Smart black kids and “acting white”

An article in Vox in 2017 discussed The myth about smart black kids and “acting white” that won’t die, declared it debunked, and that’s that, I guess.

“The ‘acting white’ theory — the idea that African-American kids underachieve academically because they and their peers associate being smart with acting white, and because they’re afraid they’ll be shunned — was born in the 1980s.”

I never “dumbed myself down” when I was a kid in the 1960s. But I did feel that, for a variety of reasons, that I was thought to be “acting white.” Part of it I credit with my father, who, though barely a high school graduate, did not like the use of ebonics, for himself and certainly not for his children.

So I have been told I was “talking white,” which, not incidentally, was generally NOT a compliment. My standard retort that since I’m black, and I’m talking, that I must be “talking black” generally did not fly.

Even as an adult, that’s been an issue. I remember those first six years in my current job, when we were serving a national audience with our research. I talked to people on the phone about their library reference requests. When I went to the annual conference, I’d see in the faces of white people, “He’s black?” and in the smiles of African-Americans, “He’s black!”

When I was in 11th or 12th grade in high school, I attended a few days of a Red Cross training session in Manlius, NY, near Syracuse. I had a lovely time. I even got a standing ovation after I performed on stage. People expected me to sing, I gather, but I played blues on my comb for a couple minutes.

There was a group picture (above), and I got a bunch of people sign the back of my copy. One black girl, who I liked well enough, wrote, “You’re a nice guy, but you’re no soul brother.”

If I had been punched in the gut, it wouldn’t have hurt nearly so much. Not only had people who had known me for a while decided I wasn’t “black enough,” someone I knew for less than a week came to the same damn conclusion! Hell, thinking about it now, it STILL stings a little.

I cried, not just at the time, but for weeks – months? – afterward. It took a good long while to conclude, essentially, that they – whoever – can go sod off.

So I never slacked off academically because of being too… whatever. I didn’t know how to be someone else. But I can understand how it could play out that way for others.

Social media & sharing icons powered by UltimatelySocial