What Does it Mean to 'Act White'? -- A Race Survey


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Julie E. Creech

Hypatia Society

I thought you might enjoy a little project I was working on a few months back (Well, hopefully get really outraged at the results :)). I was volunteering (art club) at an inner city high school that did not have any art classes..

So one day a different friend of mine comes to me talking about how this guy he worked with at a factory was Nation of Islam and had been talking about all kinds of BS about not acting white, or trying to be white. I was amazed to hear that he'd told my friend that black people shouldn't go to college or try to do well in school because it was 'trying to act white'.

Oh my God! was I outraged... Such a racist statement, how could one live with this kind of self-hatred and ignorance? I assumed that this was just some crazy guy.. but talking to a lot of people I started to find that this is not an uncommon attitude.

Well, I decided to do a little survey of my friends students (she offered them extra credit) to see what their attitudes were about how to act black vs. act white.

The results saddened me because I had never realized how much this population often applies negative and racist stereotypes to their own potential--- and even makes it 'cool'.

Race Survey & Results

This is a race survey I had an English teacher give to her freshman students for extra credit. The survey was taken at an inner city charter school for construction careers in St. Louis. The student population is about 99% black and I do not know the races of the

respondents, or any other identifying information (students signed to get credit, but I don't know the students). total participants-- 57. (the survey as given had no directions or explanations for the statements or questions asked, just a plain paper with these 5 questions).


1. John is 17 years old, he is in the math club and has a GPA of 3.8. He listens to classical music and plays the clarinet, he also listens to jazz, rock, and some rap. John's friends are polite and they all like to play soccer after school. John's favorite clothes are jeans and a Duke sweatshirt which is where he plans to attend college in the fall. He is planning to become a scientist. John is well behaved and listens to his parents and obeys the rules at school, he has never smoked cigarettes, drank alcohol or done drugs. He is a virgin and although he talks to some of the girls in band with him he doesn't feel that he is ready to be in a relationship or be sexually active. What color is John?

55 responses; black- 14% ; white 75% ; either or both 10%

2. Roger is also 17 years old, he attends high school with John but they do not know each other. Roger wears baggy clothes all of the time and listens to hip hop. Roger is barely passing his classes and skips school on a regular basis, he wants to go to college but doesn't feel like he will be able to. Roger has a daughter who just turned 2, and he sees her often but he doesn't have a regular job to support her with. Roger's friends are all a lot like he is, they all like to hang in the park after school and play basketball while they talk to girls. Roger gets in trouble with his mom and teachers at school a lot because he is loud and doesn't care to follow rules or pay attention, he has seen a lot of drugs and has experimented with them sometimes. What color is Roger?

54 responses; black 72%; white 13%; either or both 15%

3. Kimberly is a 17 year old girl, she studies hard but still only makes mostly B's and C's. She plans to go to community College in September, after she graduates, and get a degree in nursing. Kim is in drama club, and she enjoys working on routines with her classmates after school, and she goes to ballet 3 times a week. She had a boyfriend, but she broke up with him because her parent's didn't like him. Kim is a somewhat shy girl, and doesn't have very many friends, but the friends that she does have mean a lot to her. When they go to the mall they all like to look at all of the latest fashions, Kim is a little bit alternative in the way she dresses, she wears punk t-shirts and plaid pants a lot and changes her hair color whenever the mood strikes her. Although many of her friends smoke cigarettes she doesn't, and she considers her dad to be her best friend. What color is Kim?

55 responses; black 16%; white 73%, either or both 11%

4. Lisa is a wild child, at 16 she dropped out of school to take care of her daughter, Renee, Lisa works full time at McDonalds and spends her spare time hanging out with her friends at one of their houses. Kim likes to smoke pot with her mom, and doesn't really have any plans for the future. She doesn't have a steady boyfriend right now but is talking to a guy who she met at a party, she thinks he may deal drugs but she doesn't mind since he's at least making money. Kim's favorite clothes are the styles she sees in the rap videos on TV. What color is Kim? (my typos are here, I reverted and called Lisa, Kim, oops!)

53 responses; black 64%; white 21%; either or both 11%; mixed race 4%



5. What does it mean to `act white?'


*Some choose to be quiet and organized, others don't.


*Doing good in school and is in class on time

*there is no way to act white

*Smart and well behaved

*They talk preppy like. they listen to country music.

*proper talk

*Act decent in public when with parents

*Talk back to any white person


*it means that if you get like you picture them then you *go from there and to that

*It means to be proper and have different way of saying things

*To pay attention to your parents

*proper, listen to white music, preppy

*to be strong and proud of where you came from

*when you say `dude' after everything they say

*go to ballet, listen to hard rock, wears ran-over pants, and make up their own words to fit in

*You talk different

*act proper and normal

*when you act white you are said to be proper, polite, rich, respectful and know where they're going in life.

*proper talk

*to be smart

*when you act white you are smart and do things that are right

*I don't really is a way you act white or black it's how you are

*so proper and always have to [be] right no matter what

*I don't know

*I don't believe in acting white

*Think you are smart, better than everyone, popular

*I don't think there is a such thing as acting white or black

*To act like you are better than other people and be full of yourself

*I guess it means to be cheerful all of the time

*How you talk, dress

*Stuck up and proper

*want to know it all, suppose[d] to be perfect and talk *geeky

*they care, polite, suburbs, schoolboys

*you tell me

*very proper, (some) white folks think they're better than others

*stuck up and proper

*to act proper

*is to try to down your culture and talk like you are very important Example=(hello)

*to be a human being

*to be a human being

*you speak more proper, act more proper, don't mess with drugs

*to be like a white person, if you're not (depends on who you're with)

*to be uppity about everything, geeky and always into stuff


*stuck up, proper


*when you try to talk white and be white







6. What does it mean to `act black?'

*The same for blacks (choose to be quiet and organized. or not).

*Every black person doesn't smoke pot and every black teen doesn't have a child. *comment on back [the comment is "I don't think this

survey should be done. It's racist. Blacks and whites are the same. Everyone lives like they want. There's some common blacks and whites and there's some wild whites and blacks. this shouldn't make a

difference. Not necessary).

*outrageous, tight

*acting tough, skipping class and watching rap videos

*there is no way to act black


*they listen to hip-hop

*use slang

*what it means to act black is to talk like black people, act like black people, and the same thing goes for acting white


*might not graduate from high school


*to act like you feel like its done

*it means to be ghetto and having a nasty attitude and disrespect people

*to pay attention to your parents and make good grades

*no proper talk, slang, and wear baggy clothes, listen to rap music hip-hop

*to take pride in your heritage

*when they say `nigga' in everything they say

*you talk different, look ghetto

*act ghetto and gangster

*listen to hip hop, saggy pants, by making B's and C's even though we try our hardest, drop out of high school to have a baby and work at a fast food restaurant

*when you act black you are said to be loud, hang out with rough crowds, disrespectful, stupid, wears baggy clothes and whatnot.

*To act black means you don't know where you're going in life


*to act wild

*when you act black you go crazy and do stupid things, but some blacks are smart too

*I dont really is a way you act white or black it's how you are

*cool, loud, smart, love to have fun, get mad easy in all situation

*I don't know

*I don't believe in acting black

*Ghetto I guess

*there is no acting black

*Be ghetto, kill people, stay out all night

*Thug, gangster, tight

*I don't think there's such a thing as acting white or black.

*Someone who is ghetto and speaks out loud about everything and mostly listens to rap and hip-hop. some white people is just as ghetto and loud as black people but don't anyone point it out because they're white

*to hold yourself in a certain manner

*listening to rap, wear name brand clothes

*ghetto, loud, up front

*talk ghetto

*don't care, rude, thugs, hoods

*you tell me

*talking slang, baggy jeans

*ghetto, loud, up front

*to act ghetto

*is to say and use slang words Example= (whazz up)

*to be a human being

*to be a human being

*speak ghetto, dance ghetto, usually about sex and drugs. Ghetto is where you don't care what people think

*to be like a black person, if you're not black

*Laid back, always trying to fit in, always being the one to get in trouble at school


*ghetto, loud, up front


*when you start talking black


Some Additional notes and numbers:

5 of the kids stated that the survey is stereotyping people

1 child commented that the survey is racist

8 kids corrected my typos

7 kids said there is no way to act white or black

1 child changed their answers, under the character descriptions, from either white or black to the stereotypical answer to the question.

2 students did not answer any questions, they just signed the survey.

The teacher informed me that many of her students complained that this survey was racist against black people because I had used so many stereotypes in my descriptions of the teens. She also told me that, when she pointed out that the survey did not state the race of any of the individuals, most of them were taken aback at their own assumptions about who was white and who was black.




definitions of slang from internet:

Ghetto - noun - that which is not very highly cultured or regarded is

said to be ghetto. This is not necessarily and insult, but is most

often misconstrued this way. Usage: My car is kinda ghetto.


1) (n) A gangster or criminal.

2) (adj) In the way of a gangster.

3) (adj) A style of rap that evolved in South Central, Los Angeles.


(n) Someone who does not have anything but himself. "Livin' life thug style" -- Tupac (To live and die in L.A. [????]).


1) (adj) A state of mind, feeling really good at the moment. Straight, legitimate, all-good.

2) (adj) Cool, dope, fresh.

Discussion about Racial issues and/or this survey

I think like a genius, I write like a distinguished author, and I speak like a child.

~Vladimir Nabokov