Black Peer Pressure and 'Acting White'
ED GORDON, host:
Earlier in the program, economist Roland Fryer talked about his research on minorities, quote, "acting white." But commentator Clarence Page says that too often, acting white is confused with doing the right thing, and minority kids are paying the price.
There's nothing all that extraordinary, really, about kids ridiculing or ostracizing other students for making good grades, but it takes on a disturbing and tragic cast in the black community. When our kids put down their peers for allegedly, quote, "acting white" if they pick up a book or talking white if they use good English. It's disturbing because African-Americans have enough handicaps in the world without adding more of our own making.
It's hard to say how much this sort of negative peer pressure has to do with the persistent black/white achievement gap in schools, but it certainly doesn't help. Black leaders as diverse as Bill Cosby and Barack Obama have said as much. Now comes new word that blacks are not alone. Two Harvard researchers have found the stigmatizing effects of acting white appear to be felt even more by Hispanics who get top grades. Harvard economist Roland Fryer and graduate student Paul Torelli found that higher grades tend to bring more friends to white teens, while just the opposite happens to black and Hispanic youths.
I have three words for black and Hispanic teens on this matter: Cut it out. Adolescence is a time when you have one foot in childhood and the other in adulthood. For kids who also feel like they have one foot in the white mainstream and another in their racial or ethnic community, the journey can be even more stormy and confusing.
No one denies that a good education is the best route to success. It has long disturbed me that black youths would associate success with acting white, for what does that leave blackness to mean but failure? In fact, African-Americans are a very successful people. Between the mid-1960s and the mid-1980s, we advanced from a poverty rate of more than 60 percent to one of about 30 percent. It's hard to find any other group of people anywhere on the planet who advanced that far, that fast.
Hispanic Americans win similar victories every day. Past generations like mine achieved success by becoming bilingual and bicultural, using our familiar Ebonics in our home community and proper English in the larger mainstream world. Everyone should feel proud of where they come from, but cultural heritage should be a platform from which to launch yourself into the larger world, not a ball and chain to drag you down.
GORDON: Clarence Page is a nationally syndicated columnist for the Chicago Tribune.
This is NPR News.