BEVERLY DANIEL TATUM
Beverly Daniel Tatum and I am Dean of the college at Mt. Holiot College in South Hadley, Massachusetts as well as professor of psychology and education there.
I think the first thing in order to establish a community of allies one has to do is to really clearly establish what the problem is. You know, to create a climate in which people are able to talk about issues of equity, social justice broadly defined. Obviously in my own work I’ve been focusing primarily on racism, though obviously that’s not the only ‘ism’ operating in schools. But many students, faculty, staff are—have limited awareness of how racism, or sexism, or anti-Semitism, or the heterosexism, or the other ‘isms’ might be operating in their schools. So I think the first stage is to really have dialog about what’s the problem and how was it manifesting itself in this environment. And in that context to talk about not only what’s the problem but what might we do about it and what role each of us has to play. Some people will be targeted by the ‘isms.’ Some—for example, young people of color are often targeted by racism. Um that doesn’t mean that white students are not impacted by it. Uh, faculty of color may be targeted by racism, but that doesn’t mean white faculty are not impacted by it. So um thinking about what our own relationship to this di—problem is and how we might um begin to use our own spheres of influence to interrupt it I think is an important step.
I think it’s really important to um be clear that the goal is not to be colorblind. You know, many teachers will say, “I am colorblind. I don’t notice their color whatever it might be.” And—or to say, “You know, color’s not an issue. I treat them all the same.” And the best response to that I ever heard was from a father that I interviewed—an African American father I interviewed as part of a study I was doing of the experiences of black families predominately white communities. And this father talked about his distress when he would hear a teacher say that she treated all the students the same. And his response was always to say, “The same as what? You know, the same as though they’re all white? They’re not all white and my child is one of few black children in the school is not having the same experience of the white kids in the class.” And so I want the teacher to be able to recognize and notice the difference that race makes in this child’s experience and also that there’s a cultural heritage and a background that is a richness that the child can contribute to the classroom. And if we’re not noticing that then we’re not noticing the whole person. So we don’t want to be colorblind, we do want to be color conscious. Not in the way that we might think of that in terms of discrimination because certainly when people are discriminating they’re being color conscious. But conscious of the fact that we do have different backgrounds and different experiences and that we want to understand those multiple perspectives in the classroom and to try and include and um to make sure that everybody sees themselves reflected. You know, if I am treating everyone the same, only some people are going to be reflected in that classroom. If I’m recognizing the diversity that’s present and trying to reflect that in an active way, then everyone will see herself or himself reflected. And that, I think, is the goal.
I think we can really help teachers uh break the silence by being willing to break it ourselves. That as um school leaders, whether that’s the building administrator, or the school superintendent, or the teacher educator in the college or university classroom. You know, if we ourselves are willing and able to talk about these issues, to introduce them into our curriculum, to provide readings about this to and to say this is an important topic. We need to be talking about it to model our own learning process, that it makes it safe or more safe—you know, safer for um teachers to do that themselves. One of the things that I’ve observed and uh you hear young people say this a lot, that they themselves want to have this conversation but they don’t always know how and they’re looking for adults to provide examples. Uh, the adults we work with are also looking for examples. And so I think wherever we are in that chain of uh the educational process, you know, we can model that ourselves and engage others with us in that conversation.
Sure. Um, well understanding racial identity development is, I think, a very important um—it’s a very important lens with—with which to understand what’s going on in classrooms. And it’s a complicated topic and I wrote a whole book about it, as you know, but I um would say that basically racial identity development theory has to do with recognizing the impact of racism in our society. We live in a race conscious society and the message is about what it means to be a person of color or a white person, that we are absorbing as we grow up, impact not only how we think about ourselves but how we think about other people. Unfortunately, many of those messages come to us or we internalize them at an unconscious level. So we’re not necessarily tuned in to the way in which we are receiving this information. But there comes a point in our lives when we are confronted with the reality of race and its significant in our—its significance in our society. And when we start to take in and really understand that reality, it does impact how we think about ourselves. So, for example, young people of color may be getting messages about what it means to be black, or Latino, or Asian, or Native American um throughout their lives. You know, from the comments that they hear parents and family members making as well as the images their seeing or not seeing as the case may be uh in the media, in children’s books, on television, etc. But the issue of being a particular—member of a particular group may not be especially salient for them during let’s say their elementary school years. But as they approach puberty, entering into adolescents, they become increasingly aware of the meaning of their racial group membership. Both because they are cognitively more sophisticated and are better able to understand the concept of race, which is a fuzzy concept to under—to get your head around sometimes, understanding that concept, but they’re also coming—becoming increasingly aware that the world is responding to them in a particular way. You know, I have um two sons who are both now adolescents and the way the world responds to them as 14 and 18 year old African American men is very different then the response that I got when they were four and eight. You know, uh that move into adolescents and taking on your adult size and your, you know, the whole uh physical presence you have in the world triggers responses to people from people that are different then the ones you had when you were younger. And that may be means being followed around in stores while your shopping at the mall. It may be means, you know, having racial profiling incidents with police officers. It may be means having teachers um in the context of schools talk about where you belong in terms of tracking. You know, um that—at the elementary level we often have heterogeneous grouping but uh as students move into middle and secondary school, uh tracking takes place and often it falls along racial lines. So that there are cues in the environment that are um signaling you about what it really means to be a member of your particular group which you then as a young person have to start thinking about and coming to terms with. So when we think about racial identity development theory or racial—the racial identity process, what we really are seeing is the ways in which we come to terms with what it means to be a particular—member of a particular group and not only what it means in theory, but what it means in terms of my daily life experience and how am I going to come to terms with that. If we are thinking about young people of color as I have just been speaking, one of the things you see is as young people start to really address these issues, they sometimes grapple with what we might think of as internalized stereotypes. You know, if I have been um—if I’m trying to comes to terms with what it means to be African American, or Latino, or Asian, or Native American, one of the questions I might ask is “What is the world telling me that people of this group are suppose to be like? Now how am I suppose to dress? How am I suppose to speak? How am I suppose to—um, what music am I suppose to listen to? How am I suppose to conduct myself in school?” And when I um look at what those messages are I might be evaluating myself in terms of how do I match up. Or if I’m not evaluating myself in that way, my friends might be. You know, so if I’m being called ‘an Oreo’ what does that mean? Does it mean that I’m not matching up to the stereotypes that um other people have about what it means to be African American? Or if I’m being called ‘a banana’ you know, or ‘a Twinkie’ you know, does that mean I’m not measuring up to the stereotypes people have about being Asian American? Or, you know, that—I mean the terms span the groups. So the uh—coming to terms with that process is part of the—uh, coming to terms with that—with the meaning of what it—uh, of being a part of this group is what racial identity development is all about and once I’ve started to ask those questions it becomes usually important for young people of color to connect with others who are having or asking similar questions. So, you know, why are they all sitting together in the cafeteria? In part because they’re connecting with each other around a shared experience. Not only shared experiences in the hallways, but also shared psychological experiences in terms of really thinking about what does it mean to be a person of this group? And yet sometimes students really flounder in this process because they haven’t had access to positive information about their own group. One of the—one of the things that you see among college students often—uh college students of color is that they are very eager to take classes like African American History, or Latin American Writers, or Asian American Studies and that the opportunity to take those classes in college is often a unique one in that it’s the first time that they’ve really had an opportunity to immerse themselves in their own cultural or historical experience. There’s no reason why those experiences couldn’t happen in secondary school, in middle school, even in elementary school but they don’t. And as a consequence, some of this developmental process or of, you know, perhaps seeing yourself only in terms of stereotypes is delayed until you get access to a broader range of information about your own group and start to unlearn some of the misinformation you have observed. Ideally, once you’ve had a chance to really do that you can um move to a place of really feeling positively about your own racial or ethnic group membership and achieve what Bill Cross, Wayne Cross calls in the internalization stage. Which is where you really feel anchored in your sense of identity but it becomes an entrical part of you in a way that is very comfortable but not necessarily um, uh so present that you have to really work on it all the time. In the way that you see sometimes adolescents really working on their identity uh in a way that sometimes puzzles their teachers. Now I’ve been talking a lot about the um experiences of young people of color, the experience for white youth is a little different in that it’s very—and it’s always true that identity’s very contextual. You know, where you live, who you live with, what the circumstances of your particular situation are will influence how this process unfolds. But when we talk about young white people who are living in predominantly white communities, attending mostly white schools, um socializing with a primarily white group of friends, what we are likely to see is some lack of awareness about their own whiteness. That it’s not something they’ve thought much about. Much as, you know, I could say, you know, as a two-legged person I haven’t given much thought to my identity as a person with two legs. However, if I only had one, I’m sure that would be something that I would be conscious of every day. And uh—and in the same way, if you’re white living in a white dominated society, you don’t think much about that whiteness unless your in an environment that really brings it to your attention. The young, white person who’s going to a largely—a school populated largely by students of color, is going to be tuned into their whiteness in a way that perhaps a white student in a predominantly white environment is not. But since most white students are in fact being educated in mostly white environments, they can go a long time without having thought much about it and the same is true for teachers. Uh, white teachers who grew up in white communities, lived in white neighborhoods, went to white schools, educated in white colleges and universities, mostly white teacher preparation programs, may find themselves not having thought much about their own whiteness. And particularly when you’re talking about a teaching population that has not reflected much in its own identity, it um can be quite puzzling when they encounter students of color who are clearly engaged in reflecting on issues of identity. Sometimes when I talk to teachers in this regard, they’ll say things like, you know, “Well I don’t—you know, why can’t they just be American?” You know, “Why do they have to think about, you know, being Mexican American, or African American, or Asian American?” Uh, but when I hear that question I often say, “Well, you know, they’re not being followed around in the stores because they’re just Americans.” You know, that they’re getting feedback from the whiter society about the first part of that phrase. You know, the African, the Asian, the Latino, the Native, the Mexican, etc. And—and because it’s salient to other people, it becomes salient to them. But the experience of white European American students is that unless they’re in an environment where somebody’s bringing it to their attention in ways that they really are forced to grapple with it, they may not have. If, however, they are in an environment where these questions are being raised where they—or maybe they have friends of color who they observe being treated differently in the grocery store or at the mall. Um, if they have um opportunities to interact with people of color who talk about these issues in ways that help them understand the differing experiences; they may start to reflect on their own whiteness. And unfortunately, often this reflection is accompanied by feelings of guilt and um sometimes embarrassment, sometimes anger, sometimes sadness. But typically feelings, which generate some discomfort. And when you see that process happening, there can sometimes be um—one response to that increasing awareness and increasing discomfort is to try to deny the information. “This can’t be true. I don’t believe what you’re saying. I think you’re exaggerating. Your being over sensitive.” You know, finding different ways to sort of distance from really having to think about these issues because it just feels so uncomfortable. On the other hand, sometimes people whose awareness—white people whose awareness is being raised around these issues will really embrace the information and recognize the unfairness of the situation and really want to translate their discomfort into action. You know, interrupt those jokes. Uh, raise questions in the teacher’s meaning. You know, uh really begin to think of themselves as allies in terms of interrupting what I have described as a cycle of racism in our society or—or oppression more broadly defined—a cycle of oppression in our society. When you find um white people or European Americans, whatever term someone might prefer, um really struggling with these questions and starting to try to speak up, they sometimes find that they are um encountering colleagues, you know, of similar racial background who are also uncomfortable and who will say, “You know, what happened to your sense of humor? You know, why are you—you know, I always told you these jokes? Why is it that they bother you now? You know, you’re becoming so P.C. (politically correct)” You know, that the environment sometimes says to them, “Leave it alone. You know, go back to being silent. That we were more comfortable when you were silent, you’ll be more comfortable if you’re silent. You know, let’s all collude and not talk about these issues.” And sometimes that social pressure has its affect um so that people do retreat into silence. Or sometimes I find and uh Janet Helms who’s work this is based on, talks about the um tendency to shift from these feelings of guilt and anger to really blaming the victim. You know, if I could just say, you know, “It’s those kids of color in my classroom. It’s those uh parents who don’t care about their education.” You know, if I could find some way to make it their problem then I don’t have to do anything. I just have to wait for them to change. And, in fact, sometimes you can hear teachers talking in this way um who are really uncomfortable with these issues and they’ll say, you know, “It’s not the school, it’s the parents. It’s the students.” It’s—you know, some other issue. And while there may be some legitimate concerns about, you know, a—a teenager not doing his homework. You know, maybe because he’s internalizing stereotypes about black academic performance in achievement and, you know, living up to that expectation. Um, while there may be legitimate issues that a teacher might be concerned about, it doesn’t negate the need to really look at one’s own identity and what—how am I um taking in—how have I taken in this information about people different from myself. And how might that misinformation be shaping my perceptions of the world and other people. And what can I as an individual do to begin to look at the notions of assumed superiority that are so much a—um reinforced in our culture and how that might influence my expectations. All of those are questions that I might begin to ask myself if I were a white person really struggling with these issues. And as I begin to do that, I might also begin to think about what does it really mean to be white in the United States. You know, what does that mean in terms of privilege. What does that mean in terms of um guilt that I might fell because of—not necessarily things that I, myself, have done perhaps, but guilt that a person might feel because some—as my students say, sometimes guilt by association. You know, people who look like me have been engaged in colonization of others, oppression of others. You know, have been engaged in actions, which discriminated or um reinforced the maintenance of privilege. And as somebody comes to terms with that, they are often very eager to look at other ways of thinking about what it means to be white. And the good news is there are other ways to think about that. It is possible, for example, to think of oneself as an allie, as someone who is committed to using one’s privilege to interrupt the cycle of racism or oppression. Um, to begin to think about how can I work in coalition with people of color to create a more equitable society for everyone—more equitable educational environments for everyone? Those are important questions but I find when somebody is ready to ask those questions they often are also very eager for role models. And it’s at this point when it can be very valuable for white students, white faculty, white staff to gather with other white people to really talk collectively about, you know, what does it mean for us in—in this group and how can we support each other to really take on our roles as anti-racist activists or allies as change agents. Uh, and that is a very empowering and exciting time which in some ways parallels the process that um people of color go through. You know, the—the student, the African American, or the Latino student who is actively exploring their own heritage and learning about the people of color that they never knew about before gets very excited about that information. In the same way I find, for example, working with white students in my psychology and racism class at Mt. Holiot that um white students who are really starting to think about these issues really take great strength and comfort from reading about other white people who have been thinking about these issues. And the example of uh—you know, how do you interrupt a joke? What impact does it have on your family members? How do you talk about these issues when I am in a cultural environment where the message has been “Don’t speak about it”? Ultimately, we—just as I mentioned the goal is to internalize a positive sense of identity on the part of a person of color, the same thing is true for white people. That, you know, ultimately we want everyone to be able to feel like they can feel good, take pride in their own racial or ethnic identity. Not in the sense of white pride as we hear it, you know, used by white supremacists groups. But um—so not in terms of assumed superiority or assumed inferiority. But as part of you one is in the world and recognizing that uh in order to interrupt this cycle of racism we all need to be able to connect and understand um the ways in which race still operates in our society and shapes who we are in the world and how we use that understanding to interrupt that cycle.
Well, many—um what if we think about what is racism. You know, sometimes my students say, “Well, what exactly is racism.” And I think it’s important to define our terms because it’s a term that everybody uses but we don’t all mean the same things. When I talk about racism I am referring to a system of advantage based on race. Just as we might talk about sexism as a system of advantage based on sex or gender, or classism as a system of advantage based on socioeconomic status. And the key word in that definition, I think, is system. Many people think of racism as a individual set of attitudes or behaviors. And certainly racial prejudice might be thought of it in that way. You know, we might think of racial prejudice as um negative attitudes based on preconceived ideas or stereotypes and related to racial group membership. However, racism is not only prejudice. It’s not only um attitudes and beliefs. It’s also behaviors and it’s also um attitudes and behaviors which exist in the context of cultural messages that reinforce a—um assumptions of superiority of one group over another. So when we talk about cultural racism—so—so to back up just a little bit, when we talk about racism I think we have to understand it as not only existing at the individual level. Sometimes people think about it only as individual acts of meanness, as Peggy Mackintosh has called it. You know, name calling, acts of discrimination and bigotry. And certainly that’s one manifestation of racism. But when we think about it as a system, we also have to think about the cultural racism, which are those messages um in our society that reinforce um the dominant perspective, the assumptions of superiority. Why is it that we only learn about, for example, um European American writers in our English classes, typically? You know, why is it that um the knowledge of Asian American experience in the United States is not typically included in our U.S. History classes? You know, why is it that, you know, some groups we learn about and other groups we don’t? You know all of that—you know, why do we see some people on television and other people we don’t? You know, um all of that has to do with cultural messages about, you know, who’s important, who’s not, assume superiority, assume inferiority. And that’s the context in which these individual actions or behaviors take place. And then the individual and the cultural are also reinforced by institutional policies and practices. So when we talk about, you know, um decision making about, you know, who has access to A.P. classes in a school? You know, when we talk about um decisions about who gets money from banks? You know, when we talk about um whether it’s lending practices, replacement practices, or uh decision making about um you name it, you know, district-voting lines. I mean all kinds of things. Those decisions—those institutional policies and practices reinforce systems of advantage. Typically advantage one group over another. You know, why does the highway go through this neighborhood and not that one? You know, um all of these things are related to this network of um individual, cultural, and institutional. And it’s the system that I think makes it so insidious. You know if it were only individual attitudes. You know, I’ll—let me be very concrete to give a very specific example. Sometimes I like to use the example of a loan officer in a bank. You know, many—there’s been lots of documentation about discriminatory lending practices in many of our major banks around the United States and, you know, redlining, for example—um what we sometimes refer to as redlining when um a bank or an insurance company draws a redline around an area of a neighborhood on a particular map and anyone living in that neighborhood is going to have a harder time getting insurance or getting a loan not because of their own particular characteristics, but simply because they live in an ide—an area that’s been designated as a high-risk area. So let’s say I am living in this redlined area and I’m trying to get a loan to—maybe a second mortgage to fix up my house. And I’m having difficulty because of an institutional policy and practice. I might be talking to a very, well meaning, open-minded loan officer who has very little individual racial prejudice but yet is reinforcing or enforcing this practice and denies me my loan despite the fact that I am credit worthy and, you know, maintaining a good income and all of that. So um the individual decision might not reflect in this particular case personal prejudice, but nevertheless, it has an impact that systematically disadvantages me as a person of color and conversely systematically advantages the white person who walks in for a loan who lives in a different neighborhood um not out of malice necessarily but simply because the system is in place. On the other hand, you know, that individual loan officer could decide, you know, that this policy doesn’t make sense and I have a credit-worthy person in front of me and I’m going to make a different decision. I’m going to try to interrupt this policy or practice and can be an allie to me in that regard. But whether he or she chooses to do that is also mediated by the cultural messages that he or she has internalized. So, for example, that loan officer might be trying to evaluate my credit-worthiness and while on paper it might look pretty good, there might be messages in that person’s head about, you know, stereotypes about black women, for example, that might mitigate against their ruling in my favor. Again, not intentionally but simply because that message, that sort of doubt, you know, is—we might say that maybe the loan officer says, “You know, I just can’t quite put my finger on why but there was something about her that didn’t make me feel like this would be a good risk.” Well maybe that something about me has to do with my racial group membership but that person’s not even aware enough about their own biases and the ways in which they’ve internalized stereotypes about particular groups to even be conscious of that. So you can see the individual, the culturally institutional working together.
Well, I think if we—I’ve been teaching a course on the psychology of racism since 1980 and, you know, here it is the year 2000 and so 20 years I’ve been teaching this class and some things are different and some things have stayed the same. One of the things that has clearly—is clearly different in my own teaching, and this I think has to do with my own growth as a person, uh but also, I think a reflection of our changing climate is that my course is much more multicultural then it once was. Um, when I first started teaching about racism in 1980, it was very much using a black/white paradigm. And increasingly, I have recognized that it’s important to think about racism beyond that paradigm. That, you know, while the black/white paradigm is, I think, very powerful still in the United States, largely I think of the um history of slavery and the Civil Rights era and the impact that that had and that was largely—certainly slavery was a black/white issue or certainly framed in that way and um the Civil Rights uh activity, so much of it was involving African American leadership and African American White coalitions. Those certainly impacted other communities of color as well. But it’s very clear that, you know, the—uh, the American population is becoming increasingly more diverse, um the Latin—Latino population will be the largest ethnic minority in the United States soon and the Asian American population is the fastest growing population in the United States. And so uh—and the multiracial or biracial population is certainly increasing. So I think the complexity, uh even the Native American population is increasing. So the um—as we think about these issues I think we really have to expand beyond that black/white paradigm to really think about how does racism play itself out in these other communities? How are other communities impacted? And at the same time, another—one of the things that I think remains the same is the difficulty that people have in really engaging in dialog about race. You know, even though I think there is more dialect happening today then there was, you know, 10 or 15 years ago, people still struggle with it. You know, it’s still hard to break that silence and I think young people are still growing up with the understanding that you’re not suppose to talk about these issues. That, you know—or if you do, you’re only suppose to use certain language. You can’t really say what you think, that—you know, that the whole notion of um being politically correct is, you know, something that when I first started talking or teaching about his in 1980, people didn’t worry about being politically correct in the way that I see them worrying now. And that’s not to say that they didn’t still fumble for the words, you know. Uh, but this notion that, you know, you can only talk about it in a particular way or that maybe you shouldn’t talk about it at all um because if you do speak about it, you might be seen as not politically correct. I think it’s really damaging. I also think though that, you know, I um am dealing with students who are, you know, of the Reagan generation and beyond, you know. And there was a time certainly during the Reagan uh Bush years when the message from the uh government, you know, from our leaders was “This issue is finished. We don’t need to talk about it anymore.” And I think there’s some young people who come to college with that sense. Uh, certainly white students do. You know, that “Racism? Is that still a problem?” You know, “Isn’t that finished?” You know, one of the things that I think was very exciting about President Clinton’s leadership was his establishment on that initiative on race. And while the initiative I don’t think had nearly the impact it might have had, I think it was very symbolically important for the President of the United States to say, “This is still a problem. We need to be addressing it.”
Well, I think administrative leadership, whether we’re talking about the highest levels of government or within a school or a uni—college or university, is really important. You know, it’s very clear to me that when you have um leadership in which there is a vision of equity, you can make things happen to move yourself in that direction. You know, if you don’t know where you’re going, you won’t know if you’ve gotten there. Um, but if you’re clear that we need to create environments where all students see themselves reflected, we need to affirm identity um so that everybody sees themselves reflected in that environment. That we need to build community so that it’s not about fragmentation or balkanization as some people would say, but at—about really bringing people together on equal terms. You know, not um bringing people together where some people are made the focus of the attention and others are left out of the picture all together, we really bring people together in a way that everyone is recognized and affirmed. And sometimes that will feel difficult, probably most of the time that will feel difficult because it, for example, you know, if you are use to dominating a conversation and then someone says to you “We need to share the airtime,” it feels like you’re being silenced. And to some degree you are. You have to talk less in order to make space for other people to speak. Um, but hopefully the net affect of your speaking a little bit less so that other people might speak more is an enriched conversation that everyone benefits from as a result. And I think that when we think about affirming identity and building community, that’s the attention we’re um addressing. We want to bring in other—we want to bring in everyone’s voice but it means that the voices that were already present will have to be a little less vocal uh in order for there to be room—in order for there to be room for everyone. And that can fail hard uh both for those who are use to speaking a lot and also for those who are not use to speaking. Uh, and the ‘C’ in this ABC framework that I’m referring to, Affirming identity, Building community, Cultivating leadership, is really about creating intentional opportunities for people to learn how to do this. And I think when we um are in policymaking roles we can create those opportunities and that, I think, is a key thing.
One of the topics that I have been very interested in uh in terms of my own research has been the experience of African American youth in predominantly white settings. And there are a number of coping strategies that um African American youth use in that context. One of the key questions when you’re even thinking about this is “How predominantly white?” You know, because numbers do matter. If you are the only black student in a predominantly white environment you are not likely to speak up very much because it’s too risky. You know, on the other hand, if they’re 10% or 15% or even better, 20 %, that’s still a predominantly white environment but you’re going to find that black students or other students of color will feel more empowered. You know, that the—increasing the numbers increases a sense of empowerment. And that can be valuable certainly from the student’s point of view in terms of feeling like there are people to set with in the cafeteria, you know. That I can speak up about these issues in ways that maybe I was afraid to or it was just too risky for me to do so when I was the only one or one of very few. So one of the things we just have to say is the coping strategy is dependent upon the numbers to a certain degree. But certainly um, you know, one of the concepts that’s been talked about by John Agua and others, Cynthia Forden and others is this notion of racelessness. That in schools where uh young African Americans are in the minority, they sometimes will try to fit in by taking on a raceless identity. Not necessarily if they would say that they were “trying to be white,” but de-emphasizing their own blackness perhaps by um—I interviewed a young man—to use a very concrete example, uh as part of a research project that I was doing who talked at length about how he had done this. He talked about avoiding anything that was stereotypically black. So even though he was athletically inclined, he never played basketball. Instead he ran track. But in—even in his track participation he didn’t run sprints, which is something that is often associated with African Americans, but ran long distance instead. And that um he talked about the ways in which he really tried to sort of de-emphasize his blackness in order to fit in. And he was taking honors classes and A.P. classes and, you know, in schools all around those—the country we will find those classes being dominated by white students. And so here he was, even though he was in a school that was about 30% uh students of color, he was the only African American male in his honors classes. And it was really important to him to try to fit in with those students. However, to just continue with him as an example, one of the things that he found was that despite his best efforts to fit in, he didn’t completely. And so even though he had friends in those classes when he tra—or, you know, on his sports team, when he traveled to other communities he would still sometimes encounter racial slurs or racial harassment of one sort of another. And despite his raceless effort, he found himself still being perceived by other first, as he would say, as black or African American despite all these things that he was doing. And that really led him to really then examine, “OK, I’m a member of this group, that’s what people see about me, what does that mean?” And his real subsequent desire to immerse himself in his own cultural experience, taking African American studies classes, um socializing primarily with African American students, uh really trying to get a handle on what does this mean in terms of my own racial or ethnic identity? And one of the things that was very exciting for him as he went to college—and this was a process that really unfolded for him during his college years, was that even though he was attending a predominantly white college, he—someone had prepared at his school a booklet about African American male graduates at that college. And that was very important to him because he always felt as somebody who was achieving academically, that he was re—he was inventing the wheel, that as a young black male, you know, nobody had ever done this before. And yet here was this um information he learned about black students—black, male students who had been at his particular college in the 20’s and 30’s who had been—graduated Phi Beta Kappa, who had gone onto contribute a great deal in their chosen professions and that he was part of a long tradition. That it wasn’t just, you know, his new idea, you know, that he could be black and male and achieving academically. But that in fact it was part of the African American tradition, part of his own heritage to do that. That he was being quite consistent with his um own legacy. And that was very empowering information for him to have. What this tells me in terms of what we should be doing in our schools is making this information available to children K through 12. You know, this young man said, “ You know, I went to a school where we did black history month” and he said, “and you learn about the same three people every year.” You know. Uh, and that in fact the range of contributions that African Americans and other people of color have made uh were—was information that was not readily available to him in his elementary, his middle, his secondary school years. It really wasn’t until he actively sought it out and found it available in the ethnic studies programs at the college he attended that he was able to get access to that information. And I think if we provided more of it sooner, we might see less um self-destructive academic behavior among African American students. You know, the young African American person who’s doing well in school has to deal with the fact that sometimes the peers will tease him or her as “trying to be white.” But if we recognize that phrase “trying to be white” um as a manifestation of internalized oppression—by that I mean, you know, if I’m doing well in school and my black friends are telling me I’m “trying to be white,” what are they saying? That only white people do well in school? And if in fact that’s what they’re saying why do they think so? Is it because they haven’t been introduced to the information that would lead them to believe otherwise? And, you know, if they’ve internalized that message that only white people do well in school and it’s—and they’re at an age when it’s important to really assert your identity as a member of the uh—as a—as a black person—as a young black man or woman, that’s a conflict that’s going to be tough to resolve unless you can expand your definition of what it means to be black.