Ep 88: A Conversation About Race

Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum, psychologist, educator, and author of "Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?" joins us for a candid and in-depth conversation about race, identity, and how to start difficult conversations of your own in the home. In support of increased education and awareness of the experiences of POC, we are pleased to share the full 52 minute conversation in this special episode featuring Dr. Tatum.

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Full show notes

Right now, America is once again in the midst of having one of the most important—and most complicated—conversations: the conversation about race. With the death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police, reactions to racial disparity in America have exploded in the form of peaceful protests, community organization, and social media activism, as well as dramatic incidents of looting and rioting. No matter where we turn, we’re face-to-face with a set of daunting, hard-to-answer questions that have haunted America through all its history.

Living in such a tumultuous time can be a lot for anyone. It’s especially a lot for teenagers and young people in general. For parents, the conversation surrounding race holds a special significance in the home. Black, Latinx, Asian, Native American, and other non-White homes want to talk about race and ethnic identity in teenagers. They want to make sure their children are prepared to face race-related challenges that could arise over the course of their adolescence, and certainly, all parents want their children to be unbiased and empathetic toward others, regardless of skin color.

However, the language surrounding race and ethnic identity in teenagers is often packed with loaded terminology and uncomfortable historical facts, making it intimidating for many parents to openly address race with their children. But to ensure the next generation of adults is prepared to continue fighting for racial equality, it’s absolutely essential for all parents to know how and why to talk about race openly and honestly, no matter how difficult it seems.

To explore how race and ethnic identity in teenagers and what parents can do to foster open dialogues about race in the home, I spoke with the esteemed Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum. Dr. Tatum is the former president of the historically Black college Spelman University, a recipient of the American Psychological Association’s top honor, and author of the renowned book Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?: And Other Conversations About Race.

As one of our country’s foremost scholars on race and a teacher of race-related subjects for over thirty years, it’s no surprise Dr. Tatum offers some incredible takeaways for listeners in this week’s episode. When it comes to talking about race and ethnic identity in teenagers, Dr. Tatum doesn’t shy away from the fact that all people need to be engaged, not just people of color.

How To Talk To Teens About Race

Racism is a prejudice that hurts everyone in society. But in that same vein, anyone can help eliminate racism by being actively anti-racist, such as consciously dismantling racist systems or educating oneself on what social justice is. To illustrate her point, she compares racism to smog; if not everybody is actively involved in cutting emissions, our air will never be clean. It’s the same, she claims, for racism. Unless everyone is involved in fighting for racial equality, racism will always be a problem.

And that fight starts with addressing the reality of racism in America. After all, you can’t fix a problem unless you’ve identified it first! This idea directly opposes the “colorblind” approach to race, where people pretend not to “see” skin color. When one tries to deny the presence of any one person’s color, that is to deny what shapes that person’s entire life.

Dr. Tatum and I discussed an anecdote about race and ethnic identity in teenagers regarding a white father being proud of his young daughter for “not seeing color.” The man’s daughter was pointing out her new friend on the playground and she was using descriptors to point out which girl she was talking about. The daughter talked about everything about her friend except for the fact that she was the only Black girl present.

In this week’s interview about race and ethnic identity in teenagers, Dr. Tatum not only explains why this mindset is harmful, but she gives great advice on what parents can do to embrace, accept, celebrate, and navigate the implications of REC—racial-ethnic-cultural—identities in the home—even White families. There’s nothing wrong with being White in the same way that pointing out that someone is Black is not wrong or rude.

When talking about race and ethnic identity in teenagers, it’s important to affirm heritage as something that makes people unique. Their background is something that helps shape them as a person as they grow into young adulthood. When they feel empowered, secure, and not ashamed about their own heritage, they can be more willing to have discussions about other people’s backgrounds and how they interact with people who are different from them. This goes for everyone.

In fact, Dr. Tatum addresses how White families can act as firm and steadfast allies, and she even offers an alternate term for White privilege to help clarify its definition: White immunity. With the phrase, “White privilege,” there’s been a fair amount of controversy surrounding its usage. Many White people do not necessarily feel like they have led privileged lives. “White immunity” communicates the fact that White people are the most protected class in a mostly White society. Furthermore, that people of color experience in some negative experiences disproportionate amounts, such as police brutality and racial profiling. White people rarely experience these issues concerning race and ethnic identity in teenagers in a mostly White society.

In the course of our conversation about race and ethnic identity in teenagers, Dr. Tatum also discusses the changes in policy, psychology, population, and polarization (the “Four Ps”) that have impacted the discussion surrounding race—valuable information to parents keen to learn more about the current state of racism in America. This may seem like a lot of information to take in about a very delicate subject, but it is a process. Being an active participant in the process of dismantling racism is exactly what needs to be done. It’s not an overnight event, rather, a completely different way of living.

More Resources About Teenagers and Identity

There’s no way that the topic of race and ethnic identity in teenagers can be covered in one podcast episode. However, the discussion Dr. Tatum and I had is absolutely worthwhile for you and your teen to listen to and engage with.

On top of her great insight on race and ethnic identity in teenagers, Dr. Tatum and I discuss:
  • Addressing race and diversity in education
  • How race and brain development go hand-in-hand for teens
  • Why the history of racism is so important
  • Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs)
  • The concept of “White guilt” and what you can do to overcome it
With such a rich and critical topic at hand, and considering the current political climate, I know all listeners will find something valuable to take away from Dr. Tatum’s research and perspective. Whether you’re a social justice champion or a parent trying to address race for the first time, this week’s episode is sure to help you understand more about race and ethnic identity in teenagers.

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Ep 88: A Conversation About Race
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