I’m sorry, I thought it was 2008.
On the heels of the New Yorker Cover debacle, we have video of John McLaughlin defending Jesse Jackson’s recent “slip up” by calling Obama an “oreo.” I haven’t heard this term in a very long time, and am surprised that McLaughlin was even able to pull it out of the hat. As if we (Black folks) didn’t have enough to deal with already (education, prison rates, the economy), we are thrown back into the debate of who is and who is not “Black.”
It is extremely problematic to label someone who is intelligent, articulate and a genius “white on the inside,” because it completely devalues the genius of Black people. The idea that those of us who have pursued higher education, can navigate Standard American English, and who don’t fit neatly into to stereotypical archetypes are somehow not really Black is absurd and has damaging consequences.
A recent study found that “acting black” affects the number of black students in gifted programs.
Most of the students were familiar with the terms "acting white" and "acting black." They described "acting white" as speaking properly, being smart or too smart, doing well in school, taking advanced courses, being stuck up, and not acting your race. Terms they used to describe "acting black" were having a "don't care" attitude, being laid back, being dumb or uneducated and pretending not to be smart.
"Tragically, only one student (surveyed) indicated acting black was positive. Instead, the gifted black students… believe that acting black means lacking in intelligence, placing a low priority on academics, speaking poorly, behaving poorly, and dressing in ill-fitting clothes," they wrote. "The gifted black students clearly hold negative stereotypes about blacks, namely their attitudes, behaviors and intelligence."
Sixty-six percent of the students surveyed reported knowing someone who had been teased or ridiculed for doing well in school, while 42 percent reported being teased for this reason themselves.
The authors found discrepancies between students' attitudes and their behaviors—students expressed belief that school is important and a key to success, but may not behave that way in the classroom (entire article).
Growing up, I distinctly remember kids around the way saying I talked white or that I was stuck up because I attended a private school and brought home good grades. I was embarrassed that my parents, especially my father, would brag about my academic achievements to others. Growing up, I didn’t feel better than anyone else, I felt like me. I quickly learned that being smart wasn’t tantamount to being cool, and had it not been for the guidance of my parents, I may have not worked as hard, just so I’d fit in. Today, I see many of my students’ struggle with the same issues. The smart ones are sometimes ashamed of their educational prowess because it ostracizes them from their peers, and the ones that need a little more help are slow to access it because they don’t want to seem nerdy or white. It’s frustrating but comments like McLaughlin’s only steep the fire.
I am troubled by the perception that being Black means being aloof, uneducated, and lazy. Our history speaks otherwise. We come from a long line of revolutionaries, people who worked hard in spite of all they faced, and pure geniuses (Baldwin? DuBois? Brotha Malcolm?). It is painful to know that our children think that, by virtue of their racial make-up, they are inferior and must somehow continue to perpetuate stereotypes to be accepted by their peers.
Although I was not completely enamored with Obama at the outset of the campaign, I am ecstatic that he serves as yet another reminder of the genius of Black people. When I am in my classroom, I can point to him and say, see, that is what acting black, or being yourself, will get you: success.