Why are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?

Beverly Daniel Tatum| Nonfiction, 1997/2017

453 pages


Oh my, I thought I was in real trouble when I started reading this book.  The first many pages were statistics and I kept falling asleep.  Most of these statistics I already knew, but more important, they were boring to read.  I finally wised up on page 44 of the 73(really?) page prologue to the new edition and flipped to the book itself.

I breathed a great sigh of relief.  Here was the psychologist, the educator, the writer, the woman with a sociological perspective who wrote about people.  Now I could engage with what she was saying.  Beginning with differentiating between (individual) prejudice  and (systemic) racism, Tatum sheds light on many nuances of racism, from how do you explain slavery to a four-year-old and an analysis of the voices in The Lion King to racial identity, Affirmative Action, and White Supremacy.

In the end, I went back and finished the prologue.  The only reason to read the prologue first is if you are uncertain systemic racism exists and you need to be informed and convinced before you would care to read the book itself. Otherwise, save it for last.

I don’t want to recommend this book specifically.  There is a plethora of books to read on this topic of racism, activism, identity, history.   A library full.  And I suspect you will find what I found.  On a topic I feel I know something about, there is much, much, much more for me to learn.  I don't care what you read.  But if you do choose to read something, inspired perhaps by the murder of George Floyd and protests in most every town in our country and beyond, please tell us about it here.



4 responses on “Why are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?

  1. Kathy E. Kram

    Thank you, Andrea! I appreciate your review of this book. Must admit I am feeling a bit overwhelmed by all that I could read on systemic racism and unconscious bias…….right now I am finding it most valuable to talk with others like me and different from me (in terms of race and ethnicity) about all of these matters so that I can develop more self-awareness of the distorted or limited thinking I may bring to this important set of issues. I definitely don’t want to be complacent, or simply an observer rather than a change agent.


    1. Andrea Sigetich Post author

      It is overwhelming. I get it. I am goign to read White Fragility when it comes in, and I was most interested, of all the books Tatum mentions, in reading a book on White Allies. I think I am gong to try this one: Everyday White People Confront Racial and Social Injustice: 15 Stories.

  2. mary cary Crawford

    This looks really interesting. I had the experience as described in the title while attending my small, liberal arts, Catholic college. It was lily-white despite being in a large diverse city. Admissions made an effort to recruit more minorities, specifically black, and by my junior year there was a small number (15-20?). And they all hung out together, in the dorm and cafeteria. I wasn’t living on-campus then but had friends who were. And we asked that very question – why do they all hang out together and not mingle? I have a better sense of that now.
    I have a hold placed on White Fragility.
    I just finished The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas and thought it was very good. The storytelling, character development were excellent. It was thought provoking and insightful. I am going to give her next book a try. Andrea, I recall you didn’t like this book. Do you recall why?
    Last year I read An American Marriage by Tayari Jones and see that you have read it also. I really liked it. In my reading journal I wrote that it made me realize what little understanding I have of what it means to be black in the South and what imprisonment can do to a relationship.

    The more I learn, the less I really know.

    1. Andrea Sigetich Post author

      Yes, when you read Dr. Tatum’s explanation do racial identity through adolescence and into adulthood, we gain an even better understanding of the cafeteria table.
      Hate U Give — my notes say it was too intense for me, at that time. I made it through page 27. Should I try again?