The classic, best-selling book on the psychology of racism - now fully revised and updated. 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? 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 enabling communication across racial and ethnic divides. 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 the dynamics of race in America.
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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).