Please Stop Your Whiny Diatribes; Academic Achievement Is Not ‘Acting White’

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Midway through reading Boluwaji Ogunyemi’s New York Times essay “When ‘Black Like Me’ Means ‘White Like Them,’” I needed to find a napkin. I had to wipe the drool from my mouth after falling asleep from reading yet another essay that centered on the age-old myth that black people are betraying their cultural identities when they dare to care about academic achievement. It’s just another sad love song wrecking my brain like crazy. I’m all torn up because that story needs to be taken out back, shot and buried in the backyard.

There are a lot of people who make the unfortunate mistake of using their anecdotes to assess an entire community, and sadly, Ogunyemi is one of them. You get that sense very early into the piece when he writes, “Being the single black student in a school of 600 had been immaterial to me. I had not developed a sense of black identity because, simply, I did not have to.”

Black-red-and-green flag on the play. The problem here is that Ogunyemi’s parents made the mistake of not informing him that no matter where you go—even in Newfoundland, where he attended school—you are black. It doesn’t make you less than, but it doesn’t mean you are eagerly welcomed into the majority, either. The Canadian government may often like to tout its progressive stances in comparison with, say, the United States, but much has been written about the country’s issues with racism with respect to the racial profiling of blacks and its treatment of indigenous people.

When you are raised to know who you are, you develop a confident sense of racial identity—one that can’t be easily dismantled by the ignorance of others.

Case in point: Ogunyemi recalls a moment when he and his classmates eagerly learned the results of an exam. Ogunyemi, who netted the highest score, recalls: “Most of the others donned looks of approval or surprise, while one, an Indo-Canadian business student, was notably shocked. ‘Are you trying to be white, Bolu?!’ he jeered. The others laughed boisterously at the question.”

This moment should not have been as impactful as it was, but because having a black identity was “immaterial to him,” he’s over being a cliché-cliché-cliché. (If you didn’t hear Beyoncé’s voice now, you, like Ogunyemi, ain’t real.)

 Ogunyemi does then try to lend credence to his sad story by citing John U. Ogbu, a professor of anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley, who has spent far too much time trying to legitimize the notion that black people don’t value education.

Last month, in “The Myth About Smart Black Kids and ‘Acting White’ That Won’t Die,” Jenée Desmond-Harris at Vox took an extensive look at this fairy tale, highlighting in varied ways how thin the research behind “the acting white” theory was to begin with.

Read the rest at The Root.

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