By Ryan Velez
The title Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria may ring true to many Black people’s experience in education in predominantly white/other ethnic areas. Look around the cafeteria, from elementary school to college, the majority of Black students congregate in one area, and not anywhere else in the room. This phenomenon seems to take place no matter how liberal or welcoming an institution may act on the surface. Beverly Daniel Tatum, Ph.D., President Emerita of Spelman College and 2015 Women of Power Summit Legacy Award winner, targeted the social barriers behind something so innocuous in her best-selling book, and Black Enterprise reached out to her to get some input following her full revision of it.
“My book has been actively used since 1997,” she told Black Enterprise, “by readers and classrooms and the general public for 20 years. Now we know more, demographically society has changed, and we have more information about young people’s identity development, and more understanding about groups beyond black and white. Since people are still using the book I wanted them to have the most current information.” However, the need for a revision is not lost on her as a negative, with Daniel Tatum admitting that writing the prologue for it was a depressing experience.
“In my lifetime I’ve observed and lived progress. My father, who just passed away at the age of 90, couldn’t go to the University of Florida for his Ph.D. The state of Florida—and this was after Brown—paid his transportation to go to Pennsylvania so he could study there. That happened in the late 50s.” While progress has been made, she sees the current area as a time of regression. “Just looking at the past 20 years, without looking at the historical context, it’s pretty bleak.”
One topic that Daniel Tatum took the time to address is affirmative action, which is still a hot button topic, but should be revisited as demographics in the country change. “A student at the top of her class in an underperforming [high] school is not likely to be as well prepared as a student at the top of her class in a school with a lot of resources. You can’t take AP Calculus if they don’t offer it.
“But a student who has taken full advantage of all the opportunities available to her, who demonstrates the kind of persistence and perseverance that’s required to be successful not only in college but in life, and brings a perspective about the kinds of experiences she has had, and contributes that, just the way other people are contributing their experiences—it’s perfectly legitimate to admit such a student.” Out the students starting school in 2014, 50% of them are of color, meaning that both domestic and international diversity is far more glaring when it is not present.