Acting white

When John McWhorter argued in Losing the Race: Self-Sabotage in Black America that aspects of African-American culture, such as anti-intellectualism, were debilitating and counter-productive he was accused by some of being a self-hating sellout. It’s going to be harder to take that line against Henry Louis Gates, distinguished scholar and chair of Harvard’s African and African American Studies Department.

At a recent talk in Washington to promote his new book, Behind the Color Line: Dialogues with African Americans, Gates had this to say:

I remember a poll where black kids were asked to list the things they considered ‘acting white. The top three things were: making straight A’s, speaking standard English and going to the Smithsonian. Now, if anybody had said anything like that when we were growing up in the ’50s, first, your mother would smack you upside the head and second, they’d check you into a mental institution.

Talking about the misogny, homophobia, and violence found in hip-hop culture Gates said:

What I’m trying to figure out is why our kids…embrace those modes of behavior as authentically black. It is killing our people. And it makes me sick….Our leaders are geniuses at jumping on white racism…when anti-black racism by anybody manifests itself, I’ll be right there pouncing on it, too. But unless we do the second, necessary, act of leadership, which is to critique pathological forms of behavior with any African American community, our people will be doomed, doomed to perpetuate the class divide…


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