I attended a predominantly Latino grammar school. We were all friends for the most part—the Black students, Mexican students and the few White students that went there. But whenever there was a misunderstanding, we all chose the side we belonged to—no matter who was right or wrong. While the teachers knew what was going on the majority of the time, I can’t remember ever having a conversation about conflict resolution or anything related to race. And that’s how all of the Black kids ended up sitting in together in our cafeteria. In 1997, Beverly Daniel Tatum began addressing the issues of racism, stereotypes and cultural sensitivity in her book, “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race.” Twenty years later, this conversation is still relevant and the question still goes unanswered. In a recent interview conducted by Melinda Anderson in The Atlantic, Tatum explains
why she felt the book was a necessary piece in supporting educators—and people in general—in having awkward conversations about race in hopes of bridging the racial divide. Given recent events, Tatum revealed that she will be releasing a revised edition of her renowned book for its 20th anniversary. The expansion is to reflect America’s changing demographics and address the enduring prevalence of racial intolerance in America. Here’s an excerpt from the interview:
Sometimes you have to work at feeling hopeful. Social progress tends to be two steps forward, one step back. I'm old enough to know that change is possible.… If you think about the sense of urgency of the Black Lives Matter movement, those young people who are out in the streets are asking: Why are we still having this conversation? Why are these things still happening? It’s a difficult moment, there’s no question. Charlottesville and the president's response have reminded us how difficult it is. But that said, there are a lot of people who want change.
After reading the interview, the question that continues to stand out the most is: “Why are we still having this conversation?” Seriously, why? Tatum wants to know, people of color want to know, and those who support and celebrate equality and diversity would probably like an answer too. And while none of us can understand exactly why racial discrimination, prejudice and injustice still exist, we can all agree that the people who work so diligently to protect the divide haven’t presented any valid reasons for doing so. But one thing we can hope for is change—and change often begins with education. Do conversations about race belong in the classroom? Yes. Changing the minds of some adult racists and bigots may be a lost cause, but it’s never too late to make a positive impression on youth. And maybe one day, they’ll all sit together in the cafeteria.
Tanesha Peeples is driven by one question in her work—“If not me, then who?” As the former Deputy Director of Activist Development for brightbeam, Tanesha merges the worlds of communications and grassroots activism to push for change in the public education system. Her passion for community and relentless mission for justice and liberation drive her in uplifting and amplifying the voices and ...