Acting White–Is it Real?

February 19, 2007

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the question of race, academic achievement, and culture. Remember Barack Obama’s address to the 2004 Democratic convention, where he says we need to fight the “acting white” phenomenon:

Go into any inner-city neighborhood, and folks will tell you that government alone can’t teach kids to learn. They know that parents have to parent, that children can’t achieve unless we raise their expectations and turn off the television sets and eradicate the slander that says a black youth with a book is acting white.

I like Obama and what he stands for, but I never liked this line. From the day I first heard the “acting white” thesis, I thought it was false. The thesis claims that black children denigrate academic achievement and accuse those who succeed in the classroom of “acting white.” I thought that many promoting the idea (but not Obama, who explicitly does not say this) must have simply been trying to blame the victim, to come up with some explanation for the academic achievement gap that took the onus off of the state and society.

In other words, we don’t need better schools, with high-quality teachers, good facilities, rigorous curricula and high-expectations. We don’t need to examine the wider economic and social context around schools–such as health care, just policing, quality housing, and a healthy environment. We just need the kids to stop tearing each other down when one of them starts studying hard. That line of argument seemed both wrong and damaging, I thought.

One of the reasons why the thesis seemed false is that it was flatly inconsistent with my own schooling experience. (Even though we know we should not generally excessively from our own experiences, it sure is hard to do.) Living in Atlanta for grades 8-12, I was in mostly black schools, drawing from low and moderate income communities. My schools were not very good as judged by test scores or reputation, and lots of kids were not studying much or thinking about life after high school. It was a prime location for the acting white thesis to play out, if it really existed.

And yet, there was none of that. Being at the top of the class was certainly not as cool as being the top athlete. And the school was party responsible for reinforcing this hierarchy. There was a shocking difference in quality between the athletic awards dinner and the academic awards meal, and the weekly pep rallies before football games had no equivalent on the academic side. Despite all that, being smart and studying hard were not ridiculed, and did not make you unpopular.

Perhaps most significantly for the thesis, the idea that studying hard was “acting white” is something that was literally never mentioned. In the rare instance where the nerd critique was offered, it was just that, stop being a nerd. But it had nothing to do with race. Indeed, since most of the school was black, most everybody at the top of the class was black, so it probably never would have crossed our minds to associate being at the top of the class with being white.

So that was my experience. But over the years, when I have discussed the issue with other African-American friends, I have gotten widely divergent reactions. Some agree with me; many, however, say that acting white was a real thing for them. So I needed to rethink my objection. Maybe Obama and co. are right.

Roland Fryer, at Harvard, has written about the phenomenon in Education Next, and his conclusions are fascinating. One of his main points is that acting white is less of an issue at mostly black schools such as mine.

I also find that acting white is unique to those schools where black students comprise less than 80 percent of the student population. In predominantly black schools, I find no evidence at all that getting good grades adversely affects students’ popularity.

Fryer’s conclusions are unsettling for people like me, who generally support that race and class integration. While there is plenty of evidence to support the idea that race and class integrated schools are better, Fryer’s evidence does raise a qualification worth considering.

So I welcome comments on this topic. Based on your experience, is acting white real? And is it less powerful in schools that are mostly or all black?


36 Responses to “Acting White–Is it Real?”

  1. KDeRosa Says:

    While there is plenty of evidence to support the idea that race and class integrated schools are better, Fryer’s evidence does raise a qualification worth considering.

    I do not find that evidence compelling. Most of it is hardly scientifically sound and rarely controls for SES. The evidence amounts to saying that middle class blacks in integrated middle class schools peform better than poverty blacks in segregated schools. Well , no duh.

    There does not seem to be much evidence that putting poverty blacks (or low SES children of any race or ethnicity for that matter) in middle class or affluent schols will confer any academic benefits to the low SES students. The reason, I believe, is that many low SES enter school with significant language and knowledge deficits compared to their more affluent peers. This is a recipe for disaster. The low SES student receives constant feedback that he is not as smart as his more well prepared peers. (This is not to say that such an arrangement wouldn’t benefit the high IQ low SES students out there, but these kids seem to do well in most any school they attend if there is a critical mass of smart kids to form a suitable class.)

    Integration is a nice concept in theory and perhaps in confers some non-academic benefits, but the academic benefits are far more nebulous. The problem fundamenatally remains an instructional problem. Most schools do a lousy job educating non-bright low-SES kids no matter what race or ethnicity they happen to be.

  2. Andrew Pass Says:

    In recent years single sex schools have become far more popular. Perhaps single race schools will follow suit. However, I think that there is a great difference between different races and different genders. Within the U.S. even if African Americans and white people are different, we need to learn to work well together. (There’s no concern that a single gender school will instill long-term separation. The same cannot be said of single race schools.)

    The responsibility for forging a united nation lies with the educational establishment. For it is learning that changes the world.

    Andrew Pass

  3. James Says:

    KDeRosa says integrated schools might “confer some non-academic benefits.” In a society with our historical and present-day divisions, that is no small matter. In my view, that would by itself justify policies to support integration.

    As for academic benefits, I’ve been told there is some good research about how teachers do not want to teach at exclusively minority schools. That is a big deal given how important teacher quality is to driving student achievement. I’ll take a look at that research myself and blog on it soon.

  4. allen Says:

    Perhaps making a better society ought to come as the result of delivering a good education and not by elevating tomorrow’s citizens to some lofty plain of existence in which social justice – however that’s momentarily defined – rules.

    As for segregation, as long as it’s not forced by recourse to the power of government, who cares? If white supremacists want to educate their kids away from the baleful effects of race-mixin’, as long as it isn’t on the public tab, azzan gazzint (Yiddish I believe for “God bless ’em”). Same for any other under-represented minority. But they have to be willing to bear the cost of inflicting their beliefs on their children and not expect the public at large to do so.

    If you want to put your kid’s education on the government bill then you accept an as-blind-as-justice education. As nearly as possible, no special considerations for, or divisions by, race, gender, religion, national origin, goofy beliefs or much of anything else. Bearing the cost of your own, silly beliefs is much more likely to result in an understanding their value then all the criticism in the world.

    That’s why, I believe, “acting white” is not nearly the cultural force that it once was. All the black guys who sneered at their studious peers back when are now living the consequences and watching their children do so as well. While not a universal virtue there are far fewer parents who are willing to stand by and watch their children reprise their own dumb choices then the opposite.

  5. Mark Says:

    The Washington Post has an interesing article about middle-class black parents with children integrated schools here.

    Part of what Obama and others are reacting to is the general disparagement of academic acheivement, which manifests in a different way for some groups compared to others. Note that in his statement, he says that “[we have to] turn off our television sets and eradicate the slander that says that a black youth with a book is acting white.” This was a comment about the expectations that popular culture has for black youths, and similarly about how some people (including those outside the black community) react to academically successful black children. Are the negative reactions that people sometimes have (taunting, etc.) significantly different for black “A” students than for other “A” students? If so, then how is that exacerbated in an intergrated environment compared to a homogenous one?
    Maybe thinking someone is “acting white” is as much a phenomenon in the non-black communities as it is in black communities.

  6. James Says:

    Great point Mark. I had not read Obama’s comment that way the first time, but now I see your point. Seen in that light, Obama’s comment is not an especially good frame for the larger “acting white” conversation–he is actually making a subtler and more interesting point. Regarding the expectations that popular culture has for black youth, I couldn’t agree more. The low expectations, combined with an exceedingly narrow definition of authentic blackness (especially authentic black maleness) is something we have to fight.

  7. […] what about schools? What can schools do? I wrote in my last post about the way my own Roosevelt High School celebrated athletic success more consistently than […]

  8. Marie Says:

    In response to Mark — there are definitely white ethnic and social groups that make fun of the A students in their ranks. The insult isn’t “acting white,” of course, because that would be pointless. But there are lots of variations on “acting like those other people.”

    It comes down to class in the cases I’ve seen, however the group defines itself. School achievement is seen as upper middle class, and refusing to be “indoctrinated” is seen as a form of working class (or sometimes just family) solidarity. I understand this, to a point. There’s an indoctrination component in a lot of education, and I disagree with some of the forms this indoctrination takes. But the people who opt out of education on these grounds aren’t making arguments like this. They just don’t trust the people who are telling them to get educated, and so they balk.

    That’s why it’s important to hear the education message from people within the racial/ethnic/class groups in question.

  9. Over from Sullivan, which, one thinks, is a point in itself.

    I agree with Mark that Obama frames the issue well. There’s a lot going on with the question of race/culture/intelligence, and he seems to grasp that it needs to be approached with a level of concern for all involved. To contrast, as much as I admire Bill Cosby, I think his “beating parents over the head” approach does much damage, right or wrong, to the cause of raising the consciousness of everyone to move on these issues.

    “The low expectations, combined with an exceedingly narrow definition of authentic blackness (especially authentic black maleness) is something we have to fight.”

    I’ll underline that. I’m a Straight African-American Male Bellydancer/Programmer/Amateur Historian; I flip stereotypes like McDonald’s flips burgers. And, for most of my life, I’ve fought stereotyping, and have to say that some of the most painful stereotypes came from “my people”. Growing up “smart” and educated was tough, and I was lucky to spend most of my early years in Catholic Schools, and even more lucky that the 1st one I attended was a Predominantly Black Catholic School, where being black and smart wasn’t quite so looked down upon as it became in my public school experience.
    And now, I see at least 2 young kids, with strong native intellect, in similar situations. One is discouraged by her father from talking too smart, ’cause the kids at school hit her. His remedy is for her to hit back — a poor ploy if your goal is to grow up a child who’s going to look back, someday, and wonder about those miscreants as she’s being driven to her next meeting in her limo. 🙂
    There needs to be a discussion about the chicken and the egg that is Achievement in African-American culture. Are we so trapped that we only admire, and try to raise, NBA players and Gansta Rap stars? And if so, why?

    One last thought to Mark’s last sentence, and the answer is “yes”. I know quite a few “redneck” kids who went through similar issues of “actin’ smart”, and getting beat up over it. Some of ti’s about race, and we can’t allow ourselves to forget that. But a goodly chunk of it is simply about what the overall culture looks down upon, and how that infects the thinking of those who are down. It’s easy to stay in the pit, and drag people down with you, ’cause then it shows “you can’t make it in this world”.

  10. Zack Says:

    Re: Mark’s comment, I went to a nearly all white school in an economically depressed mill town, and the social pathologies– a 30 percent dropout rate, extensive and heavy drug use, numerous teen pregnancies, etc.– were identical to the ones the media associates with inner city minority schools. And yep, the meth snorting redneck kids relentlessly tormented their peers who were on the college prep track. So many things in America that seem like they’re about race turn out to be at least as much about class and poverty, IMHO.

  11. Eric Says:

    Strange… where I went to high school, academic success was “acting asian.”

  12. Vox Says:

    I definitely experienced hostility from other black kids growing up as an academically strong student. I lived in a small town, and my schools, at every level, were about 90 percent white. I was placed in what would be called “honors” classes today. People I didn’t know would want to fight me at the end of school. I mean, I actually did not know these kids, but they knew me and knew I was a straight A student and a National Merit student for my SAT scores, and they hated me.
    My best friend from law school grew up in similar circumstances, and when we first talked about our experiences in front of my husband, he looked at us as if we had landed in a space ship. He had gone to all-black schools before high school, and his experiences were the exactly opposite. His classmates- all black– revelled in his accomplishments, and when he won chess tournaments. He was in a shop class with some boys who were on their way to being gangster types, and when the teacher was going to give him a B in the class, they all went to the teacher and complained that he was going to “mess up” my future husband’s record.
    My friend and I were in non-urban settings. My husband was in urban southern California. Perhaps things have changed in inner cities, as any people who could leave have gotten out in search of better schools and housing. My husbands’ old neighborhood has changed drastically. It is much more violent and scary. His parents were working class people who emigrated from the south and sent 9 kids to college. There may be fewer “striving” people like that left in the schools he attended years ago. The children left there may be less hopeful and more personally despondent– which is why people ridicule others anyway.

  13. Julie Says:

    I agree that it is a class issue, though I know people who have had experience in teaching and tutoring with some black kids that are being made fun of for “acting white”. I think it’s a reflection of the dumbing down of our society as a whole. Obama’s point about turning off the television is really important, now more than ever. If you recall the last presidential election cycle, John Kerry was portrayed as an elitist. Goerge W. Bush got a lot of votes because he “seems like the kind of guy you’d want to have a beer with.” The fact that people are making such important decisions based on that kind of criteria is frightening. Anti-intellectualism is alive and well in our whole country.

  14. Ice9 Says:

    I think one important issue that is overlooked here is the location of these schools. I live in Jackson, Mississippi, which, as anyone will tell you, is much smaller than Atlanta. Growing up here, I can tell you from personal experience that ‘acting white’ was a big deal when I was in middle school. I should note here that my middle school was 100% black when I attended (and still is, to my knowledge). I think geographic location, which leads to more direct contact with the other races, leads to this type of generalization.

  15. Mike P Says:

    Also here from Sullivan’s site and I have to echo “asim”‘s comments…I come from a family of educators (both parents are retired teachers and have master’s degrees, my sister is a lawyer) and I was always driven to my best in the classroom. I grew up in a middle class neighborhood in the southern part of Virginia with a lot of other middle class black families but went to high school that was about 50/50 black-white. I definitely got MUCH more flack for being a good student from the black kids than I did from the white kids. The white kids, for the most part, didn’t care; the black kids, on the other hand, called me an “Oreo” and what not. At the time, I admit that it bothered me quite a bit. This was back in the mid-90’s and my guess is that this is probably quite a bit worse today.

    On a slightly different tack, there was an article in the Jan. 28 New York Times called “Truly Indie Fans” which dealt with inner-city kids being drawn to “alternative” music as an outlet. The piece is behind the TimesSelect wall now, but I wrote about it a bit here if anyone is interested:

  16. al Says:

    As they say, an ancedote is just one data point. Studies, however, such as those discussed by Judeth Rich-Harris in her book “The Nurture Assumption” go a long way to explain the “acting white” problem as a barrier to academic achievement.

    She is famous for saying that how parents want their children to turn out hardly matters. In her version civilization is passed on within childrens’ play groups… children raise children. Specifically, what a child sees the older kids in the neighborhood doing will more likely than not determine what he/she turns out to be.

  17. sann Says:

    Regarding Andrew’s comment: “In recent years single sex schools have become far more popular. Perhaps single race schools will follow suit.”

    Haven’t single race schools already existed? I guess I’m an old head, but I didn’t go to school with whites until 6th grade.

  18. […] I’ve heard variations on this several times, but it’s been a while since I thought about it. A discussion on “acting white” in the public school system. […]

  19. Bernard W Scott Says:

    There are probably two social phemoman contributing to poor academics among Blacks and particularly males. Up until 1960s academic performance for Black males was a complete waste of time and the real but difficult to quantify ‘acting white’ issue. Until the 1960s a college educated Black male would see little or no change in opportunty, economic or social. The society did not honor te sacrifice and effort. In most of his life it would be dangerous to be smart. Even in the north educated Blacks could not get opportunity that matched education. Maids made more money than Black teachers in segregated schools. Teaching in those days was womens work and paid accordingly. There is over a century of history working against Black male academic achievement.

    As schools became integrated racial attitudes on academic performance have been influenced by Black folks need to identify with the rebel. Our history is oppression by the established white order. We experience regularly the government choosing mistreatment of Blacks based on race. So the society begins to define certain behavior as Black. Society rewards that behavior. Black academic performance is seldom rewarded in this society. When it is rewarded it is viewed as the extra exception, which is insulting also.

    My thoughts are not fully expressed her, but I have deeply felt and responded to the acting white phenomana. My male friends and I have discussed it, fought it, and seen it damge our sons aanyway.

  20. Thomas Says:

    I’m also here from Sullivan. I’m a white guy who went to an integrated high school (40% black) in the early seventies and the non-black kids in honors classes were aware of this phenomenon through gossip, if nothing else. As in ” _____ gets called an oreo all the time, just because he is in honors classes.” I was glad to read this post and comments, and learn that this is not a universal experience and relearn the danger of “excessively generalizing from our own experiences.”
    One more comment is that my experience is a mirror image of sann’s; I did not go to school with black students until the sixth grade.

  21. tanglethis Says:

    You asked for experiences, so here are mine.
    I’m a white female who attended a Southern city high school that was broken down racially like this: 85% black, 14% white, 1% other. (They printed these statistics in our newspaper.) Academic excellence was generally looked down upon for the first two years and appreciated in the last two–the most popular kids were often also the most active and scholastically successful. The latter was never referred to as “acting white.”

    I thought that school was low-income and underprivileged–and it was, compared to the mostly-white suburbs!–but then I taught English in a truly at-risk high school. My students were all black, ranged from low-income to poverty, many had special needs that could not be accomodated. Many of them told me that academic success was “acting white.” At the same time, many of them had not known any adults who turned academic success into economic success, and many of them had not met many white people.

    My conclusions echo a lot of those already described: you can’t blame the victim, especially when the victim is a minor–teenagers can think for themselves, sure, but what they think greatly relies on what they see and are told. So the “acting white” thing reflects some harmful cultural myths that are only exacerbated by limited diversity. That’s my response to the OP issue.

    Where the real segregation goes on is along class lines–which, in our country’s history, usually means race as well. Everyone in my high school was low to middle class; ambition was low, but we had enough examples of success to motivate some of us to reach. Private and some parochial schools are for students whose parents have means or found them so that their children can acquire means. But in the high school where I taught, the most economically stable examples were the teachers–tired, frustrated laborers with little reward. Some heroes! What would happen if students of different classes were all mixed up together?

  22. A Book Worm Says:

    In my experience, I was often made fun of as supposedly “acting white” because I was into reading and I got fairly good grades. The school I went to was also mixed, about 40/59 or 49/50 with about 1% non-white/non-black.

    The difference may be that in schools where the teachers are also primarily white, black students with good grades are singled out by the teachers to receive better treatment. They thought it was a compliment (I usually hated it because I recognized it at times as a type of racism) but I was also told by instructors that I was “articulate,” and whenever I spent time with the few black students that didn’t make fun of me for being smart, teachers would comment that those peers would “bring me down to their level” (unless the particular student(s) were also considered “acceptable” by being “better than” or “not like the rest of them”). This also translated over to some of the white students that were more interested in asserting intellectual (white) superiority, by any means, than in shunning academic achievements.

    It’s interesting, what you said about your experiences, that academics were not particularly rewarded. There would be no reason to make fun of someone that got good grades in that situation because they are not singled out and put on a pedestal while others are ridiculed, or simply ignored.

    Part of the problem, I think, is that black students are often either not rewarded enough or too much for being smart–by this I mean, they’re either nearly ignored and led to believe that if they are smart it means nothing, or they are singled out and used to make other students feel bad and envious.

  23. A Book Worm Says:

    Allen said:
    “That’s why, I believe, “acting white” is not nearly the cultural force that it once was. All the black guys who sneered at their studious peers back when are now living the consequences and watching their children do so as well. While not a universal virtue there are far fewer parents who are willing to stand by and watch their children reprise their own dumb choices then the opposite.”

    I agree, but at the same time I think many that grew up with the “acting white” bias still treat other black people of the same generation as they did when they were in school. And it seems that “acting white” now excludes book smarts but still includes style of dress and speaking. In a perfect world people would just be accepted as they are without such distinctions, but that’s not the way it is.

    As a side note I know an acquaintance (we were sort of friends in high school, but now mostly just talk to each other because we know some of the same people, I suppose) who is white and frequently to use the term “high-yellow” to talk about light-skinned black people. She grew up with mostly black friends and dates mostly black men, but supposedly wants to marry a white man so she can have white children. She’s had a problem with me in the past, partly (as far as I know) because she says she is “more black than I am” because of the way she (sometimes) speaks, acts, etc. Figure that one out. *shrugs*

  24. Chris Says:

    Terrific comments. It’s clear that there’s a wide diversity of school experiences in America. Sometimes the “acting white” thing is in effect, and sometimes it’s not.

    I’m white and grew up in a small all-white town. I was pretty much the only kid from my class in elementary school to go to college, and I got a lot of abuse for being smart. Across town at a different school it was a different story.

  25. Becky Says:

    I taught at predominantly minority schools, and I noticed the same thing the initial post said — kids who did well academically were rarely (if ever) mocked, and certainly not for “acting white.”

    At my own high school, which was very racially diverse, my impression (as a white student) is that academic success was not at all frowned on among the African-American students. However, there was a striking segregation between honors and non-honors classes, with the honors classes being almost entirely white and Asian. On the one hand, the very few black students in the honors classes were very popular with other black students. But on the other hand, a teacher of mine said that he’d often tried to convince the top black kids in his classes to move into the honors track, and they refused. I have no idea if this was simply a desire to stay with friends, or if there was an element of not wanting to “act white” (I think the (white) teacher saw it as the latter). There were also generally SES differences, as well, so that’s a complicating factor.

  26. There are two circumstances of acting white. The first is academic and the more researched and talked about, wherein black students are derided, usually by other blacks, for studious behavior. The second is over arching and far more damaging, with blacks rejecting a wider swath of advancing behaviors which they have come to associate with whites. In place of these advancing behaviors, they substitute counter-productive actions often branded as cultural, in an attempt to defend their authenticity.

    In the latter case, the result is a reduction or failure to assimilate behaviors that are intellectually, emotionally, and economically advancing to the group. What remain are blacks holding themselves at the rear of the opportunity line, long after whites have removed the shackles of slavery and institutional racism. The impact of this loss of contribution of the group on the country is quietly devastating.

    Economically, the loss can be calculated to an astonishing $440 billion, per year, in goods and services that blacks do not generate, relative to the rest of the country. This amounts to just over 3.8% of year US Gross Domestic Product (GDP). As part of this loss, blacks suffer a significant loss of income, and resulting benefit.

    Intellectually, blacks feel the impact through poor academics, under performance, high dropout rates, reduced higher education pursuit, and general feelings of inferiority compared to other groups, particularly whites. This real disparity of resulting skills translates into reduced employment, lower wages, and slower wealth accumulation. Emotionally, blacks suffer greater comparable stress related impacts, including heath problems, interpersonal challenges, and a lower general quality of life.

    The acting white phenomena began when W. African slaves were first delivered into this country in the 1500’s. The accusation has evolved from laws first enacted and long enforced by whites to bar blacks from developing skills that would advance the group, and challenge white control. Even as legal barriers came down, policy barriers maintained the majority objective that blacks should not assimilate the behaviors that would develop the skill base for propelling them into the American Dream.

    In the last 50 years policy has reluctantly recognized the cost of its anti-assimilation strategy, forced upon blacks, and has largely eliminated it. However, blacks remain significantly in a state, or mind set, of anti-assimilation whereby many members of the group continue to freely reject the advancing behaviors their ancestors were earlier denied by law. This scope of rejection has grown to include lawlessness and violence perpetrated inside and outside the group, resulting in a soaring black prison population.

    We, including individuals on all sides of the issues, have yet to come to effective terms with the evolution and remnants of anti-assimilation attitudes and policies, fostered for 400 years by the white majority, and now independently operating within the black community, to the increasing detriment of the entire country.

    James C. Collier

  27. […] But I was roused from my blog-slumber by this extraordinary recent post from Ed in the Apple. It appears that the NY City schools is expanding its experiment of paying children for taking tests, and paying them more for doing well. This idea is in part the brainchild of Roland Fryer, a creative, full-of-new-ideas-and-willing-to-test-them-all young black economist at Harvard, whose work on “acting white” I’ve discussed before. […]

  28. marcg Says:

    The framing of this discussion is frighteningly problematic for me. As a fellow Atlantan I grew up in a school where the ‘acting white’ denigration was common. I was often its target and in retrospect, I completely understand where it comes from and its not the place Obama claims. The slur and meaning behind it are part and parcel, components of the psychology of white national supremacy internalized by the oppressed. All of this hand-wringing that attempts to analyze the black student is the slave mentality, the colonized mind. Discussions focused on test scores and other irrelevant metrics are all a waste. Those were kids that were accusing me of acting white. Where would a kid get that kind of notion from? They are told this stuff by adults but when it rebounds in the form of destructive slurs like ‘acting white’ we psychoanalyze the kids. This dynamic we adults are engaged in, along with Mr. Obama, happens on an embarrassingly low intellectual level. These kids aren’t the problem. They are kids!!! It’s the system that tells them the things they come to believe that is the problem. These kids need quality educational settings (and we need to define quality but that’s another conversation). Their attitudes are not antecedent to the BS they are subjected to but subsequent.

    History will observe these discussions in the same way that we look at discussions about the benefits and shortcomings of ‘medical’ techniques like bloodletting.

    Can we please stop wasting blog space telling lies to ourselves? Barack Obama makes these statements to get white votes. Plain and simple.

  29. Marcus S Says:

    For what it’s worth, I believe that what Mr. Obama stated has a basis in fact. This “acting white” phenomenon is not just in our heads. I was ridiculed most of the time by other students (generally Black and Mexican students) if I was recognized for doing a good job on something. In fact, this was even more damaging to my psyche than actually failing a project or test. I know this because I’ve actually missed answers because I didn’t want to endure the taunting and general “picking on” that came with being black and doing well in school. And yes, they actually called me “white boy”. I had a horrible lisp as a child and went to speech classes to correct it when in elementary school. Ever since then, I’ve carefully anunciated when I speak. I use “big” words. This was all frowned upon in junior high and high school by my peers, unless they were studious as well. It’s a very real thing and for those who say their teachers never mentioned it or they never saw it…the teacher is not a black youth and a lot of you were white students who would have been excluded from this kind of talk anyway. So just because you don’t see it, doesn’t mean it’s not there.

    Also, in response to “marcg” on March 9th:

    Obama said, “…and folks will tell you that government alone can’t teach kids to learn. They know that parents have to parent, that children can’t achieve unless we raise their expectations and turn off the television sets and eradicate the slander that says a black youth with a book is acting white.”

    Where in that quote do you get that Obama is trying to “psychoanalyze” children?
    I am not a parent, but I was a student who received ridicule for this. See above. He is putting the responsibility on the parents by saying “parents need to parent and children can’t acheive unless we…”

    Exactly who do you think “WE” refers to in this sentence? He specifically singled out the parents because they are not taking an active role in their child’s academic endeavors.

    After reading it a few times I can see why you might think differently on this. Without changing a word or context, it could go both ways, but I don’t believe your interpretation is what he was trying to say.

  30. […] Acting White: Is It Real? […]

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