Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together

Why Are all the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?

By, Beverly Daniel Tatum, PH.D.



Beverly Daniel Tatum, PH.D. is a clinical psychologist with a research interest in black children’s racial identity development.Through the years she developed a curriculum that was used at 3 different institutions titled “The Psychology of Racism.”  She herself also taught this course.After ten years of teaching, publishing articles, and speaking at conferences, she decided to write a book.She didn’t want to write for an academic audience, instead she wrote this book for the many parents, educators and community leaders who would come to her presentations. 

The premise of this book is that adults both White and of color, often hesitate to speak to children about racism for fear they will create problems where perhaps none exist, afraid that they will make “colorblind” children unnecessarily color-conscious.Through her research and educational background she attempts to respond to these questions and others that creates useful clarity in the daily discourse about race. 

Part 1

Defining Racism

Racism cannot be defined by prejudice alone.Prejudice is a preconceived judgement or opinion, usually based on limited information and is one of the inescapable consequences of living in a racist society.

Racism is a system of advantage based on race.It is a system involving cultural messages and institutional policies and practices as well as the beliefs and actions of individuals.Others define racism as “prejudice plus power”.When racial prejudice is combined with social power- access to social, cultural, and economic resources and decision-making – leads to the institutionalization of racist policies and practices.

Dr. Tatum prefers the definition of “racism is a system of advantage based on race.This creates uncomfortable feelings for those who have internalized the myth that racism is a particular form of prejudice.With this new definition we as a society have to come to terms with the idea of “white privilege” and power.

Dr. Tatum explains that for most whites, the idea of white privilege has never entered their mind.They have never considered the benefits of being white.

Quote by Dr. Tatum:“In my view, reserving the term racist only for behaviors committed by Whites in the context of a White-dominated society is a way of acknowledging the ever present power differential afforded Whites by the culture and institutions that make up the system of advantage and continue to reinforce notions of White superiority.”

Her point her is that people of color can be prejudice but by the definition from above cannot be racist.She makes an analogy of the work sexist, reserving it only for men. Although women can and do have gender-based biases.


The Complexity of identity

Dr. Tatum discusses that usually when we think of our identity, the parts that capture our attention are those that other people notice, the aspects that set us apart.I.e. Women usually mention being female, Jewish people often say the are Jews.Where a person is a member of a dominant or advantaged social group, the category is usually not mentioned.

Dominant groups hold the power.Subordinate groups are usually labeled as defective or substandard in some way.Dominant groups supply roles to subordinate groups.The interesting point here is that dominants do not really know what the experience of the subordinates is.In contrast, the subordinates usually are very well informed about the dominants.This is because the dominant worldview has saturated the culture for all to learn.Dominant access to information about subordinate groups is limited to stereotypical depictions of the “other. “

Dr. Tatum mentions and discusses over and over the guilt that arises amongst people of the dominant group, once they become aware of how their group is experienced.It is her hope that through awareness we can build alliances that will free us all.

Part 2

Understanding Blackness in a White context

The Early years

Starting in Pre-school, children start to notice differences, her point in this chapter is to learn how to respond responsibly to children at a young age.Many parents don’t respond because they are afraid of saying the wrong thing.For many others, they think discussing race is taboo.

She displays many scenarios in this chapter about how to respond to children when they inquire about color differences. 

Whether it is racist, sexist or classist, learning to spot these things as children is an important skill to develop. 

Identity Development

The search for personal identity intensifies in adolescence and can involve several dimensions: vocational plans, religious beliefs, values and preferences, political affiliations and beliefs, gender roles and ethnic identities.

James Marcia’s four identity statuses: 

  1. Diffuse = little exploration or active consideration of a particular domain and no psychological commitment.
  2. Foreclosed = commitment has been made to particular roles or belief systems, often those selected by parents, without considering alternatives.
  3. Moratorium = state of active exploration of roles and beliefs in which no commitment has yet been made.
  4. Achieved = state of strong personal commitment to a particular dimension of identity following a period of high exploration.

Given the impact of dominant and subordinate status it’s not surprising that adolescents of color are more likely to be actively engaged in exploration of their racial or ethnic identity.

Why do all the Black students in the cafeteria? Cross’s Model (the psychology of becoming black) there are 5 stages to racial identity development: pre-encounter, encounter, immersion/emersion, internalization, and internalization-commitment. 

First two stages most relevant to adolescents: Black child absorbs many of the beliefs and values of the dominant culture, including the idea that it is better to be white.

  • In the pre-encounter stage the personal and social significance of one’s racial group membership has not yet been realized.
  • Encounter stage is usually precipitated by an event or series of events that have a personal impact of racism on the child.

The Black kids are sitting together in the cafeteria collectively embodying an oppositional stance (moving away from anything associated with whiteness). Although this is a positive coping strategy, they are operating from a very limited definition of what it means to be Black based on cultural stereotypes.

Racial Identity in Adulthood

Immersion/emersion: While anger is toward Whites is part of the encounter phase, during immersion/emersion the developing Black person sees Whites as irrelevant.The focus is on self-discovery as opposed to focusing on White people.This is an unlearning of the internalized stereotypes and redefining a positive sense of self, based on affirmations of one’s racial group identity.

One emerges from this process into the internalization stage, characterized by a sense of security about one’s racial identity.A person may be willing to establish meaningful relationships across group boundaries.By the fifth stage (internalization/commitment) the individual has found ways to translate a personal sense of racial identity into ongoing action expressing a sense of commitment to the concerns of Blacks as a group.Prepared to transcend race.

Experts acknowledge race identity is circular not linear.Middle-adulthood may be most difficult time to struggle with racial identity because of one’s increased responsibilities and increased potential for opportunities.

All these stages can or may not take place throughout and individual’s life.Depending on what stage they are in at specific life stages will determine child-rearing tactics, where they live, who they associate with etc.

Part 3

Understanding whiteness in a White context

The Development of White Identity

The task for people of color is to resist negative societal messages and develop an empowered sense of self in the face of racist society.The task for Whites is to develop a positive white identity based in reality, not on assumed superiority. 

To develop this identity a person must come to terms with his/her Whiteness, accept it as personally and socially significant, and learn to feel good about it in the context of a commitment to a just society. 


Helms Model (Janet Helms)

2 Tasks:

1)      The abandonment of individual racism and 2) The recognition of and opposition to institutional and cultural racism. 

This chapter, using Helms research goes onto discuss the contact level, disintegration level, reintegration level and finally autonomy. 

White Identity and Affirmative Action

White disadvantage: Many whites see affirmative action as white disadvantage 

Affirmative action has been confused over the years.Often people associate the word quota, which has a history of discrimination and exclusion.Most affirmative action programs do not work with quotas, but goals.Unlike quotas, goals are voluntary, legal and may be exceeded.Goals are not a ceiling meant to limit. 

Affirmative Action was introduced by Lyndon Johnson in 1965.An Executive order obligated to federal contractors to take “Affirmative action to “ensure that applicants are employed, and that employees are treated during employment without regard to their race, color, religion, sex or national origin”.In 1970 it was broadened to include Vietnam War veterans and persons with disabilities. 

Usually these Affirm-action attempts are process or goal oriented.Process = fair application process. Goal = open process, those identified who move the company toward closer to it’s diversity hiring goals gets hired.Although process oriented approach more palatable for most, it is often unsuccessful in reaching diversity goals. 

Aversive racism and affirm-action – John Dovidio et al.

Aversive racism = “an attitudinal adaptation resulting from an assimilation of an egalitarian value system with prejudice and with racist beliefs.Point being; affirmative action focusing on process rather than outcome can be ineffective, there are too many opportunities for the evaluator bias to manifest itself.

Part 4

Beyond Black and White

Critical issues in Latino, American Indian, and Asian Pacific American Identity Development

Phinney’s Model: 3 stages

1)      unexamined ethnic identity, 2) ethnic identity search, 3) achieved ethnic identity

Phinney’s model shares with Helm’s and Cross’s model the idea of achieved identity develops over time.


Latinos = Hispanics are the second largest and fastest growing community in the U.S. Over 60% are of Mexican (Chicanos) ancestry.13% Puerto Rican, 5% Cuban and 20% are considered “other Hispanics (Dominicans, Central Americans, South Americans)


Mexican’ s (Chicanos) were subject to white domination at the conquest and annexation of the Mexican territory in 1848.Like African Americans and Native Americans, Mex.- AM’s were initially incorporated into the US society against their will.A lot of segregation took place between Whites and Mexicans


Puerto Rican’s also did not choose to be U.S. citizens, became an unincorporated territory of the U.S. in 1898 at the conclusion of the Spanish-American war.


Familism is a cultural value shared by most Hispanic independent of their national background, birthplace, dominant language or any other sociodemographic characteristic.Succeeding in school and work impt. to Latino teens, b/c it meant they could take care of their family.


Conversely, White American teens considered education and work as a means of gaining independence from their families.Researches conclude that in Mexico the family seems to be a centripetal force and in the U.S. a centrifugal force.


Discussed in this chapter: How young people learn that their language is devalued by the dominant culture and so they learn to hide it.Sociologists have determined that there is a strong connection between identity and language and therefore encourage educators to think carefully about how they respond to Latino children’s use of Spanish in the school.There is also increasing evidence that proficiency in your native language leads to proficiency in a second language.



2 million American Indians and Alaska natives live in the US.More than half of entire population lives in just six states: Oklahoma, California, Arizona, New Mexico, Alaska, and Washington.50% live in urban areas.22% live on reservations and trust lands.


Family also impt. to Indians.Group needs more impt. than ind. needs.Communal sharing expected.


Indian culture is a relic in the classrooms.Need to realize it is a growing community with a future.



Includes East Asia (Chinese, Japanese, Korean), SE Asia (Vietnamese, Laotian, Burmese) Pacific Islands (Samoan, Guamanian, Fijiian), South Asia (Indian, Pakistani, Nepali), West Asia (Iranian, Afghan, Turkish), and Middle East (Iraq, Jordanian, Palestinian).3% of US population, 43 ethnic groups

Stereotype:“Asian people are hard workers, they’re really quiet and they get good grades” This stereotype although appearing positive has pit Asians against other groups targeted by racism.“They overcame discrimination, why can’t you?”Also White resentment.


Many of the stereotypes are obscured by several facts: Including where they live, family dynamics and immigration policies.See chapter for more details.P.161


Asian Pacific Am’s, Latinos, and Am. Indians are disparate groups but they all share with people of African descent the need for this lifeline.Racism increases the need for a positive self-defined identity in order to survive psychologically.


This requires one to deal with negative stereotypes, resist internalizing negative self-perceptions and affirm the meaning of ethnicity for oneself.


Identity Development in Multiracial Families

The number of children living in families where one parent is White and the other Black, Asian or Am. Indian has tripled from fewer than 400,000 in 1970 to 1.5 million.


There is little research that exists on mixing between communities of color.These do not threaten the sanctity of whiteness.There is more concern between Blacks and Whites, Japanese and Blacks and Japanese and Whites.Both the White and Asian culture over history have had concerns about maintaining racial purity.


1920 = “One drop rule” Anyone with any know African ancestry was considered Black. No other ethnic population in the US is defined and counted according to the “one drop rule”.


Challenges for children of biracial families include questions “What are you?


Biracial kids go through the same type of identity development as previously discussed in mono-racial children.The following factors determine positive outcomes:

·         Biological heritage

·         Sociohistorical context of society

·         Early socialization experiences

·         Culture

·         Ethnic identity

·         Heritage

·         Spirituality

·         Individual awareness of self in relation to race and racism

·         Physical appearance

·         Other personal and social identities including sexual orientation


Part 5

Breaking the Silence

Embracing a cross-racial dialogue

Talk does not mean chatter.It means meaningful, productive dialogue to raise consciousness and lead to effective action and social change.


People are silent out of fear: fear of being naïve, offensive and violating boundaries.


However, unchallenged personal, cultural, and institutional racism results in the loss of human potential, lowered productivity, and a rising tide of fear and violence in our society.Individually, racism stifles our own growth and development.It clouds our vision and distorts our perceptions. It alienates us not only from others but also from ourselves and our own experience.


How: Find the courage through role models, other people already out their doing it.Start with your own sphere of influence, identify your strengths and use them.



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