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I am a mommy, scribe, and middle-school English teacher. I am trying to cope with being separated from my beloved. DoUWantMore? email me: theprisonerswife@gmail.com

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Get Your Milk Ready

Posted by the prisoner's wife On 10:06 AM

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.

14 Response to 'Get Your Milk Ready'

  1. http://theprisonerswife.blogspot.com/2008/07/get-your-milk-ready.html?showComment=1216234920000#c6218995036941494075'> Wednesday, July 16, 2008 12:02:00 PM

    Great post!
    The genius of New World Africans has been de-valued for too long and the full range of our abilities has never been explored.

    Give thanks for this.



  2. Lovebabz Said,
    http://theprisonerswife.blogspot.com/2008/07/get-your-milk-ready.html?showComment=1216252320000#c5440431472919092876'> Wednesday, July 16, 2008 4:52:00 PM

    You are becoming quite the agent of political intellgent discourse! Go Sister...get your politics ON!


  3. http://theprisonerswife.blogspot.com/2008/07/get-your-milk-ready.html?showComment=1216254240000#c1147214378117510913'> Wednesday, July 16, 2008 5:24:00 PM

    geoffrey: thanks & you're so right. i appreciate the work you do ver at your blog, celebrating Caribbean writers & artists. it further iterates the genius of black folks throughout the diaspora.

    Lovebabz: lol. thanks. it's just that i have a little more time now to write out my thoughts. i'm a news junkie, but when i'm working...*sigh* i'm too tired to write as much.


  4. http://theprisonerswife.blogspot.com/2008/07/get-your-milk-ready.html?showComment=1216264200000#c2867799135775972834'> Wednesday, July 16, 2008 8:10:00 PM

    Nice post*~*

    I remember being called an oreo all the way through middle school and high school. I never let it affect me though b/c I had a set goal in life, and my mother wouldn't allow me to misrepresent her. It is sad to know people still equate a Black intelligent person to trying to be White...what an insult to our people!


  5. Christina Said,
    http://theprisonerswife.blogspot.com/2008/07/get-your-milk-ready.html?showComment=1216384980000#c5307429327733150127'> Friday, July 18, 2008 5:43:00 AM

    Oreo was a name I was all too familiar with growing up- and to be honest I was confused about that name. I was always bashed about going to private school or talking a certain way.

    I used to cry to grandmother and she would say "we ain't raising you white, we raising you right!" lol

    I grew up and remained focused but I can't say that I haven't had to deal with the- your stuck up thing.

    Although now I am strong enough to deal with it and stand up for myself-I often think about the young people who aren't strong enough to stick up for themselves in these situations.

    Great post- sis.


  6. Tamra Said,
    http://theprisonerswife.blogspot.com/2008/07/get-your-milk-ready.html?showComment=1216387500000#c3878279361637294338'> Friday, July 18, 2008 6:25:00 AM

    I'm a news junkie too!

    Sigh! I'm so sick of the argument about who is/who is not black. If we spent half of that brain power on issues that really affect us, we'd be so much further along.

    To me, we are all just plain human--with all of our weirdness and idiosyncrasies.

    Carl Sagan's "Reflections on a Mote of Dust" helps me keep all of this craziness in perspective.

    I have to add that it's funny--in all of the "gifted" programs I was in growing up, "acting black"--whatever that really is--never occurred to me. Folks made fun of me for being smart, playing classical piano and all of that stuff, but the only thing I could do was shrug it off and keep doing what I was doing because for one thing, my parents weren't having anything other than high achievement from their kids. Then, I just wasn't interested in that "other" way of being. Sometimes it hurt not to be "included," but it wasn't me, and if folks didn't like me being an exceptional student, I'd dig deeper my books and say "to hell with them." It pains me that our kids are so susceptible to that silly (but dangerous) pressure.

    My brother, a new teacher, subbed for a "gifted" class of high schoolers in south Florida, and he was shocked out of his pants how incorrigible they were. --The class was, unfortunately, 100% black. In comparison with other classes he's had, the ones that are black have been the worst. That has got to stop.


  7. Tamra Said,
    http://theprisonerswife.blogspot.com/2008/07/get-your-milk-ready.html?showComment=1216387680000#c710580509248541824'> Friday, July 18, 2008 6:28:00 AM

    I forgot to hyperlink Sagan's "Reflections on a Mote of Dust."

    Here it is


  8. http://theprisonerswife.blogspot.com/2008/07/get-your-milk-ready.html?showComment=1216431240000#c6432024690551159661'> Friday, July 18, 2008 6:34:00 PM

    u know i saw the show 2 weeks ago when he said or asked that


  9. sista gp Said,
    http://theprisonerswife.blogspot.com/2008/07/get-your-milk-ready.html?showComment=1216611180000#c1025252512768737159'> Sunday, July 20, 2008 8:33:00 PM

    The other day, some people were telling me how kids are thinking in the schools. They are just waiting to turn 16 so they can drop out. Many are skipping classes. Teachers have no control.

    In this environment, how can these kids aspire to become more than what they are stereotyped?


  10. http://theprisonerswife.blogspot.com/2008/07/get-your-milk-ready.html?showComment=1216614360000#c2488854818097343240'> Sunday, July 20, 2008 9:26:00 PM

    Hi there!

    I went to an all-white highschool in the suburbs and we lived in an all-white town...it as a former sundown town...

    All things "ghetto" were considered to be lower class...however... "ghetto" was not a term that was used for blacks ...it was used for whites who were from trailer parks and whose parents were bus drivers or truckers or had blue-collar positions...THAT was what was referred to as "ghetto" but the suburban whites...

    Whites never commented on my diction...my parents were both college educated professionals so we certainly were not expected to mispronounce vowels or misconjugate verbs!! *LOL*

    When I became an undergrad at a school that was about 98% white, I noticed that most of the black students were the first in their families to be in college...they were stunned whenever it came up in conversation that noooo I was not the first to go to college, and my grandfather was an accountant!

    I kept meeting black people who believed that ALL BLACKS grew up in the same sort of environment...

    "Oreo" became a term used by blacks who were from impoverished backgrounds in order to cover up for their class inferiority issues...by ridiculing blacks who spoke English correctly, they were attempting to cover up for the fact that their parents were semi-literate and THAT is why they could not teach their children correct phonics...I found that their ridicule was a smoke screen because they KNEW that in the social hierarchy at a white school the "ghetto" blacks were at the bottom and we white kids never let them forget their 'place'...

    {shaking my head}


  11. Dione Said,
    http://theprisonerswife.blogspot.com/2008/07/get-your-milk-ready.html?showComment=1216696980000#c4926792000522180878'> Monday, July 21, 2008 8:23:00 PM

    1st time here. Great post. As a fellow middle school educator, I see the SAME attitudes. Some kids underperform ON PURPOSE so the other kids won't know how smart they are. It breaks my heart to the very core to see them have this kind of attitude because they think it's not cool to be smart and God forbid, successful. I went to a private elementary school then a high school that blue blood whites and hood blacks. No middle ground so I was ostracized by MY people because I spoke with correct diction and grammar. I was accused of holding my head too high. Thankfully, I had a great support base at home that would not let me falter and they kept me and my academics on the right track.


  12. Stephen Bess Said,
    http://theprisonerswife.blogspot.com/2008/07/get-your-milk-ready.html?showComment=1216767120000#c3803511216083265230'> Tuesday, July 22, 2008 3:52:00 PM

    You gave great examples of black male genius with Baldwin, Dubois, and Malcolm. We can speak intelligently and still maintain who we are as an individual. I've been told that I talk white. I guess that any of us who aspired to greatness has been accused of this. Great post. Go Obama!


  13. http://theprisonerswife.blogspot.com/2008/07/get-your-milk-ready.html?showComment=1216829280000#c1937322981607154257'> Wednesday, July 23, 2008 9:08:00 AM

    im trying to be a pure genious one day


  14. http://theprisonerswife.blogspot.com/2008/07/get-your-milk-ready.html?showComment=1216938780000#c7788224009375223995'> Thursday, July 24, 2008 3:33:00 PM

    hey everyone:

    thanks for all of the stories & comments you shared. i think collectively WE can change the way our kids view themselves. it just takes committment and work.