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June 09, 2005


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First of all, it's "Ackin' White." Second, I have yet to read the piece...busy on this end, but I will say that the notion this "phenomenon" occurs in a single setting (integrated schools)is absurd.

I was in a car with my father and an old childhood friend of his...two men in their fifties and this exact term jumped out of father's friend as if he was on fire...he said it. Plain as day...and it was said, partly in jest, partly in frustration because my father was giving him a hard time - and told him to behave since we were going to a party with older folks and ladies and children...and sometimes, YOU KNOW HOW WE DO...So, when you roll with your boys, sometimes, you have to remind some of them about the implications of a change in venue. I have done it. I'm sure many of you have done it - especially if you remain in contact with folks you grew up with...Anyway, none of this had anything to do with acting white or acting any kind of way...it had everything to do with Being authentic to the dictates of a situation. Simply, school is a place for academic excellence, not a place to show your ass. You can show your ass at recess, during lunch and after school. And besides, acting white is a recipe for a second place finish in American schools.

So, this idea permeates black america - and not just children because they get it from somewhere. I went to elementary school in Harlem - not enough white folks in my schools to start a Klan hoop squad. I heard the term used by older kids, peers, and young guns! ...Still, this is not a one-sided, right vs. wrong dichotomy. The importance of this will be lost of white folks and cultural divorcees of the African family. Simply, the essential notion of acting white presents an important socio-cultural critique of behavior, bonding, trust, and affiliation. What the f%$^$! is the point of academic success if it is not in service to the collective? This acting white critique is a decontextualized children's version of near-universal social practices designed to instill cohesion and collaboration in transitional collectives.

From an evolutionary perspective, someone deemed to "act white" (in the context of this paper) is not a descendant of an "Uncle Tom." Quite the contrary...the person accused of "acting white" is simply a striver in the context of academics - not a hustler/striver in the context of street-nomics...so, the critique of these children is nuanced and sophisticated - though misunderstood. The same kids who may castigate you for raising your hand in class will listen to 5 Percenters kick it on the corner all day long...so, this is about more than anti-intellectualism. This, to my mind, is a dynamic expression of a "felt" cultural authenticity.

There is much more to this than may or may not be represented in this paper. For example, if you turn on the television or radio and listen to one of your scholarly counterparts who has forfeited his BASS (testicular fortitude, if you will c), do you lean in to get confirmation that the politics of a sell-out must be associated with this nasal Euro-tone? I do. I like it when I'm wrong, but usually, that's the case. Lose the bass, lose the race. As adults, we play a similar game...at stake, however, is much more than the pursuit of excellence. The concurrent pursuit of cultural fidelity is at the heart of the matter. We are in much greater need of a Yaa Asantewaa than a Condy Rice. If we never create another Colin Powell, but can generate through love and affection 100,000 Denmark Vesey's we will be better off. The same is true in the realms of science and business and education.

So, I feel you Kenyatta...I suspect these Harvard cats don't get to the Boogie Down too often...but it's all good. And stop acting like a blogger.


Another note on this topic...

I'm sure the data set would not accommodate this, but...let's assume an integrated school setting (B-26;L-24;W-35;A-15, for example) - and there a number of African-centered parents who send their children to a school with children of varying social classes and academic performance backgrounds...

If the children of those Africentric parents were to seek leadership roles in schools, sit in the front of the class, answer questions, challenge teachers, etc. - the students sitting in the back of the room would not accuse them of acting white, but might certainly accuse them of "thinking you're better than we are." That's a different animal, but it is akin to the question of acting white - because "white" serves as a proxy for several things at the same time.

In addition, the actions of these children would change dynamics within the school between Blacks and whites. Assuming these Black children earn spots in honors classes, take AP classes and take on the added work of building a unique cultural space in the school - what changes and for whom?

More importantly, if there was a dialogue between the black students about this divergence of approaches, much of it would boil down to parental expectations - even moreso than the peer group - to the extent that parents can dictate the peer group. Of course, this occurs to varying degrees, but to the extent that parents shape the peer group (a right and role of parents), they can shape a larger universe of expectations that inform the actions of their children.


yeah..., what Temple said, plus;

A real science of mind and behaviour rooted in genomic mechanism is in formation

It is a demonstrable fact that almost every human population differs from every other population in allele frequencies at one or more loci, but that the largest fraction by far of genetic diversity occurs among members of the same population.

Thus we can dismiss colloquialisms like personality type and go directly to neurotype which would describe neurotransmission and neuroreceptor proclivities, right? Said proclivities affecting behaviour in fairly predictable ways, right?

Nevertheless, we have ass-clowns like Fryer et al, stoking the fires of the most ignorant and backwards-assed superstitious nonsense, and, more troublesome still, people like
Armand Leroi who ought to know better, but keep the Fuhrer's pseudo-science in full effizi all the same. In addition, we have big pharma branding drugs as if there are *race specific* characteristics that these drugs can target. Such nonsense is dangerous in the extreme and needs to be put into check as soon as humanly possible, because..., let's say it all together for emphasis;

It is a demonstrable fact that almost every human population differs from every other population in allele frequencies at one or more loci, but that the largest fraction by far of genetic diversity occurs among members of the same population.

oh yeah, and people WILL drug your ass for behaviour that they don't approve of. Look at the 4.5 Million boys and girls in need of a few good spankings and additional parental attention who're being given poor quality speed to burn out their incorrigible neurons...., (ADD/ADHD + Ritalin)

You know that nonsense didn't even exist when we were kids, yet somehow we all managed to get by, back then, there were accelerated learning classes or gifted, talented and creative classes for the ADD/ADHD chirrens...,

Lester Spence

I think "acting white" is a proxy for one thing--style. In as much as most smart kids are nerds/geeks, and the default racial anti-style group is white, I don't think that the kids are saying that acting white is being "smart." It's that acting white means being a nerd...and in some cases putting on airs.

Sometimes folks get it wrong. With all the noise attached to the signal NOW, they may get it wrong much more often than they used to. But in general, blacks have been able to get a lot of information out of a little bit of stuff. And just the nasal quality of an uttered statement can speak volumes.


If Fryer is an ass-clown, some of us sure are quick to find out what's coming out of his ass. But that's because he's black and we're black.

YOU KNOW HOW WE DO is an encoded message to everyone, blacks and white alike, to keep an ongoing dialog about what is black behavior and what is white behavior. Richard Pryor was the first to air this conversation and it has continued ever since.

If you don't go the the Boogie Down, where everybody keeps it pegged to Hot 97 and BET, then you get out of touch with the common dialog of the continuous invention of vulgar blackness. You could very well, as conservatives such as myself do, immerse onself in the relatively dead culture of classical jazz and old school black literature, but you wouldn't be fresh or have an urban contemporary context. You wouldn't be 'ackin white' nor 'doin how we do'. And the only people who are going to even think about calling you a Tom, are those in the Boogie Down whose vulgar dialog and limited experience have put old school achievement out of their 'black' context.

Fryer's context, although I haven't read the piece, is probably too narrow to include this insight. I know that blackness is being reinvented all the time, so when blackness can be flying American Airlines just after the days when only TWA was cool to blacks, some blacks who ride the bus will still say that flying American is acting white.

What I would like to remind everyone (and I'm so deep that I should have posted this independently, aha!!) is that when Malcolm X said 'by any means necessary' I believe that meant *any*. So why are we checking back with the Boogie Down to see if Fryer is OK? Harvard is one of the means.
Afrocentrism is one of the means. But you cannot doubt that there is some continuously neological dissonance in style if not substance that perpetuates the gap between 'black' and 'white'. It's what people want to do.


But in general, blacks have been able to get a lot of information out of a little bit of stuff. And just the nasal quality of an uttered statement can speak volumes.

So then are we talking about microsynchronization of body language? Cause this ain't a little thing at all. Nerds/Geeks (autistic spectrum neurotypes) are identifiable by their penchant for disregarding the nuances of global behavioural microsynchronization. They can't get in because they don't share the conscious and unconscious urge to fit in.

Whether you're black or white, nerding aint easy. But I'll take 1 good nerd for every 10 popular typicals any day of the week.

As a matter of fact, outside of skin pigmentation, the primary superficial driver of xenophobic reflexes IS in fact, observed conformity or nonconformity with one's acculturated body language ritual habitual.

Watch yourself Spence, treading out in to the abyssal deeps now, and we don't want to go there now, do we...., (:


If Fryer is an ass-clown, some of us sure are quick to find out what's coming out of his ass. But that's because he's black and we're black.
No, it's because it's wise to look out for cowpies when you know ol' Bessie is loose.


political eloquence of the first order deserving of a proper visual...., thank goodness that when fryer's 15 minutes of public cooning ends, his remorseful obscurity will not warrant similar treatment.


Hot topic...anyway...a few points of clarification.
1) I read LKS's piece on another site where he mentioned Fryer's background in Florida. I read it after my post...I found it odd that the researcher could have possibly studied, live in or grounded in predominantly black schools and not been exposed to that type of language. Yet, that's Fryer's contention. It is not consistent with my experience nor that of many, many black folks I know...besides, on it's face, it seems absurd that the physical presence of white folks in a school is a precondition for blasting someone for "acting white." It's not as if our first introduction to white folks is always personal...

In that vein, the Boogie Down serves as a archetype for majority black school districts and neighborhoods across the nation. Do Harvard types study communities in the Bronx? Yes. Do Black folks flex at Harvard in support of Black folks? Yes. Do they also take in on the chin and write the occasional piece of bullshit? Do Harvard or any other Ivy League institution have a track record of transforming education and outcomes along a paradigm that includes cultural excellence for African children? HELL NO. So. the example is simply what it is...

2) "You know how we do" is about much more than "black behavior." In fact, it has nothing to do with race in this context. It is about retaining friendships across time and space - when conditions and situations change...sometimes friends need to have clear communication with one another about what is okay and what is not...Simply, we are not the same in all situations...as most writers on this blog KNOW HOW WE DO, I felt it appropriate.

3) You don't have to be conservative to abhor the nonsense on HOT 97 and BET...I haven't watched BET in nearly a decade - and HOT 97 never gets love on the dial...I listen to Blakey and Benson, Hubbard and Hancock - and certainly bask in the glow of excellence by my younger brothers and sisters. Being grounded, however, is an about personal authenticity...it's not about labels - especially white folk's labels. I think it is largely about the variability that cnu was discussing. That's resonates with me.

4)Please don't assume I am dissing the author. I have yet to complete reading his work...I do believe simply: the phenomenon he discusses has a much broader context and meaning than is expressed on paper (even given Fryer's qualification). I also believe that LKS' is correct is stating this is about style - and I interpret style as a manifestation of personal grounding...whatever that grounding is...which is not to suggest that a child whose first love is physics and math is merely a "nerd" or even acting white...In either instance, such a declaration is absurd...nerdiness may be inherited, learned, chosen - just as it may be embraced or rejected...it remains immaterial so long as we don't have a critical mass of our youngsters engaged in math and science in the pursuit of excellence and self-discovery.

5) A corollary to this point is the pervasiveness of bullying within and around schools. So-called "nerds" are subjected to this on the basis of societal norms and validations that are authentically white and American. The danger of Fryer's position, it seems, is that it centers race in a discourse in which it has little probative value.


What I'm saying is that there is a continuous creative process of becoming black. Black culture isn't static, and a great deal hangs on what and whom we deem significant enough to be a legitimate black cultural producer. But there is no black cultural production industry in the Boogie Down. As far as I know George C Wolfe and Savion Glover don't run their business out of there. We're talking about the streets of the Bronx, more specifically the poor streets of the South Bronx - the locus of the origins of hiphop as we knew it.

We're checking after Fryer's ass out of the habit of checking prominent black asses in general. He's black and we want to know what new spin on black he's producing. Whether you think Harvard or the South Bronx is generating more interesting flavor is up to you. I'd stick class in it and have my druthers.

I'm not dealing with this from a positive educational output status, rather from the perspective of who is allowed to create the next 'do how we do' or 'all good' as representative of 'black'. I'm resigned that it's all from the streets, but I would like people to recognize that the paradigm of black cultural behaviors is not all generated from that locus. So I'm saying "doing how we do" is not a good example the whole of black organic cultural production, just a slim part of it, and that checking after Fryer is something of interest to our ilk too.

Fryer is saying, it seems to me, within the context of the larger discussion that this is an isolated social phenomenon, which is welcome news to me and sits right with my experience.


Illuminating post.

I certainly agree with you. Black culture, as broad as that term must be, is a dynamic thing. I will say, however, that my personal opinion of what constitutes black culture may not matter as much as opinions widely held by folks who disagree with me. For example, I don't see the "culture of Hot 97" as black culture. There is no organic link between nonsense spoon fed to miseducated folks and the substance of Black identity. A minstrel show is not a representation of Black culture - caricatures using black cultural modalities (see Tarantino, et al.)are not authentic - just because it looks black does not make it so. And yet, HOT 97 retains its popularity...Samuel Jackson defends Tarantino...things fall apart. Therefore, I am not seeking to establish boundaries for Black culture...in fact, I would argue that Black cultural beliefs, norms and practices have shaped many of the world's cultures historically - and drives much of youth culture today - and since the 1950's.

I would argue that permission to create is fluid and not a question of "who is allowed to create the next..." In the marketplace of creative pursuits - permission to create flows to whomever creates what sticks to the wall...the culture is dynamic, as you say, and is not bounded in a way that precludes diversity. Hip hop is a great example of this - from the perspective of the musical inspiration for DJs. DJ's used to be the heart and soul of hip hop. LKS wrote recently about DJs diggin in the crates for all types of music...to my mind, that's how it works...culture is not about permission - it is often about stealing or borrowing or appropriating, then filtering and discarding...

I would like to encourage you and say that your resignation is unwarranted. The "streets" in and of themselves are not a negative. The streets are where Irish, Jewish and Italian immigrants learned the nature of business of New York and used gangs, as well as schools, to survive. The streets are where many young black men wage their version of a battle for survival...they are engaged in pitched battles with one another and the state for the right to traffic in a particular industry which provides jobs, mentoring (albeit with tremendous risk)to youth. Their narrative is worth telling...but I would also say that the hip hop of my formative years (PE, etc.) was not exclusively a street narrative - but it was not a narrative that is alienated from the street. Rock the bourgeois and the boulevard.

As to the production of black cultural industry...I believe you have again hit the nail on the head. Neither Wolfe nor Glover may be located in the Bx., but the broader issue is what revenues accrue to communities of Africans when "our" cultural stars emerge? The answer is very little. And that says more about the cultural, financial and political leadership than it does about a neighborhood. Wolfe and Glover could locate themselves in Harlem or the South Bronx (I don't know where they are.) It seems to me that location matters precisely because many Black neighborhoods are undercapitalized, but centered in great locales that could be greatly improved - with the appropriate cultural-economic infusion.

And, more importantly, if Black folks who do things that are considered "acting white" were located in Black communities and creating jobs for teens and young adults, mentorship within industries and internships/scholarships, I don't think those teens would be running the other way.

I agree once again with your point that there is no single locus of black cultural behavior (one location seems to be all that popular media can handle - lowest common denominator of sorts)...but, again, the Boogie Down was referenced as a metaphor for locations where the overwhelming majority of our children are located. And paradoxically, the South Bronx has not been predominantly Black since the early days of hip hop.

I think it is interesting that your experience comports with Dryer's findings. My experience does not.


Mine either...,

Methinkst he wrestles mightily - and more often than not unsuccessfully - to find and maintain common ground with white identity politics, euphemistically termed conservatism.

That's the Cobbian variant on black cultural production. I'm not mad at him, I've simply concluded for religious and thermodynamic reasons that it's a Quixotic endeavor...,

Lester Spence

I'm a bit confused then. I interpreted Fryer's work to say that "acting white" narrowly defined exists nowhere other than neo-segregated public schools (that is, schools with large numbers of whites and some blacks). I don't think this is a "two-signal" thing going on like Fryer and Torelli say...but I can buy the finding.

I interpreted Cobb to say that indeed this finding says what we knew all along, that acting white is a crock empirically except for limited circumstances.

For ME personally, I got a tiny bit of the "you think you're better" stuff which I look to be the same as the "you think you white" thing. But in most cases I find this label was applied to people who either did not hang out with black people (though they were black) or people who put on airs. Oh...and then there were the straight up nerds.

So where is the difference in experience?


I'm actually not resigned that it's all from the streets, rather I am resigned that there is a class of Americans who can't see it any other way, and they're just piling on Fryer because they're convinced he's a punk.

Nulan, I know you're plinking your intellectual inferiors on the black conservative listserv, so while have my beef with 'carbon copy republicans', just because nobody has refuted your latest theory doesn't mean it ain't fatally flawed. My resistance to the lingo and nihilistic & ahistorical attitudes of the street defining blackness and my stated preference for the time-tested is defacto conservatism. Hiphop will go the way of Harpo's juke joint and only the Ellingtons will remain. That's got jack to do with what makes Buffy comfy.

If on the other hand, it is White Identity Politics that rule the day at the Cato and Manhattan Institutes, then I've got a bigger problem than I thought. But that doesn't preclude my preference for a black political think tank run by somebody other than Bositis, and perhaps that is the only solution capable of minting intellectual currency that recognized in this political market. Project 21 aint it.

Hmm. Maybe I should take David Horowitz' advice to me personally and fill out a grant application to Sciafe.


If on the other hand, it is White Identity Politics that rule the day at the Cato and Manhattan Institutes, then I've got a bigger problem than I thought.

If you'll note who founded Cato, you may rest assured that your trust in these elites is terribly misplaced...., I'm not able to easily find board or founder info for Manhattan, but nothing I've read there gives me warm and fuzzies either, and, Heather McDonald makes my skin crawl.

All I'm saying brah is that conservatives showed no capacity for living up to the American ideal when the living was easy, they will convulse into historically unprecedented levels of ugliness as soon as what's coming registers in their awareness...,

My resistance to the lingo and nihilistic & ahistorical attitudes of the street defining blackness and my stated preference for the time-tested is defacto conservatism.

Without a doubt it's conservative blackness and on this point there can be no disagreement, however, imo conservative blackness is totally incommensurable with Murkan conservatism...,


This conversation has made me think back to my undergrad experience...oh the years. Fryer's context, I believe, is restricted to elementary and secondary school. In this respect, much of one's personal identity, style and character has yet to form - and so, the basis for popularity is contingent on the manner in which folks approximate the norms of their school. In college, its different...this process is still ongoing, but social options are greater and the modes of self-exploration are greater. One can travel abroad, reside in a culture-based or language-based dorm, join a fraternity or sorority...in addition, the option of attending urban, residential, rural schools or liberal arts schools vs. universities offer a tremendous mix of way to delve into self. Pre-teens and teens are still scratching to let loose...and of course, there are those folks whose "greatness" in life ends in high school...

It is possible to be a nerd in high school and the coolest mug in the spot as an adult...this happens all the time...and, in college, it is also possible to run with white and black folks, strictly bone white chicks (for whatever reason - easy skins, "preference," slavery jones, true love, etc.), play ball with black folks, attend various social functions - and not be accused of acting white. In undergrad, there were plenty of black folks who fit this abbreviated profile. For example, a lot of the ballers were black and lived together, joined traditionally white frats and did that thing...it didn't keep them from socializing with black folks and they may have been called sell outs, but they were not accused of acting white...The "style" (LKS) was still perceived as being within a black cultural frame...the "politics" were not considered to be within the black political frame...They came from different personal histories and socio-economic classes.

My educational experience is interesting in light of Fryer's writings because I attended an elite prep school in Pennsylvania (after attending elementary school and middle school in East Harlem) and of course we never equated academic excellence with white folks since every one on campus was more or less excellent. Fryer's critique, however, may be useful as a new perspective in rejecting the assumed value of integrated educational settings.

It just occurred to me that "acting white" is also a particular euphemism for that catch-all term we used when I was in school: CORNY. LKS is right on...it's all about the stylo.

Finally, hip hop will not go the way of the juke joint...the juke joint hasn't even gone the way of the juke joint...Chicago's South side at 2:00 a.m. - any night of the week...New Orleans - any night any time...Memphis...you call it...And besides, Black folks don't make TRENDY music...it's all classical - and it is all at the heart of American cultural expression...

Chuck D is headed to the pantheon, not the garbage can.


Another point on the juke joint...one of the things that is fairly pervasive in New York are these underground clubs and parties for teens that are on the wild side...the parties are regular, held at different locations, and feature mostly hip hop and dancehall...I only know about them because someone decides to videotape them and put them on public access cable in Brooklyn. Times change, and practices remain...the joint is still jumpin. And don't get me started on the motorcycle parties.


Spence, as a straight up nerd who embraced the dark side of the force young and was set free, my point of categorical departure from the data and Fryer's interpretation begins precisely with the *given* that academic achievement coincides in any meaningful way with one's investment in education.

The patterns in the data appear most consistent with a two-audience signaling model in which investments in education are thought to be indicative of an individual’s opportunity costs of peer group loyalty.

my comment about half-sigma's half-baked theology touched ever so briefly on my personal point of departure..., academic achievement has far more to do with tolerance for boredom and compliance with authority than with any other factor(s).

until we come to terms with what cultural purpose the academy serves, including at its highest levels, much of this discussion will revolve around protocol matching, not necessarily a bad thing, but a VERY involved discussion indeed.


Let me attempt a promethean collapse, and state that in a disproportionate number of instances, one's academic achievement coincides more fully with one's investment in assimilation and normalization....,

5 million drugged school boys and ???? of jail house scholars are indicative of something....,


We're checking after Fryer's ass out of the habit of checking prominent black asses in general.
I check white asses too. And for the same reason I check Fryer's.


Hey I must way in but dealing with sigma remind me of my calculus days in the sixty's.The process of education is base on the declaration of Black inferiority;in other word for Malcolm and Imani to be educated they must sit next to White Johning.
Then along come you guys who broke the mole,but I'm sure you guys have people who are kin to you who think you are a nerd.In other word instituional racism.

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