Black History: Stereotypes-Labeling-Acting White
February 25, 2014
Labeling is a fact of life, but how it is applied to people is a subjective and wide ranging subject. I was talking recently to a record exec about a new act and he said they have talent but we are not sure how to label their music. He was simply saying his company was trying to find a format that would generate enough of a fan base for a big pay day for all. This sort of thinking is completely understandable in terms of marketing a product, but labeling when applied to an educational, social, or economic situation can be potentially stigmatizing individually and or collectively for groups of Americans.
Creation Story-Social Characterization-Buying Into Labeling
Every human being has a series of defining moments during their life. Children can be shaped by seemingly harmless labels as early as first grade. Ask anyone and they can tell you what reading group they were a member of in elementary school.
I remember catching a cold followed by the measles and missing a lot of time at school in first grade. When I returned to class my teacher determined I had missed too much time and might fall behind with my reading skills, so she moved me from the first to the second reading group. When I got home both my parents and grandparents could see I was upset. I explained my teacher didn't think I was very smart anymore and I was now in the second reading group. After soothing my ego, that night I overheard my grandmother talking on the phone to my teacher. As I pointed out in last week's Black History entry, she was a teacher and on this occasion she used her friendship to stress to Mrs. Riley what effect changing my reading group status had on me. Although my Grandmother taught in a different school district, my teacher apparently respected her words and sure enough the next day to my surprise, I was back in the first reading group. My social status with my peers had been restored and I can still remember a couple of the kids asking me what kind of stuff the second reading group was studying. Unknowingly it was my first lesson in how labeling can affect social status and how people can look at others as different because of belonging to another group.
For many years white supremacists and numerous historians with less than honorable intentions have used false scientific data and other myths to point to reasons African Americans and other minorities are inferior. At the same time some African Americans within classrooms have pointed fingers at those trying to get an education as acting white. This term was once used by some scholars to label academically inclined minorities, who allegedly were shunned by some of their fellow classmates.
This crazy notion was addressed at the 2004 Democratic National Convention by a then Senator Barrack Obama, "Go into any inner-city neighborhood and folks will tell you that government alone can't teach kids to learn. They know that parents have to parent, that children can't achieve unless we raise their expectations and turn off the television sets and eradicate the slander that says black youth with a book is acting white."
There have always been cliques within cliques at every level of our society. However, for such propaganda to be spread at any level is demeaning. So in other words are we to believe the only reason any minority has obtained an education is because they wanted to be white? It is insulting to the current and past African Americans who have become pillars in education, business, politics, and vocations once deemed out of reach for African Americans and people of color. The ancestors of slaves, runaway slaves, and free African Americans during slavery, have endured every step along the way to get ahead.
Education and The Power of Unity
I once heard someone refer to reading as traveling without moving an inch, to add to that thought—it has helped African Americans travel up the social economic ladder. The number one theme for African Americans should be to build within and not attempt to bring others down. Discussion and disagreement of how to continue the journey of achievement as a people will always be a source of contention for academics, social activists, and politicians alike. Regardless of individual progress, unity is the key ingredient for the future. The Montgomery bus boycott worked because of the unified effort by the African Americans of the city; there was a lot of bickering behind the scenes but the show of economic unity by withholding the dollars, moved Blacks from the back to the front of the bus.
Black History Moving Forward
Regardless of how many African Americans and people of color continue to make history, most of it isn't sexy enough to make headlines; therefore the majority of the headlines will reflect sports scores, entertainment successes (and failures), news portraying criminal activity, and finger pointing at any alleged abuses in areas of government assistance. By the way, the next time someone talks about welfare queens or cheats, please remind them by sheer numbers, there are more whites on welfare then people of color; it's the one area being in the minority in terms of population seems to get overlooked.
More People You Should Know
Here is a short list of more current day African Americans you might not be aware of:
- Dr. Glenn C. Loury, Professor of Social Sciences and Economics at Brown University Ph.D. Economics from M.I.T
- Dr. Rosalind Fuse-Hall, President of Bennett College in Greensboro, NC
- Ph.D. and tenured Economics Professor at Harvard, Dr. Roland G. Fryer, Jr.
- Michael L. Frisby, VP & Asst. General Counsel Music Affairs Group, Sony Pictures Entertainment/Los Angeles
- 13 year Old Maya Penn, fashion designer, cartoonist and CEO of her own company
- Dr. Emmett D. Carson, Ph.D./Pres/CEO of the Minneapolis Foundation
- Dr. Margaret C Simms, an Institute Fellow at the Urban Institute. A Masters and Doctorate in Economics from Stanford University
- Dr. Julianne Malveaux, Ph.D. Economics from MIT - An educator, author, speaker, and TV/Radio commentator