The Wackness Of The “Acting White” Myth

***This was originally published a few years ago, but a recent conversation with a very “convinced” Black conservative urged me to refresh and repost***

We’ve all heard the story before:

Black boy meets and falls in love with books, but anti-book Black classmates beat, berate, and ban him from all future block bbq’s for properly conjugating verbs, eating fat-free mayonnaise, and generally acting “White”.

Author Stuart Buck examined this phenomenon in Acting White: The Ironic Legacy of Desegragration, an earnest attempt to understand the (worsening) academic progress of African-Americans in the years after schools were integrated. While I agree with many of the points made—especially the reference to the “soft prejudice of low expectations from racist teachers who assumed blacks weren’t capable and from liberals who coddled them“—this book ultimately disappoints for one simple reason: The title.

Let me explain.

Whether we’re accepting the “truth” that Black men marry out almost three times as much as Black women (despite the fact that the actual numbers—according to census stats, 3.7% of married Black American women and 8.4% of married Black American men had a non-Black spouse—show that there’s really not much of a discrepancy), or passing the news that 50 percent of all black women in Washington, D.C. have active herpes (even though the oft-cited study actually claimed that 48 percent of the Black women tested had just been exposed to the herpes virus—big, big difference), we have an annoying tendency to believe, recite, repeat, and spread chicken little statistical half-truths and scary campfire stories about ourselves regardless of how half-assed the “facts” happen to be, so, it doesn’t surprise me when others start to believe, recite, repeat, and spread these facts as well.

Perhaps the most dangerous of these bullshit memes is “The Danger of Acting White” idea, which basically states that high achieving Black children are routinely picked on by other Black children just because they’re high achievers…something that just doesn’t f*cking happen.

Yup, you read that correctly. It (high achieving Black children getting routinely picked on by other Black children just because they’re high achievers) doesn’t f*cking happen…at least not in the way it’s usually thought to, and here’s three reasons why.

***Before I continue, I just want to say that I do realize that there have been Black kids picked on and beat up (and worse) by other Black kids just because they happened to be good students. I’m also not attempting to minimize the very real fact that a disturbing sense of intellectual and academic apathy exists among far too many of us. All I’m saying is that this (Black kids getting picked on by other Blacks just because they’re smart) doesn’t happen as often as we’re lead to believe***

1. “Akeelah and the Bee”

One of the most ridiculously realistic movie scenes I’ve ever seen happens an hour or so into this movie. Burgeoning spelling bee champ Akeelah gets clowned and dismissed by her brother, Namond Brice, who also assumes that the neighborhood dopeboy he hopes to work for would find Akeelah’s spelling bee competition as simple and stupid as he does. Instead, the dopeboy gives Akeelah encouragement, tells Akeelah about the poems he used to write, and even orders Namond to help his little sister study.

This scene is ridiculous because the neighborhood dopeboy is played by The Rubberband Man, a guy who screams “thug” about as loudly as Donnie McClurkin screams “straight.” But, it’s realistic because this actually does happen. As anyone who’s actually lived in or taught at an inner-city school district will tell you, the school and neighborhood thugs are usually either indifferent towards or encouraging of kids that seem to have a bit of “talent,” whether it’s academic or athletic (as long as they don’t snitch, of course).

2. Smart kids don’t get picked on just because they’re smart, but…

…nerdy kids do, and, this happens everywhere, not just in the inner-city. Regardless of their socioeconomic or racial background, nerds get teased because, well, they’re nerds, and socially awkward kids are easy targets.

I know this seems obvious, but it just annoys me when people act as if nerdy kids are “allowed” to be nerds everywhere else except the hood. I’m amazed at how easily we’ve allowed this context-less meme to spread, especially since it basically calls us a nation full of crabs. Shit, there’s a reason “Revenge of the Nerdsis such a cult-classic. It’s a vicarious revenge fantasy for nerds, their opportunity to reverse the sh*t that happens to nerds everywhere, and it’s filled with gratuitous boob shots.

That’s actually two reasons, but you get my point.

3. Some Black people actually do act “White”…and they do deserve to be picked on

By acting “White” I’m not referring to using proper English, listening to Weezer instead of Weezy, or even dating outside of your race. But, there are people who do their absolute best to rid themselves of any apparent trace of Black culture, and those people deserve to be admonished.

I won’t go into too much detail about how exactly “doing your absolute best to rid yourself of any trace of black culture” is defined, but I will say that its definition is somewhat similar to porn’s: You know it when you see it.

Basically, just think of any character Rashida Jones has ever played in any movie.

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)