"Go into any inner-city neighborhood, and folks will tell you that govnerment alone can't teach our kids to learn. They know that parents have to teach, that children can't achieve unless we raise their expectations and turn off the television sets and eradicate the slander that says a black youth with a book is acting white." - Barack Obama, 2003 Democratic National Convention keynote address, Boston
Most educators will assert that there are statistical differences between racial populations in the classroom when it comes to standardized testing and classroom performance. Researchers such as Roland Fryer, Paul Torelli, and most famously, the team of Signithia Fordham and John Ogbu noted this differentiation between the races as the phenomenon of the burden of "acting white." The theory is that there are statically significant differences marked by racial lines which correlate with popularity, grades, and a social stigma of acting white.
Wade Nobles, director of the Center for Applied Cultural Studies and Educational Achievement at San Francisco State University notes in a New York Times article that many in the black, Hispanic, and Asian communities have expressed the idea that they have learned relatively early that their attempt to achieve is not rewarded in the school system . . . and that they are only acting white . . . by doing so.
Arguments abound that minority students who do "act white" by attempting to achieve scholastically are shunned by their peers socially and risk bullying in their homes and neighborhoods. A group of students at a high school in Washington noted to researchers who published their study in a New York times article exemplify "acting white" through behaviors such as, "taking honors classes, speaking standard English, wearing clothes from the Gap or Abercrombie & Fitch (as opposed to Tommy Hilfiger or Fubu).
The same researchers, however, disputed the common argument that acting white had an impact on student popularity by conducting a study in the Washington high school by polling students by asking them to count their friends. Then they not only took note of the number of friends one student claimed to have, but by cross-referencing the lists compiled by other students to see who else listed that student as a friend. The poll yielded results that concluded that academic achievement and race were not exclusive to one another. While acting white did seem to be a real problem, or at least a problem that minority students feel is real within their social networks, it is not one that truly affects all minority students.
Often, the acting white theory is used as a political device to hoist the agenda of both well-meaning and misguided people or groups. While political issues often affect the education system, decisions regarding political issues seldom are influenced by individual education practitioners.
What educators CAN do daily to impact the acting white issue is to recognize important factors that relate to it and influence it, such as:
Students are smart and capable individuals. Believing they are "acting white" by being academically successful is contextual. Allowing for individuality in a classroom and simultaneously expecting high academic achievement is the best way to disspell the idea that one must "act white" in order to be academically successful.