I am not in the business of invalidating anyone’s experiences – particularly if those experiences cause a person a sense of pain. Still, I often worry about those who refuse to let go of certain grievances. I am even more concerned about anyone who can’t grasp that when assessing the collective, his or her anecdotes are the Pam from Total to data’s Beyoncé. So although I can understand how taunts of “acting White” may make select Black folks feel a way, can everyone stop pretending that Negroes hate intelligence to the point that if a Black boy takes AP geography, to many it’s grounds to enter him in the racial draft in exchange for the buff Jonas Brother?
At a recent My Brother’s Keeper town hall, President Obama dug into his bag of lingering adolescent issues to trot out this sad lil’ trope once more. Obama acknowledged that the notion of “acting White” as sometimes “overstated,” but went on to argue “there’s an element of truth to it.” And then he recited lyrics from this sad love song that keeps wrecking my brain like crazy – about Black boys reading too much or dressing a certain way, blah blah.
Both President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama love to discuss this in rooms filled with mostly Black people, only to have others tag themselves in to help spread the lie. Enter Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart, who in his post “Obama goes there on ‘acting White,’” recalls his own experiences and how he, too, felt moved to tell a room full of Black high school graduates to not be afraid of intelligence. Or as he put it, “I felt a moral obligation to set their minds right on ‘acting White’ or ‘wanna-be White’ before they headed off to college.
But if they’re already heading to college, evidently education doesn’t bother the children that much.
Thankfully, his colleague, Nia-Malika Henderson, noted that the 1986 research paper that popularized the concept of “acting White” has been debunked – again and again and again and again over the course of 20 years. Henderson points to one study in particular that highlights that a “Black student might have Black friends who rib them about taking an AP class, but they also have black friends who encourage it.” That’s what makes Obama and Capehart’s complaints about “acting White” so ironically hilarious: They both argue about knowing where you come from but being a part of the larger culture, but they each seem to miss the idea that making fun of – especially “nerdy” ones – is universal.
So is mocking an individual from one cultural group who is socialized primarily with a different cultural group and takes on many of their mores. Yes, there is more than one way to be Black, but some of the folks complaining conveniently gloss over the reality that some Black kids simply get targeted for not growing up around other Black people. It’s not fair, but it’s not grounds to throw your own under the bus. It’s sort of akin to all of those pieces by Black men who date White women, where the Black men in question skip the part about how their upbringing may have led to a cultural mismatch with many Black women – opting instead to falsely accuse Black women of only wanting “thugs.”
if not all around dense, but that doesn’t give anyone the right to act as if that Black culture doesn’t exist. If you want to get more specific in how we identify it – i.e. urban Black culture – so be it, but it does exist and I’m not going to deny its existence because some people don’t fit within it – especially not in the name of “fitting into the larger culture.”
The “larger culture” often rejects me for just being Black no matter how well spoken and multi-faceted I prove myself to be so I will gleefully be Blackity-Black-Black with the like-minded folks who share extra shots of melanin.
And since we’re all for anecdotes, I can’t recall ever being teased about being smart. As someone “from the hood” who had a dad that only finished high school and a grandfather who only made it to sixth grade, I was encouraged by them and mostly those around me. Now, people had their cracks – about the way I talked, walked, and anything else that screamed “gay.” Hell, when Ali’s “Boughetto” single came out, people had jokes for days.
Thing is, though, everyone keeps teased about something. Such is life only the amount of internal strife you take in based on the comments of insecure people ought to have an expiration date. Like, by the time you’re president of the United States of America.
I appreciate President Obama pushing children to not let other people’s assessments of them define who they are, but not in the context of perpetuating stereotypes about Black folks. Then again, when it comes time to talk about Black kids and education, why not something more substantial? Say, how Black students are suspended at a much, much higher White students are?
We do not have some unique opposition to intelligence and it’s irresponsible to suggest otherwise in these forums – no matter who said what to you back in school. Get over it already.
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