Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? by Beverly Daniel Tatum Read Online (FREE)
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A Psychologist’s Perspective
As a clinical psychologist with a research interest in Black children’s racial identity development, I began teaching about racism many years ago when I was asked by the chair of the Black studies department of the large public university where I was a lecturer to teach a course called “Group Exploration of Racism.” None of my colleagues, all of whom had been trained in the traditional lecture style of college teaching, wanted to teach the course, which emphasized group interaction and self-revelation. But as a clinical psychologist trained to facilitate emotionally difficult group discussions, I was intrigued by the experiential emphasis implied by the course title, and I took on the challenge.
Aided by a folder full of handouts and course descriptions left behind by the previous instructor, a copy of White Awareness: Handbook for Anti-Racism Training,1 and my own clinical skills as a group facilitator, I constructed a course that seemed to meet the goals outlined in the course catalog. Designed “to provide students with an understanding of the psychological causes and emotional reality of racism as it appears in everyday life,” the course incorporated the use of lectures, readings, simulation exercises, group research projects, and extensive class discussion to help students explore the psychological impact of racism on both Whites and people of color.
Though my first efforts were tentative, the results were powerful. The students in my class, most of whom were White, repeatedly described the course in their evaluations as one of the most valuable educational experiences of their college careers. I was convinced that helping students understand the ways in which racism operates in their own lives and what they could do about it was a true calling that I should accept. The freedom to institute the course in the curriculum of the psychology departments in which I would eventually teach became a personal condition of employment. Since 1980, I have taught this course, now called “The Psychology of Racism,” to hundreds of students at three different institutions—a large public university, a small coeducational state college, and an elite private college for women.2 I have also developed a similar course especially for elementary and secondary school teachers and administrators that hundreds of educators have now taken.3 These experiences, along with the countless parent education workshops I have led and my ongoing research about the experiences of Black adolescents in predominantly White settings, have taught me a lot about the significance of racial identity in the lives of children as well as adults. In fact, my deepening understanding of racial identity development theory has greatly informed my thinking about how best to teach these courses and lead these workshops.
After about ten years of teaching, I decided to share some of what I had learned in an article, “Talking About Race, Learning About Racism: An Application of Racial Identity Development Theory in the Classroom.”4 Published in the Spring 1992 edition of the Harvard Educational Review, the article has been read widely by my academic colleagues in the field of education, many of whom tell me that reading about the theoretical framework of racial identity development triggered an “aha” moment for them. Suddenly the racial dynamics in their classrooms and within their own campus communities made sense in a way that they hadn’t before. Those who were parents of adolescents of color suddenly had a new lens with which to see the sometimes sudden shifts in their children’s behavior both at home and