50 Books by Authors of Color: Book 46
Title: Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria: And other Conversations About Race
Author: Beverly Daniel Tatum
I’m just going to take a moment and go YAY! Only a few more books until I hit my goal! I’m excited and I think I can do it. Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria was actually recommended by a friend of mine that said that this book summed up why I’m doing this blog. My friend was only kind of right, it’s not so much the shared experiences as it was my frustration over the lack of representation in Literature classes and popular media of authors of color.
Anyway, Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria, is a non-fiction book that attempts to explain the reason that students of color will often self-segregate themselves by race. The short answer is, racism, but not for the reason you may be thinking. Tatum uses a semi-controversial (when it was written but now is more accepted and frequently cited in online discussions about race) that racism is more than just actions based on negative stereotypes, instead, she uses the idea that racism is a systematic system of oppression that is a combination of privilege and power. Whether you agree with Tatum’s definition or not, it does correlate to institutionalized racism.
Tatum uses this definition of racism to explain that students of color will gravitate to those who are “like” them because they are more likely to have similar experiences. Tatum gives the example of a teacher who says to a black student “You people love to dance” in regards to the student’s debate over whether or not to go to a dance. The student is (justifiably) offended by the comment, and turns to a white friend to vent. The friend defends the teacher and tells the black student not to be so sensitive because the teacher didn’t mean it like that, however, when the student relates the story to their black friends at the cafeteria, they are able to commiserate and discuss why such comments are offensive.
Tatum does discuss the students of color who don’t sit at the “cafeteria table” as well, talking about the decision to not fit in, the attempts at being racially ambiguous, etc, and how it can affect a student and how the student is perceived by their peer group. There is also an interesting section on biracial children that I thought was especially interesting because it outright contradicted the myth of “the tragic biracial” that was prevalent in so many books and films. Tatum also attempts to compare this to the experiences of Asians, Indigenous populations, and Latinos, but I feel this section of the book falls a bit flat since there is just a chapter or so dedicated to each group. However, I’m glad she did attempt to talk about them without attempting to co-opt their stories.
Worth reading, but try and pick up the version that was released in 2003, it’s been updated.
Overall Rating: 4/5