Oct 29, 2009


As part of my coursework, I read the book Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? and other conversations about race by Beverly Daniel Tatum. The book is written on a very conversational level, it's not very difficult to read in that sense. But, it was difficult to read on another level. The author points out that we are conditioned not to talk about race, or even to acknowledge differences in race.

Since I have read it, thoughts just keep permeating and percolating through my consciousness. Mostly though, I see and hear racism everywhere now. Once I thought that racism was nearly non-existent in our modern society. Now I am surrounded by it. Innocuous comments that people say without even thinking reek of it. Comments about "ebonics", comments about customers in restaurants... it sickens me, it saddens me, and in large part, it leaves me feeling confused. What do I, as a white woman, do to stand up to what I see as wrong? How do I point out that these things are not right? That they are racist slurs?

Two thoughts have really stuck with me since I read the book this summer. The first is a conversation the author had with her young son about why some people are black, and how to acknowledge racial differences without being offensive, even with young children. As I talk with my own young children, I think of the conversation she had with her son, and I hope I am teaching him well.

The second thing that really sticks in my mind is that white people don't mean to be racist. The context for this was hiring practices. She writes that often white people will hire white people over other equally qualified candidates without ever realizing that this could be racist. We like to be around people that are similar to us, and so without even realizing our internal biases, we perpetuate old patterns. She went on to say that white people often don't intend to be racist, and if the intention of diversity is clearly made to be a priority at the outset, then this pattern of preference for white candidates is often mitigated.

I was asked to select a student of the month for September. I had two students in mind, when the above thought came ringing through my mind. And then I thought of the board downstairs with the pictures of the students of the month for all the different departments. Most of them were white. Considering the demographics of my school, that isn't too surprising. But, the black students on the board were up there for the vocation and sports, not for the academic classes. I thought about my two students again. They are both fantastic students, with bubbly personalities. They both help their classmates out, are willing to try things they might get wrong, and are happy to play along with my eccentricities. In short, they were equally qualified in my book. One girl is white, the other is black. One girl is an honors student, the other is in AVID (a program designed to help students who might otherwise not be college bound). It doesn't take a genius to guess which girl I picked.

And it has meant so much to her and her family. She told me that it has given her confidence that she can succeed even if she isn't as smart as everybody else.


  1. This is a classic example of why it is important to keep reading and learning. Most of all being open to allow what we read to change our thinking in a way that will improve us as people. I applaud you.


  2. your blog post was sent to me because of my special interest in diversity issues within the education system. voices like yours are instrumental to awareness and change. please keep speaking. i'd like to get your thought on an article written by 3 teachers on race, culture and language in the classroom.http://www.teachersofcolor.com/2009/10/race-culture-and-language/

  3. Trina, loved the article and the site.

  4. The black students sit together because any white student getting near the table will be viciously run off, and any black girl trying to invite a white girl will be cruelly derided. If you actually GO to the cafeteria and watch, you'll see why. OTOH, I have NEVER seen a black girl excluded from a primarily white table.

    (My own table had one white girl, one Vietnamese girl, one Brazilian a-little-of-everything girl and her brother, one black girl, and one Mexican American girl, and one half-Arab/half-European girl.)

    Choose the girl because she's in AVID. Don't choose her because she's black. Guess what? That's racism, too.

    Oh, and my kids are mixed-race, too.

    The "you're racist and don't know it" guilt makes people, well, racist. Yes, there is racism in the world. Black people in movies are usually cast as carefully controlled stereotypes. In TV shows, though there are still plenty of stereotypes, most of them are distinctly positive (the elder father-figure, the "blerd," the tough cop, etc.) The situation for Asians is actually far worse. If there is a minor "suspect" character on a cop show like NCIS or Law and Order who is black, he has a very high probability of being innocent or, if guilty, guilty through some sort of hapless accident or misunderstanding. An Asian will almost always be cast as either a timid nerd or a criminal--no other options available. (FlashForward is the ONLY show I've seen that has a an Asian just be an ordinary sort of person.) Hispanic women have it almost as bad--you get to be the hot latina or the hot latina or the...wait, is there any other option available?

    Is hiphop degrading? Certainly. But it's produced for a primarily black audience. Whatever's at work, it's not white people being accidentally racist.

    The failure of blacks in most academic arenas, as a group, comes from black isolationism, nothing more, and the violent suppression of anyone who looks like they might be getting ahead as "being white." Listen to who uses racial language in your classroom the most. Listen to who is derided for doing well. The black kids are sitting a chair away from the white kids, hearing the same lessons, receiving the same assignments. If they're failing, it's not because of skin color. It's because of attitude and family culture.


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