Diversity and Inclusion
Beverly Daniel-Tatum’s first edition of Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race became a national bestseller when it was first published in 1997. It takes us on a brave, self-reflective journey to unpack why we feel so uncomfortable talking about race. In 2017, the groundbreaking text was revised, putting the last twenty years into context and highlighting how the principles covered in the original text still persist in post-Obama America.
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🔥 The hot take
Why are race and racism such uncomfortable talking points? Do we still need to be talking about it? Why do people insist that they’re colorblind when they’re not? These questions, like the one in the title, feel like a minefield of discomfort. But Daniel-Tatum tells us that we shouldn’t let this discomfort stop us from having conversations that are essential for breaking down racial barriers.
Daniel-Tatum schools us on the long and complex history of racism and dispels the myth of a post-racial America. Firsthand accounts from white people and people of color give us more than enough to spark conversations around race and racism — but that’s just the first piece of the puzzle.
The second piece is us — how we each fit into a society categorized by race and how our identities are shaped by it. Daniel-Tatum unpicks the psychology of why we’re so painfully awkward and uncomfortable when the subject of race comes up: most of us were taught not to talk about it from a young age. When we started noticing differences and asked about it loudly in public, we were shushed or distracted by mortified adults. We’re sorely out of practice but there is hope and room for improvement.
To better equip us to have these conversations, Daniel-Tatum offers analogies that are lightbulb moments for the reader. One that hits home takes down the assumption that racism is about the standalone actions of individuals. Daniel-Tatum illustrates how we’re all affected by racism because it’s like a smog that circulates messages of assumed superiority and inferiority of races. We all breathe in that smog. Sometimes we breathe it out.
In another analogy, we’re all on the moving walkway that is the cycle of racism. Racism isn’t just overt — it can be passive or active. Standing still or turning the other way on the walkway doesn’t change where we’re headed. Racism ticks along and we all end up in the same place. We have to walk against the direction of movement at a faster rate. In other words, we need to be actively antiracist.
✅ Move from passive racism to active antiracism. There is no such thing as not being racist — you are either passively racist or actively antiracist. You are moving along in the same way if you do and say nothing. Start moving away from passive racism by talking about racism and encouraging others to do the same.
✅ If you’re a parent or guardian… talk about race with your children. Use simple terms to explain why people look different from each other and help your child recognize unfairness in the world. When you talk about slavery, talk about the resistance of Black people and the allyship of white people. If your child has a different race to you, help them explore all parts of their identity.
✅ If you’re a person of color, explore your identity. Talk to others who can relate to your experience. What have others reflected back to you as important or salient about your identity, and how has that influenced your identity development? Where do you feel like you belong?
✅ If you’re white, explore your identity as a white person. What does being white mean to you? Have you ever felt like you don’t have a race, that you’re just “an individual” or “normal”? Can you think of positive examples of white identity?
✅ If you’re white, learn about the experiences of people of color. Read this book. When people of color open up to you about their experiences of racism, pause and listen — don’t invalidate them or justify the perpetrator’s actions (“I’m sure they didn’t mean it”, “I think you’re overreacting/making a big deal out of this”).
✅ Make your allyship sustainable. Spoiler alert: allyship done purely in service of people of color won’t stick when things get tough — and it will. (It might sound something like, “Wait, I keep putting myself out for others but what do I get out of this?”.)
✅ Empathize with others’ struggles to accept privilege. Daniel-Tatum does this by reminding herself of the other privileges she has that she benefits from while being largely unaware of it (e.g. heterosexual privilege).
⚡ The must-discuss parts
Colorblindness. Why do some people take comfort or pride in declaring that they don’t see color? How does both pretending that you don’t see color and saying that you treat everyone the same, to then reel off people by the distinct color of their skin, prove that you are “not racist”? What was your first experience of race? What emotions did you feel, and did you talk to anyone about it? What did they say to you?
Aversive racism. Also colorblind racism. Like a passive form of racism, people who are aversive racists reject the idea that they are or could be prejudiced. They aren’t actively racist ways but they do shut down conversations around racism by combatively reacting with, “are you calling me racist?” when something they say or do is pointed out. This kind of racism is what lets people, namely white people, continue to ignore racism and perpetuates the myth of meritocracy (which does not exist where there is systemic racism).
🛒 Where to buy
If you are in the US, get your copy from:
If you are in the UK, get your copy from:
Book Review: Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race by Beverly Daniel-Tatum
This book review was first published in the Inclusion Works Leaders Network – a digital community for D&I leaders to swap challenges and ideas. If you have views you’d like to discuss, you can sign up here.
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