February 22, 2011
Response Paper: Defining Racism
In this article by Beverly Daniel Tatum, she uses her various life experiences to show the issues that come along with attempting to define racism in America. There are several external issues that come not only from defining racism, but with separating racism from prejudice. In dispelling preconceived notions that these two words are interchangeable, Tatum makes several distinctions in the meaning and application of the two words in everyday life. Before going further into the separating factors of the two words, Tatum discusses how unintentional our prejudices can be. Throughout her article, Tatum makes an effective argument about the defining of racism and its existence both as an active player in society, and a dormant fixture intertwined in the fabric of American culture.
When Tatum begins her assessment of racism, she uses her experience as a teacher to show how there is an obvious naïveté concerning the existence of racism among her White students. She quotes a conversation between two White students, one of whom had just discovered that Cleopatra was a black woman. In this conversation, one of the states her shock at this revelation and how there is no way that it could be true because – “Cleopatra was beautiful!” (Tatum, 1997). In recapping the thoughts of another one of her students concerning African-American or Black authors, this student wrote: “It’s not my fault Blacks don’t write books” (Tatum, 1997). In reading these statements I became even more aware to the extent in which the culture of Blacks has been distorted or erased from history. Was it impossible for Cleopatra to be Black and beautiful? When did the writings of James Baldwin or Zora Neale Hurston equate to Blacks not writing books?” It is this ignorance that angers and saddens me in deepest of places in my heart, because for many people my heritage...