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Obama and "acting white"

I’ve been blogging about the whole “acting white” phenomenon for some time now. It’s been coming up regularly now that Barack Obama is on the campaign trail.

It can be tiring hearing that underachievement in the black community is solely about institutionalized racism. There are social pathologies that have taken hold, perhaps brought about by the institutionalized racism, but there’s  nothing stopping anyone from countering the culture of underachievement that exists in some quarters. It’s very real, and sad.

Oliver Willis has a couple of great videos up of Barack Obama directly addressing the “acting white” problem. One is below. OW:

I believe Barack Obama will bring to the black vote in 2008 should he be the Democratic candidate. It’s an authenticity that black conservatives simply cannot achieve, and why when they come knocking on the door to sell, black voters – and voters at large, do not buy.

More after the flip. As I mentioned in my first post on the topic, I was slammed by kids for “talking white” and “acting white” because I was doing well in junior high school. It was made worse by the fact that I didn’t have a southern accent even though I’m a native Southerner.

As I said then, the sad truth is that, in a public school that was at least 75% black, I was pulled over by one of the elderly black teachers one day and she told me that she was so proud of me — I was the first black student to make the honor roll in that school.

That was in the 70s; I cannot imagine what it is like now growing up, with the saturation of anti-intellectualism and materialism foisted upon and soaked up as “culture” by some in the black community.

Whenever I write about this topic, I receive emails that can be divided into two types (most people, I suppose, are afraid to comment publicly): 1) the white liberals and some blacks who think I’m taking socioeconomic conditions and institutionalized racism too lightly as a factor; 2) blacks who have experienced the same kind of blowback from their peers for doing well in school, saying they were glad I said something about the topic.

I usually also receive a smattering of mail from people who argue that white kids have to deal with the same kind of underachievement “slacker” pressures; but they aren’t the same. White kids don’t have their peers telling them that they are acting like another race, one that has historically been charged with laziness or intellectual inferiority.

The truth is that black kids in middle class homes fall prey to this underachiever peer pressure at school, and there are plenty of kids in crap public schools (and from broken homes) that still manage to achieve. There is no one cause, no one answer.

This isn’t a liberal or conservative issue in many respects; it’s another one of those topics that neither side knows how to fix, and talking head ends up arguing on the fringes of the problem, pointing fingers about what’s to blame instead of acknowledging it’s too complex an issue for “black/white” thinking. It’s all tied up in the myriad problems Americans have when the topic of race comes up — people end up talking past one another, inflamed, emotional and defensive.

Look at this article from a couple of years ago, Triangle educators debate racial issues at conference. What these students feel is real:

Tenth grader Anais Guzman is on the honor roll. She says some of her peers see the achievement as acting too “white”.

“They can get high grades but they don’t want to because they’ll be considered as acting white, so they put white people down,” Guzman said.

…”Some people might say some people are acting white, or acting black or different things like that so I see it often,” said tenth garder Vance Cherebin.

College freshman Erin Burns added, “Black students that are doing well in the classroom or hang out with white friends or have good grammar, talk properly or don’t use slang, they get accused of being white a lot.”

Instead of minimizing the “acting white” theory, researchers need to talk to students, and ask the right questions. Let there be a discussion and an outlet to talk about it, no matter the cause — the black students that achieve in spite of the odds and pressure obviously need the validation.

Related:
* Obama and race: our country is so confused 

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding

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