Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum, retired Spelman President, presented a moving speech on race in America to 200 residents during the 16th annual Conversations on Race on May 11, 2016, hosted by the South Orange/Maplewood Community Coalition on Race and organized by the Schools Committee. After nearly 20 years since her first visit, Dr. Tatum reprised the topic based on her book Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? and conducted a Q&A session.
Topics of Dr. Tatum’s speech included recent statistics on America’s changing color lines and her views on racism, stereotypes, and white privilege over the last 20 years. Through eye-opening facts, such as nearly 90% of the 8,000 people increasing the U.S. population daily through immigration and birth are people of color, Dr. Tatum painted a picture of a society becoming ironically divisive based on shades of brown within the African-, Asian-, and Hispanic-American communities.
Dr. Tatum reminded us that we are not living in a post-racial world, but rather in a 21st-century version of the Reconstruction era. Although there have been gains (President Obama, black CEOs, etc.), there are reactionary forces among racist populations that are gaining ground and finding new leaders who echo their (often times) “silent hate.” She reminded the audience that they have more power than they think to exercise leadership and change.
“Everyone has a sphere of influence, such as family, friends, and colleagues,” said Dr. Tatum. “Here’s my charge to all of you: use your social network to take a stand, disrupt the cycle, and ask difficult questions. We are all part of a chain. We should set the example, knowing that others will follow.”
Dr. Tatum closed her speech by stating the integrated South Orange and Maplewood community is a sign of hope. For 20 years, the Coalition on Race’s objectives for events like Conversations on Race has been to engage the community in discussions about how we face race, build relationships across racial and cultural barriers, and to address how our perceptions of race affect our day-to-day experiences.
Dr. Tatum also spent time with SOMA school district teachers in the afternoon. She addressed questions posed by Columbia High School Assistant Principal Cheryl Hewitt and did a Q&A with teachers. They asked about best practices in handling racial issues in the classroom, ways to incorporate discussions of race and bias into all aspects of the curriculum, how to handle discussions about privilege, and how to affirm racial identities.
Dr. Tatum suggested for further reading:
Brown is the New White, by Steve Phillips; https://thenewpress.com/books/brown-new-white
Dog Whistle Politics, by Ian Haney López; https://global.oup.com/academic/product/dog-whistle-politics-9780199964277?cc=us&lang=en&
Blind Spot, by Mahzarin Banaji and Anthony Greenwald; https://spottheblindspot.com/
Special thanks to the co-chairs of the Schools Committee—Carol Barry-Austin and Sue Willis—for bringing Dr. Tatum back to the community and for organizing this year’s Conversations event. Also thank to the volunteers on the Schools Committee and the trustees for supporting the event as conversation facilitators.
We would also like to thank The Woodland crew (thewoodlandnj.com/) and the Maplewood Police for accommodating our large crowd!