• Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?

  • And Other Conversations About Race
  • By: Beverly Daniel Tatum
  • Narrated by: Beverly Daniel Tatum
  • Length: 13 hrs and 27 mins
  • 4.7 out of 5 stars (2,098 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

The classic, New York Times best-selling book on the psychology of racism that shows us how to talk about race in America.

Walk into any racially mixed high school and you will see Black, White, and Latino youth clustered in their own groups. Is this self-segregation a problem to address or a coping strategy? How can we get past our reluctance to discuss racial issues?

Beverly Daniel Tatum, a renowned authority on the psychology of racism, argues that straight talk about our racial identities is essential if we are serious about communicating across racial and ethnic divides and pursuing antiracism. These topics have only become more urgent as the national conversation about race is increasingly acrimonious. This fully revised edition is essential listening for anyone seeking to understand dynamics of race and racial inequality in America.

©2017 Beverly Tatum (P)2017 Hachette Audio
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History

Critic Reviews

"An unusually sensitive work about the racial barriers that still divide us in so many areas of life." (Jonathan Kozol)

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Key Takeaway: Everything is White People's Fault

Ever since Charlottesville, I have been reading every book about race that I can get my hands on, in order to better understand our racial problems in America. I myself am in a mixed race marriage, and my children are biracial.

Unfortunately, this book is another screed against white people, which sadly overshadows its few constructive ideas. Here are some examples of the kind of one-sided arguments I'm talking about.

In the first third of the book I was stopped cold with this gem:

"People of color are not racist because they do not systematically benefit from racism."

Oh, that makes sense. So when I was travelling on the uptown 5 train to go to a party in Harlem one night in my 20's' and I was jumped by a gang of black youths who threatened to beat my white *** for sitting on "their" train, those gentlemen weren't being racist because it's not possible for a person of color to be racist. If only I had known.

Later in the book, the author discusses affirmative action, which she declares is absolutely not racist in any way.

Oh, okay. So when an Asian student has to score 450 points more on the SAT (google it) than a black person to get into Harvard, that's not a racial preference (i.e. racist against Asians)? How is that not a systematic benefit of racism?

As annoying as these two errors were, the one that really bothered me was the author citing the "stereotype threat" research of Claude Steele without pointing out its known flaws. 20 years ago, when this book was first published, Claude Steele's research was making huge waves in academia. Since then, however, "stereotype threat" research has suffered major replication issues. Instead of being a "strong" effect as originally believed, we now know that it is only a very "weak" one when it exists at all (as researchers would say, it is a very low powered effect). Given that the author of this book is a cognitive psychologist specializing in race, there is a 0% chance that she doesn't know about this development in the research. So why didn't she mention it in her "revised and updated" book? When the science changes, you have to change as well. Not to do so is disingenuous.

Finally, in answer to the question posed in the title of the book "Why are all the black kids sitting together at the cafeteria?" The author gives an explanation that goes something like this: black kids sit together because they are discovering their identities and need some time together to do that. Even as they get older in college it's still fine for them to segregate themselves because it gives them a safe space to feel free to be black. It's okay if white people aren't welcome to sit at an all black table because black people need their own space.

MLK would roll over in his grave if he read these words. This is the same kind of ridiculous argument that crazy white people of yesteryear made when they denied a place at the lunch counter to black people. "I just don't feel comfortable with black people sitting next to me at lunch. I need some safe space to enjoy my whiteness."

I read this book hoping to better understand how to we can end racism. Instead, this book inadvertently showed me why 57% of white people actually now believe that "reverse racism" is as big a problem as actual racism (spoiler alert: no it's not). But one-sided books like this, that condone racism against white people on the grounds that it's impossible for white people to experience racism, are making the problem worse not better. No, it's not okay to deny people a place at the lunch table because of their race, period. I don't care what race you are, all should be welcomed.

Can't someone write a book with a message of inclusion? Wasn't that why Martin Luther King Jr. was so much more effective than Malcolm X? Instead of scaring all of the white people into thinking that blacks want to supplant them, how about coming up with some ideas to include everyone? Here are some off of the top of my head:

1. Instead of arguing about which white authors to cut from the high school canon to make room for black authors, how about adding an extra 30 minutes to the school day and dedicating it to the literature and history of all people of color? Nobody gets supplanted. Our children should be spending more time in school anyway.

2. Instead of arguing that all black people are like this, and all white people are like that, how about arguing that all people are like people. All majorities abuse minorities (or try to) everywhere on the planet since the dawn of time. It has nothing to do with skin color. It has everything to do with power.

3. Instead of promoting false ideas that black people are more likely to be killed during a traffic stop than white people (they are not, as per Claude Steele mentioned above -- read his book "Whistling Vivaldi" for more on that), how about focusing on the root of the problem which is that black people are more likely to be stopped by police in the first place, thus increasing the number of police interactions which leads to more deaths? Police aren't just killing too many black people, they are killing too many PEOPLE period. Let's fire the bad ones, make the good ones wear 3 separate body cameras that are always running, and fix the problem. And while we're ata it, let's limit discretion for police stops and randomize who they pull over without cause to prevent so many black people from being stopped unfairly in the first place.

Don't get me wrong, white people are mostly responsible for racism, of course. But by claiming that race problems are 100% white people's fault, and 0% anyone else's fault just makes more white people leave the negotiating table and wander off into white supremacist crazy land. Stop writing books that make white people become more racist. No minority ever gained equality with a majority by denigrating that majority. Or to paraphrase something Barack Obama once said: you cannot shake a man's hand until you first unclench your fist.

And if you want some good books that deal with race, try "Notes of a Native Son" by James Baldwin, or "Letters from Birmingham Jail" by Dr. King. "Between the World and Me" by Ta-Nehisi Coates is also pretty good (even though it's kind of a knock-off of Baldwin).

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Outstanding! A must read for all races!

I found this to be a very enlightening, enriching and educational book. As a white person I struggle with what my role is in dismantling systemic racism. This book has iopened my heart and mind to what's possible and how I can be a part of it.

38 people found this helpful

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Amazing!!

I had read parts of the original but the twentieth anniversary addition was particularly powerful. Me and my wife are look at fostering and there is a good chance that kids place with us will have a different race than our selves, this book was incredible helpful tool, preparing us to promote a positive racial identity for kids coming into our home irrespective of their race

37 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

A magnificent tool for life.

It touched on Native Americans, a group so easily forgotten by many. It gave a historical context which made it easier to understand today's social issues and it gave the tools talk about those issues and how to work together to keep moving foward.

31 people found this helpful

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The author has a political agenda, still helpful

This book challenged me to rethink some of the things I've taken for granted as a white male. She is well written and presented a lot of information to consider and ponder. The updates based on recent 2016 and 2017 development shed some light into some conflicts that happened right after. All that said the revised edition is very policitically motivated. The author will quote statistics in ways that aren't consistent but will help her point. She essentially claims Republicans are the only party to blame for the race inequities we have. Her redefinition of the term racist is unnecessary and inflammatory (only whites can be racist according to her definition). She has a strong liberal slant that must be considered. I disagree with many things in this book, but I do think it is enlightening in various ways. Of key importance is to listen and empathize because whites typically don't have a race identity struggle because it's considered "normal" to be white. Give it a listen but with critical ears because there are inconsistencies in some of her stances.

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Mostly Padding

Written in 1999 and updated in 2017 this book nevertheless feels out of date, not fully integrating the substantial changes and clarity of the last few years.

The main thrust of this book is while racism continues to exist, and substantially influence peoples lives, it is healthy to develop a strong racial identity and discuss the issues associated with race with others that share that identity. This is quite reasonable and important to understand. However, this only takes a few paragraphs to discuss, so most of the book is an attempt to demonstrate that racism in the US still exists, and has huge negative consequences.

Of the numerous books I have read on this subject, this is in the bottom third by usefulness. For me the most useful has been "How to be an Antiracist".

There is a long, statistics laden, section describing many other US ethnic groups and how they differ in social success.

There are a lot of statistics to support the existence of substantial continuing racism in the US. Unfortunately these statistics are unnecessary to those who agree, and unconvincing to those who do not. Audio format is also particularly poor at presenting lots of statistics.

This book uses one of the definitions of racism that seems to really annoy white people with racist anxiety. That is, US non-whites can't be racist because racism is defined by the system of power that supports it. She does this intentionally, knowing it will incense some well meaning white people. She also states that all US white people benefit from racism. Although largely true, this is very likely not completely true. Such definitions and claims make the author appear to be a zealot and not a seeker of truth and reconciliation.

In explaining Affirmative Action the author points out there are no quotas, but instead hiring goals, which are necessary for any program to succeed. I would argue that goals are indeed necessary but they need not be, and should not be, hiring percentage goals. Non-hiring goals that make sense might be elimination of discrimination complaints, or survey results indicating candidates felt the hiring system was fair. One could imagine a basketball team whose hiring practices were bias leading to an all black team. After complaints, they implement an affirmative action program to improve the fairness of their hiring practices. Everyone agrees the new system is now quite fair...No decision maker ever knows the race or name of any candidate, only candidate statistics and test results. Nevertheless the team might still end up almost all black, and that should be ok.

There is a lot of stuff in this book that is really good to understand, but has been presented elsewhere better such as Stereotype Threat; Implicit Bias; White Rage; Intesectionality; & Aversive Racism.

Her prescription for what to do about racism is we need to break the silence about racism. Really? That is the thing we need? See instead "How to be an Antiracist" that suggests starting by voting, in every election, awareness of policy issues, then working to develop implementable antiracist policies and get them implemented.

Overall this presents some good perspectives that should be considered, but it also demonstrates some narrow focus that may turn off many readers that might otherwise be more open to the ideas.

As is usually the case, the author narration is not very good.

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My review

I did not like the one sided political slant that led up to the book. I felt it was decisive and it made me question all the stats that were used because stats can be used to back anything in a very one sided way. I almost did not continue listening because so much hate filled politics. But I listen while I walk or bike so I kept listening. The actual book is excellent and will help me very much to be a better high school math teacher. john

22 people found this helpful

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Truth today

Tough to listen to, but the truth is always in season. Learned so very much. well reasoned

18 people found this helpful

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Eye-opening and so insightful and educational. Everyone needs to read this book.

I’m embarrassed by how much material in this book was new to me. It should be required reading for everyone. High quality and extremely educational and, sadly for me, very eye-opening.

16 people found this helpful

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It’s time to change perspective

I am so glad that I listen to this book. As a white female who is lived 60 years, I know I’ve had struggles. But this book showed me that my struggles also came with privilege. My heart is open to hear the stories of those less fortunate. And to stand up for those being discriminated against every time the opportunity shows up.

16 people found this helpful