Author Beverly Daniel Tatum talks race, common reading book

Beverly Daniel Tatum, author of RWU’s Common Read book, “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” speaks to a packed Field House about her book as well as race issues in the classroom.

Connor Hayden, Herald Contributor

In an effort to tackle the numerous controversies that plague American society, Roger Williams University has designated year-long themes to generate discussions about these topics. The current academic school year’s theme is “Talking About Race, Gender and Power,” centered around Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum’s influential book “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race.”

Race is undeniably among the most prominent controversial topics being discussed in the United States today; even in 2017, over fifty years after the civil rights movement, racism remains a major problem in American society.

On Wednesday, Nov. 8, Tatum joined the RWU freshmen class, as well as other members of the campus community, to discuss important topics found in her book and other issues centered around race. She began the discussion with the original edition of her book, which was released in 1997, and discussed the changes that have occurred in the 20 years between then and the release of the second edition, which had been released earlier this year.

Tatum said that, upon the release of the original edition of her book, the nation was at peace, economically stable, and then President Bill Clinton had recently launched an initiative for increasing conversations about race. However, Tatum said that today, in 2017, “we are a nation at war, a nation that experienced the Great Recession of 2008, and as a consequence, there’s a great deal of economic anxiety and a sense of uncertainty about the future.”

Tatum also cited other issues, such as the fact that rather than discussing these topics in open dialogues, people discuss them through social media with people they’ve never met. All of these contribute to an environment in which racism remains a problem, despite the fact that the country elected a black president for eight of the 20 years since the original publication of the book.

It is evident that within the RWU community, there is a willingness to openly discuss the topic of race, despite how difficult it can be in different areas of society.

During the Q&A portion of the event, several students came forward to ask questions ranging from the NFL protests to advice on how to best respond to cases of hate speech in one’s community.

“Conversations like these are good for the community because they help people become more comfortable with the topic and become more aware of the issue of race,” said sophomore Kyle Wrynn.

Tatum also discussed how she originally became involved in speaking about race and what first gave her the idea to write her book. She had gone to school for psychology and originally intended to become a therapist. However, after teaching about the psychology of racism to a predominantly white class and discovering their positive feedback, she realized how great the need was for the topic to be openly discussed.

After teaching the psychology of racism for twenty years, Tatum was asked to speak to audiences of parents, teachers, and students on topics such as unlearning racism or how to discuss racism with children. It was there that she was often questioned, “why are all the black children sitting together in the cafeteria?” which is the inspiration for her book’s title.