Throughout my childhood and most of my college life I never really thought about race.
I don’t remember the first conversation I had about it. In fact, I don’t know if I ever had a conversation about race growing up. I don’t remember the first time I saw an act of blatant racism or interacted with a person of color. I mean, of course I knew to check the “white” or “Caucasian” box, but I never thought about what that meant. I never thought about how my race has benefitted me throughout my entire life.
I never thought about how we teach kids that the Indians were savages who needed to be civilized, when in reality we, the white Europeans, were the invaders.
I never thought about how when I thought about a Black person, I immediately pictured a slave.
(I was never taught that not all slaves were black.)
I never thought about how our culture tells kids from the time they are born that they should act a certain way— white— and look a certain way— white— through stories, television, movies, and literally everything else. All of the characters in everything I watched or read were all white.
All of them.
I never thought racism was something that affected me.
When I started teaching 4 years ago I knew there was something wrong. I knew that my most challenging classes were also predomintately Black and mostly from very low socio-economic backgrounds. I knew there was something wrong when I took my middle schoolers to a track meet at a middle school that I literally had to pass through a metal detector to enter and was afraid to be at past dark
I knew change needed to happen.
What I didn’t understand was that in order for that change to happen, I needed to examine my own race, identity, and self before I could even begin to worry about someone else’s.
This book, "Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria," was recommended to me by my first principal, Teresa Stoupas— an educator who continues to inspire me to go deeper, to have uncomfortable conversations, to challenge and push myself past my comfort zone— and it certainly did that.
At first I thought, "Oh, it's just another book about the inequalities between people of color and white people. I've heard that before."
But that's the thing-- we need to hear it. We need to hear it again. And again. And again. And over and over until something is done. This book was first published in 1997 and is still relevant. It blows my mind that that is even the slightest bit possible.
I cannot recommend this book enough. Not just for educators, but for every person, regardless of race, gender, religion, or anything else. It needs to be read. It needs to be discussed. We've got to do something. Racial inequality is a problem that is embedded deep in our culture, our society, and our beings. So much so that many of us don't even see it happening right in front of our own eyes.
Success should not be determined by a person's skin color or zip code. Period.
“We all have a sphere of influence. Each of us needs to find our own sources of courage so that we will begin to speak. There are many problems to address, and we cannot avoid them indefinitely. We cannot continue to be silent. We must begin to speak, knowing that words alone are insufficient. But I have seen that meaningful dialogue can lead to effective action. Change is possible."
-Beverly Daniel Tatum, PhD and author of "Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?"