Helping children develop their identity is integral to making them self-sufficient and independent, as well as to master their Executive Function skills. In addition to children’s cognitive, linguistic, and emotional development, parents and educators alike must understand the social science behind the development of racial, ethnic, and cultural identities, which play a major role in shaping a child’s lens on life and how they relate to other racial and ethnic groups different than their own.
On this episode, Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum—President Emerita at Spelman College, a clinical psychologist, and the author of several books including the best-selling book Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race, discusses racial identity development among children growing up in the U.S.. Throughout this conversation, she brings to life a crucial perspective raised in her book that “people, by being ignorant or unaware of race, can unwittingly perpetuate a cycle of oppression.”.
About Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum
Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum, President Emerita of Spelman College, is a clinical psychologist widely known for her expertise on race relations and as a leader in higher education. In 2013 she was recognized with the Carnegie Academic Leadership Award. Author of several books including the best-selling “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” and Other Conversations About Race, she was the 2014 recipient of the American Psychological Association Award for Outstanding Lifetime Contributions to Psychology.
A civic leader in the Atlanta community, Dr. Tatum serves on the boards of Westside Future Fund, Achieve Atlanta, Morehouse College and the Tull Charitable Foundation. She is also a trustee of Sesame Workshop, Smith College and the Educational Testing Service.
She holds a B.A. degree in psychology from Wesleyan University, and M.A. and Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of Michigan as well as an M.A. in Religious Studies from Hartford Seminary.
About Host, Sucheta Kamath
Sucheta Kamath, is an award-winning speech-language pathologist, a TEDx speaker, a celebrated community leader, and the founder and CEO of ExQ®. As an EdTech entrepreneur, Sucheta has designed ExQ's personalized digital learning curriculum/tool that empowers middle and high school students to develop self-awareness and strategic thinking skills through the mastery of Executive Function and social-emotional competence.
Sucheta Kamath: Welcome back to Full PreFrontal exposing the mysteries of executive function. I'm your host Sucheta Kamath. I believe by tying the findings from neuroscience psychology, anthropology, social cognition and education into everyday transformations A lot can happen to our personal and collective growth. Research suggests executive function is the backbone of moral development. And many of our moral discretions depend on our interpretation of the world. But what about our cognitive distortions, biases, and cognitive shortcuts such as stereotypes, they to filter the world for us, and we react and make decisions accordingly. Recently, I have had many experts from the field of anthropology such as Richard Roy Grinker who talked about what is normal after all, sociologist Pedro Noguera who talks about specific experiences of the minority students, and an anger expert Ryan Martin, who talks about, you know, how poor treatment, goal blockage, and being misunderstood are the reasons we get angry. So as I think of helping people create a playbook for their personal success, which involves mastering of executive function skills, I'm compelled to talk about issues of race, dominant and subordinate group behaviors, and understanding the development of racial, cultural and ethnic identity of our adolescent or youth in general, because it all collect connects with executive function. And that's why conversation with our guest today is going to be invaluable. So it's my great pleasure to invite Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum to this podcast. She's the president emerita of Spelman College. She's a clinical psychologist, widely known for her expertise on race relations, and as a leader in higher education. In 2013, she was recognized with the Carnegie Academic Leadership Award, author of several books, including the best selling, Why Are All the Black Children Sitting Together in the Cafeteria, and other conversations about race. She was the 2014, recipient of the American Psychological Association Award for outstanding lifetime contributions to psychology. She is a civic leader, right in my hometown of Atlanta, and in our Atlanta community. I had the pleasure and privilege of hearing her in person for the first time in 2015, as I was going through my leadership, Atlanta, one year long experience, and she transformed my my perceptions, my beliefs, and my roles and responsibilities towards contributing to my own community. And I'm very grateful for that she serves on many boards of including Westside Future Fund, Achieve Atlanta, Morehouse College and the Charitable Foundation. She is also a trustee of Sesame Workshop, Smith College and Educational Testing Services are what's so remarkable about her is the book that I just mentioned, a Why All the Black Kids are Sitting in the Cafeteria Together was written 20 years. And then she did a, an upgrade to that book. And we're going to find out whether situations in life has changed since then or not. So welcome to the podcast. How are you?
Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum: I'm very well, thanks so much for having me.
Sucheta Kamath: So, the Let's start with the conversation, you know, does the United States of America have a race problem? And why do we have such a difficult time talking about race? here or maybe globally, too?
Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum: Well, I think it's a challenge in a lot of places. But it certainly is a problem here in the United States. And I think that has everything to do with our history. It goes back in many ways to the very beginning, certainly in terms of how the indigenous people were treated when the European settlers first arrived, and then of course, the institution of enslavement of people of African descent added to that mix, and we are dealing with the legacy of that. Since that time, you know, it changes over time. We know that how racism manifests itself has not necessarily remained the same, but it has persisted and we certainly I still struggle with how to undo that initial harm.
Sucheta Kamath: Thank you for getting started there. Because I think one thing that again, you're such a psychologist and educator at heart so I can see incredible compassion in the way you present these complicated matters inviting people to have another look. Because I think if they were just cold facts presented, people may process it, but not really emotionally relate to it. One thing that I think I would like to start, you know, only I was born and raised in India, and I tell people, when I came to us, I became Brown. And so this is such a remarkable experience of, you know, coming from a country with billions of people who look similar. We have colorism, don't get me wrong, but one thing is, can we talk about a dominant and subordinate groups? And what are the dynamics? How do you define them? And, and also, I had experienced it before, but never eloquently, was able to say it, or even understand it for myself that one thing you say in your book that, you know, we have free entry into white person's house, through television, through billboards through through shows, movies, so there's a very clear idea how white people live. But anybody who's not white, their experiences are either muted, or they are put through a lens that may not be favorable to that group. So I would love to see, you set the stage for this discussion about dominance and subordinate groups.
Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum: Sure, well, let's start with the dominant and subordinate concept. And what it really refers to is identity, and which identities are part of the majority or the norm, because it doesn't even have to be numerical majority. But, but some identities fit into the cultural norms, and some identities are outside of them. So what do I mean by that? All of us have multiple identities, we can think about our identity in terms of our race or ethnicity, we can think about our identity in terms of our gender, or sexual orientation, our physical ability, our age, our language, you know, our religious affiliations, or identities. So all of these identities are important to us in one way or another. But some of them may be more salient for us. Some of them some aspects of our identity, we pay more attention to, we tend, we, as human beings tend to pay attention to those identities that draw other people's attention to us. So for example, if I was a very tall person, I'm not, but if I were a very tall woman, people might respond to my height, they might comment on it, they might say, Oh, you're so tall, I have two sons, one of whom is now as an adult, about six, three, when he was a child, he was as children are half his adult age at the age of two. So if you're growing up to be six, three, that means you were you know, already over three feet as a two year old, and people were always saying, Oh, you're so tall for your age, that was a salient part of his identity. But when we think about these categories, these social categories like race, like gender, like socioeconomic status, some of those identities, draw people's attention to as if you are a dark skinned person, in a light skinned community, right, as a person of color, black or brown, in a largely white community, those white people are going to notice and comment on your skin color, your difference, that identity is going to likely be a subordinate identity. whiteness in that context is a dominant identity.
Sucheta Kamath: If you're white, you don't need to mention it.
Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum: Right, exactly. So if as a student of mindset, if you're white, you might just think of yourself as quote, just normal. And if you see yourself as the norm, as the cultural norm as the numerical majority, as the powerful group, the group that has status and privilege, then you might not be thinking about it, you just go through your life doing the things you do, assuming that the world is going to work in a particular way. But if you are not part of that dominant group, if you are a stigmatized Group, a group that is discriminated against or has that history, a group that is not included in the cultural norms, not included in the TV you watch, not Included in the books you're reading in school not included in that history. If you are part of that excluded or left out or invisible group, that identity we might think of as a subordinate identity. That doesn't mean it's not important to you. But it is subordinate relative to that dominant identity relative to the power structures. And typically, one of the things we can say about dominant and subordinate identities, is that the subordinate people, the folks in that subordinate group, tend to know a lot about the dominant group. But the dominant absolutely tends not to know very much about the subordinate group. And it's understandable why that is, just think about any kind of power relationship, if you are the administrative assistant in the office working for an employer who has the power in that relationship, you need to know a lot about that employer, you need to know what makes that employer happy, you need to know what you need to do to be successful in your job, you might need to know something about that employee his personal life because it impacts his mood or her mood. But the employer doesn't necessarily need to know anything about you. In an ideal world, they would, they would take interest in you and how and you'd have a mutually beneficial and supportive relationship. But it's not required, it is required of you to keep your job, it's not required of that employer, necessarily, to keep that kind of to pay that kind of attention to you, they can just, you know, go on about their business and kind of ignore what's happening at your front desk. So the that when we talk about those dominant identities, those subordinate identities, what we're really talking about is a power relationship. And the more powerful you are, the more you can, more access, you have more more access you have and the less you pay attention, you probably should be paying attention for lots of reasons we could talk about. But there are, you're not required to pay attention to the folks who are subordinate to you in that way.
Sucheta Kamath: I really like the way also in the book, you talk about this idea of who's working hard, you know, and that's one thing that is really come up in light of my work in when we are processing the world. If two parties are equally invested in understanding the intentions and, and motives and reference or preferences, then there is much congenial, or at least they're all on equal footing. But when one group or one person in the group does not need to put that effort, they actually also can be aggressors. Yes, I'll give you a quick story of not recommending the show or anything but Succession is the it's HBO show, I was watching and a very he's a billionaire. And he they have multiple homes, as you can imagine. And they come home from vacation into their Manhattan apartment and it's reeking of some dead animal. And then they find a raccoon or something I don't know. And so he comes out and then the the worker or the contractor, he approaches the contractor and says, you know, you think of I'm a fool, you know, you stuffed that raccoon, and I'm going to now pay you only $100,000 for all the repairs you did. But he says Sir, it is $300,000 material itself, cost me that much. He says You don't deserve it. You take that raccoon and I know you he said I didn't do it. I didn't do it. But you know, so I felt the kind of confidence he had in accusing the contractor of actually not only having malice, but not deserving of the fair compensation. And to me, that's the story of power that comes through, doesn't it? Yes, that we see. And I was wondering if this is something we see in the context of education, how we are teaching children, children to begin with don't have power, but in their when they're in this racial or cultural power dynamics, we can interpret their behaviors as inappropriate or unacceptable when they could be culturally informed to be that way. Right?
Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum: Yes. And what's really surprising and disappointing sometimes is that even behaviors that are not that are quite appropriate or misperceived because the expectations are not aligned. So for example, I've had the opportunity to interview young people about their experiences in schools growing up. And one of the stories I often hear, you'd be surprised how frequently these stories are shared of young African Americans who will say I wrote something or I did an assignment very well. And when I turned it in, I was accused of cheating, because it was better than the teacher had expected me to be able to do. You know, so, you know this, someone writes an essay and the teacher says, Where did you get this essay? I'm going to, you know, do the word search to see if I can find where you've plagiarized it? Well, no, I wrote it myself, This couldn't possibly have been your work. You know, that kind of experience you can only imagine is very disheartening for the young person who produced it. But also those but it speaks to the misperception of the person whose expectations are shaped by stereotypes shaped by that's really the best word for it, I think the stereotypes that limit their ability to see their students in their full worth.
Sucheta Kamath: I want to pick up on that, I think that another beautiful point you made is you did a TED talk. And, you know, you invited the audience to say think about an early memory of race, and what emotions did it invoke. And then you also followed by saying that, you know, most people report it being associated with confusion, anxiety, fear, sadness, or even shame. Yeah, but no one has ever talked to you about it. I remember that. I remember shame, or the mistreatment as a girl, you know, as gender. And then mistreatment as coming, you know, in terms of a brown person. I don't think I ever expressed that. First of all, I thought I was treated that way, because I deserved it. Or they must have seen something in me that invoked that response, because dominant culture can do that. But what's so wonderful about that invitation, I thought, is this is an invitation for teachers and parents. So can you talk a little bit about why did you frame it that way? That why are these experiences of identity and particularly that invoke sadness, or shame or anxiety or fear are essential for correcting the course of childhood? developmental trajectory, so to speak?
Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum: Yes. Well, I often start my public presentations with these questions, because I find that it gives us common ground. Many people, regardless of their racial background, have had experiences with race in the United States, for sure. And even someone who might think, well, gosh, racism doesn't have anything to do with me. If you ask them to think back to their earliest race related memory, they will often recall something that actually does have something to do with racism. Maybe they saw or heard someone being called a name. Maybe they bore themselves being the target of someone's name calling. Maybe they observed an interaction and an unfair or discriminatory interaction between two adults and witnessed it as a child. Maybe there was an incident on the playground where someone was being teased or made fun of in some way. There are all kinds of experiences that people have, sometimes they're just images, you know, not even something happening from one to another. But looking out the window and wondering, you know, why the homeless people that they saw as they drove by were dark skinned people, or wondering why, you know, the news story or today, let's imagine you're a young child today wondering about George Floyd. And why did that happen? You know, there are incidents that young people when they are children experience and remember, even into their adulthood. And so if you ask people to take a moment to think back to an early race related memory, most people will in fact, quickly think of something within just a few seconds, they will have called something up. And then if you do ask what emotion sometimes someone will say, Well, you know, it was friendship or love. That happens sometimes people will say that, but more often, it is an uncomfortable feeling. It's a feeling described as, as you said, sadness, or confusion, or anxiety or fear, or shame or anger. And these uncomfortable feelings, usually our process, you know, when we're upset about something, we talk to somebody about them. But when you ask, did you have a conversation with a concerned adult or a teacher or a parent, someone like that? Most people will say they didn't. And then if you probe Well, why not? You know you were six years seven, that's an age when kids are usually pretty chatty. They usually don't hold back too much. Um, why at that age, did you not have a conversation about this? thing that you can still remember decades later, right? It hasn't been lost in that memory. You can call it up. And people will often hem and haw. They're not sure why they didn't. But after a little conversation, it will sometimes come out that I don't know, I just knew I wasn't supposed to. I just knew that this was something, then social norms told me that I was not supposed to talk about these issues. And for me, what's important about that, is that the same silence that today's adults, people, like you and me, have experienced when we were children, is simply being repeated again, for the next generation. I can have this conversation with 60 year olds, and I can have the conversation with 16 year olds, and the answers are pretty much the same. I just knew I wasn't supposed to talk about it. How can we solve a problem without talking about it? If we understand that racism is a problem in our society, we need to have the language and the opportunity to talk to each other about it so that we can start to do something differently.
Sucheta Kamath: And and listeners, I'm gonna do a little plug. You know, please read the book, I think particularly the second edition, there's a prologue and there's several chapters you have rewritten which is really, really helpful. But But conditions have not radically changed. But what I loved is every step of the way, your examples, I think, even the examples of your precocious children, and and your sensitive handling of it, when such situation comes to mind. Share with our listeners the story of your son coming home, being told by a friend that about the chocolate milk. Yes. And I think if you can elaborate on that last part where you said, who is really talking to that white white child? Yeah, I love that. Because we, as a minority are so invested in educating our children, I'll quickly before giving you a chance to speak, you know, my when I had my children, both of them born in us and but at home, my parents lived with me or my in laws came and we eat with our hands. And so my, my three year old when I went to school, and he would eat with his hands, and a kid, like three or four year old said, You are a savage. Great vocabulary from a speech language pathologist point of view, I'm like, Great vocab, vocab word. But I immediately picked up the phone, call the principal and said, I'm going to bring some food, Indian food. And I'm going to show everybody how, in my culture, eating with the hands is an art. And so what I did, I got a liquid food and solid food. And then I got a plate. And then I told my son to show them how to eat liquid food with your hands, which is practically impossible. And then I explained that you never use your left hand. So you put that hand behind you. You never wet your palm, because that's considered uncultured Savage. And I said, you don't let food trickle down your wrist. And then the kids were struggling. So I said, All this is practice. And I said, you have practiced with fork, he has practiced with fingers. And and you know, that little experience was mostly done for my, my child, not for other kids. Because my I wanted my children to think that they come from a legacy of a culture that has profound wisdom in it. This is not random that we eat. It's not that we protest forks, you know, it's a deep, deep respect for eating with your hands. So anyways, sorry, I took up so much time. But it just reminded me every single example you talked about reminded of my effort to raise my children.
Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum: Well, and it's a great example, what you just shared and speaks to why that was important both for your children to see that modeled and honored in the classroom, but also for the other kids to learn something and I have to say I learned something new just hearing you talk about it. So the but in my instance, my my sons who are now young men all grown up, but at the time, my oldest son was about three and attended a daycare center in Massachusetts, which is where we lived at the time. And he was the only black child in his class, and had certainly friends and was certainly a lovely little preschool that he was part of. But one of his friends at the snack table told him that his skin was brown because he drank too much chocolate milk. So that afternoon when I picked him up from school, that was his first question for me. It was like mom, Tommy says my skin is brown because they drink chocolate milk. Is that true? And I said I first of all, I was surprised by the question. I said No, that's not true. Your skin has something in it called melanin. Everybody has some. But the more you have the browner your skin is. So at your school and the good news is melanin is useful. It helps protect your skin from the same, you know, from the rays of the sun, helps prevent sunburn, etc. And so I was telling him about, you know why it was great to have melanin in your skin. And then I said, and at your school, it happens that you are the kid with the most, which is why your skin love Brown is yes, he loved it, too. And was very tickled to have the most of something. But as I said, you know, Tommy, the young boy with the with the theory was, I was wondering who's talking to Tommy. So I went to school the next day and talked to the teacher, the classroom teacher, and asked, How was she handling conversations about difference in the classroom? To my surprise, she said, Well, you know, it hasn't really come up, we haven't had those conversations. Well, of course, it had come up over the snack table. But maybe she hadn't been privy to that conversation. But it did speak to the fact that it was a lost opportunity that there was an opportunity with kids who are of different shades, even the white children are not all the same shade, right? to have a conversation about skin and skin difference, and that that's a learning opportunity. But Tommy, I think it's important to say Tommy was not trying to be mean or hurtful. He was just trying to understand something that he observed. He had seen my son drinking chocolate milk, he had seen that his skin was browner. It didn't wash off at the thick when they were washing their hands. What could be possibly causing this? Well, you know, he was a pretty bright little three year old to think maybe it's the milk. But of course he was wrong. And and he needed some questions answered, but not in that kind of don't talk about that kind of way, which is what we often do, you know, when kids observe or make a comment about someone's difference, there is sometimes this desire to hush them. Because we don't want to talk about difference we don't want we think maybe it will be awkward or uncomfortable. But it doesn't have to be there's nothing wrong with brown skin. And there's nothing wrong with curly hair. And there's nothing wrong with straight hair or light skin. We simply come in lots of sizes and shapes and packages, just like the rest of the universe does. Right? And and helping kids understand that difference without creating a hierarchy of preference without communicating that one way is better than another way one person is better than another person is an important part of learning.
Sucheta Kamath: I really, really see that being incredibly valuable. Because as I said, this is kind of rubbing against the concept of privilege. And so I wanted to see if you can explain to us two things. One is you also write that the teachers who have not reflected on their own racial identity development, I find it very difficult to understand why young people are reflecting on theirs. Yes. And that's a great example of how the teacher is saying that, oh, that has not come up. Well, one, either. She's not picking up on it. Or it could be she might dismiss that interpersonal individual experience doesn't need to be globally addressed. Or three, she could be definitely uncomfortable. So yeah. Oh, there are all three, right? Yes. So what what are your thoughts about the role teacher plays? And this this level of discomfort or tendency to really raise and I see this more with white community raising color blind, a pair of black children are taking great pride in saying My child is colorblind, which may be a huge disservice to people of minority. Yeah, right. Could you speak about that?
Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum: Absolutely. So one of the things that I want to begin with is to say that we live in a society in the US where most of the teachers in classrooms, certainly in public schools, but in private as well. Most of today's teachers are white women. That's just, you know, a demographic fact. And most of those white women have grown up in largely white communities. And that is a fact because of the segregation that persistent residential segregation that pervades United States, very common. That's not to say every single One does. But this is to say most white people have grown up in largely white communities even today. Research tells us that 75% of white adults have no social networks of color that that they are essentially racially isolated in white communities, white workplaces, white churches, white schools, etc. So this is to say that a lot of teachers have come up in environments where they didn't have firsthand opportunities to get to know people outside their own racial or ethnic group.
Sucheta Kamath: And what are they missing when that happens?
Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum: Well, they're missing a lot. They're missing a lot, certainly in terms of understanding somebody else's experience. Certainly understanding what someone else's cultural, as you were just describing, not knowing about Indian culture, for example, because they haven't had that exposure, not understanding the kinds of questions or concerns young black children might have, when they're in a largely white environment, what kinds of questions white kids are likely to ask because they haven't been paying attention to it. And it hasn't been part of their lived experience. So. So what we know is that they're often educators who just are not tuned in to the daily experiences of some of their students. So we want to help them with that. We want to help them think beyond their own experience. But part of that, but that notion that and many people have many people have grown up in the post civil rights, you know, 1950s 1960s 1970s, growing up in that civil rights time period, with the idea that we should be, quote, colorblind. What does that mean? When someone says they're colorblind? what it means, typically, is that they have learned not to comment on someone's race or ethnicity. It's not that they don't notice it. Right? all the evidence suggests that they are noticing and responding. But they may or may not be speaking about it. And when parents tell me, oh, my daughter or my son is colorblind, what I often say is, are you sure, it may not be that they are not noticing? It may be that they are not colorblind, but perhaps the color silent, meaning, oh, I learned not to talk about it. But they do notice difference. And they all the evidence suggests that it's not only that kids notice difference, but that they respond to the differences that they noticed. They will say things like, you can't be the princess princesses have to have blond hair, you know, they will say, you know, you can't be the superhero that superheroes not black, you know that they will again, not out of meanness, but out of the categories that they are learning are recognizing, acknowledging, internalizing the misinformation, the stereotypes, the distortions that they are being exposed to. Those ideas are like smog in the air, they're so pervasive, we breathe it in and Breathe it out. And so it's not a surprise that the same kids who are internalizing that misinformation as children turn into adults with biases that play themselves out in the workplace and elsewhere.
Sucheta Kamath: So many thoughts come to my mind as I'm listening. I personally wish I had this education when I was younger, I would have been empowered as a person of color trying to assimilate in this country. We I was deeply subjected to you know, a colonized world of India. So, you know, really having reverence for lighter skin, lighter eyes, definitely praising or considering that to be of value, or an asset or something that's lacking in anybody who's who's not that is a framework I'm very familiar with, which truly I think there needs to be racial healing, I call it in India that needs to happen with these matters, but I feel as a person with minority you adapt the prejudices that you have been subjected to whether you like it or not, yeah, and and then you don't become an ally. So can you speak to this concept of? Well, maybe there are two top topics you can address a one is you made this analogy famous. You're known for your famous analogies, but one particular one is the the side moving sidewalk? Yeah. And can you talk a little bit about? In that sense, what does privilege look like, and then those who make it, you know, coming from a minority background, having experienced a lot of discrimination subtle or direct, once you make it in whatever class system or breaking barriers, you don't want to look back, you kind of hold on to your own tiny power. And then you don't become an ally. And that also concerns me that I would like, My children, myself, my family to be the ally for everybody. And so there are a lot of barriers to do that. How would you describe that?
Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum: Well, let's start with that moving sidewalk analogy, right. So in my book, when people when people ask, you know, what's racism? What's anti racism? How do I understand racism as a system, I often use this analogy to help people get the point. When we think about, sometimes when people think about the term racism, they are thinking about what can be referred to as individual acts of meanness, you know, the person who calls names, the person who writes racist graffiti, the person who, you know, harasses somebody on the bus, you know, the person who burns across on somebody's yard. Those are, those are clearly racist behaviors. But that's not what we mean, when we talk about systemic racism. When we talk about systemic racism, we're talking about policies and practices and procedures that are baked into the way things function, you know, when we see that kids of color are confined to certain schools, and those schools get less funding, that's systemic, when we talk about the ways in which hiring practices disadvantage, one group over another, that systemic when we talk about, you know, patterns of housing, and who has access to neighborhoods, and who historically has not that systemic, when we talk about these things, we're talking about systems that systematically advantage white people systematically disadvantage people of color. And those systems were in place long before you arrived here, long before I was born here. Those systems were in place and have become in many ways self perpetuating. And it's kind of like the moving sidewalk at the airport, you know, you just step onto that moving sidewalk, like imagine you're just being born and placed on that conveyor belt, and it carries you along, you don't have to do much, you can in fact, just stand still. And still, you can be carried along by those systems that have systematically been designed to reward white folks, and disadvantage other people. And so what does it mean to be participating in this system? If you are, keep in mind that moving walkway, there are some people who step onto that moving walkway and they walk fast, even though they're being carried along, they want to get where it's going even faster. So they're walking fast on that moving walkway, we might think of those folks as actively embracing that racism, actively embracing and wanting to go where it's taking them wanting the advantage that it's delivering to them, then there are other people who may be are not even paying attention. They're just standing being carried along, eventually, they'll get to the other end of that conveyor belt faster. Yes, but in the meantime, they're just, you know, not noticing. They're just not noticing, not thinking about it not paying attention. And there are lots of people, lots of white people, for example, who might put themselves in that category, just not noticing the racism and the environment around them. It's just not on their minds. That's not what they're focused on. But still, they're participating in the process, because that conveyor belt is still carrying them. And there are people of color who are standing on that conveyor belt too. And those folks, people like me, people like you might be standing there wondering what's going on here. I don't I don't understand what's happening. I feel this conveyor belt moving. I'm not quite sure where it's taking me. I don't want to go there. But what can I do? You know, I'm caught up in it. All of us can say, Wait, we don't want to go where this conveyor belt is taking us. We don't want to go where this system is leading us. What can we do? Well, we can turn around. Let's imagine that we turned around on that conveyor belt. Well, if we still remained standing still We are now still being carried along. But we're traveling backwards, right? We don't see where we're going. But we're still headed there. The only way to really be actively anti racist, the only way to interrupt this racism, right, is to take action, intentionally moving in the opposite direction. I can interrupt that conveyor belt. If I turn around and walk faster in the opposite direction, then it's carrying me. Or if I find a stick and stick it in the gears, maybe I can jam it up. But I can take some action. But if I just stand still passively. I am using this word that way. Yeah, exactly. Either way, it doesn't matter. I'm still participating, I'm colluding. And so one of the things that I heard you asking about in your question was how do we people of color collude sometimes with the racism? And I think there are ways that we do collude. You know, you talked about identifying with the colonizers, you know, in your in India, and certainly, there's identification with the colonizers in the United States, right? That that symbol can internalize those messages, that it's better to be white, it's better to, you know, have access, it's better to speak a certain way, it's better to look a certain way, those are attitudes that can be internalized. And if you are internalizing them, about yourself or people like you, that is particularly painful, you know, when we think about the fact that, you know, when white people internalize negative attitudes toward people of color, that's not a good thing. We don't want that to happen. But when people of color, internalize negative feelings about themselves, that is especially painful, because then it's like, you know, you've, you've consumed the poison, and now it's eating you from the inside. And that is really problematic. So part of the identity development process that I write about in my book, Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria, is to help individuals, young people themselves, as well as their parents, or their teachers, understand what the process of coming to terms with racism in the environment and how that impacts how you think about yourself? How do we work through that in a way that leads to empowerment, that leads to a feeling of self love, and leaves you with the energy you need to be able to keep doing what you're doing in a positive direction, to be successful in school, to achieve in the workplace to have the kind of mutual mutually beneficial relationships you want to have with other people. You can't do that until you really feel good about who you are. And in the case of people of color, it's the challenge of feeling good about who you are, is also to push past all that negative information that circling around you.
Sucheta Kamath: I think the the, I've never looked at the airport, you know, moving sidewalk the same way. And and yes, I'm always I chuckle a little bit when I see people running on it, you know, they already are getting there faster, but it's not enough, you know, that type A multiplied by intense desire to achieve your egocentric goals. But anyway, not not to criticize. And I do understand at a human level, the deep desire to search for security and somehow power feels like the best way to secure yourself, your family and your future. So I understand that so I have compassion for it. But I also the misnomer. The McKinsey report that talked about the if we had invested in the education of our black children, we would have gained billions of dollars in economy just makes me feel that it is not enough this this critical thinking or this knowledge, in fact that we always say we need to be convinced is not adequate, you know, it's a change of heart is what needs to happen. Yes. So, so tell tell us a little bit about the title of the book. I know you touched it, but in another very important thing, which blows my mind that you know, I am a speech language pathologist, a cognitive retraining specialist. We work I work with children. I have colleagues and all of us are in business of helping children find their way and there's all is the reference of strengths and weaknesses, helping to compensate for the weaknesses to become your own person. And not a single ounce of training has gone into ident children's identity development has not been part of my curriculum, if I was not interested in it, I would have never found out about it. And so that is such a missing piece that we have left out of the equation of empowerment, as I have had many researchers now, you know, Anindya Kundu and Darrell, and they were all talking about this critical consciousness. And there's so much benefit in empowering children to know who they are, how to belong, and how to find your purpose. But we don't understand the developmental trajectory of it. And so tell us the title of your book, and why do we see adolescent teenagers, of particularly minorities sitting in the back all together huddled up as a group?
Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum: So the title is a long title. Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria and Other Conversations About Race. When people ask me about this title and how my book came to be titled in this way? I often say it has everything to do with the fact that this was a question that many people asked me, when I was writing back in the 90s, when I wrote the first version of my book in 1996, and 97. I was doing workshops in high schools and middle schools with in the northeast, primarily in the northeastern United States. And a lot of those schools were in the process of what we refer to then as school desegregation, the kids, so white schools, majority white schools, but starting to have more black and brown kids in them. Were really trying to figure out how to bring these communities together across lines of difference. That was part of what was happening at that time. And yet, when you walked into that high school, someone, the principal there, someone else would say, you know, we're trying to bring all the kids together. But why are the black kids sitting together in the cafeteria? What, what, what can we do about that? And what I came to understand, from this question, was there was this real sense that it seemed to the school administrators, that something was wrong, if the kids were sitting together in the cafeteria, then they should be kind of dispersed all around? Both scary?
Sucheta Kamath: Are they plotting to take down the school?
Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum: Exactly. Sometimes they were feeling intimidated by all those kids gathered together. And, and yet, what we know is that it's a natural thing to want to connect with someone who you think is having a shared experience to yours. If you've ever traveled internationally, and you and I know you have, but you know if the listeners have ever traveled internationally, and let's say you're an English speaker, and you find yourself in a country where English is not the first language, and you're at the train station, and you overhear someone speaking English, you're almost always going to be drawn in that person's direction to say, oh, who is that person? Let me talk to them. And you will connect because you'll having a shared experience, in the same way. Young kids of color, particularly African American youth, in adolescence are starting to have certain experiences that are very much linked to their racial group membership. Maybe that experience is one of being followed around at the mall, because people think you're shoplifting. Maybe it's the experience of being hassled on the sidewalk by a police officer who wants to no stop and frisk you. You know, maybe it's sitting in the classroom and listening to the teacher, talk about American history, but leaving your experiences and people like you out of that history. Maybe it's about, you know, wondering what is going to happen in the midst of a pandemic that seems to be particularly targeting members of your community, at much higher rates of illness and death, it doesn't really matter what the shared experiences are. And when those shared experiences are taking place, you want to be able to connect with other people who understand it. And so it's not necessarily a bad thing, to have the opportunity during lunch when you're relaxing to connect with someone who has a shared experience with you. What I often say to school administrators when they asked this question is not Why are all the black kids sitting together in the cafeteria, but where are they sitting in the classroom, is there an opportunity in the classroom to bring kids together across lines of difference? Are, is there an opportunity for every kid in the classroom to feel affirmed and included and made visible in the curriculum in ways that will be empowering, they may still want us to together in the cloud, in that in the cafeteria, when they have that opportunity. But that doesn't mean we can't create opportunities for kids to connect across lines of difference and help them develop skills for the 21st century, which include knowing how to engage with people different from yourself.
Sucheta Kamath: And what's remarkable about this approach, or this understanding, is one. I think you also alluded that children who are white, they have no idea, the experience of the minority. And if you have never known those experiences, because nobody has talked to you, your family doesn't talk to you, your teachers don't talk to you, you have never witnessed it, nobody has followed you in a mall. I remember when during my leadership Atlanta training, as an adult, as a quite established professional, we had a judge in who stepped forward and said, he as a judge in the city gets followed, or when he goes to Neiman Marcus or Macy's, and and my jaw dropped because I had never heard such a thing. Like even though I am a minority, nobody follows me. So there is, again hierarchy regarding what the racial or stereotypes are. So that's one thing. And second thing that was also, the point you make is remarkable is when children see that their experiences which are far different than the dominant group, they feel heard and seen. And that is sometimes adequate to hear, you can move forward by simply saying, I said this to bunch of people who had no interest in my racial experience. And now I feel okay, I don't need to do that every day or every time. Because anyway, we are used to not talking about your private matters of anxiety, shame, fear, those kinds of things, right. So this contributes to healing that so critical to get past this and do the business of living. Otherwise, we are held back by our own perceived notions of inferiority.
Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum: Yes, one of the things you said, which I think is so important about, you know, when you're able to express what it is that you're experiencing, to have other people hear it. I'm reminded of the work of a psychiatrist named Jean Baker, Miller no longer living but wrote very eloquently about the importance of feeling seen, heard and understood, that we all want to feel seen, heard and understood. And when we have that opportunity, given to us by another person, who truly listens, who can see who we are, in our fullness, can hear what we want to say, leaves us feeling understood that that is a real gift of empowerment that we take from that interaction. And, and that's what every child should be getting. But we know unfortunately, that not every child is getting that, particularly in this school setting.
Sucheta Kamath: I'm brimming with joy, because I have identified that as one of the resources in your book, and actually had opened the page to that page. So as we end the story won't be complete if you don't give us a sense of hope. So you you do talk, you have dedicated last part of your book to talking about ways to overcome this resources and approaches. Can you share a few ideas where you have seen success? And how to conceptualize what success in this domain really looks like?
Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum: One of the things that I think success looks like has to do with empathy. Dr. King in his last book, which was titled, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community, talks about the fact that laws can change, you know, and they did change the 1960s. But until there's a closing of what I refer to as the empathy gap, until the white population really starts to experience genuine empathy for the circumstance of in his reference African Americans, but more broadly, people of color then we won't release See the kind of progress we want to make? So what would that empathy look like? And how could we foster that kind of empathy? One thing we know is that empathy is often gained when you deeply listen to another person's story, when you live deeply listen to what they are experiencing how they think about it, and try to put yourself in that other person's shoes. And there are programs in higher education and colleges and universities. And in some cases, even in at the high school level, where dialogue programs have been created, and are structured in a very specific way to foster that kind of deep listening to another person's experience. When we have those opportunities, the research shows that young people become less fearful of each other, less fearful of difference. And they also become more able to make connections across lines of difference, less likely to live in segregated communities, more likely to seek out multiracial, multi ethnic communities, more likely to be engaged in their civic community, in terms of active participation in the community in ways that are beneficial to everyone. So many good things flow from creating that kind of deep listening. So that for me, is always at the top of my list.
Sucheta Kamath: I love that this reminds me of when I moved to Atlanta. And we bought our first house. I did Diwali, which is the Festival of light, which is the biggest festival, close to your Christmas or Thanksgiving here. And I invited my whole neighborhood didn't know any of them. But I said, this is Diwali, I went door by door to door, and people came and one of the things I did is just the same thing, you know, remove your footwear before you enter the house. You know, we eat with hands, you know, I mean, you don't need to, but just kind of people wanted to know what they can do. And what I found that great curiosity. And so sometimes I feel like you get fascination or you are considered exotic. You know, I always said when I came to college, and people said, You're from India, I always wanted to go to India. And I said, Listen remotely, I'm reminding you, there are billions of people. If you're deciding India, by me, you're really in trouble. I mean, I don't want to take the ownership of representing billion people, you know, but I think a lot of times, we don't know enough people. And our conclusions are based on what we are told it should be. So yeah, I think I really appreciate this empathic stance where just understanding stories. The other thing that I don't know, if you What do you think of that, but the story core project, to me was such a beautiful project, there were people from different walks, and came and talked in the booth. So I really think that racial healing can happen through stories that we tell each other about our own lives. And, as you said, moving from passive to active as we end this podcast. Well, can I ask you a personal question? Sure. How do you feel as you look back at your career and your your, you know, adventure through life? Are you satisfied with the progress we have made? If you did a report card on America? last 30 years of when or where, what, what, what can we do to do better? So you will feel extremely proud of us?
Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum: You know, this is a tough question. And I'm gonna refer back to Dr. King's book that I mentioned, Where Do We Go From Here? Because one of the things he says in his book, is that after every period of social progress, there's pushback against that progress. And, and I believe we're leaving in a moment where we have been feeling the pushback, right, you know, that I am old enough. I was born in 1954. I have seen progress in my life. And certainly, the the the functioning of our society even today in 2021 where it while it's not where I would like it to be, is better than it was in 1954. So I you know, I can I can say that for a fact. But having said that, we are further behind today than I ever would have predicted. I wouldn't have predicted the vulnerability of our democracy, which is so obviously fragile at the moment. I would not have predicted the rise in white nationalism that we see on the horizon. These are things that are troubling to me. But having said that, after every period of social progress, there's pushback against that progress. And then there's progress again. So I believe that we are on the precipice of progress again, I think that we have to hold that vision in order to make it a reality. But I do think that it is possible for us to see progress, we have yet to even experience going forward.
Sucheta Kamath: Lovely message. Thank you. And as we end, do you have any book recommendations, I'm assuming Dr. King's book will be top of the heap. Any other recommendations?
Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum: I will recommend that one. But there's another one, I think, which is really important, and I hope your readers will take it up, in addition to mine, of course, that that new book is called the Sum of Us. Sum, the spelling s-u-m, right, The Sum of Us by Heather McGee. And I think it's a really important book, because it makes clear that racism is a problem for all of us. And if we want to have the kind of healthy society that we all deserve, we will all have to lean in and make the kind of changes that are needed. But that's what she talks about. It's very hopeful, but also very directive in terms of where we need to go next. So I would highly recommend Heather McGee's book The Sum of Us.
Sucheta Kamath: Well, thank you so much, Beverly, I'm really, really honored that you came and spoke to us. And Alright, folks, that's all the time we have for today. As you see, these are important conversations we are having with incredibly passionate and knowledgeable experts with unique perspective on executive function and their content expertise. And that's why I'm inviting you to help us. Here are three things you can do as listeners. If you love what you're hearing, do share this episode with your family, friends, and colleagues. If you have a moment, leave us a review. I know kind of taking that kind of time is always hard for everybody, but try and lastly, be sure to subscribe to Full PreFrontal using your favorite listening app so that you never miss an episode. So look forward to seeing you again right here next time on Full PreFrontal.