If you talk to a large enough number of black folks with college degrees and professional jobs, you're likely to find that many of them have been accused of "acting white" at some point in their lives. Folks have stories of being ostracized because of the way they spoke, or the movies they liked, or the clothes they wore.
Personally, I don't have any of those stories, and I've always been skeptical of them. I'm not saying these things don't happen, but I'm leery of blaming a lack of social status on the fact that black folks equate achievement with whiteness. My personal experience has shown that things are typically much more complicated, and often people are outcasts for a variety of reasons.
Well, it turns out, I might have been right.
According to Burstion-Young, both black and white students were dedicated to academic excellence and there were no differences in academic standards. Contrary to previous studies which state that high achieving blacks are viewed as "acting white," Burstion-Young says the black students identified with black culture through association with consumer culture, such as fashion and music, as well as slang and social circles. The students who did not connect to black culture on these levels were viewed as "acting white" – academic achievement (or lack thereof) had little to do with it. In at least one case in this study, an African-American student became so integrated into the white community that she lost her connectedness to her own family and culture, greatly upsetting the family and, Burstion-Young says, eliminating the spirit of integration in creating a generation of bridge-builders across cultures, identifying with each other but accepting and respecting cultural differences
That quotation comes from this post over at Prometheus 6, a wonderful blog I check out for lots of great news clippings. It's taken from a study looking at how black kids attending predominantly white schools deal with their situations, and what are the driving forces in their decision making.
Honestly, the study doesn't break any new ground in my mind because most of the theories espoused were things I'd already learned on my own. Basically, children thrust into situations where they are "onlys" develop complicated coping mechanisms and social structures that are much too nuanced to be reduced to "acting white" alone.
The thing is, this myth that black kids attack anybody who tries to do well in school for "acting white" is a popular one in mainstream society. And it's not just passed along by white folks, it's something that well-educated black folks love to repeat at gatherings as they lament the idiocy of youth. In their minds, this whole "acting white" thing is something young folks trotted out just to ruin the black community.
Not only does this theory about "acting white" ignore the fact that there have always been battles over authenticity in the black community, it provides cover for racists who would like the world to believe that the real reason black folks have problems is because of their own pathologies. The idea that black school children lob insults and abuse towards those individuals who value academic achievement and force them to be dumb, makes it much easier to deny education grants to improve the quality of inner city schools.
Sadly, this ignores that in all cultures, school children often punish those individuals who are overly concerned with scholastic success and lack certain social skills. This state of affairs crosses color and class lines. Unfortunately, when black communities display the same behavior that is considered "normal" in other areas, it's a sign of our inherent flaws.
In addition, what the study fleshes out is that the problem for black school children isn't succeeding in school, it's when that success is coupled with an attempt to assimilate completely into white society. The sin isn't being smart, the sin is believing that academic achievement can only occur after you reject all aspects of black culture.
But, I already knew that.