our kids are, and why they behave as they do. This book is the first that really makes perfect sense, and I will give it as a Christmas gift to as many people as I can afford. I hope Tatum provides a followup that focuses on our hardcore, urban poor kids, really the most misunderstood, feared and forgotten in this sad but accurate commentary on our culture. There is still so much to be said, and she is able to say it clearly and wisely.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must read!, July 28, 2000
I share this book in workshops I facilitate and numerous talks with my teacher colleagues. There's no other work I know that explains so well the need for us to understand the role of racial/cultural identity plays in shaping what our youth, particularly youth of African descent, feel and understand about themselves in this society. Tatum's book will help you understand that if racial and cultural identity are not a part of the curriculum and schooling, the social and cultural needs of many students will remain out of sight to them and to their teachers.
I feel that this book should be required reading for teacher preperation programs. It explores issues of racial identity development, racism, and empowerment. Well done studies and discussions of the book should inform reader of how schooling needs to change in order to help students shape their racial/cultural identity in ways that are empowering and transformative. So much so that when a student understands her own identity, she is better able to cross bridges to understand relate to others outside her group.
Finally, I would like to comment on the writing of this book. I have met Ms. Tatum on two occassions. Her warm, modest personality is reflected well in her writing. Though she is scholar, her book is written with compassion and spirit. She knows how to translate some very weighty issues and concepts into very clean prose that is not redundant and weighted down with jargon. I wish more scholars would learn to write like her.
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42 of 55 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Building Change Agents, July 27, 2003
By 
Sara Samples (Oshkosh, WI United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria: And Other Conversations About Race (Paperback)
In the 1999 introduction to the revised edition of "Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together In The Cafeteria?" And Other Conversations About Race: A Psychologist Explains the Development of Racial Identity, Beverly Daniel Tatum explains that she wrote the book not only to answer questions like the title question but also "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" (pg. ix). For persons of standard average European background surrounded, for the most part, by others who share this delineation, race is often the elephant in the living room; everyone knows it is there, but nobody is talking about it. Reading this book forces one to look at the elephant; however, not everyone will agree upon what it is they are seeing.
Tatum divides the text into five parts, unequal in both length and value. Many white readers may never get past the first chapter, as the definition of racism included will make them too uncomfortable. Understanding and accepting the described definition of racism as a system of advantage is central to distilling meaning from much of what follows. As long as readers continue to resist the concept of institutional racism, the subsequent sections on black identity (part 2), white identity (part 3), multiracial identity (part 4), and cross racial dialogue (part 5) have little meaning. Although it is necessary to begin the book with a discussion of terminology, the idea that only white people can be racist immediately sends up red flags to those raised to believe racism is a personal evil, born of vicious intent. This makes using Tatum's book in an educational context difficult, unless readers work to overcome these feelings and, at the very least, suspend disbelief regarding the definitions for the duration of the book.
Section two, "Understanding Blackness in a White Context," is a decent explanation of the work of Cross, explaining the stages of the development of racial identity. To make this section more readable and interesting, Tatum adds personal stories to illustrate the stages. For white people working with black children, teens, or adults, reading this section may illuminate previously misunderstood issues. Section three, however, truly sets this book apart from other books on racism and minority identity. "Understanding Whiteness in a White Context" discusses the identity formation of white individuals as well as affirmative action. Readers who were distinctly uncomfortable with the first section may feel somewhat soothed by the chapter on white identity, recognizing themselves more easily in the portrait of a child raised to be "colorblind" than in the definition of racism. This chapter is important because it shows the system of racism affecting white people as well as people of colour. As part of the "norm" of American society, seen by others as individuals rather than representatives of a group, white people have the luxury of generally not having to think about institutional racism. Commonly, when they come to accept their role in the system, the reaction is guilt. Tatum reassures her readers that this guilt is normal and that there are productive ways to get past the guilt and move towards dialogue both with whites and people of colour. The following chapter on affirmative action may ruffle a few feathers, but no one ever said change was supposed to be easy.
The fourth section, dealing with multiracial and other racial identities, is by far the weakest area of the book. After the in-depth, personal exploration of black and white identity, it feels as if Tatum is merely giving lip service to Latinos, American Indians, and Asian Pacific Americans. The text is dry and reads awkwardly, as if the author herself is not quite comfortable with her role in describing the ideas discussed. The chapter on multiracial identity is better, as Tatum gets back into her comfort zone of dealing with black and white, however, it is stunted and serves more as a catalyst for further investigation than as an actual source of information.
Part five is made up of the short but inspirational chapter on creating cross racial dialogues. This chapter could stand alone as a motivation for social change. Using quotes from "real people" as well as researchers, Tatum encourages everyone to "continually break the silence about racism whenever we can" despite fear, frustration, and anger (1999, pg. 193). Following the pep talk is a very thorough and well thought out appendix of starting points for dialogue. Having viewed/read several of the mentioned videos and books listed, it is my opinion that this section is a wonderful resource. Even if readers are never quite comfortable with Tatum's discussion of racial issues, they should not hesitate to delve into the resources listed at the back of this book.
Overall, this book is an excellent start towards achieving the goals of cross racial understanding and dialogue, provided white readers push past their initial squeamishness regarding the sociological definition of racism as an institution. Beverly Tatum's straightforward discussion of race gives readers a knowledge base from which they can spring confidently into conversations. While no book can in and of itself remedy societal ills, "Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?" does the next best thing; it inspires and empowers change agents.
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33 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tackles a Touchy Subject w/ Honesty & Sensitivity, March 15, 2001
By 
Discussing race is a challenge. However, it's one that Tatum (the author) overcomes with sensitivity and candor. I am lucky that someone took the time to write such an informative piece.
Tatum relies on her years of research, background as an educator/speaker, and personal experience to discuss the nature of racial differences as they existed (and exist) in America today.
Talking about race makes people feel uncomfortable. When engaged in these type of discussions, I have found that people are either on the offensive or under attack, as race inspires a myriad of heated emotions. Accusations fly. People get hurt. Others feel guilty or angry. No progress is made.
Tatum does a great job at *confronting* but not *fueling* the emotions associated with race. Therefore, the reader feels comfortable and open to the subject matter -- rather than feeling defensive or angry. Thus, the true meaning behind her words can better sink in. This is an incredible accomplishment.
Additionally, Tatum gives the reader practical suggestions on how to be an active anti-racist (i.e. a person who strives for equality).
Although I myself am not an educator, I would highly recommend this to teachers, principals, and school admininstration persons, as the book does have a strong educational spin. However, I think that anyone can benefit by reading this well-conceived text.
Excellent book.
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30 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Would you ask why do all the white students sit together?, June 2, 2001
By A Customer
I read this book several years ago. As a black professional, it saddens me that anyone would still ask this question. But, of course, white people do all of the time. And I recommend this book to them. I have spent all of my legal career in a boardroom, conference room, or restaurant where I am the only black person. When was the last time most white Americans attended a business meeting or quasi-social event where they were the only white person? If there is one more white person, they will find each other. If you are in Chicago and you want soul food, do you go on a black neighborhood where is it likely to be authentic and inexpensive. Of course not. You stay where it is trendy, expensive and you are comfortable. So it was when I was in college in the 70's. In a very unfamiliar and sometimes hostile place, we looked for some of the comforts of home. We sat with people who understood we were human, and did not treat us as if you were part of the latest experiment in Martin Hall (biology). If this is less than obvious to you, buy this book.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A "Must Read", October 24, 2005
By 
Ann Duffield (Philadelphia, PA USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria: And Other Conversations About Race (Paperback)
This book should be required reading for every adult (and teenagers with the help of a very good teacher). It eloquently and clearly explains why White people have trouble overcoming their prejudices toward Black people and why Black people (and other people of color) tend to cluster together in settings outside of their own communities. Tatum knows how to tell stories that hit home, which makes "Sitting Together in the Cafeteria" a "page turner" that is both thought-provoking and life changing.
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