What Does it Mean to ‘Act Black?’
My mother was an English teacher, and by age eight, was the biggest pain in the butt ever because she corrected my grammar…constantly. It also didn’t help things that I grew up in the “The Valley,” which is code of Whitey-White-ville.
So when I visited my cousins in South Los Angeles, I was picked on for talking like a white girl. “Talking white” to them meant I had no skills whatsoever in ebonics. So I’d go crying to my aunts and older cousins, tattling on so-and-so for doing/being/saying such-and-such. One of my aunts told me something that I will never, ever forget. She said, “Don’t worry, Christelyn. When it’s time for you and xyz to apply for a job, you’ll be the one who always gets it first.”
She was right.
But why is that ‘acting black,’ ‘being down,’ or ‘keeping it real’ is so often synonymous with taking a hatchet to the King’s English, deriding your peers for getting good grades, and sacrificing the electric bill for a Coach bag?
And just so I wasn’t just inserting my own experiences and flinging them upon you, I posed this question to a few thousand of my Facebook friends. Here’s what they said:
My pal Yvonne posted, “If we’re talking stereotypes then it’s obnoxious, ill-mannered, multiple-children (with outrageous, unpronounceable names) with multiple people type of black person. For me, “acting black” meant loving God, displaying good manners (you represented the family every time you went out of the house), being polite and courteous, getting an education and marrying. This is what I grew up with and make every effort to emulate.”
Some thought that the contemporary version of ‘acting black’ was the diametrical opposite of ‘acting white.’ Meredith said, “The statement of “stop acting white” is meant to be an insult in the black community because no black person in their “right mind” wants to be called white, lest they lose their “black card,” but the statement itself is a reflection of our internal belief that we are inferior to whites. We all know that when someone says, a person is acting “black” they are talking about something negative.”
My friend, Kether, who is white and works as an administrator at my old high-school, said something that stunned me. “One of our black counselors said the other day that higher education is bad for black students because it homogenizes them and makes them “more white.”
Dude should be fired yesterday.
But I have to admit, there is an internal pressure felt by many blacks to listen to the same music, speak the same, live in the same neighborhoods, vote Democratic, dress a certain way, and share the same attitudes and bias, as if black people are some type of monolithic blob that we’re all sucked into. To deviate from any or all of the pre-approved ‘black list’ is to risk ridicule and ostracism from your own. Like to go to museums? You’re bougie. Date outside your race? You hate yourself. Speak proper English and educated? You think you’re better than us And if you’re in middle or high-school, that just might get you beat down.
But perhaps the deepest thing that Darius (who just so happens to be a GREAT guy I dated in high school) said, “Black people are synonymous with the portrayal that main stream media perpetrates. Our struggle, is no doubt one misunderstood by others due to the impossibility to experience the daily life of Black people. I have allowed racism, stereotypes, ignorance, infighting, etc. to build strength, and character. For those Black people who fall victim to these realities, I believe it is our job to educate them with our actions. I have chosen to do that with intellectual, physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional power. I refuse to be a victim of that which does not represent my family nor myself.”
Yeah. What he said.
Christelyn D. Karazin the co-author of Swirling: How to Date, Mate and Relate Mixing Race Culture and Creed (to be released February 2012), and runs a blog, www.beyondblackwhite.com, dedicated to women of color who are interested and or involved in interracial and intercultural relationships. She is also the founder and organizer of “No Wedding, No Womb,” an initiative to find solutions to the 72 percent out-of-wedlock rate in the black community.