Monday, July 5, 2010

Racial integration's unintended consequence?

Some black students in the 1990s had a derisive name for their peers who spent a lot of time studying in the library: incog-negro. The larger phenomenon is all too well-known. Many blacks—especially black young men—have come to the ruinous conclusion that academic excellence is somehow inconsistent with their racial identities, and they ridicule peers for "acting white" if they hit the books instead of the streets after school. ...

What if [racial] integration [in schools] inadvertently created that culture in the first place? This is the startling hypothesis of Stuart Buck's Acting White: The Ironic Legacy of Desegregation. Buck argues that the culture of academic underachievement among black students was unknown before the late 1960s. It was desegregation that destroyed thriving black schools where black faculty were role models and nurtured excellence among black students. ...

Buck draws on empirical studies that suggest a correlation between integrated schools and social disapproval of academic success among black students. ... Desegregation introduced integrated schools where most of the teachers and administrators were white and where, because of generations of educational inequality, most of the best students were white. Black students bused into predominantly white schools faced hostility and contempt from white students. They encountered the soft prejudice of low expectations from racist teachers who assumed blacks weren't capable and from liberals who coddled them. Academic tracking shunted black students into dead-end remedial education. The effect was predictably, and deeply, insidious. The alienation typical of many young people of all races acquired a racial dimension for black students: Many in such schools began to associate education with unsympathetic whites, to reject their studies, and to ostracize academically successful black students for "acting white." ...

Buck argues that poverty can't be the cause of "acting white" because "blacks in the Jim Crow era … pursued education eagerly even in the presence of far more dire poverty. If poverty … caused the 'acting white' criticism, it surely would have shown up long before the 1960s."
--Richard Thompson Ford, Slate, on where acting white may have come from

As for what sparked his interest in the "acting white" topic, Stuart and his wife Farah adopted a black baby boy and later a 7-year-old girl from Haiti. In the books they read on inter-racial adoption, a common theme emerged: inter-racial adoptees were often criticized for "acting white" or "trying to be white." Buck then started to explore the broader context of this criticism as used in schools.
--Stuart Buck's biography on living out racial integration

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