Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum is the current president of Spelman College. Tatum received her B.A. in psychology from Wesleyan University and her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of Michigan. She also received an M.A. religious studies from Hartford Seminary. Tatum received an L.H.D. from Bates College in 2000. Tatum taught at Westfield State University and the University of California, Santa Barbara before joining Mount Holyoke College in 1989. She resided at Mount Holyoke for thirteen years as a professor of psychology, department chair, and dean of the College. In 2002, Tatum served as acting president while President Creighton was on leave. She then joined Spelman College as president.
Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum Interviewed by Katie Couric
Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?”: A Psychologist
Explains the Development of Racial Identity
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Paperback: 294 pages
Publisher: Basic Books;
5th Anniv., Revised edition (January 7, 2003)
Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.9 x 8 inches
Excerpt. © All rights reserved.
Walk into any racially mixed high school cafeteria at lunch time and you will instantly notice that in the sea of adolescent faces, there is an identifiable group of Black students sitting together. Conversely, it could be pointed out that there are many groups of White students sitting together as well, though people rarely comment about that. The question on the tip of everyone's tongue is "Why are the Black kids sitting together?" Principals want to know, teachers want to know, the Back students who aren't sitting at the table want to know.
How does it happen that so many Black teenagers end up at the same cafeteria table? They don't start out there. If you walk into racially mixed elementary schools, you will often see young children of diverse racial backgrounds playing with one another, sitting at the snack table together, crossing racial boundaries with an ease uncommon in adolescence. Moving from elementary school to middle school (often at sixth or seventh grade) means interacting with more new children from different neighborhoods than before, and a certain degree of clustering by race might therefore be expected, presuming that children who are familiar with one another would form groups. But even in kindergarten through eighth grade, racial grouping begins by the sixth or seventh grade. What happens?
One thing that happens is puberty. As children enter adolescence, they begin to explore the question of identity, asking "Who am I? Who can I be?" in ways they have not done before. For Black youth, asking "Who am I?" includes thinking about "Who am I ethnically and/or racially? What does it mean to be Black?"
As I write this, I can hear the voice of a White woman who asked me, "Well all adolescents struggle with questions of identity. They all become more self-conscious about their appearance and more concerned about what their peers think. So what is so different for Black kids?" Of course, she is right that all adolescents look at themselves in new ways, but not all adolescents think about themselves in racial terms.
The search for personal identity that intensifies in adolescence can involve several dimensions of an adolescent's life: vocational plans, religious beliefs, values and preferences, political affiliations and beliefs, gender roles, and ethnic identities. The process of exploration may vary across these identity domains. James Marcia described four identity "statuses" to characterize the variation in the identity search process: (1) diffuse, a state in which there has been little exploration or active consideration of a particular domain, and no psychological commitment; (2) foreclosed, a state in which a commitment has been made to particular roles and beliefs, often those selected by parents, without actively considering alternatives; (3) moratorium, a state of active exploration of roles and beliefs in which no commitment has yet been made; and (4) achieved, a state of strong persona; commitment to a particular dimension of identity following a period of high exploration.9
An individual is not likely to explore all identity domains at once, therefore it is not unusual for an adolescent to be actively exploring one dimension while another remains relatively unexamined. Given the impact of dominant and subordinate status, it is not surprising that researchers have found that adolescents of color are more likely to be actively engaged in an exploration of their racial or ethnic identity than are White adolescents.2
Why do Black youths, in particular, think about themselves in terms of race? Because that is how the rest of the world thinks of them. Our self-perceptions are shaped by the messages that we receive from those around us, and when young Black men and women enter adolescence, the racial content of those messages intensifies. A case in point: If you were to ask my ten-year-old son, David, to describe himself, he would tell you many things: that he is smart, that he likes to play computer games, that he has an older brother. Near the top of his list, he would likely mention that he is tall for his age. He would probably not mention that he is Black, though he certainly knows that he is. Why would he mention his height and not his racial group membership? When David meets new adults, one of the first questions they ask is "How old are you?" When David states his age, the inevitable reply is "Gee, you're tall for your age!" It happens so frequently that I once overheard David say to someone, "Don't say it, I know. I'm tall for my age." Height is salient for David because it is salient for others.
When David meets new adults, they don't say, "Gee you're Black for your age!" If you are saying to yourself, of course they don't, think again. Imagine David at fifteen, six-foot-two, wearing the adolescent attire of the day, passing adults he doesn't know on the sidewalk. Do the women hold their purses a little tighter, maybe even cross the street to avoid him? Does he hear the sound of the automatic door locks as he walks by? Is he being followed around by the security guards at the local mall? As he stops in town with his new bicycle, does a police officer hassle him, asking where he got it, implying that it might be stolen? Do strangers assume he plays basketball? Each of these experiences conveys a racial message. At ten, race is not yet salient for David, because it is not yet salient for society. But it will be.
We Talk about Race?: And Other Conversations in an Era of School
Resegregation (Race, Education, and Democracy Series Book)
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Paperback: 168 pages
Publisher: Beacon Press (April 1, 2008)
Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.4 x 8.5 inches
Beverly Daniel Tatum emerged on the national scene in 1997 with “Why Are All
the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?,” a book that spoke to a
wide audience about the psychological dynamics of race relations in America.
Tatum’s unique ability to get people talking about race captured the
attention of many, from Oprah Winfrey to President Clinton, who invited her
to join him in his nationally televised dialogues on race.
In her first book since that pathbreaking success, Tatum starts with a warning call about the increasing but underreported resegregation of America. A selfdescribed “integration baby”—she was born in 1954—Tatum sees our growing isolation from each other as deeply problematic, and she believes that schools can be key institutions for forging connections across the racial divide.
In this ambitious, accessible book, Tatum examines some of the most resonant issues in American education and race relations:
•The need of African American students to see themselves reflected in curricula and institutions •How unexamined racial attitudes can negatively affect minority-student achievement •The possibilities—and complications—of intimate crossracial friendships
Tatum approaches all these topics with the blend of analysis and storytelling that make her one of our most persuasive and engaging commentators on race.
Can We Talk About Race? launches a collaborative lecture and book series between Beacon Press and Simmons College, which aims to reinvigorate a crucial national public conversation on race, education and democracy.
Blues: Black Families In White Communities, Who Succeeds And Why
(Contributions in Afro-American & African Studies)
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Paperback: 160 pages
Publisher: Basic Books; New edition edition (January 7, 2000)
Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.4 x 8 inches
What does it mean to be Black in a white, middle-class community? Is it the ultimate symbol of success? Or will one pay in isolation, alienation, rootlessness? What price must one pay for paradise? Is the price too high?Beverly Daniel Tatum, a renowned authority on the psychology of racism, interviewed Black families in depth to identify the sacrifices and achievements necessary to survive and prosper in a white community. For the Black citizens of “Sun Beach,” dual-income households, religious affiliation, and extended families help maintain stability. But with assimilation comes an insidious “hidden racism,” subtly communicated when Black children aren’t called on in class and revealed more fully in incidents of racial name-calling. By listening to the individual voices of these children and their parents, Dr. Tatum skillfully probes the complex questions of identity that arise for a visible people rendered invisible by their surroundings.