Spelman’s Beverly Tatum on racism: What’s changed in 20 years?

Beverly Daniel Tatum wants to break the silence about race — again.

Twenty years ago, Tatum, president emerita of Spelman College, published her critically acclaimed book, “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race.”

Today, she’s often asked, what has changed?

Why are the black kids still sitting together in the cafeteria?

“Today we are a nation at war, still suffering from the aftermath of the worst recession in modern history, disturbed by simmering racial resentments, documented racial injustices and increasingly limited by a 140-character culture of communication,” said Tatum, an educator and psychologist. “All of that makes meaningful racial dialogue more difficult, but also more necessary.”

Indeed, racial divisiveness is on the rise. The Montgomery, Ala.-based Southern Poverty Law Center reports hate and bias incidents are increasing.

Tatum believes much of that harassment is taking place in schools and in colleges and universities.

“When we see black kids sitting together in the cafeteria — or Latino kids or Asian kids or white kids, for that matter … we should not be surprised by that because, typically, they are living in segregated neighborhoods and they are often in segregated schools,” she said.

According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, from school years 2000-01 to 2013-14 — the most recent data available — the percentage of all K-12 public schools that had high percentages of poor, and black or Hispanic students grew from 9 to 16 percent. These schools were the most racially and economically concentrated: 75 to 100 percent of the students were black or Hispanic.

Much of the attention, though, is often placed on minorities, and perhaps it shouldn’t be.

“We assume, often, that when white kids are sitting together, it’s the natural way of being,” she said. “We don’t necessarily pay attention to their separation, their racial isolation, but the fact of the matter is that 75 percent of white adults have only white social networks.”

Olympian John Carlos raised a fist in 1968, now athletes take a knee

Georgia hate groups increase by 40 percent

Yet schools, perhaps, also offer the most fertile ground for change.

If you are growing up in an increasingly diverse society today, she said, and don’t know how to engage with people from a different race, ethnicity or faith tradition, then people are not going to be successful in the workplace or daily life.

Not long after her first book was published, Tatum shared a stage with President Bill Clinton during the launch of his race initiative. Clinton said that the time was right to work on the difficult issue of racism in society because the nation was at peace and the economy was expanding.

“My goal for the book remains the same as it was 20 years ago, but I was determined to bring the conversation into the 21st century,” she said. More than 100 pages longer than the first edition, the book examines the U.S. social and political context of the past 20 years, addresses issues such as the impact of changing demographics, school and neighborhood segregation, the affirmative action backlash, the election of Barack Obama, emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement, and the Trump presidency.

In writing her book, Tatum said she wanted to “help others move beyond fear, anger and denial to a new understanding of what racism is, how it impacts all of us, and ultimately what we can do about it.”

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Living

Florida beach named nation's best in TripAdvisor Travelers' Choice awards
Florida beach named nation's best in TripAdvisor Travelers' Choice awards

A Florida beach has been named the nation's best in TripAdvisor's annual Travelers' Choice awards. The travel website announced Tuesday that Clearwater Beach was the best in the U.S. in 2018, climbing from No. 4 in 2017. The beach also topped the national list in 2016.  >> Read more trending news  Meanwhile, Grace Bay in Providenciales...
Oprah, Steven Spielberg match Clooneys’ donation to March for Our Lives

Forget all the “Will she run for president someday?” talk. Oprah Winfrey is getting involved in the school shooting issue right now in a big way. Inspired by George and Amal Clooney’s big donation to the upcoming March for Our Lives event, Winfrey said Tuesday she would match it. George and Amal, I couldn&rsquo...
Exclusive: Frank Ski filed for bankruptcy protection in 2017
Exclusive: Frank Ski filed for bankruptcy protection in 2017

Tanya and Frank Ski during their foundation wine tasting/auction at their home in 2005. (SONIA MURRAY/FILE PHOTO) Posted Wednesday, February 21, 2018 by RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog Before Frank Ski returned as full-time morning host on V-103, he filed for federal Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection...
Exclusive: Frank Ski’s bankruptcy, financial problems laid bare in court documents
Exclusive: Frank Ski’s bankruptcy, financial problems laid bare in court documents

From 2009: Frank Ski slices into his birthday cake with an assist from his then wife, Tanya at his Atlanta home which he sold in 2013. Credit: Ben Rose Posted by RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com and BEN BRASCH/ben.brasch@ajc.com on the  MyAJC Radio & TV Talk blog Frank Ski, who just returned as full-time morning host of...
Michelle Obama praises 'Black Panther' on Twitter: 'I loved this movie'
Michelle Obama praises 'Black Panther' on Twitter: 'I loved this movie'

Former first lady Michelle Obama tweeted a shoutout Monday to the new Marvel superhero film, “Black Panther.” “Congrats to the entire #blackpanther team!” she tweeted. “Because of you, young people will finally see superheroes that look like them on the big screen. I loved this movie and I know it will inspire...
More Stories