Can We Talk?
Beverly Daniel Tatum
Beverly Daniel Tatum and her article “Can We Talk” discusses many issues that exist because of racism such as the system of advantage based on race, that racism is not just for Whites and that there is always a cost because of racism.
She states that racism and prejudice is not the same thing. Prejudice, as defined by Tatum, is a “preconceived judgment or opinion, usually based on limited information” (Tatum 67).Whereas, racism is the belief that one’s race is superior or that someone has hatred or intolerance of another race. It is “not only a personal ideology based on racial prejudice” but also a “system of involving cultural messages and institutional polices and practice as well as the beliefs and actions of individuals” (Tatum 67). To this, I could not agree more. Prejudice comes from limited information and is usually formed based on beliefs and misconceptions of others who eventually influence one’s own decisions and feelings. With racism, we could have all the information in the world about a certain race and we could still feel hatred or animosity or feel that we are better than that particular race despite that fact the way may be contradicting that information. Racism seems to be start inside of someone and gradually expand to the point that it consumes that whole person. With prejudice, someone may be more likely to change their way of thinking or feeling once they understand that they have misguided information that makes them feel that way. With racism, it seems that hatred grows so deep that, although a change can be made, it takes a lot of eye opening experience and willingness to make it fully disappear.
Another definition of racism that Beverly Tatum gives in her article is that racism equals prejudice plus power. This definition, I do not agree with. I believe that there are racist people who have prejudices towards other races and who have social power meaning they have “access to social, cultural and economic resources” (Tatum 68). However, there are people who don’t have social power who are also racist and contribute to spread the evil of racism.
There is also the issue of white privilege, the “systematic advantages of being White” that plays a role in fueling the racism and prejudices that exist in our society (Tatum 68). The list of societal privileges that Whites receive simply because they are White has come up a lot in this course and in many of the readings we have studied. Again and again, I realize how much of an advantage Whites have over others. Some of which include greater “access to jobs and housing” and that Whites aren’t followed by “suspicious sales people” while shopping in department stores (Tatum 68). Shopping, for me, is an enjoyable activity. If I had to deal with sales-people following me around because they suspect that I am going to steal something I would dread shopping and be extremely offended. Even tonight, I watched a show called Under Cover Boss. If it weren’t for this course, I would not have taken a second to think about why all those working in the factory were black and why all of the general managers or floor supervisors were white. Now I realize it is because of white privilege. It saddens me that our society has created a system in which some are viewed so superior to others. I hope that those with privilege can recognize that they in fact do have privilege, and then they can take responsibility to help make our society more equal with equal kindness and opportunities for everyone.
I think it is important to note that Tatum also makes a valid point when she acknowledges and discusses that racism is not only for Whites. She states that “while all Whites benefit from racism, they do not all benefit equally” (68). There are many other facts that affect our “access to social influence and power” which include “socio-economic status, gender, age, sexual orientation and mental and physical ability” (Tatum 68). I am a white, middle class female with no mental or physical inability so I know that I am fortunate and that I experience white privilege every day. However, despite all of this, I feel that I still encounter discrimination because of my age frequently. When going out to eat with others in my age group, I notice the service is slower and the tables we are given wouldn’t be described as the best tables. However, when going out with my family, especially with both of my parents, I can tell the waiters or waitresses try harder to make sure we are happy customers and we are provided with quality service in a quality setting. Even saying this I feel somewhat selfish that something so trivial could aggravate me when so many other people suffer from discrimination much more often, in much more serious ways, that truly hurt them emotionally, physically or both.
The hurt that those experience from racism can come in many forms but they all come at a cost. There are the easily measures costs and the “less easily measured costs” for Whites as well as for any other race. Because of racism, Whites have “fears of people of color”, feel they are “socially incompetent in racially mixed situations” and lose “interracial friendships they had as children in adolescence without their every understanding why” (Tatum 69). I am a very cautious person, and I don’t enjoy seeing confrontation or fights or anger among groups of people. Yet, in social gatherings when an occasional fight breaks out I have to admit that I am more afraid of fights among black people than I am of fights among white people. I am more afraid someone will pull out a gun or knife if they are Black more than if they are White. Maybe this is because of all the television shows that portray black people as dangerous, or how society makes us feel like we need to be wary and cautious of black people. I am not proud I feel this way, but I realize either way, the truth is, whether it in a fight or simply out shopping in a mall, a black person is no more dangerous than any other human in any other race. We need to break down these prejudices, stereotypes, fears and hatred we all have as a society towards races that are not our own. We are all human and we all deserve to be treated equally and with respect. We need to be able to live in a society in which we can all feel welcome and comfortable living just as we are and as the people we want to be.