Wednesday, September 23, 2009
I think I've mentioned that I'm actively looking to read book by non-white people. Part of the reason is an internet scuffle a few months ago about race and racism. One recommendation that I got from the sound and fury was for Beverly Daniel Tatum's Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?, a book that explains a lot about how it feels to grow up Black or otherwise non-white in America, and how things can appear different depending on what side of the race line you are on.
I found a lot of this book illuminating and fascinating. It directly addresses the reluctance many parents have to talk about race, and the mixed message this gives children. It talks about some of the blind spots developed simply by being part of the majority, and how this hurts everyone, not just people of color. I'm not sure I agree with all the details -- it seems odd to me to affirm my White culture, when I'm not sure who or what defines that. I'm uncomfortable claiming a culture defined by what it is not. I'm also interested in the boundaries between ethnicity and racial definitions, which is mainly because my sons are half Greek, and I'd like them to feel like that is more than words. Some of the details about how children approach race also didn't match my observations, but I think that may be because my children are growing up in a multiracial community -- our neighbors are white, mixed-race (Black & white), Black, and many different Asians, including Chinese and Philippine. I think this book has made me more comfortable talking about race, both with my kids and with other adults, and I hope it helps me become less casually annoying. One of the reason Black kids sit together is to get a break from many small expressions of entitlement that the white kids don't even notice expressing, but which are obvious to kids who don't get those breaks.
Tatum was a professor at Mount Holyoke College, which is another point in her favor. Then she moved into administration, first at MHC and then at Spelman College. Her prose is crisp and approachable, explaining sensitive matters with honesty and without condescension. I recommend this book to everyone, especially parents and educators. A