Equity & Diversity

The Origins of ‘Acting White’

By Anthony Rebora — June 02, 2010 1 min read
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Ever wonder why exactly African-American students who do well in school are seen by some of their peers as “acting white” (as Michelle Obama among others has testified to)? According to Stuart Buck, an author and University of Arkansas doctoral candidate, the disparagement actually derives from the school-desegregation movement in the 1960s:

Although desegregation arose from noble and necessary impulses, and although desegregation was to the overall benefit of the nation, it was often implemented in a way that was devastating to black communities. It destroyed black schools, reduced the numbers of black principals and teachers who could serve as role models, and brought many black schoolchildren into daily contact with whites who made school a strange and uncomfortable environment that was viewed as quintessentially "white."

The occasionally less-than sensitive white teachers and tracking systems that came with desegration added to the problem, Buck notes.

It’s an interesting theory. The question is, what’s an educator to do about the problem 40-some years later? How do you make African-American students, in the face of possible cultural pressures, feel pride in academic effort and success?

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.


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