Monday, July 20, 2015

Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?- Meeting 1

(NOTE: Next Meeting- July 22, 6-8, at Mugshots Coffee- it's never too late to join in!)

We had our first meeting this evening. It was a rich conversation about an emotional and difficult topic. We divided the conversation into parts, based on the focus points previously given for the introductions and Part One of the book. 

First Impressions:
Want to know how to have these hard conversations, with kids and adults. 
The definitions are helpful to further conversation. Use of words like racism, sexism. Definitions are eye-opening. 
Did not see racism as child. 
Though a book written in 1997, still timely. Sad, true, and pertinent to our reading.
Connection to Richard Wright. Finding identity, adolescence. Helped to understand our own identity building from our youth. Understanding more about need for self selected groupings to find identity. 
Perspective of “white” adolescent: personal experience of hurt and loss as “White” person when “Black” friends do separate in teen years, and did not understand. We expect “Black” people to accommodate us so we don’t feel uncomfortable. (Kathy) All agreed. Notice ways people congregate. “Blacks” have a cohesiveness, especially in a predominantly “white” situation, like our schools or staff meetings. Will it ever get better? 
Code terms in mixed groups of secret, segregated meetings. 
Still have lots of “White” identity work to do. 
Who has power to affect change? Teachers! Identify, verbalize, speak up. 
Twenty years ago discussions were heavy laden with angst. “White” folks crying and “Black” folks questioning, with annoyance, “From what well are you crying?” and stating,  “We’re done crying.”  
Hard to know what to do with outrage felt when others don’t get it. 
After reading book my lens changed. So much is now viewed with. “Where are all the “Black” people? In a room one is in, a meeting, on the screens, in advertisements, etc. Transformative ideas, much more aware, pay attention to it, speak up about it. Kids need insights. Can self identify with one’s own “other.” For example, the need for affinity groups, as in women only, for example. 
Dr. Tatum states the distinction between racism and prejudice or bias or bigotry. She says women can’t be sexist, “Blacks” can’t be racist. Racism is reserved for those in power. Systematic power, as Deb B. and Terry G. point out. It can be supported by anyone, but one needs the power of the system in place to actually be racist. (or sexist, or whatever) Discussion ensued on this topic, because not all are fully grasping this particular nuance.

Who Are You, Self Identity
There was a mixture of responses to this sub-topic. Some mentioned not having a strong sense of background or heritage. Youth lacked stories of past. Race, culture, religion, etc. not given much credence. Young adulthood, politics of day, news, etc. gave rise to an awareness. 
Others mentioned a stronger definition of heritage as children. Aware of familial culture. Racial identity and awareness of folks who are “Black” came later. Seen as source of tension: suddenly losing friends, parents disapproving, etc. High School was a time of awareness: politics, Black Power, separate grouping, tension, race riots, etc. A time of becoming radicalized, awareness grew, political activity became important. Realization of importance to confront assumptions. Could see that friends not treated the same way. Saw (see) teaching as a political stance. Felt many talk a good game, but reality proved otherwise. Unacceptable to us. 
Some had personal experiences, as well. “Are Italians Really White?, antisemitism, homophobia, etc. Saw acceptance, with a line. As in, “Oh, sure, Blacks are fine, but not as your boyfriend.” Or, “They have rights, but that Black Lives Matter business is not okay.” 
Often heard and hear folks contend their acceptance, their lacking prejudice, bigotry and racist potential because they have “Black” friends, or a “Black” relative, or whatever. However, that does not preclude feelings nor actions.
 One wonders where is the anger and backlash. Answer: it is internalized. Hypertension, strokes, etc. high prevalence in “Black” communities. Mention of theory that ADHD could be PTSD in many. So much anger being swallowed. 
So many are still so unaware. They think all is fine, no more racism. They keep in their bubble because it is safe and works for them.They are comfortable. Some are seeking to know more. We want the awareness, the information. We want to push back. Need to be aware of privilege that comes with certain identity. 

Memories, early awareness of difference, bigotry, etc.
 Kindergarten, seeing children of color treated harshly. 
Young child constantly hearing antisemitic remarks from friend’s grandma. 
In grade six, losing friendship when “Black” child separated from her. 
Young adult in workshops for social justice. 
Preschool and kindergarten: how the one Chinese student was not included or befriended. 
High School race riots.
As young teacher hearing comments of students of their reaction to other’s behavior. “That woman thinks we are a wolf pack.”
College experience of being ignored in a restaurant and realizing that is the common experience of people of color. 
All of these situations, and the many more that occur throughout our lives, make us so aware of what “Black” youth must go through to protect themselves, to stay aware, the venom they feel around them. Feeling invisible: not mentioned, not seen in media images, not noticed when needing service, etc. Even in animated films, so few people of color, and they don’t even have to pay someone to perform! Just color it in! What assumptions are being made, for instance, when a “Black” person enters a room of “White” folk.  Or, visa versa. Many of us rethought job changes or moves or whatever because the area was not diverse. “Black” people are behind the scenes, not visible. 

Definitions, agree, disagree, etc.
Found helpful. 
Generations are perpetuating the trouble. Need to talk about it, not cover it up or brush it aside from fear or ignorance or a comfort zone. 
Racism is systematic. Power behind it. Acting on the bias, bringing it to the forefront. So difficult, still. All of these years of oppression, history of wrongdoing to Native Americans, Holocaust victims, discrimination throughout history, and we are still asking what are these words. 
Tokenism, people think they have a trump card. “See, I am not racist.” Any individual is capable of bigotry, but racism is the enacting of that prejudice and based on a power structure within our society. Only whites benefit from racism structure. Though, of course, no one really benefits from such a society. Those oppressed can sabotage their own rise. Women raise their sons to be sexist. So internalized. It must be interrupted.

How do you interrupt racism in your life, in your work?
Power as a parent, teacher. Do not laugh at jokes, and speak up. “ Do not presume it is okay to make that joke in front of me. Thank you.” 
Teach history from point of view of all, not just the power group. 
Books with images of varying groups of folks. 
Invite parents in to discuss their contribution to the world, whatever it may be for them. Have the hard conversations.
 Try to support the academic growth of all, with attention to those struggling from the get go. Continue to work to close the gap. Support for the students struggling. AVID, for example, is a program that helps. Teach folks how to learn, how to get in certain circles, etc.  
Use social media to present a view, using the language, opening the conversation. 
Look closely at the biases, your own and others’. Be vigilant to be aware of what you still do that actually counters what you truly believe. Be mindful, particularly of where you are not interrupting the bias. 
Mostly, we hope the rest of the book spurs ideas to interrupt racism more and more.


  1. So, in the bell hooks group, Elizabeth Kim recommended a Ted talk by Christopher Edmin. I was introduced to his words a few months ago. He does well at being blunt, honest, aghast and polite all at the same time. I re-looked at this talk, yesterday, and along with the Tatum ideas, it emphasizes, for me, that, at the very least, we must all be aware, then, mindful and vigilant, to always consider ourselves in the world, our place, our stance, our portrayal of ideas and emotions, and how they affect others. Yet, that is not nearly enough. We must act on our beliefs and on behalf of truth and justice, we must speak up and ruffle feathers!

  2. By the way, here is the link to one version of Mr. Edmin's talk:

  3. I realized something painful while reading three books for the WE book groups (Teacher Wars, Multiplication is for White Kids, and Why are all the Black Kids) that was reinforced by Mr. Edmin's talk. In college I redefined myself as an activist. Then I read Savage Inequalities by Jonathan Kozol. I cried and decided I was going to bring peace and justice to the world by teaching the children of north Philly. I cringe to realize that I was pushing the bolder of white guilt. I realize now I joined a centuries old line of white missionary teachers wanting to save the less fortunate. I think I realized pretty quickly my first year teaching in Overbrook that my job was not to "save" my students. It was they system, the system I am part of, that is broken, not them.

    I think I finally broke away from my original intentions when I started studying and implementing student voice in my classroom. (See: for more info) Mr. Edmin's reality pedagogy reminded me instantly of student voice pedagogy. I don't like the name student voice though, because it's not just giving students voice, it's empowerment. It's redesigning school structures so that students, teachers, and administrators have equal voice. However, I think what students voice pedagogy and research are missing is how race, ethnicity, gender and economics play into who has voice and power in schools. I am interested in researching more of Mr. Edmin's work.