Acting White

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    A couple of months ago I talked about a theory suggesting that African American youth equate academic success with “acting white”

    Now, we’ve all heard the term “acting white” tossed around in our community, and may even remember when a younger Chris Rock took Bryant Gumbel to task for allegedly acting ‘too white” or when Eddie Murphy literally turned white in a famous Saturday Night Live skit and got crazy hookups!

    Well there’s a fascinating new book out by law professor Devon Carbado that offers a fresh perspective on this theory, arguing that ‘acting white’ is more than just skin deep.

    In Acting White?: Rethinking Race in “Post-Racial” America, Carbado contends that racial judgments are not just based on skin color, but on how a person conforms to behaviors or stereotypes associated with a certain race.

    In other words, they’re based on how people of any color “perform” their race as suggested by their clothing; their hairstyle; their acquaintances; the organizations they join; their racial politics; where they live, or how they speak and walk.

    One example would be how some African Americans have an ‘in the community’ demeanor and a ‘at the workplace’ demeanor.

    For black men in particular―because of the fear people in our society so often have of them―their ‘at the workplace’ demeanor, in many instances, is designed to be non-threatening, mild or ‘approachable’.

    But don’t get it twisted folks. In most cases, this is not a sign of weakness on the brothers’ part but rather a sign of cultural fluency, meaning they’re playing the game enough to pay their bills.

    And most are strong enough to know that adopting that workplace demeanor does not define them… Another more common example for African Americans is how we often shift our speech patterns say for a job interview.

    The point, for Carbado, is not to push some notion of racial authenticity but to acknowledge “acting” is something many people commonly do, whether its acting white, acting black, or even “acting male,”.

    But while Carbado contends that this process goes deeper than skin color, he also acknowledges the socially imposed pressures on African Americans in particular to act in certain ways in order to more smoothly navigate both their professional and personal landscapes.

    Again the name of the book is Acting White?: Rethinking Race in “Post-Racial” America, you should definitely get a copy and I’d like to hear from you do you feel any pressure to act in certain ways in certain environments.

    I’ll close with these words from Carbado himself:

    “We judge African Americans based not only on whether we perceive them to be black, but also on how black we perceive them to be.”

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