Omar Abdul-Rahim / Staff Photographer

September 14, 2017

Author Encourages Talking About Race in ‘Color-Silent Society’

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“None of us are living in a post-racial society. Instead, we may be living in a color-silent society where we have learned to avoid talking about racial difference,” said Beverly Tatum, author of Why are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?, in her lecture Wednesday afternoon.

President Emerita of Spelman College and a clinical psychologist, Tatum is a national authority on racial issues, especially concerning the psychology of racism in the United States. In her effort to promote cross-racial dialogue, Tatum has authored several books and toured the country, leading lectures and workshops.

In her lecture, Tatum described the continuing divides that separate our society and the institutional practices that reinforce these divisions, especially in schools and neighborhoods.

Though certain policies, such as “racially restrictive real estate companies, racial steering by real estate agents, redlining of neighborhoods and other discriminatory practices by mortgage lenders” have been made illegal at the federal, state and local levels, “evidence suggests that they haven’t been eliminated in practice,” she said.

This is especially troubling, she said, since schools continue to be based on neighborhoods, meaning that schools in areas of reduced economic status have “less experienced teachers, higher levels of teacher turnover, inadequate facilities and fewer classroom resources.”

While the population of America has become more diverse, “old patterns of segregation persist,” Tatum said. “New faces, same places.”

She emphasized the impact of the anti-affirmative action backlash and the recession of 2008 on sustaining effects of segregation.

Since Proposition 209 effectively ended all state-run affirmative action programs in California, enrollment of students of color at UCLA and UC Berkeley have dropped. Tatum said it hindered the ability of families of color to pay for their children’s college education, citing an increase in the Expected Family Contribution for students of color.

Tatum also spoke about the more overt racial divide in the country, citing the police shootings of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown as proof that we are not living in a post-racial society.

“We still notice racial categories and our behaviors are guided by what we notice,” she said. “Those biases manifest themselves in ways that matter: who we offer help to in an emergency, who we decide to hire, who we give a warning to instead of a ticket, who we shoot at instead of de-escalating during a police encounter.”

Similarly, Tatum said that since the election of President Donald Trump, microaggressions, defined by psychologist Derald Wing Sue as “brief and commonplace, daily verbal, behavioral and environmental indignities whether intentional or unintentional,” have increased.

She also cited a report released by the Southern Poverty Law Center titled “Ten Days After,” which documented more than “900 reports” of harassment, some invoking President Trump’s name directly and mostly concentrated in schools. Only 23 of these reports, by comparison, were directed at supporters of President Trump.

“What we say matters — and leadership matters,” Tatum said. “The expectations and values of leaders can change the nature of our conversation. We look to the leader to help us know who is the ‘us’ and who is the ‘them.’ So, the leader has to ask: how is the circle being drawn? Who is inside, who is outside? What can I do to make the circle bigger?”

In answer to this question, Tatum advocates a rather simple solution: talking about it.

“We just have to practice,” Tatum said. “You only get past it by doing it. … Talking about race is like taking an antibiotic. If you don’t take the whole dose, it comes back worse. We just have to breathe deeply and do it.”