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Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?: And Other Conversations About Race by [Beverly Daniel Tatum]
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Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?: And Other Conversations About Race Kindle Edition

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Editorial Reviews


"When I began my own journey of anti-racism, Beverly Daniel Tatum's Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? was the first and most instructive work I discovered. Its anniversary edition-with timely new research, revisited institutional issues, and personal examples so fresh they seem to have come from the headlines-is the book that everyone in America needs to read right now. With clarity and grace, Tatum chronicles how our country has become so racially polarized-how the methods and signifiers may have changed, but the world has not, sustaining inequities for people of color in terms of school segregation, law enforcement, economic obstacles, and voting rights. From the spate of police shootings to the challenge to Affirmative Action, from the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement and the parallel swell of hate crimes based on race, this updated version of a classic is the clearest illustration I've found of how fear and anxiety in the declining White population of the US has created a living environment of fear and anxiety for people of color. We don't talk about race in America, but we must start if we are going to heal this broken country-and Tatum's book is exactly the conversation opener we should be using."
-Jodi Picoult, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Small Great Things

"In the face of setbacks economically, socially, and racially, Beverly Daniel Tatum's work is ever relevant. Spanning so very much history in recent decades and engagingly written, this book remains the go-to volume on identity groups and social exclusion, especially among college-aged people."
-Roger Brooks, President and CEO, Facing History and Ourselves

"We read the original version of this book 20 years ago and learned a great deal about race, racism, and human behavior. This updated version provides even more insights about the racial, ethnic, and cultural challenges we face in American society, and particularly in higher education. What makes these insights so valuable is the author's ability to look at our problems from different perspectives and to challenge us to look in the mirror as we think about who we are and whom we serve. She gives excellent examples of leaders who succeeded during times of crisis, and of others who struggled. Any American leader wanting a deeper understanding of these issues should read this book."
-Freeman A. Hrabowski III, President, University of Maryland, Baltimore County

"Beverly Tatum answers the question posed in the title of her book in a brilliant synthesis informed by history, developmental psychology and great wisdom. Stereotypes, omissions and distortions-each rooted in our nation's history of slavery-cause each of us to breathe the "smog of racism." It is little wonder that Black adolescents rely on one another for social support as they navigate identity development. In the 20 years since Tatum first published her classic book, Black people have been disproportionately affected by the economic crisis of 2008, mass incarceration and a backlash against affirmative action. In this revision, Tatum finds a way to remain hopeful as today's youth lead movements exposing racial hierarchies, race and class privilege and seemingly invisible systems of oppression. This book should be required reading for every American."
-Kathleen McCartney, President, Smith College

"Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? was a landmark publication when it appeared in 1997. Twenty years later this updated edition is as fresh, poignant and timely as ever. Bias, explicit and implicit, limit options, produce deadly encounters, and gnaw away at the fabric of our social contract. Racism, prejudice, and discrimination remain active characteristics of life in our society, notwithstanding the prominence of African Americans, Latinos/as, Asian Americans, and Native peoples in the media, entertainment, sports, politics, and many domains of business. Beverly Tatum reminds us that against this backdrop individuals sometimes seek out others like themselves because it secures their sense of self in a world that often makes them feel insecure. As a result, group congregation becomes a means of flipping the power dynamics and affirming oneself in a social context. If you somehow missed this book in its original form, I recommend this revised edition to you. It remains a must read."
-Earl Lewis, President, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

"Set today against the backdrop of a highly divisive and still persistently racialized societal landscape, this newly revised and updated publication is still a must-read classic. Tatum unpacks with moving narratives, the psychology that drives us all, as we grow up in largely homogenous communities, schooled in the nuances of difference that define too starkly our racial identities, even as we strive to learn how to embrace rather than distance from the many others that define our world. Just as this experienced psychologist and wise educational leader reminds us here that we cannot talk meaningfully about racial identity without talking about racism, so too must we learn from her words about how to talk and teach and dialogue across those boundaries, in the hopes of better realizing the potential of our diverse democracy."
-Nancy Cantor, Chancellor, Rutgers University-Newark

"In 1997, Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? changed the conversation about race and racism in our nation. Twenty years later, this new edition is sure to do the same, this time with thoroughly updated information about the growing ethnic, racial, cultural, and religious diversity that now characterizes the United States, as well as important insights about persistent barriers to authentic integration and shrinking opportunities for many segments of the population. Given the current sociopolitical context in which we find ourselves, a context too often defined by exclusion and the stubborn persistence of bigotry and racism, this new edition couldn't have come soon enough!"
-Sonia Nieto, Professor Emerita, University of Massachusetts, Amherst --This text refers to an alternate kindle_edition edition.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Walk into any racially mixed high school cafeteria at lunch time and you will instantly notice that in the sea of adolescent faces, there is an identifiable group of Black students sitting together. Conversely, it could be pointed out that there are many groups of White students sitting together as well, though people rarely comment about that. The question on the tip of everyone's tongue is "Why are the Black kids sitting together?" Principals want to know, teachers want to know, the Back students who aren't sitting at the table want to know.

How does it happen that so many Black teenagers end up at the same cafeteria table? They don't start out there. If you walk into racially mixed elementary schools, you will often see young children of diverse racial backgrounds playing with one another, sitting at the snack table together, crossing racial boundaries with an ease uncommon in adolescence. Moving from elementary school to middle school (often at sixth or seventh grade) means interacting with more new children from different neighborhoods than before, and a certain degree of clustering by race might therefore be expected, presuming that children who are familiar with one another would form groups. But even in kindergarten through eighth grade, racial grouping begins by the sixth or seventh grade. What happens?

One thing that happens is puberty. As children enter adolescence, they begin to explore the question of identity, asking "Who am I? Who can I be?" in ways they have not done before. For Black youth, asking "Who am I?" includes thinking about "Who am I ethnically and/or racially? What does it mean to be Black?"

As I write this, I can hear the voice of a White woman who asked me, "Well all adolescents struggle with questions of identity. They all become more self-conscious about their appearance and more concerned about what their peers think. So what is so different for Black kids?" Of course, she is right that all adolescents look at themselves in new ways, but not all adolescents think about themselves in racial terms.

The search for personal identity that intensifies in adolescence can involve several dimensions of an adolescent's life: vocational plans, religious beliefs, values and preferences, political affiliations and beliefs, gender roles, and ethnic identities. The process of exploration may vary across these identity domains. James Marcia described four identity "statuses" to characterize the variation in the identity search process: (1) diffuse, a state in which there has been little exploration or active consideration of a particular domain, and no psychological commitment; (2) foreclosed, a state in which a commitment has been made to particular roles and beliefs, often those selected by parents, without actively considering alternatives; (3) moratorium, a state of active exploration of roles and beliefs in which no commitment has yet been made; and (4) achieved, a state of strong persona; commitment to a particular dimension of identity following a period of high exploration.9

An individual is not likely to explore all identity domains at once, therefore it is not unusual for an adolescent to be actively exploring one dimension while another remains relatively unexamined. Given the impact of dominant and subordinate status, it is not surprising that researchers have found that adolescents of color are more likely to be actively engaged in an exploration of their racial or ethnic identity than are White adolescents.2

Why do Black youths, in particular, think about themselves in terms of race? Because that is how the rest of the world thinks of them. Our self-perceptions are shaped by the messages that we receive from those around us, and when young Black men and women enter adolescence, the racial content of those messages intensifies. A case in point: If you were to ask my ten-year-old son, David, to describe himself, he would tell you many things: that he is smart, that he likes to play computer games, that he has an older brother. Near the top of his list, he would likely mention that he is tall for his age. He would probably not mention that he is Black, though he certainly knows that he is. Why would he mention his height and not his racial group membership? When David meets new adults, one of the first questions they ask is "How old are you?" When David states his age, the inevitable reply is "Gee, you're tall for your age!" It happens so frequently that I once overheard David say to someone, "Don't say it, I know. I'm tall for my age." Height is salient for David because it is salient for others.

When David meets new adults, they don't say, "Gee you're Black for your age!" If you are saying to yourself, of course they don't, think again. Imagine David at fifteen, six-foot-two, wearing the adolescent attire of the day, passing adults he doesn't know on the sidewalk. Do the women hold their purses a little tighter, maybe even cross the street to avoid him? Does he hear the sound of the automatic door locks as he walks by? Is he being followed around by the security guards at the local mall? As he stops in town with his new bicycle, does a police officer hassle him, asking where he got it, implying that it might be stolen? Do strangers assume he plays basketball? Each of these experiences conveys a racial message. At ten, race is not yet salient for David, because it is not yet salient for society. But it will be.


1. J. Marcia, "Development and validation of ego identity status," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 3 (1966): 551-58.

2. For a review of the research on ethnic identity in adolescents, see J. Phinney, "Ethnic identity in adolescents and adults: Review of research," Psychological Bulletin 10, no 3 (1990): 499-514. See also "Part I: Identity development" in B. J. R. Leadbeater and N. Way (Eds.), Urban girls: resisting stereotypes, creating identities (New York: New York University Press, 1996). --This text refers to an alternate kindle_edition edition.