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The Sound of Ideas

Acting White/Acting Black: The Search for Racial Identity

Posted Wednesday, October 17, 2007

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Recent research indicates that many black adolescents face accusations of "acting white" if they achieve good grades and participate in high school social activities. At the same time, many white hip-hoppers are criticized for "acting black" if they adopt so-called urban clothing and music styles. For teenagers wrestling with issues of self-identity, trying to navigate the minefield of racial identity can be a challenge. ideastream is sponsoring a special broadcast town hall meeting to explore your attitudes about racial identity. Photo: Northeast Ohio Hip-Hoppers Johnny LaRock and Mush Mouth will provide some musical reflections on "Acting White & Acting Black."

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Arts and Culture, Education, Community/Human Interest

Additional Information

Here are some issues to consider:


  • What's it mean to you to "act white" or "act black"?

  • Have you seen someone you thought was "acting white" or "acting black"? How did it make you feel?

  • Have you been accused of "acting white"? How did you react?

  • Has the "acting white" issue been overblown? Is it really a problem?

  • How important is your racial identity to you?

  • Do white rappers have any business doing hip hop?


90.3 WCPN Moderators: Dan Moulthrop & Tasha Flournoy
Our discussion will include some nationally-known scholars:
Dr. Angela Neal-Barnett, Kent State University researcher of the "Acting White" phenomenon.
Bakari Kitwana, author of Why White Kids Love Hip Hop: Wangstas, Wiggers, Wannabes, and the New Reality of Race in America.
Jason Tanz, author of Other People's Property: A Shadow History of Hip-Hop in White America.

Plus, we'll have the music of a Northeast Ohio Mixed-Race Hip-Hop Duo Johnny La Rock & Mush Mouth -- also known as Eddie Fleisher and Aaron Donahoo. They recently spent a week on the popular Vans Warped Tour of alternative music acts.

Acting White/Acting Black
A webliography from Cleveland Public Library

An article discussing the results of a study titled “An Empirical Analysis of ‘Acting White’.” The author of the study, Roland G. Fryer, is assistant professor of economics, Harvard University and a faculty research fellow, the National Bureau of Economic Research. The full text of the original study is available here.

Bakari Kitwana, an author and expert on youth culture, hip-hip politics and activism, spoke at Ohio University in 2006, touching on racial and political issues and the effects of hip-hop culture on modern society.  This article summarizes his talk and discusses his book “Why White Kids Love Hip-Hop.”

Eminem, arguably the most famous white person who “acts black” is profiled here. The article also discusses the differences in how people perceive black and white performers of rap and hip hop music.

Other reading:

Walking On Water: Black American Lives at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century / Randall Kenan “More than a book of analysis,” Kenan writes, “this is my book of soul searching. I am asking who we are.” Crisscrossing North America, he visits some familiar settings--Oakland, New Orleans, and New York--and some unusual places (including Bangor, Maine, and Maidstone, Saskatchewan) to discover how everyday black folks deal with issues of race, identity, and nationality.

Other People’s Property: A Shadow History of Hip-Hop in White America / Jason Tanz. A look at race and identity in our country today, Other People’s Property blends memoir, history, cultural analysis, and on-the-ground reportage to explore hip-hop’s decades-long journey through white America.

“Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” and Other Conversations About Race / Beverly Daniel Tatum There is a moment when every child leaves color-blindness behind and enters the world of race consciousness. At that moment, there are two roads parents, educators, therapists can take: they can follow the status quo, internalizing racial expectations, become-consciously or unconsciously-part of the problem. Or, they can question stereotypes and actively work against racism to become part of the solution. This book provides some of the tools needed to become part of the solution.

On the Road with Barack Obama With a fund-raising machine in overdrive, a rock-star image, a message of unity and inclusion, and powerful friends like Oprah Winfrey, Illinois Senator Barack Obama continues his bid to become America’s first Black president.  While on the campaign trail he has to confront critics who think he “isn’t black enough.” By Gwen Ifill Essence Magazine, Oct 2007, pg. 225

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