The context of Black identity compared to White identity
Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum in her book “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria,” investigates the development of racial identity in Caucasian children and the African-American children in all aspects of their lives. Tatum investigates the reasons as to why many African-American teenagers end up in the same table at the school cafeterias in racially mixed schools. Tatum also notes that White teenagers in these racially mixed schools also sit together at the same cafeteria table. Tatum says that people rarely comment about the white students sitting at the same cafeteria table, but the same people question with high voices why the black students sit at the same table during lunch. This in itself is a comparison of the White identity and the black identity by Tatum.
Why do these people not question why the whites sit together at the same cafeteria table during lunch? The reason behind this is that the white race is considered superior to almost any other race by almost everybody in the world including the blacks themselves. Tatum states that Principals of these schools, teachers, white students and black students who don’t sit at the same table with those blacks who sit together want to know why black students sit together at the same table in the cafeteria. Racism dates as far back as the time there was the slavery of the Africans who were taken to America as slaves. Research carried out on the roots of African-American relationship shows that millions of African slaves were brought to the U.S.A to work as slaves on plantations in the 17th and 18th centuries. This is evidence that the whites viewed themselves as superior at this moment enslaving the blacks who are the Black Americans today. The context of Black identity compared to White identity is that color defines the whites, and they are the dominant race compared to the Blacks. The whites stereotype the blacks in a lot of ways. A white person can do something which is considered normal to other people, but if an African-American does the same thing, he/she is considered or judged inappropriately. This paper makes an effort to compare and contrast, the context of the Black identity compared to the White identity.
In her book, Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum explains why Black students sit together at the same table at the cafeteria during lunch. Tatum says that racial crisis intensifies as a child grows up. During elementary school, children are unconscious of their skin color, and they interact freely with other kids who come from different neighborhoods (Tatum 374). The fact that one is White makes them be considered superior to Blacks (Tatum 377). The kid encounters cases of racism which are in the society as he/she grows even though this happens when they are unaware. As the kid moves from elementary school to middle school, he/she interacts with other children from different neighborhoods at a higher rate than ever before, and therefore grouping by race occurs to a certain degree. Tatum states that kids of different neighborhoods who attended the school from kindergarten through eighth grade also develop the racial clustering by the sixth or seventh grade despite them staying together throughout their elementary school life. As the kid reaches puberty, he/she comes across racism at a more individual level, and this motivates the kid into pursuing his/her racial identity.
The main reason that Black students sit together at the same table in school cafeterias is that they feel the urge to identify with their race and determine their racial identity as Blacks. Tatum states that as children enter adolescence, they begin exploring identity questions such as “Who am I? Who can I be?” For a Black student, these questions involve asking oneself what it means to be Black. Adolescents of color have been found to explore their ethnic identities compared to their White counterparts as a result of the dominative and subordinate status in society. Dr. Beverly Tatum questions why Black youths particularly think about themselves regarding an ethnic group. Tatum says that the reason behind Black youths thinking about themselves as a race is because that is the same way that the rest of the world perceives them. Tatum states that how we perceive ourselves is shaped by the kind of messages we get from the people who were around us. When Black youth reach puberty, the ethnic content in the messages they receive from people around them intensifies. This encourages the Black students to cluster at the same table in cafeterias.
Black students experience an array of events which make them question their position in the society. These events make these Black students feel out of place. As the young adult goes through these events, he/she achieves a greater understanding of race and what it means to be a part of a group which is targeted by ethnicity and racism. Stereotyping is one event that makes the Black students believe that their white counterparts are better than them and that some activities are only meant for white students. Being smart academically, the type of music one listens to, how one dresses, and how one talks is what differentiates one to be either White or Black (Tatum 381). When Black students sit at the table during lunch, they can share their experiences both with the school and with the community. They can assist each other to figure out their identity as Blacks and what the society requires of them. When sitting together at the same tables, Blacks can discuss what affects them though they do not see beyond their skin color. Black students perceive White students as superior, and this inferior nature affects many areas of their life. Most Black students think that it is only Whites who are intelligent enough to be at the top of the class. This conclusion that Whites are superior than Blacks makes most of them not to go past high school because of the inferior nature that they have. It is ironic how Black students alienate other black students who perform exemplarily in class calling them white. Black students who sit together at the same table rarely associate with Black students who perform well or who listen to another genre of music apart from hip-hop, or those who don’t sit together with other blacks at the same table. The situation with these Black students who are rejected by their Black counterparts is quite challenging as they neither fit in the Black peer groups nor the White peer groups.
In elementary school, kids could make racial jokes with each other despite them being from different neighborhoods. Racially targeted jokes in high school were critical and seriously taken by the targeted group. The Whites make jokes about Blacks which are taken personally by Blacks. Even in the comedy world, most of the jokes are racist targeting mostly the Black community. Funny enough, most of these jokes are given even by Blacks themselves. White superiority is evident in today’s television and film industry. Whites are given important roles such as doctors, presidents or lawyers while Blacks are given minor roles such as criminals or other smaller roles. It is also ironic how a Black can call a fellow Black person a “nigga,” but if a White called the same person that same word, is considered racist.
White identity is evident in the way a White parent prevents his/her child from the Black neighborhoods claiming that it is not secure to be there. The reason as to why this parent may perceive the Blacks as dangerous is unknown as Blacks are very friendly people. Black identity is evident when a Black girl tells her family that she wants to get married to a White man. Most Black families would not accept their daughters to marry White men or sons marrying white girls. White identity can also be seen in the judicial system. When a White person commits a crime, the judge being white, he/she is likely to get a smaller penalty compared to a Black person who committed the same crime. In a White school, a White student is less likely to be punished more than a Black student when committing the same crime.
White identity is also evident in that almost everything that is nice belongs to Whites. The Whites always receive better things compared to their Black counterparts. The best neighborhood belongs to Whites, the best schools, the best hotels, best jobs and many more.
According to T. Wise, few whites have ever thought of their position as resulting from racial preferences which also is a demarcation of privilege that is the necessary flipside of discrimination (Wise, 2003). Being White comes with privileges that Black people don’t have. According to Peggy McIntosh, “White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions such as maps, codebooks, passports, clothes, blank checks, tools, and visas.” This tries to define the scope of privilege between the Whites and the Blacks.
In conclusion, the racial clustering of students at tables in school cafeterias is as a result of seeking identity and is a way of sharing their experiences as a racial group. Seeking self-identity is the result of adolescence which makes people of a certain race aware of their racial identity as they try to answer the questions of self-identity of who they are and who they want to become. White identity is also superior to Black identity in a lot of ways. Whites have many privileges compared to the Blacks regarding educational opportunities, living standards, and many other aspects of life.
McIntosh, Peggy. “White privilege: Unpacking the invisible knapsack.” (1988).
Tatum, B. D., “Why are all the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?”.2016. (p 374-387).
Wise, Tim. “Whites swim in racial preference.” (2003).