Keeping it Real and Acting White

January 13, 2024
6 mins read

Defining the line between the Street and the Classroom 
Lord have mercy. There are about 87 expository essays in the title alone. This topic is so loaded, it’s almost daunting to even venture into. 
By Ambra Nykol
I recently came across a couple of articles on the common occurrence of black intelligence being labeled “white”. Understand that by “black intelligence” I don’t mean some sort of special forces on a secret operation, I mean black people who are smart, intelligent, productive members of society.
In a Washington Post article titled, “When the Street and the Classroom Collide”, an AP English teacher in Alexandria, Virginia shares observations on the effects of the street and other cultural pressures on the success of students in the classroom,
“Obviously, there are many low-income minority kids who strive and manage to do well in school despite their disadvantages. But sadly, they’re not the majority. Too many of them — and especially the boys — accept the idea that school is a white-oriented institution that doesn’t offer anything they need or want.”
“The boys’ attitude is to idolize millionaire rappers and basketball stars, to believe that you can’t be a real man and a student at the same time and that if you study you’re a sellout. This set of ideas is so strong and prevalent that it often affects even middle-class or lower-middle-class students.”
The idea of “selling-out” (whether it be leaving behind an ineffective political party, or striving for something higher than your situation) is rooted in the crab-pot mentality.
It’s an invisible form of slavery that keeps people bound to a lower quality of life than they deserve or are capable of. It’s really ingeniously self-perpetuating.
Keep people thinking that they “must” act a certain way and they’ll maintain the facade (which is what it is by the way) forever. Notice the teacher said that many boys’ idolize millionaire rappers and basketball stars (if one more little kid tells me his dream is to go to the NBA). I put this fault on the parents.
In this reality, Bill Cosby’s words several months ago couldn’t ring more true.
There is a strange reality at work when this topic of “acting white” comes up. The conscious side of me rejects the notion that learning, education, and intelligence are white attributes.
I know it just isn’t so. However, my sub-conscious knows exactly what people mean when they say this. As much as I detest that reality, there is an interesting concept imbedded somewhere.
Intelligence and education not withstanding, there are certain surface characteristics and traits more common to white people than other races of people.
I’m quite familiar with them as I was immersed from an early age.
Take for example, golf PTW (pre-Tiger Woods Era). It was once common knowledge that golf is a sport in which few black people (or people of color in general) partook on a consistent basis.
There could be a lot of factors in this, however one being that it’s one of the more expensive sports to partake in and access was not always readily granted.
We can say that white people are better golfers than black people, however, there is really no clear case for this. Since then, people with tremendous skill have risen up to change the norm and set a standard that took the proverbial shackles off black-golf wannabe kids everywhere.
Likewise, the deprogramming of young black minds to consider the possibility that quite possibly, they have a greater intellectual capacity than what’s often set before them is necessary.
The lie that intelligence is a “white” attribute can be bust wide open with the right educational leadership. One of the greatest plights facing black youth today is false identity.
Consistently, from the poorest neighbourhoods, to the bourgeoisie of black folks – people who lack proper perspective, vision, and clarity about who they’ve been created to be – who will destroy their own lives in some way or another.
Back in June 2004, I wrote a personal piece called To Be Young, Gifted & Black about my struggle to “maintain” my identity while being a chocolate chip in a sea of milk most of my educational life:
“For much of my childhood, I led a compartmentalized life. My day job included attendance at a predominately white school. I learned to cope. I’d never known anything different so it wasn’t too hard.
The rest of my life took place in the predominately black neighborhood in which my parents chose to raise us, my predominately black church, dance classes, track meets, and other extra-curricular activities. I got the best of “both worlds” so to speak.”
“It sounds simple but it really wasn’t at all. Attending an all-white school while the rest of my friends were in more racially diverse public schools often put me at the center of ridicule and in a perpetual state of proving my “blackness” (instead of “blackness” insert whatever stereotype you should be fulfilling). If you’ve ever tried this, you know it will turn you into a schizophrenic loony.”
In my case, I am a black female so in many ways, I grew up expected to be smart. Currently, there are more black women in college than there are black men.
That statistic’s held for many years. It is far more socially acceptable to be a black female and excel in academics.
Even then, the black girls are not exempt from mental oppression, the article explains,
“Reka Barton, who will attend the University of Virginia in the fall…And the problem isn’t limited to boys. I see a lot of focused, determined African American girls like Reka. But I’d be less than honest if I didn’t admit that there is a group of hard-core girls who are the antithesis of young women like her. These girls are so crass that they are a source of both embarrassment and amusement to sophisticated black girls. Shouting, cursing, talking a garbled blue streak and threatening other girls are their trademarks.”
School is a strange petri dish of thought, insecurity, false-identity, popular culture, and family structure.
Having graduated high school less than seven years ago, I realize now that everything that mattered back then, is completely trivial right now.
The emphasis placed on being “accepted” and “liked” in school is foolish nonsense. Eventually, many teenagers will grow up and realize that their “brainiac friend” who always earned good grades is far more successful than they are.
These are harsh realities, but if we can give young people this revelation sooner than later, we’re definitely on the right track. Part of that effort includes getting parents on that track as well.
Nykol is a columnist for The Seattle Post-Intelligencer,, Seaspot magazine and Modestly Yours. She owns and blogs at

Keeping it Real and Acting White

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