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.”

Also On Black America Web:

4 thoughts on “Acting White

  1. If you were not born in Africa, then you are not African American, your race is black. I understand that by learning this you are probably “acting white,” and will need to redeem yourselves by doing something thuggish… but everyone is entitled to an education.

  2. Acting black is a term coined during the enslavement of Africans, When an African who was smart or successful he was uppity or acting white. Whites used that term to express how smart Africans acted. Ignorant African Americans adopted it, its sometimes true and sometimes said out of ignorance its a very complex issues. I know some blacks who change they way the talk and the way they even walk to try to walk like white males. When I was a kid, I knew a few black males who would walk on their tippy toes and change their vernacular of their voice to sound like whites and they dated overweight nasty looking white females and went out of their way to avoid being around black people.

    I am an “educated” African – “American”, and I view some black people as acting whites, and their are some ignorant blacks who are drug dealers stereotypical acting white women chasers who say I act white because I want power and want to compete vs whites, arabs and asians.

  3. Pingback: Stereotypes in Mass Media Messages | Critical Issues Blog

  4. White people also have an “in the community” persona and a work prosona… it’s called being professional…. we all do it regardless of race. Among friends and neighbors we kick back, drink a beer and throw out a few swear words… but we don’t do this at work because we represent our company and we need to be respectful and professional. This type of behavior is not exclusive to blacks, we all do it….

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