“She’s acting white.”
“She talks like a white girl.”
A few months ago, I spoke to some of my middle school students about being mean to a classmate. They made several comments to her, one of them was that she was acting white. When I asked them what that meant, they said they didn’t know. Obviously, they had heard that phrase somewhere and decided to repeat it.
I could relate to my student. There were times that I heard that phrase growing up—and even as an adult. I’ve heard it from both white and black people.
I was born in New York, but raised in the south most of my life. My parents are Jamaicans and they were sticklers about education (well and alot of things). They made sure that I pronounced words correctly and spoke clearly.
As a child, if I asked my dad the meaning of a word I saw in a book, he made me look it up so that I would remember the meaning. I always hated that, but now I’m glad he did.
Growing up on an Air Force base meant that I was in a culture bubble. Even if my neighbors and schoolmates were Americans, many of them had traveled all over the country and the world. The way I spoke never really stuck out because everyone around me sounded the same.
In middle school, kids, black kids, often commented on the way I talked. They wanted to know why I “talked like that.”
I was confused and embarrassed.
How could I not relate to the kids who looked like me? Why were they rejecting me because of how I spoke?
These comments often came from non-military peers. Peers who had not been privaledged to see the bigger picture.
As an adult, I’ve been asked many times where I grew up, as if that defines me.
Now that I’m a mother in my 30s, I feel more confident and self-assured than I did as a preteen. I don’t take offense if someone says that I am acting white. What I worry about though, is how I will explain this to my children, who are half white.
I do believe that race, class, culture & environment all contribute to an individual’s personality. Race alone does not define who they are and what they are to become.
As a middle class black southerner, I know that there are differences between white and black women in the south. If you start to overlap class, culture and environment, those differences begin to fade.
I want them to know that just because you may look like someone, doesn’t mean that you will automatically have things in common.
And if someone chooses to judge them because of how they look, well, we should feel sorry for them becasue their worldview is so small that they may have trouble functioning in the world.