I remember one of the first times that my blackness was called into question. It was during my latin class in highschool. A white guy decided that it would be appropriate to talk about how he hated the idea of Miss Black America because, “we don’t have a Miss White America, so why do they get a Miss Black America?” As was custom, I was the only black girl in the class at the time, so another girl in the class tapped him on the shoulder and whispered to him “shhh…she’s black!” In response, the white guy whispered back to her “so what, she goes to this [prep] school…” I took that comment to mean that because I was a black girl who went to a prep school and who was educated, I wasn’t ‘truly black enough’ to be offended by his comments. Therefore, he felt comfortable making those ridiculous comments in front of me. He obviously felt that my educational background made me ‘a cut above’ other black people and that I wasn’t ‘truly black enough.’
I was not the only black girl at my school to be called ‘acting white.’ One of my bestfriends told me of a similar incident that happened to her while she was working at an after school job. Apparently, one of her coworkers (who was a white female) was working at the deli in the grocery store, when a black person came up to the counter and ordered something well-done. The girl took the order, but after the customer left she remarked to another white employee…”black people like all their food burned.” My friend, who is black, said to the girl “what did you say? Why would you make a comment like that when I’m right here, I’m black.” The white girl then remarked to my friend…” but, you’re so white…”
My friend later told me that the main thing that offended her was the fact that the girl told her “she was so white.” She said to me, “just because I speak in full sentences and have read a book does NOT mean I’m not black!”
She was on to something. I realized that my black friend and I were probably the only black people who my white peers interacted with on a regular basis. We were the people who they would be referring to when they stated, “I have a lot of black friends,” we were the people who would be placed on the cover of the school pamphlet to demonstrate how ‘diverse’ the school was. We were the token blacks.
The fact that my friend and I did not conform to the image of black people on BET, on the news and in rap videos (the image most of my white peers were accustomed to) made us seem like the exceptional blacks, the token blacks. According to society, ‘true black people,’ spoke in ebonics, couldn’t read and sold drugs. So therefore, my friend and I were categorized as black people who had ‘mastered the art of whiteness,’ and thus our behavior, our pursuit of education, our intellect and our positive upbringing was seen as ‘not truly black behavior,’ but white behavior.
This racist ideology stems from the notion that many white people (both consciously and subconsciously) are incapable of associating anything positive with blackness. In their minds, white is still right. White people speak ‘proper english,’ black people speak ‘ebonics,’ white people pursue education, black people pursue ignorance.
Any positive behavior by a black person is thus equated with whiteness because of the racist ideology that white is right. If my white peers didn’t associate whiteness with being right, then they would have had no trouble accepting the fact that it IS possible for a person to be educated and well-spoken and still be black. They wouldn’t have felt the need to attribute our positive behavior to our ‘acting white,’ as if all things good are white and all things bad are black…This is nothing more than white supremacy in its subtlest form, as far as I’m concerned. Clearly, this ideology of white supremacy is still pervasive to this day. It’s clear that in the recesses of some white people’s minds, they still believe that white is right…