Summary: Good summary on racial issues especially focusing on child and adolescent racial identity development and many educational issues related to child development or psychology.
I continue to be amazed at how many different aspects of racial issues that I have not considered or explored even in basic areas of race as I continue to explore the impacts of race on modern society.
I have known about the title Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria for years, but have not picked it up, both because I knew that the book was a bit dated and because I did not really understand what the book was about.
Primarily, although not entirely, this is a psychology book on child and teen racial identity development. There is more than that, but the focus on both child development and how race impact identity development are very good reasons to pick this book up. If you are a White parent that wants to help your children think clearly about racism and racial dynamics, but are concerned about how to do that in a developmentally appropriate way, there are lots of hints here on how to do that well.
But there are also all kinds of additional subjects that are introduced well that make Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria a very good introduction to racial issues today. First, this is a 20th anniversary edition and there is a 71 page prologue that in a relatively quick overview gives context for what has changed over those 20 years. In the introduction Beverly Daniel Tatum details what parts of the book has been updated and what parts have been largely left alone. But after reading it, it feels very current with recent research and recent examples. I do not know what the original version was like, but this is a book that feels current.
I also appreciate that there is good attention paid to White racial identity development is like and how that is, and is not, like the racial identity development of many other groups. There is also a clearly attempt at moving beyond just White and Black in racial terms, even though the White/Black dynamic is important. One of the aspects of mentioned in a number of places is how stereotypes, even positive ones negatively impact people.
Another aspect of racial development is how perceptions of others impact the individual. Particularly in talking about Native Americans, but also other groups as well, Tatum noted that one aspect of the normalization of White cultural understanding can mean that other cultures are a form of anthropological investigation. Is the investigation only about curiosity? Is there an assumption of a culture being stuck in time instead of allowed to progress in time. (Does Black History monthly only deal with three or four often repeated people and not current or future Black culture?)
Another very helpful section was on multi-racial child development and cross racial adoptive families and the child’s development. Tatum notes that cross racial adoptions are now 40% of all adoptions up from 28% in 2000. I am in several private Facebook groups about racial issues and I am surprised at how ill prepared many adoptive parents seem to be around race. She quotes a now adult Black male that was adopted by a White family in 1972. His advice, which I have heard paraphrased a number of times by others as well, is ‘if your potential adoptive chid is the first close relationships with a person of that race, then you are probably not ready to adopt that child.’ She also quotes a potential cross racial adoptive parent who responded in an informational meeting that she would be unwilling to put herself in a place where she was one of few whites, even occasionally, to help build a network of adults around her family that were racially similar to her potential child. The woman, according to Tatum, seemed unaware that she was considering adopting a child and putting them in a situational all the time that the woman said she would be unwilling to do occasionally. The examples cited in the book of White adoptive parents trying to isolate children from others of their racial group is truly horrifying.
Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria ends with discussion of cross racial dialogue and discussion of where there are signs of hope, especially around cross racial dialogue. I do think that while this is a helpful section, I am always hesitant about dialogue presented as a solution. Dialogue can help build understanding, dialogue can help create relationships, dialogue can help build empathy for others. Dialogue by itself does not really solve any systemic problems or necessarily give fuller understand.
I think of cross racial dialogue like I think of church small groups. I think church small groups are a good idea. But they are not necessarily a good teaching tool. If there are leaders of those small groups that do not have a good understanding of the bible or good theology, then all that gets passed on is bad theology and bad bible reading. And those small groups rarely impact the structure of the larger church unless there is a good infrastructure that is designed to be responsive. Cross racial dialogue is one small step, not a solution.
Beverly Daniel Tatum narrates the audiobook of Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria. The audiobook is not synced to the kindle edition, which is always irritating. I did go ahead and buy both the kindle and the audiobook after I listened to only the introduction. Because I could tell already that I was going to need to re-read portions of the book if not the whole thing.
As I said, the 71 page prologue and the sections on racial identity acquisition are well worth the cost of the book on their own. The rest is good, but those two sections were excellent.