Acting White: The Curious History of a Racial Slur

On Thursday, Dennis Prager talks to Ron Christie, professor of political science and strategy at George Washington University and Haverford College. His new book is Acting White: The Curious History of a Racial Slur

Ron Christie, who’s black: I trace this to the middle of the 19th Century and Harriet Beecher Stowe, who wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

When you ask what does it mean to be acting white, I first had to ask, what does it mean to act black?

To act black in the middle of the 19th Century meant you weren’t literate, you weren’t religious, and you weren’t a strong family person.

All of the major black characters in that book, with the exception of Uncle Tom, could pass as white because they were literate, religious and committed to family.

If you go to the turn of the 20th Century, you had Booker T. Washington accuse the first African-American to graduate Harvard as acting white. According to Booker T., the place for blacks was on the farm.

Malcolm X and Martin Luther King were accused of acting white.

Jesse Jackson accused Barack Obama of “acting like he’s white.”

The breakdown started with the rise of the black power movement where it was no longer chic to assimilate but blacks drew a lot of strength from being separate.

I was tutoring this inner-city first grader who said to me, “Mr. Christie, why do you dress white and why do you act white and why do you talk white?”

Because I didn’t act hip hop, I was being inauthentically black.

Dennis: “There is no parallel to this. Armenians, Jews, Chinese who retain their identities, all of them value study and hard work and never assume that means you’ve assimilated. Why only blacks?”

Ron Christie: “It’s been a dominant aspect of black culture that education is the province of whites.”

Dennis: “What do they say about Asians? Asians outdo whites in dressing well and studying well and playing in orchestras well?”

Ron: “I’m as stunned as you are. I’ve seen this in my own family. Looking at grandparents and looking at cousins, they’ve eschewed educational achievement because that’s acting white.”

Congresswoman Maxine Waters told Ron Christie, “You are a sell-out to your race. White people work for Republicans.”

Dennis: “Is there any other group that says you are a sell-out to your race?”

Luke Ford says: I remember walking past the basketball courts on Robertson and Airdrome in 90035, and these young black men started yelling at this black teenager that he was trying to act like a “white schoolboy” because he was walking past them carrying books.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been noted in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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