Race, Academics and 'Acting White'

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

It has been 56 years since the Supreme Court struck down segregation in Brown vs. Board of Education. A new book, “Acting White: The Ironic Legacy of Desegregation,” puts forward the notion that desegregation's positive changes have come along with some unintended side effects. Stuart Buck, the book's author, argues that the criticism successful black students often receive from their peers – that they are “acting white” – is largely a consequence of how our schools were desegregated.


Buck joins us to talk about the book. And Art Symes, the former Dean of Architecture at Southern University, also joins the conversation. He was one of the last students to graduate from Bordentown, a public, all black boarding school in New Jersey that closed in 1955.

Art was also featured in the recent PBS documentary, "A Place Out of Time - The Bordentown School."


Stuart Buck and Art Symes

Produced by:

Samantha Fields

Comments [4]

Frank from VIctorville

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Apr. 12 2011 08:37 PM
HistoryTeacher from Princton, NJ

I very much appreciate the Take Away pointing me in the direction of this provocative work as well as the documentary about the Bordentown School. I would have liked a longer and more in-depth discussion of Mr. Buck's thesis. I encourage interested listeners and readers to examine the thoughtful review of Mr. Buck's work on the slate.com by Richard Thompson Ford and the dozens of fascinating comments on the review's web site.

Jul. 14 2010 07:40 PM
christine from Brooklyn

Hi Amy Todd,
This a great comment regarding language and education. This issue IS addressed in schools quite a bit. I am a white teacher in NYC working in east Harlem. Language is a powerful tool and can be used to maintain power structures in our societies - that is, if we allow it to do that. Teachers today are being trained to look at language in new ways. We are taught to respect the dialect of our students and not make assumptions about the students who do not speak Standard American English. We are taught to use a student's home language and vernacular as a way of engaging students in the classroom. We must do this while also increasing their Standard American English literacy so that they can access places in our society that are only accessible through the use of Standard American English. It is a difficult issue that is being raised and addressed in a lot of urban and rural classrooms. There is an emerging need to respect a student's language rights while also providing them access to the culture of power that uses only Standard American. English.

Jul. 14 2010 11:27 AM
Amy Todd from Cambridge, MA

My son is biracial (I’m white, his father is black). Sometimes I correct him when he says “aks” (ask). Sometimes I let it go. After all, his black camp councilors and after-school teachers and other people we respect say aks.

At some level (maybe the only level), it’s racist and classist to insist your child speak (act) white. It's also aesthetically narrow and reinforces the notion that you must act white to be a successful student or academic.

Of course, like everything, it depends on specific circumstances, but I think many parents (and teachers) of black children and adults think about these things. There is no guidance; to my knowledge the issue is not raised in parenting and teaching.

Jul. 14 2010 10:11 AM

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