Monday, March 19, 2007

Acting White: What is it?

There are two circumstances of acting white. The first is academic and the more researched and talked about, wherein black students are derided, usually by other blacks, for studious behavior. The second is over arching and far more damaging, with blacks rejecting a wider swath of advancing behaviors which they have come to associate with whites. In place of these advancing behaviors, they substitute counter-productive actions often branded as cultural, in an attempt to defend their authenticity.

In the latter case, the result is a reduction or failure to assimilate behaviors that are intellectually, emotionally, and economically advancing to the group. What remain are blacks holding themselves at the rear of the opportunity line, long after whites have removed the shackles of slavery and institutional racism. The impact of this loss of contribution of the group on the country is quietly devastating.

Economically, the loss can be calculated to an astonishing $440 billion, per year, in goods and services that blacks do not generate, relative to the rest of the country. This amounts to just over 3.8% of year US Gross Domestic Product (GDP). As part of this loss, blacks suffer a significant loss of income, and resulting benefit.

Intellectually, blacks feel the impact through poor academics, under performance, high dropout rates, reduced higher education pursuit, and general feelings of inferiority compared to other groups, particularly whites. This real disparity of resulting skills translates into reduced employment, lower wages, and slower wealth accumulation. Emotionally, blacks suffer greater comparable stress related impacts, including heath problems, interpersonal challenges, and a lower general quality of life.

The acting white phenomena began when W. African slaves were first delivered into this country in the 1500’s. The accusation has evolved from laws first enacted and long enforced by whites to bar blacks from developing skills that would advance the group, and challenge white control. Even as legal barriers came down, policy barriers maintained the majority objective that blacks should not assimilate the behaviors that would develop the skill base for propelling them into the American Dream.

In the last 50 years policy has reluctantly recognized the cost of its anti-assimilation strategy, forced upon blacks, and has largely eliminated it. However, blacks remain significantly in a state, or mind set, of anti-assimilation whereby many members of the group continue to freely reject the advancing behaviors their ancestors were earlier denied by law. This scope of rejection has grown to include lawlessness and violence perpetrated inside and outside the group, resulting in a soaring black prison population.

We, including individuals on all sides of the issues, have yet to come to effective terms with the evolution and remnants of anti-assimilation attitudes and policies, fostered for 400 years by the white majority, and now independently operating within the black community, to the increasing detriment of the entire country.

James C. Collier


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Anonymous said...

James, what a great post. I wish all Africans in the Diaspora could read it.

This branding of everything that represents emotional, intellectual, spiritual and social evolution as the exclusive domain of whites is completely insane, yet it has taken hold in the Caribbean, where I am from and in England where I now live like a plague.

Now, I am not comfortable with the word assimilation. Actually, I reject it as I reject a lot of the underlying principles of Western life. I am much more comfortable with the word and idea of resistance, but I think it's that word that got us in trouble to begin with. I think we completely misunderstand what it is we are supposed to be resisting. For me resistance means rejecting the ideas colonisation and racism are based on and embracing sustainable and moral ways of life which would include, education, self-help, commitment to family and community, fiscal responsibility, having a moral code that values self, human life and progress etc.

I don't believe though that you and I are talking about different things when we talk about assimilation and resistance. I think we just frame our ideas differently.

I am glad I stumbled across your blog and I look forward to returning.

Terra said...

I think that the problem is the idea that these different cultures exist along racial lines.

In every other country these are class lines. Acting upper class vs acting lower class.

Lower class people "act black" because that is their culture, and upper class "act white" because that is theirs regardless of their skin color.

Lower class have the same anti upper class attitude whether they are black or white. Same for upper class disliking the lower class.

Black people disproportionately assimilated into the lower class. And people are generally proud of their class whatever it is.

Reine Noire said...

I was just introduced to your blog and I find it quite intriquing. I agree with your theory that the masses have yet to assimilate in this country.

I listened to a brother speak last night about how important education was to the newly freed "bondsmen" (as he so adamantly put it), at the end of the slavery era in the US. He then asked, "How is education viewed by the masses of African Americans today?" Given the staggering number of high school dropouts alone, I felt safe in commenting that to the masses, education is no longer valued as a means of elevation.

The generations coming up today in the African American community are a culture that believes in the capitalistic equation, money = power = respect = eradication of my inferiority complex = success = happiness = 'look white people, we LOOK just as good as you'. But why? Perhaps we received our crumbs of equality off massa's table and determined the fight ended there, we don't need to demand anything else, particularly of ourselves because we have been horribly victimized in this country and it owes us something.

We have assimilated, however; to a degree. We have assimilated to a superficial idea of what the American Dream is, as painted by our white counterparts who wrote the hyprocitical blueprint for this nation. We assimilated right into rugged rugged individualism, oppression, suppression (because we'll hate on each other in a minute and tear each other down for self-gain). It's the old, "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em," complex. So we have our luxury rides and our bling, at the expense of a negative and destructive self-image we call culture.

Proper assimilation will manifest when blacks first believe and understand that America is as much their land as it is whites. I'd even dare say we overbid on the land. No amount of money can replace what my great great great granddaddy had to endure so I could sit at the storefront window seat in the corner of Starbucks on M Street.

To assimilate means we have to fight and demand, we have to build and protect, we to CORRECT, and then TAKE our place in America. Instead, we accepted our place because of course, white is right and we don't want no trouble from massa', so we'll take whatever he gives us. It means we have to work and work hard, which is something the TV Dinner generation doesn't process.

I have hope for my people though. We're at rock bottom and there is no where else to go but up. Love your blog, I'm going to subscribe!

Check me out at

Vashti Dominiqué

Anonymous said...

I have lived and worked in America and Europe for many years now; I would like to add one simply little comment.

In America, if you say to someone:
"What are you?" They will say. Black, white, etc.

In Europe, if you say to someone:
"What are you?" They will say English, Italian, etc.

It would benefit the country on a whole, if instead of focusing on what makes your "group" of people different to the next, it would help the nation to concentrate on what all the "groups" have in common. That you're American.

Anonymous said...

Hear, hear!

I am glad that a blog like yours exists. I have always wondered why what psychologists label "adaptive behaviours" are considered by people in the black community to be "white" behaviours, and in rebellion against the apparent "whiteness" of these habits, these same people replace them with maladaptive ones for the sake of an "identity".

There's nothing "white" about getting good grades, studying hard in college or university or building a business, and living in the rich part of town.

(If there is, the Chinese-Canadians in my city didn't know about it. The wealthiest neighbourhoods have many Chinese multi-generational homes.)

Culture and economic status are not mutually exclusive. I'm glad you are actively advocating for this concept.


The Cold Part,

Anonymous said...

Very good article. I wonder however how much using the term "Black" diminishes the strength of the points made. The umbrella term BLACK which would refer to Africans, Diasporans (carribean and Latin- American alike).

As you pointed out there is clearly a cultural phenomenom that in this particular case is focused on the result of a history of the decendants of African slaves in the United states of America, African-Americans. Not all Blacks are African- American and share this culture. As such not all blacks, are hindered by the cultural and mental shackles of the past which you so effectively have outlined. The problem with using such a broad term is that it incorrectly widens the focus group, making it sucseptable for rebuttal based on actual factual data.

True story, undergarduate college paid close attention to the fact that admitted so many black students. They praised themselves for their strives to redress the effects of slavery in this country. Indeed the "black admissions were astounding. When I took it upon myself to focus the study on actual African-Americans the numbers were shockingly low. Indeed all the blacks bieng admitted were either blacks from other countries (ie. brazil, DR, Guinea, Nigeria) or first generation children of the same.
Once we focus the group from the general Blacks to specific African-Americans we can see what the United States of America's true affect on the conditions of the decendants of IT'S slaves with more accurate results.

Dave Myers said...

I'm enjoying this discussion and had a question for Mr. Collier; You had mentioned previously that W. African slaves were deliverd to "America" in the 1500's ; I was wondering if you would be more specific as to which part of America that was?

James C. Collier said...

Dave: The Atlantic Slave Trade delivered many more blacks to South America than to the Northern continent. Slavery there was higher in demand, much more brutal, followed by higher mortality and need for more frequent replenishment. Also, women and children were more common to central and N. American slave destinations. When slaves landed in N. America, they came in through Boston and NY ports, only to be re-shipped down the coast (to labor intensive agri. settings), usually to the Carolinas, for further overland distribution in the South.

Anonymous said...

Well its safe to say that we've had very good teachers at labeling. The term itself is an oxymoron. How does being studious, paying attention in class or being smart resemble acting white, when it was us that invented a school system in the first place? Can it be that kid that stands out has the same behavioral attitudes that resemble whites when they look at us? In order to stay out of prison, the morgue or in exile, we all have to play this song and dance of doing what we're told. Not all of us are studious, polite nor speak with "good grammar". This is the english language. The english nor any of them european languages, cultures etc haven't gotten anything right. They are unbalanced and if you were to lable anyone as "acting white", be sure you connect natural behavior with the description.

Anonymous said...

Hi James~

My daughter and I find your blog very compelling. So much so that she quoted you in an original oratory piece which she is presenting at a national forensic tournament (speech & debate) this weekend.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts and I look forward to your book.

I have just started blogging but I have added you to my blogroll. When you have time check it out at

Robin aka "The Conservative Black Woman"

Anonymous said...

I love the site but really can't fully understand which direction the argument is going.

Are you saying that bad behavior is a black right? or are you saying that behaving white is an insult to the black culture?

I wasn't aware that good vs bad behavior was a black and white subject.

None the less, excellent site.

James C. Collier said...

Anon 6:05, You express the state of confusion very well. The direction of this blog is very clear. Behavior is either advancing or it is not, regardless of color. Thanks.

James C. Collier said...

Ano 11:18, I disagree, America would have been better off had it NOT enslaved Africans. The progeny of said enslaved Africans are better off for the pain and suffering of their ancestors (relative to Africans of today) - whether they believe it or not.

Anonymous said...

I am writing a book "The Plight of Being White in Present Day America".

It's about present day Whites paying and repaying again for Slavery. A crime that they themselves never committed, just those in our history books.

It also tells of the drudgery of political correctness, all in keeping those never enslaved happy.

It ends with the questions: Are present day Whites to blame? Are Blacks forever the victim?

My question to "Acting White": Do Black's love of gangsta rap, crime, drugs, guns, fatherlessness, and thug worship bear any responsibility in the state of Black life? Or is it all because of the slave trade years and years and years ago?

I agree though, that America would have been better off had it not enslaved Africans...For obvious reasons.

Anonymous said...

Black people today are splinters being ground in the cogs of a powerful system just as their ancestors were who were brought to the Americas as slaves centuries ago. However, they themselves have inherited, propagated, and imposed this particular progress-hindering system on their children.

The issue with black people is that they were subjected to deep, institutional, government-mandated, highly-evolved slavery, the likes of which have never been seen in recorded history. Centuries of this systematic subjugation has left an enduring scare on the psyche of the descendants of slaves. Many black people are still mental slaves of the sort mentioned above. The slave mentality has been entrenched in the black family once the process of keeping human beings subjugated was perfected in the Americas generations ago. This detrimental mentality has been perpetuated from black parent to black child for generations.

Sure, the shackles of chattel slavery have been removed over a century ago, and legislation has been passed to relinquish the legal shackles that once relegated blacks to the level of human capital on balance sheets along with oxen, farm equipment and other tangible assets. However, no outside actions can remove the mental slavery that is still the unfortunate birth right of many modern-day blacks.

For those who ask the question: “why is acting white something for blacks to avoid?” The answer to this is because blacks were subjected to a system of enslavement wherein acting white (learning the basics of reading, writing and math, and behaving like a free being) was strictly prohibited—violators were severely punished. It’s about survival. If the slave were to survive, it would suit him best to learn how to act less “white” as possible, and act more ignorant and subservient in the presence of the white overseer and superiors. So, the idea to eschew from certain endeavors as way of ensuring life has been passed on from parent to child, morphing to its present form as a debilitating encumbrance for black people who were unfortunately taught to think like their enslaved ancestors. There are many more examples of slave mentality prevalent in the modern black community.

The slave mentality is too entrenched for many blacks to just “get over it”, as one poster suggested. Frustration from the current state leads to anger about past injustices, which leads to feelings of entitlement, confusion and anxiety.

You cannot have hundreds of years of systemic slavery and expect former slaves to simply become part of the greater society, be treated equally and become upwardly mobile the next day, nor the next hundred years. After slavery blacks, suffered from Jim Crow and still suffer from the vestiges of Jim Crow that still exists in the U.S. today. Getting over it is going to take some time. Slave parents cannot teach their children how to behave in a ‘free world’, or more accurately stated, as non-chattel slaves.

A correction in thought is the only thing that can help black people who were taught to think as slaves escape bondage. As slaves under law, blacks were forced to accepted that they there were not to learn, that white people were superior, that being black is inferior, that having dark skin is bad, to be ashamed of their skin and hair, to be ashamed of their African origin, that they were slaves and not human beings, etc. The black parents freed of the mental shackles must inculcate a culture of positive identity in their children—one that neutralizes the negative ideas stated above. I don’t totally agree with the assimilation idea asserted by this blog’s author, because that’s not necessary a good thing (for those who are in the know). It’s more about black parents fostering a unique and positive identity for their children. One does not have to be totally assimilated into white society to avoid living in the condition in which many blacks endure today.

Dominica said...

Thanks for this, your wrote what I was thinking, but had trouble getting out in words. I like having a clear definition to look too.

Plane Ideas said...

This is a tired ass theme and reminds me of person who just discovered they can talk..

I am so bored as a Black man so tired of these derivative circular talking head talking points..

Intellectual masturbation...Enough already...

Anonymous said...

as always in these race-obsessed discussions, the race-obsessed people play disingenuous, as in: 'whoever said that getting good grades was acting white'?

Now that Michelle Obama has used the term, they'll facilely move on to being disingenuous in other ways.

Btw, the only comment that goes to the heart of things here is by Terra.

Anonymous said...

This 'actin white' mess didn't come from slavery or reconstruction, otherwise, we wouldnt have had HBCUs. This crap came from the late 60s!! It is also among males more than females since women and girls are the only ones going to college these days. How many blackguy enginneers are there out there? not many or else there 'white' (you caint upset the bros) it just seems like the women will have to take care of them financially on top of having children too....sigh....

Anonymous said...

Reine Noire--America IS ours just as much. Benjammin Banneker designed Washington D.C. on the 77th parallel. What happened, people of the old confederacy didn't want to end slavery as far back as the 1820s. I think there is numerology also involved, even Obama becoming the first black president 50 years after we became 50 states.(dont expect to find info on Banneker on Wikipedia, go on

Anonymous said...


Black people who possess intelligence and knowledge of self don't kill other black people, don't sell drugs to other black people, don't allow themselves to be pimped by the system, don't support ideologies that harm black people, and most importantly of all, are forever loyal to "Momma Africa." The jails and morgues are full of black people who thought being dumb and illiterate was cool. What comes out of someone's mouth will tell you a lot about them. Intelligence doesn't mean that your life is gonna be perfect, but, it prevents you from becoming a victim of bull**** people and thinking. Being black and smart at the same time is true freedom. As a blackman, I think what i wanna think...believe what i wanna who i wanna support...dislike who i wanna dislike, and so forth. Nobody can f*** with my brain and blackness, Nobody! James, proper and fact-based education is the key to everything my brotha!!!