Tatum, B. D. (1997). Why are all the black kids sitting together in the cafeteria? (2nd Eds.). New York, NY: Hachette Books.

Review by Na'Cole C. Wilson, Academic Advisor, UNC Charlotte, [email protected]

Beverly Daniel Tatum - African American professor and Clinical Psychologist - engages readers into her book, “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria” by exploring the experiences of Black families and youth in majority white settings, and encouraging the topic of racism to be openly discussed amongst family, friends, and colleagues. The book begins by defining the term racism and acknowledging racial identity (mainly Black and White) between children and adults. Tatum explains that racism extends beyond a person’s racist attitude and beliefs and is rather defined by systematic advantage based on race. Therefore, racism is advantageous to populations who benefit from it (Whites) but is disadvantageous to populations who do not benefit from it (people of color). The author also points out that not all Whites benefit from racism equally; in fact there are other influences such as age, gender, economic status, and sexual orientation that contribute to their power. Similarly, not all people of color are equally aimed at by racism. For example, certain individual identities such as education level, skin complexion, and religious affiliation contributes to their systematic advantage. Tatum later defines racial identity as the way in which a person identifies oneself of belonging to a specific racial category. The term is mentioned several times throughout the text when speaking of racial categories that have been disadvantaged over the years. By the end of the book, Tatum (2017) hopes to offer readers “a helpful understanding of racial identity development from the perspective of a psychologist who has been applying the theory in her teaching, research, clinical, consulting, and administrative practice for more than thirty-five years” (pg. 75). Below I will explain how the text relates to my interaction with students, as well as a NACADA Core Value and Core Competency.

Student Interaction

As a freshman orientation instructor, one of my most meaningful classroom discussions is centered on embracing cultural awareness and appreciation of cultural differences. During one class discussion, a Black student shared negative experiences with being asked by her childhood friends why she was the only darker-skinned member in her immediate family and everyone else were lighter-skinned members. Although the subject of skin complexion was never openly discussed in her family, the student was aware that her complexion stood out from everyone else and this caused her to feel occasionally uncomfortable. The author explains (2017) “The societal preference for light skin and the relative advantage bestowed on light-skinned Blacks historically, often referred to as colorism, manifests itself not only in the marketplace but even within Black families” (pg. 123). Another Black student shared her struggle with wanting to wear her hair in its natural state of tiny curls opposed to wearing it straight in order to feel acceptable in a white dominated culture. According to the author, one way of coping with this feeling is finding pictures that show a variety of skin complexions and hair textures in Black families, with hopes to offer a positive appreciation for Black identity. After sharing these experiences, it was evident that the two Black students felt appreciated by the thoughtful reactions and supportive feedback of their White classmates-another reason as to why I enjoy teaching this lesson.

NACADA Core Value and Core Competency

The NACADA Core Value and Core Competency that relates most to the text is inclusivity and the informational component. Throughout the text, the author refers to former classroom discussions that focus on students’ upbringing and interaction with opposite races. During one discussion, she asked her students to identify their social class and ethnic background-a question in which the author explains most people of color easily respond to but where White people usually struggle to respond. In class, a White woman easily identified herself as middle-class and eventually identified her ethnic background as “just normal”. Trying to make sense of the student’s statement, the author mentions (2017), “If she is just normal, are those who are different from her just abnormal?” (p.185). The aforementioned statement reveals that the student - along with numerous White people - have never had to think about their racial group since they represent the societal norm. Therefore, this particular event relates to inclusivity because the author (classroom instructor) offered a safe and supportive environment that allowed her students to feel respected and speak freely about their racial differences. She was able to break the silence about race in her classroom which ultimately helped the students to understand White identity development. Additionally, the text relates to the informational component because in the prologue, Tatum provides a historical context of racism in the United States, the struggle for civil rights amongst African Americans, and the three major setbacks of the twentieth century. The author states (2017), “There are three I want highlight here: the anti-affirmative action backlash of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, the economic collapse of 2008 known as the Great Recession, and the phenomenon known as mass incarceration” (p. 9). Acknowledging this history is necessary for the purpose of the book since they are all events that led up to the twenty-first century and the election of President Barack Obama.


In conclusion, Tatum provides a stimulating and informative book that leaves readers with a greater understanding about the evolution of racism in the United States and racial identity development. The question, Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? is finally answered midway through the text. As a result, when Black students are targeted by racism and their White peers are unaware of how to be supportive and respond, Black students will turn to each other for understanding and encouragement- all necessary support that they are unlikely to find elsewhere (Tatum, 2017).


NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising. (2017). NACADA academic advising core competencies model. Retrieved from https://nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Pillars/CoreCompetencies.aspx

NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising. (2017). NACADA core values of academic advising. Retrieved from https://nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Pillars/CoreValues.aspx

Tatum, B. D. (1997). Why are all the black kids sitting together in the cafeteria? (2nd Eds.). New York, NY: Hachette Books.

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