The graduating class of Livingston High School prepares for commencement June 3, 2008, in New Orleans.

The "Acting White Theory" Doesn't Add Up

Why the academic achievement gap is not rooted in Black anti-intellectualism

by The Root, January 30, 2013

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The graduating class of Livingston High School prepares for commencement June 3, 2008, in New Orleans.

The graduating class of Livingston High School prepares for commencement June 3, 2008, in New Orleans.

Photo courtesy of Mario Tama/Getty

Do Black students purposefully underachieve because they attribute being smart to "acting White"? For more than a decade, academics, policymakers and cultural critics have publicly chided Black children for having an anti-intellectual attitude, based on the "Acting White Theory."

The Acting White Theory originated in the 1980s with Dr. John Ogbu's ethnographic research and is commonly used to explain present-day "achievement gaps" between Black and White students. Today the Acting White Theory has its own Wikipedia entry and was mentioned by then-Sen. Barack Obama in 2004, when he said, "Children can't achieve unless we raise their expectations and turn off the television sets and eradicate the slander that says a Black youth with a book is acting White."

The Acting White Theory seems to have particular cachet among flatulent Black people who feel a certain disdain toward the less refined (pejoratively "ghetto") aspects of the Black community. Many of them have been called "sellouts," which reinforces a key tenet of the Acting White Theory. Other scholars, such as Edward Rhymes and Michael Eric Dyson, push back against the theory. In his book Acting White? Rhymes states: "Somehow many African Americans (usually the affluent, disconnected ones) have swallowed this misconception about African-American youth being anti-intellectual and anti-education. This ideology concerning nerds and geeks did not originate in the African-American community, but in predominantly White, middle-class, suburban communities."

Read it at The Root.

 
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