20th Anniversary Edition: Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?

Posted by Children’s Aid Society on January 12, 2018

Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations about Race

Beverly Daniel Tatum, Ph.D.
New York, NY: Basic Books, 2017 (20th anniversary edition)

In the 20th anniversary edition of “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” Beverly Daniel Tatum reflects on what has changed in the past 20 years and on whether or not the situation has “gotten better.” Tatum finds that while national diversity is rapidly growing, the old patterns of segregation persist, especially in schools and neighborhoods. Given the persistence of residential segregation and the consequences it has on schools, Tatum found that, yes, the black kids are still sitting together. Despite the meaningful social change that has occurred in Tatum’s lifetime, when focusing specifically on the 20-year period since the original version of her book was published, Tatum finds that there have been some significant setbacks. The three setbacks that Tatum highlights are the anti-affirmative action backlash, the economic collapse of 2008, and mass incarceration.

In the first section of the book, Tatum begins by unpacking the term racism. According to Tatum, racism cannot be defined by prejudice alone. Tatum defines racism as a system of advantage based on race. With Tatum’s definition of racism, society must come to terms with the idea of “white privilege” and power. By reserving the term “racist” for behaviors committed by whites, Tatum acknowledges the advantage that whites are given by the culture and institutions that make up the system of advantage and reinforce notions of white superiority.

Throughout the text, Tatum reinforces the importance of having effective and constructive conversations about race. Tatum provides readers with the tools to begin conversations about racism and segregation, to talk across lines of difference, and to deepen understandings of racial identity. Despite this, cultural framing continues to enable racial hierarchies and still limits the opportunities for genuinely mutual, equitable, and affirming relationships in schools, neighborhoods, and in the workplace.


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