Find it here: http://weeklysift.com/2013/08/12/acting-white-isnt-really-a-racial-issue/#comments
making sense of the news one week at a time
"Acting White" isn't really a racial issueIf you want to blame a downtrodden group for their own disadvantages, here's a handy trick: Take a broad social problem, see how it intersects with that group, and then talk about that intersection as if it were a unique problem located in that group.
Tricks like this are easier to spot in retrospect. So, for example, years ago when the gay-rights discussion was about whether public schools should allow gay teachers already in 2004 that issue was an embarrassment to Jim DeMint and has since been removed even from far-right documents like the South Carolina Republican Platform we used to hear a lot about gay teachers having sex with their students, as if this were some special gay problem totally unrelated to straight teachers having sex with their students. (Something similar is still going on in the Catholic priest scandal; rather than talk about the larger problem of the clergy sexual abuse that occurs in all denominations and victimizes both genders, some people want the issue to be about gay priests.)
Muslim terrorism and Islamic extremism are good present-day examples, because they're usually discussed as if they had no similarity to Christian terrorism or extremism.
This trick is easy to fall for. I used to think that every incompetent black or female I ran into was an indictment of affirmative action, until somebody asked me: "How many incompetent white men do you know?"
Anyway, we're supposedly having a national conversation on race. So far, the conservative half of that has largely been an indictment of black culture: Since racism is mythical and the ladder to success climbed by white ethnic groups Irish, Italians, Poles is still there, all blacks would have to do is clean up their act, get educated, and work hard. They'd all be CEOs in no time.
What supposedly stops this from happening is the unique inferiority of black culture. They take drugs, commit crimes, have illegitimate children nobody forces them to do this stuff, Bill O'Reilly reminds us, "That's a personal decision."
And they're actively hostile to education. "young black men often reject education and gravitate towards the street culture, drugs, hustling, gangs". Bill came back to that point in a later broadcast:
- Even if there were plenty of jobs, most employers are not going to hire people who can't read well and speak proper English. Right now the unemployment rate among black males age 16 to 19, 57 percent; 57 percent. It's 25 percent for white males that age. Overall, black unemployment, 14 percent; white unemployment, 6.6 percent. The reason, in many poor neighborhoods there's chaos, violence and little discipline in the public schools. Kids aren't learning.
- Want to break the cycle of poverty? Stop telling kids they're acting white because they go to school or they speak proper English.
- 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.
You know where else you see that phenomenon? Working class whites. In Reading Classes, Barbara Jensen writes both about her own white-working-class childhood and her adult experience as a counselor to working class white students.
She describes school as an extension of professional-class culture. Kids who grow up in the professional class live at home with the same communication patterns they'll meet at school, while kids growing up in the working class have to learn special ways to act and talk in the classroom. (Simple example: Adults quizzing kids by asking questions they already know the answer to. It's an obvious school thing, and professional-class parents do it all the time, beginning at a very early age. "What's the cow say?" When parents question kids in a working-class household, it's more like, "Who knocked that glass of water over?" So when those kids arrive at school and the teacher starts asking them questions, their instinctive reaction is that they're being accused of something. And if you can't see where a line of questioning is going, the safest thing is just to dummy up.)
Once working-class kids get past the basic foreignness of the school environment, they are taught that the way they speak at home is wrong. (I grew up putting an r-sound into the name of our nation's capital Worshington and taking one out of the second month Febuary. School taught me that was wrong.) Jensen has no problem with teaching Standard English, but
- How kids should be taught these skills is my concern. Is it really necessary to learn that everything a child knew before school about language is nothing more than bad English and ignorance?
- Working class kids who are into academics get shunned and teased by other kids because they care about impressing their teachers.
My friends and I came to excel at rebelling not as solitary rebels, like actor James Dean in the movie Rebel Without a Cause, but as a community of resistance to the authority of school.
So in short, I'm not claiming that "acting white" problem isn't a problem, or that it doesn't get in the way of black kids making a better life for themselves. I'm just saying it's not a racial problem. It's a thing that happens when the culture of school is alien to the culture of a neighborhood, and it happens to whites as well as blacks.
Because of their place in society, blacks are more likely to be in the path of this storm than whites, just as more blacks than whites were left behind in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hit. But just as we don't have a "black hurricane problem", we don't have a black resistance-to-education problem.
By weeklysift, on August 12, 2013 at 8:44 am, under Articles. Tags: education, racism. 7 Comments
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