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What is Black? Let’s Talk About “Acting White”

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In 1989, late Whitney Houston was booed at the Soul Train Awards because her songs appealed “more to the white folks, rather than the blacks”.

When a reporter asked her what she thought about that? She made one of the most famous quotes of all time – “What is Black?”

Over the years, there have been conversations that if you study for so many degrees or speak a certain way or style your hair a new way or you are too successful, you are “acting white”.

Although Nigerians have taken a lot of inspiration from the western world, for example vocal frying (the way Kim Kardashian talks), tanning (yes, you won’t believe how many folks do that in Lagos), and we have to point skin lightening.

Do all these present itself as blacks acting white?

President Obama - April 2014 - BN Career - BellaNaija.com
At a town hall meeting held earlier in the week, President Barack Obama said there is “no authentic way” to the black.

“Sometimes African-Americans, in communities where I’ve worked, there’s been the notion of ‘acting white’ – which sometimes is overstated. But there’s an element of truth to it, where, OK, if boys are reading too much, then, well, why are you doing that? Or why are you speaking so properly? And the notion that there’s some authentic way of being black, that if you’re going to be black you have to act a certain way and wear a certain kind of clothes, that has to go. There are many different ways for African-American men to be authentic.” Obama told a group according to CNN

Do you believe that being overly successful or trying out new ways of the western world, shows blacks as acting white?

Let’s Talk About It!

39 Comments

  1. ROBINAHOOD

    July 28, 2014 at 8:12 pm

    there is no such thing as acting white in NIgeria! plz bella naija dont try to spread bad african american behavior. Nigerians know how to behave and speak properly in school. we dont have Akata or ghetto behavior. we dont have to act like lil wayne or french montana to be “black”

    • nene

      July 29, 2014 at 1:51 am

      gbam. this does not relate to us biko!

    • chi-e-z

      July 29, 2014 at 3:56 am

      yet, you just proved the author’s point by equating African Americans with ghetto behaivior by saying Akata and ghetto as synonyms.Well, news flash I live around a lot of African Americans in the Ghetto that speak properly(some country and yeah some ebonics at times but can switch to a “proper/preppy” accent in a minute)..Just because someone is black and from America and lives in the Ghetto doesn’t mean they are less of a human being or that they can’t make kicking a$$ ogbono,egusi efo cause my friends can.

  2. ak

    July 28, 2014 at 8:26 pm

    This is ridiculous..

    There is no such thing as “Acting white” or “acting black”

    Those are races..

    Now there is such a thing as acting “ghetto” or “proper” or “snobbish” “prudish” or “razz”

    But as far as acting like a race, it is simply impossible to define since there are so many distinct characterizations of a race… A black man from the Queens in America, is different from a Black man from Louisiana, and they are both different from black men from Jamaica, and black men from Africa.

    The same goes for White, Middle Eastern and Asian men.

    Everyone who listens to Whitney will immediately know its a black woman singing -she has those strong vocals and runs.

    The same way anyone who hears Barbra Streisand or Pavarotti.

  3. Muyiwa

    July 28, 2014 at 8:30 pm

    I think President Obama got it wrong. Blacks have a culture, a way of life. It is evident in the way a child is brought up, the way a young one defers to elders, the way we hold dear our communal values. The mode of speech or dressing of an educated and enlightened black man has nothing to do with acting white. After all, those who paved the way for black freedom ‘supposedly’ acted white. So I think the bone of contention is in how some blacks have laid to rest their communal values for absolute westernization.

    • Anon

      July 28, 2014 at 10:17 pm

      Blacks have a culture, a way of life. It is evident in the way a child is brought up,

      All blacks or some blacks? Nigerians, Jamaicans, Black-Americans/African Americans?

    • Iris

      July 29, 2014 at 1:47 am

      You’ve missed the plot O. He’s referring to African Americans and how if you speak properly and don’t subscribe to certain stereotypes you’re seen as trying to “act white.” I don’t think it is completely an African American thing though. It is starting to trickle into Africans who live abroad, but in a different way. For some people if you don’t scream “three gbosas”, are not big on going to Cokobar, and you have a mix of friends from other continents you’re seen as some kind of sell-out.

    • MC

      July 29, 2014 at 11:36 am

      You’ve just described me!
      born and raised in London, i always got “oh you’re so well spoken” “you sound like a white girl”
      “you can’t be Nigerian, look at the way you talk, walk, breathe, sleep”
      ‘if you’re Nigerian how come you don’t have many Nigerian friends, go to all the Nigerian clubs?”….hello! born and raised in London….I’ve always wondered why I was EXPECTED to appear “more Nigerian” than I am, seeing as I had never been to Nigeria (I have now visited though) and all I know is the wonderful multicultural city I grew up in.

  4. Nina

    July 28, 2014 at 8:31 pm

    Please abeg this convo is for african-americans, they are the ones that debate on that all day. Naija is not ckecking anybody for vocal frying or “acting white”. In fact, you are made fun of for not talking properly (and not the other way round like AAs). The issue we have tho is people not being authentic. For example people traveling out and spending a few weeks…months…or years abroad then coming back with an accent. That is super inferiority complex right there. I came to the US at 15 years old and still have my Naija accent in tact, so all these faker have no excuse. People forever want to blend in with the rest but ur authenticity is what makes u stand out.

    • Anthonia

      July 29, 2014 at 2:09 am

      U right about that. Have been in America for many yrs and I still speak broken English. Even when I went home to Nigeria I still speak broken English

    • Dat Naija boy

      July 29, 2014 at 5:13 am

      Inability for any Naija kid to speak broken English does not make him inferior to those who speak broken English. Neither does having Western accent means you are not an authentic Naija. You may not speak broken English and still be an authentic Nigeria. Wole Soyinka is one such example. He has good command of English. It depends on what kind of career you practice. I have seen Naija folks who have Naija written all over them but they are not authentic NIgerians. While there are those who were never born in Nigeria and are even more authentic been a Nigeria.
      I have met many Nigerians who are pretty surprise to hear I am a Nigerian. they always say I don’t look like Nigerians at all. that my accent does not sound Nigeria. That amazed me really because I have no idea how I sound. But don’t try to fool me with Naija any language because I do understand a bit of everything even though I can speak it. Just two weeks ago I met a Naija guy on the Ftrain to Queens, He needed direction we later hop into the train and we later get talking. He was baffled after a long while of discussion I jump straight into Yoruba, I could see the surprise in his face. Even though I told him I am a Nigeria he was still surprise. Naija is country of diversity, instead of programming our identity in one certain way, we should be celebrating our diversity.

    • frostycake

      July 29, 2014 at 2:12 am

      See am tired of people saying ‘ I hve been in America for 21 years and no accent”…but someone who has been there for three months can decide to learn and intone words like the people around them…so if he starts speaking like that is cause he or she put their mind to it,thats how they want to talk..
      But for u long years occupants that still hve ur strong nigerian accent good for you that’s your choice.

  5. ak

    July 28, 2014 at 8:34 pm

    I will say though that there are certain stereotypes of a culture… i.e Camping, Fried Chicken and co.

    However, becoming successful is not a “white man” thing – We’ve had Shaka Zulu’s, Gandhi’s, Nefertiti’s and Pharaoh’s long before these silly stereotypes.

    And no, “Trying out new ways of the western world” does not equal being White….

    It shows one has an open mind, and an open mind comes with education/exposure.

  6. Clara ok

    July 28, 2014 at 8:43 pm

    It’s really sad that Nigerians are trying to be white they should take a clue from CEO dancers in the UK version of the xfactor , they came out trying to be like Beyoncé nd the judges lost interest but the moment they started doing it the african way which the girls are they nailed it..

  7. jcsgrl

    July 28, 2014 at 8:43 pm

    Do you believe that being overly successful or trying out new ways of the western world, shows blacks as acting white? Hmnnn…I believe that certain mannerisms, tastes, accents, lifestyles can be associated with different social/racial classes of people. So if you are influenced by those group of people, they tend to rub off on you and start acting or speaking likewise. For example, if you grew up around predominantly white kids in a preppy neighborhood of course you will act and speak like them. The only thing is they are not the only classification for being white. There’s the kimkardashianesque type, there’s the white trash type, there’s southern-cultured type all within the category of being white. Its your experiences abi exposure that determines who you act like. Check out our naija ppl for example, the people who grew up in Lagos act, speak and have different life experiences to those who lived in say the east. It affects the kind of lifestyle they live, how they speak and act. All within being naija o!. So I agree with Obama…there is no authentic way to be black or whatever other category that is out there. He was raised by white parents who grew up lower class I think but emphasized education and cultural exposure…hence his college educated white mom who hooked up with a kenyan, indonesian abi hawaian. Anyway, the koko of my rambling is you act, live or speak how you are based on the people you associate with and your environment

  8. jumi

    July 28, 2014 at 8:50 pm

    All these are for black americans, we are nigerians, so acting white is just silly

    • MC

      July 29, 2014 at 11:43 am

      But there are some Black (Nigerian) Americans that read this blog

  9. Teris

    July 28, 2014 at 9:09 pm

    “acting white” = “this person too dey do oyibo”
    maybe we can afford to be a little oyibo… seems to be working for their economy and quality of life.

    and by this, i do not mean “forming” o! (where “forming” = “fake”)

  10. Gooner483

    July 28, 2014 at 9:22 pm

    Acting white hmm…
    We live in a system of racism/white supremacy which permeates through all aspects of society (education, entertainment, politics, law, war, sex, labour) ….
    in other words White Superiority —Black Inferiority
    Since its inception (white supremacy) blacks worldwide have been brainwashed and indoctrinated to value whiteness over blackness. The list is endless
    E.g weaves, wigs , bleaching, shooting videos abroad, foreign religion, getting married in Dubai, using light skinned/white women in music videos, faking accents, anglicising our names, preferring foreign made items to local items , “white weddings” , showing off foreign items on Instagram, refusing to further the empowerment of the black community…………all this is resonant with whiteness”…….
    Blackness has sadly been suppressed by the system…and we continue to perpetuate it

  11. Carliforniabawlar

    July 28, 2014 at 10:09 pm

    Lol….i agree that this conversation is kinda misdirected. Most Nigerians i’ve met in diaspora have their own unique swag going. I just see as it as the educated Nigerian swag, simpu! No acting involved. They are ready to try out new stuff….most of my friends have tried out zip-linning, paint-balling, shooting range, camping and a host of other ‘white people stuff’…,but then again, i just see it as, for the lack of a better phrase “acting like a well-traveled Nigerian”
    The only acting i see is when folks act African-American (aka Ghetto or Nigger’ish)…..but that convo is a totally different one.

    • MC

      July 29, 2014 at 11:49 am

      “Ghetto and Nigger’ish’….is it only African-Americans that act this way?
      those behaviours (and many others) you will find are not limited to just one race/culture.
      there are “ghetto” white people. There are “ghetto Nigerians that also act “nigger’ish”.
      The point here is, you can not say a particular behaviour is exclusive to just one race.
      there is no such thing as acting white. there is no such thing as acting black.

  12. Bev

    July 28, 2014 at 10:36 pm

    Bell Naija Team, you guys have lost your everlasting minds, you are a NIGERIAN platform. What has this topic got to do with your target audience? If I want to read American Black angst real or imagined I know where to go. I did not bother to read the article because this is a topic that has been over flogged in AB websites by people who know EXACTLY how this has affected their lives. For several months I have watched you guys post articles that make you appear to be an outfit overrun by headless chickens. If it is not jacking articles from Linda, it is posting MKO like articles and underwhelming fashion magazine like articles. You guys better fix up! This is from an old head reader from the days of exchanging voice notes on blogger and when Ashionye was the Toke Makinwa.

  13. poison ivy

    July 28, 2014 at 10:54 pm

    @gonner483,ooh no you didn’t…….did you just say “getting hitched in dubai”.giirrl you just hit a nerve(tiwa’s army’s oya,over to you).

  14. Thatgidigirl

    July 28, 2014 at 11:21 pm

    The amount of time and energy the african americans spend in trying to define themselves and uphold whatever it is they’re trying to uphold……constantly trying to prove a point, its exhausting! They’re either crying racism or brewing some controversy pertaining to their race or some inconsequential crap….. give it a break please!

    • Engoz

      July 29, 2014 at 2:01 pm

      I agree with you. It’s because they really don’t have an identity that is why they substitute by identifying with the only unifying element -skin color. It’s not a fault of theirs since history shows how they were dealt with by racists. We have our various identities – Igbo, Hausa, Ijaw etc. we don’t need to be defined by our skin color. That is how the colonialists got it wrong, thinking they could just amalgamate different ethnic groups in one country because after all we are ‘black’. Personally I see AA as another ethnic group or tribe. It’s just like me bothering myself over the issues with some ethnic group other than mine.

  15. Engoz

    July 28, 2014 at 11:34 pm

    I find it totally annoying to see that this is on a Nigerian forum. As Nigerians we are defined by our ethnic groups and not by who is blacker than the other… Ethnic groups that have existed long before the introduction of the confusion of skin color and stereotypical mannerisms a ‘skin color’ is supposed to adopt. An African woman who is aware of her identity, her strong cultural ties laced with history is an epitome of poise, elegance and the politeness of speech e.g Lupita Nyong’o. These traits are encouraged in the African whereas it can be seen as acting ‘white’ according to the uneducated class of the AA community. So really, how is this topic our problem?

  16. jennietobbie

    July 29, 2014 at 12:57 am

    Tanning in Lagos?????

    **no comment**

    • MC

      July 29, 2014 at 11:52 am

      LOL!
      I assumed maybe sunbathing on the beach.

  17. Girl

    July 29, 2014 at 1:16 am

    This does not apply to your audience Bella naija. Stop this mess! You reached too far with this one. Most Africans in diaspora are articulate, cultured and open minded and if that constitutes being white then the black man is not ready for change.

  18. nene

    July 29, 2014 at 1:52 am

    BN we do not care about acting white because it doesn’t apply to us. we have our issues which Isio Wanogho and other BN writers talk about almost every week.

  19. Dizzy

    July 29, 2014 at 3:27 am

    Pls who is tanning in lagos?

    • ak

      July 29, 2014 at 2:02 pm

      Who isn’t tanning in that god forsaken heat?

    • nanciejul

      August 5, 2014 at 5:40 pm

      lmao!!!!!!!!!!!

  20. Hi

    July 29, 2014 at 7:37 am

    When you live in Nigeria and your children do not speak and understand your vernacular language, they speak their own invented English Language to you and others and themselves, you are “acting white”. When you are a broadcaster on the National Television based in Nigeria, talking and using ‘an accent’ you don’t recognize, you are “acting white”.

  21. SASSYCASSIE

    July 29, 2014 at 9:13 am

    bellanaija, u have lost the plot. better go back to the drawing board and remember your positioning . the lack of coherence in your representation will drive people away . i don talk my own.

  22. Sere

    July 29, 2014 at 9:43 am

    BN has come again with their way of making imported issues seem important. The world is a global village but this doesn’t mean we need to project foreign “issues” unto ourselves and begin to weep more than the bereaved. Among Nigerians, the closest thing to ‘acting white’ as you have described it is ‘aje butter’. ‘Aje butter’ does not have the same sociocultural connotations as ‘acting white’
    Bella naija of four seasons and international readership, please try not let spring-summer-autumn-winter create confusion in your minds.

  23. Amaka

    July 29, 2014 at 1:18 pm

    Please read Ak’s comment and close this commentary. That’s all you need to know!

  24. maria

    July 29, 2014 at 6:51 pm

    OMG this hit home really hard. actually a African american girl has pick a fight with me before, all because she thinks i act white, she even threatened to beat me up i was scared for my life.

  25. JOSEPHINE AITEOBHOR. Caleb University Imota Lagos.

    January 19, 2015 at 11:27 pm

    Thou you may or may not agree with the blacks acting white, the truth some blacks are acting white. Aside the reading too much, speaking properly, There are so many other ways in which blacks act white, Looking at dressing for instance you will agree with me that to some extent, blacks are beginning to dress in the same way and manner the whites dress. what ever happened to wearing our Ankara and native wears to work and other cooperate functions? but we prefer the suit and tie not considering the weather, this is because we want to feel among and look like them. there are so many other instances looking at the food, culture….. and this change or shift in culture is as a result of what we see in the media. the western world has dominated the media around the world and this has a powerful effect on 3rd world countries like ours by imposing on us western values. It is a pure case of cultural imperialism.

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