Reading review - Why are all the black kids sitting together in the cafeteria | Marshall Shen

Reading review - Why are all the black kids sitting together in the cafeteria

Reading review - Why are all the black kids sitting together in the cafeteria

Why all the black kids sitting together in the cafeteria is a great book in understanding systemic racism. Before we were born, human society exists with its own cultural debt. We come to this society inheriting those debt such as prejudice and system of advantage based on race.

The idea of racism starts to form in our early years. One of the first steps towards understanding racism is being aware of how our upbringing and environment shape our perception about race and identity.

The impact of racism begins early. Even in our preschool years, we are exposed to misinformation about people different from ourselves. Many of us grew up in neighborhoods where we had limited opportunities to interact with people different from our own families… Consequently, most of the early information we receive about “others” – people racially, religiously, or socioeconomically different from ourselves – does not come as the result of firsthand experience. The secondhand information we do receive has often been distorted, shaped by cultural stereotypes, and left incomplete.

In the United States (and really the rest of the world), being white means being the majority, and being male means being the dominant gender. We can perceive these identity-based bias as “system of advantage”. For racism, it’s a “system of advantage based on race.”

In his book Portraits of White Racism, … he (David Wellman) defines racism as a “system of advantage based on race.” In illustrating this definition, he provides example after example of how Whites define their racial advantage - access to better schools, housings, jobs – even when they do not embrace overtly prejudicial thinking… In the context of the United States, this system clearly operates to the advantage of Whites and to the disadvantage of people of color.

Racism is a form of prejudice, and the book defines prejudice elegantly:

Stereotypes, omissions, and distortions all contribute to the development of prejudice. Prejudice is a perconceived judgement or opinion, usually based on limited information. I assume that we all have prejudices, not because we want them but simply because we are so continually exposed to misinformation about others.

Why is racism bad? To me, racism leads to injustice, and seeing and experiencing injustice brings me agonizing emotions because it’s morally wrong. From the perspective of a society, we also suffer tremendously:

As a society, we pay a price for our silence (of racism). Unchallenged personal, cultural, and institutional racism results in the loss of human potential, lowered productivity, and a rising tide of fear and violence in our society. Individually, racism stifles our own growth and development. It clouds our vision and distorts our perceptions. It alienates us not only from others but also from ourselves and our own experiences.

How can we change racism? How can we strive to live in a more just and equitable society? The effort starts from all of us by taking actions (e.g., support black-owned business, volunteer to teach tech to underpriviledged students), and having hard conversations about our collective bias, sharing and exploring our own identity, and listening to others. The upside of us making the world more just is promising and worth fighting for:

When a relationship is growth producing, it results in five good things: increased zest, a sense of empowerment, greater knowledge, an increased sense of slef-worth, and a desire for more connection.

We all have a sphere of influence. Each of us needs to find our own sourcs of courage so that we will begin to speak. There are many problems to address, and we cannot avoid them indefinitely. We cannot continue to be silent. We must begin to speak, knowing that words along are insufficient. But I have seen that meaningful dialogue can lead to effective action. Change is possible.