Why I’m Not ‘Acting White’
“You’re an Oreo—black on the outside, white on the inside”
From theatre to interests in classical music, as a Black person, you’ve most likely heard similar statements from a friend or family member.
The new Netflix show “Dear White People” addresses this exact dilemma of defining your own true self against how society perceives you to be. In the past, too often, I found myself continuously trying to assert my ‘blackness’ or ‘asianess’. This proved to be truly exhausting.
The series opens with a quote by James Baldwin: “the paradox of education is that as one begins to become conscious, one begins to examine the society in which he is being educated.”
And he couldn’t be more right.
In the 1980s, anthropologist John U Ogbu popularised the phrase “acting white” to explain how cultural attitudes of black students hindered black advancement. However, recently a study by sociologist Karolyn Tyson and economist William Darity found, after an 11-school study in North Carolina, that black and white students equally recognised the importance of education and wanted to succeed.
When people are saying ‘acting white’ they are ultimately suggesting and working with the inaccurate assumption that all whites are well educated, and all blacks are poor and less educated.
The reality is that both blacks and whites are a very diverse group, and are present in all economic levels.
Obama has been arguing the case for a long time. In the Democratic Convention speech that introduced him to America in 2004, he derided the idea that “a black kid with a book in his hand is acting white.”
What’s worse is this phrase is being used more by black to blacks. Among poor black school-age children, particularly boys, anxiety about being seen to be acting white is a huge barrier. This attitude can do real damage to the lives of black children.
We as a society, need to be wary of stereotypes and how it can hinder our growth. We should be at a stage now that we’re not defined by the colour of our skin.
So no, I’m not acting white. I refuse to believe that I have to mimic a stereotype to succeed in life.