Customer Reviews: Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria: And Other Conversations About Race
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Showing 1-10 of 13 reviews(3 star). Show all reviews
on January 3, 2005
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 system of school, academia, and education benefits me greatly, and I suit the system particularly through my 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. (Sorry to be imprudent, but Comedian Louis C.K. had this great line about, "White people want to add 100 years to every year it has been since slavery.") On the flip side, I came from a country and culture with western colonization in recent history (<200 years), foreign invasion and practical enslavement (<100 years), but not being a "minority" in my own country, people re-bound. 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 (versus other achievements). 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" because there is no "systematic advantage". 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 understandable 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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on June 28, 2015
This book isn't bad and it raises some worthwhile points to consider. The author holds very many strong biases of her own which cloud her commentary (like "African-Americans can't be racist"), so be prepared to take the more inflammatory comments with a shaker of salt. Like others who make their money off of racism and divisiveness, she focuses on differences to the exclusion of similarities, and blames all the world's problems on somebody else. That said, I have listened to her lecture and she seems less bitter in person. The harsh tones in parts of the book are most likely a limitation of print in which only a portion of the message comes through, because again, she makes some good points despite her delivery. Racism continues to be a problem in America that is perpetuated by all sides. I read this book for a graduate class in multicultural counseling. Compared to the white bashing in the course's main text by Sue & Sue, Dr. Tatum's work seems practically objective. If you are looking for MLK type inspiration that will overcome prejudice and bring people together, this book definitely isn't it. But if you remain objective and read it to better appreciate a different perspective, it is worth a look.
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on October 7, 2015
It's another one of those books about white privilege but she does a very good job presenting it. This is good especially for parents of any race and teachers. I appreciate reading a transparent account of another world view.
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on November 14, 2007
Dr. Tatum presents a book that is very easy to read, quite understandable, and she makes her points clear. However, she is so convinced that her point is the one and only correct point, that she leaves little room for disagreement. Her arguments tend to be rather limited.
Overall though, it's a good attempt to raise consciousness on the subject of racism.
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on April 20, 2013
I personally didn't find the book that interesting, I had read a small section for it for a sociology course and I didn't really find it interesting. It wasn't the kind of book I would typically pick up and read in my spare time but other than that it's okay.
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on November 23, 2009
My Book Club read this book and it definitely inspired a lot of good conversation. However, I don't think it's the best-written book. Some of the material seems very repetitive. All-in-all, it was an okay book.
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on November 13, 2010
Overall, I thought that this was a very interesting book. The author made a lot of good points throughout that have never occurred to me. To me, this book addressed many different things relating to race. The first thing that stood out to me was the first chapter focusing on defining what racism is. The author made me realize that it's amazing how unaware people are of racism in their society. Many people only associate themselves with people in their social circle in their community (social segregation) and some may be mostly white or black or from the same racial group as yourself. This gives adults and children limited opportunities to interact with people from different cultures or backgrounds thus leading to racism and stereotypes. From a very early age children are shown the misinformation about these people. Any kind of information children get from home is shaped by the stereotypes surrounding these people and "make assumptions that may go unchallenged for a long time" (Tatum, 1997, p. 5). I also thought it was good that the author not only focused on racism for whites, but pointed out and discussed that people of color can be racist too, and not many people realize that. But that doesn't change the fact that "all white people, intentionally or unintentionally, do benefit from racism" (Tatum, 1997, p. 11). It's sad to say and I hope that one day racism will be limited so that we all have equal opportunities. Another thing that I agree with in this book is about the identity development for adolescents. It becomes harder for the people from different cultures and backgrounds than who they are surrounded by at school and community. All young adults ask themselves "Who am I?" but others from different cultures may also think about "Who am I ethnically and/or racially?" This is an important time in their life when they begin to develop who they are and want to be. "Like many White people, this young woman had never really considered her own racial and ethnic group membership. For her, Whiteness was simply the unexamined norm" (Tatum, 1997, p. 93). I agree that this quote points out one of the leading causes of racism, white people seeing themselves as "normal" and others are not, but I think that this may not be true for all white people. Although the majority of whites do feel that way, some whites come from communities that have multiple races and they probably have grown up around that so that is what they see as "normal" for society. I do agree that the identity development process for every individual is important, and people from different ethnic backgrounds have racial and cultural oppression that affects their identity development. I also agree that school is a big part of every adolescent's life and when they do not feel comfortable at school their work is greatly impacted. Bilingual students try to not stand out as much and one thing Latinos may do is "to avoid the use of Spanish in public, a strategy akin to the "racelessness" adopted by some African American students" (Tatum, 1997, p. 141). This is a common coping strategy that they develop in school because they just want to be accepted by their peers. I only covered a few things discussed in this book; there is so much more that can be talked about for this book. Overall, I thought this was a great book and I really learned a lot of things that I have never realized. This book had many great ideas and thoughts that really opened my eyes and I think that it will help me to be a better teacher for all my future students.
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on March 18, 2015
This book has Some really great information in it.
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on September 9, 2004
I had to read this book for school, and agreed with most of the points she makes, except for a select few that inhibit the book's ability to really convince me of anything monumental. Firstly, she redefines "racism" as "a system of advantage." This redefinition may seem harmless enough, but it actually allows her to change the rules of the debate, because if that's the definition she's using for her book, then she can legitimately say that all white people are racist. Of course she's right with her particular definition, but who really cares how SHE defines it? While she might consider herself as being academic and trying to educate us by changing the definition of a word we know very well, she just comes off as changing the rules in the middle of the game, then declaring herself the winner.

That major flaw aside, there are other points Tatum brings up that most of us never think about, and really should consider--things like the identity problems that mixed race kids might face, and all of the complexities of establishing a racial identity in general, FOR EVERYONE. Not many white people realize that they need to establish their own racial identity just as any other individual of any skin color needs to, and Tatum expresses this poignantly.

All in all, this is a book that will make you think a couple times, but won't go any further than that. It's a question of aspirations--if Tatum wanted to change lives with this book, she surely failed. On the other hand, if all she wanted to do was get you to learn a few things about racial identity and think about race relations in this country a little bit, then she succeeded.
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on February 8, 2013
I like the quality of this book it is so clean, it is really interesting book. But it took long time to arrive.
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