Acting White: The Ironic Legacy of Desegregation

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9780300123913: Acting White: The Ironic Legacy of Desegregation
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Commentators from Bill Cosby to Barack Obama have observed the phenomenon of black schoolchildren accusing studious classmates of “acting white.” How did this contentious phrase, with roots in Jim Crow-era racial discord, become a part of the schoolyard lexicon, and what does it say about the state of racial identity in the American system of education?

The answer, writes Stuart Buck in this frank and thoroughly researched book, lies in the complex history of desegregation. Although it arose from noble impulses and was to the overall benefit of the nation, racial desegegration was often implemented in a way that was devastating to black communities. It frequently destroyed black schools, reduced the numbers of black principals who could serve as role models, and made school a strange and uncomfortable environment for black children, a place many viewed as quintessentially “white.”

Drawing on research in education, history, and sociology as well as articles, interviews, and personal testimony, Buck reveals the unexpected result of desegregation and suggests practical solutions for making racial identification a positive force in the classroom.

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About the Author:

An honors graduate of Harvard Law School, Stuart Buck is a Ph.D. student in education policy at the University of Arkansas.  His work has appeared in the Harvard Law Review, the Administrative Law Review, and several other scholarly journals.

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Buck, Arkansas University doctoral fellow in education reform, enters the black-white achievement gap debate with a review of anti-academic attitudes among some black students, who dub school achievement as acting white; he finds its roots in what was lost when schools were desegregated. Buck fears misinterpretation (no one should read this section as suggesting that we should go back to segregated schools) as he delineates the costs of losing the schools as community centers, the concomitant loss of black teachers and principals as academic role models, and the detachment of black parents and students. Desegregation, he argues, then set the stage for the 'acting white' criticism to emerge in the school setting, as black students met hostile receptions from white students and teachers. Buck's proposed solutions are implausible—and almost risible: one, since humans are tribal, some students should be in an all-black environment that includes black teachers and principals, the other to replace individual grades with regular interschool competitions, supplemented by small rewards for winners on a group basis. Overstuffed with evidence showing he examined literally thousands of sources over the past several years, the result is a repetitive mélange of education philosophy and anecdotal history. (June)
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