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WTF Is “Acting White”? And Am I Guilty Of It?

By October 22, 2015 1
71H

Sometimes white people are racist toward black people. This is a fact, and we hear dozens of stories and examples of it daily in both the mainstream media and news.

But other times (and this sordid tidbit of reality seems to be flying under the radar), white people do not even need to get involved.

That’s because black people are blatantly being racist to one another.

Let me start here:

By the time I was 8 years old, I knew that I wanted to be a writer. If I wasn’t immersed in at-home gymnastics and dance routines, it was a safe bet that my head was firmly wedged between the pages of a book that far exceeded the reading level of my peers. My mother, fail as she may have in other arenas of parenting, was dead set on two things for her children:

  1. We would not have names that preceded our character. (This is why she went with Candace–basic, culturally ambiguous)
  2. We would read books and speak proper English.

Number one I wouldn’t grow to appreciate until I was in my early twenties and had to put my name down on a resume, but number two I fell madly in love with, instantly. Words were (and still are) for me an escape from reality. To be able to leave this world and enter someone else’s — to draw up characters and scenarios, to make people cry, or laugh out– feel empty or full, all by the careful organization of letters, is an incredibly beautiful happenstance.

It was in 3rd grade that I took my first standardized state test, which I blew out of the water. I was declared exceptional in both reading and writing, great for both my report card and budding sense of self-confidence.

In essence, I was the man.

Then came middle school and the game shifted. Now we were to be placed into different groups, based solely on our test scores. This means that we went from diversified settings with students from all over the learning spectrum, into more targeted groups with children that were developing at our same speed. For me personally, this meant being planted into a classroom that was overwhelmingly caucasian.

There were exactly two other black students in my class. I hardly noticed, and would have never dreamed that a classroom demographic would trigger issues.

FACT: If you surround yourself with (read: if your teachers place you with) all white people, you can instantly become not black enough.

For 12 year old Candace, she learned this by being halted in the hallway (which I tried desperately to avoid by every architectural alternative), and told things like “You don’t match”, or “who wears white after labor day”.

Fine. Fashion police I could deal with. 

Then came the actual physical pushing and bumping from one girl would commute to the other side of the hallway to hit me with her shoulder, a not-so-friendly reminder that I was fucking up, daily with my existence.

But the peak of this humiliation transpired one day in the cafeteria.

At the time, rapper Fabolous had exploded onto the scene with a smash hit called “Holla back”, and it was all anyone was singing ever– except for me. Because by the time I was in middle school, J.K Rowling had unleashed the magic of Harry Potter into the world. For my mother and I, this meant a nerd-alert reading competition. I would race home after school and burn through the most recent installment, because the idea of my mother discovering what happened to Dumbledore before I, was unbearable.

On this particular day in the cafeteria, I was sitting where I always sat: with a  group of white people (read: my fucking classmates), diagonal from a group of black girls. One of them, the leader of the pack, called me over to the table. Too terrified to decline the offer, I obliged, turkey sandwich in hand:

“Candace, If I said to you ‘holla’ , what would you say back to me?”

Fuck. It was a trap. 

“I would probably say hello”, I replied.

Laughter. A total eruption. The kind of belly-gut laughter that stand-up comedians strive for. Except I wasn’t a stand-up comedian, I was just a 12-year-old trying to make it through lunch.

The correct answer was “holla back youngin’ “, and I would never forget it.

On the bus ride back home that day I resolved that I would make more of a conscious effort to “be black”.

I can learn ebonics, I can learn to holla back.

I learned every lyric of that terrible fucking song, and many more like it. To this day, I make strides to stay in the know of dumb popular songs and dances. (SouljaSuperman? CHECK. Wanna watch me whip nae nae? I GOT IT.)

It took me years to properly categorize and assess the implications of those experiences and the importance of discussing them today.

Black on black bullying doesn’t just exist in the hallways of my junior high school. It exists in our neighborhoods, it exists in our media, and there are even implications of it when Nicki Minaj and a legion of her supporters decide that Iggy Izalea can’t rap black music.

And so to my fellow black people, I implore:

Every single time that you make fun of, chastise, or declare someone is  “Acting white”, you might consider carefully what the actions are that you are declaring to be so. Intelligence? Speaking full sentences? Having  money– Do those things constitute whiteness?  Is that to say that stupidity, broken english, and poverty belong to us? Is that what we own?

Please think carefully regarding what it is that we deem proprietary to our culture, because ultimately, if we are going to talk about racism, the kind that we perpetuate within our own communities cannot be exempt.