Acting White

Stuart Buck
Yale University Press
May 2010

In this frank and hard-hitting book, Stuart Buck takes aim at the black cultural stereotype of “acting white.” He explains that the “careless” implementation of desegregation spawned an “us” vs. “them” racial academic identity. To wit, it was mostly the black schools that closed and the black teachers and principals who were fired; in one sweep, black students lost their community centers and their black role models, and education became the realm of “white” folks. Since humans are naturally “tribal” beings, it became increasingly socially unacceptable for black teenagers to repel group norms, a.k.a. “act white.” To be clear, Buck means this as explanation of a cultural phenomenon—one that will have be taken into account if any serious closing of the achievement gap is to occur—not a call for re-segregating schools or as another excuse for the lagging achievement of black students, boys in particular. Neither is it empirical, though he does cite tons of research by others that support his thesis. But though it is surely a touchy subject, it’s one that is actually already implicitly acknowledged and explicitly addressed by many of the “no excuses” schools, where academic achievement and school spirit are championed as “cool” behavior. This is reflected in Buck’s suggested solutions, which include fostering a sense of group success over individual achievement, encouraging more black teachers, especially black men, into the classroom, and allowing specialized, even racially homogeneous if they promote black achievement, schools. Though his call to eliminate grades (intraschool competition) in favor of school spirit (interschool competition) may go too far, Buck has certainly provided an illuminating new interpretation to the achievement gap literature that deserves serious consideration. Buy a copy here.

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