What Exactly Is “Acting Black?”

My son had come home after visiting his friend Zee. He told me how Zee’s sister had her boyfriend over. Well, Zee’s father made the statement “why is he [the sister’s boyfriend] acting black?” Yes, Zee and his family are Caucasian. We are African American. My son then proceeded to ask me further, do I know other white people who act black. I looked at him with the confused, puppy-dog, head-tilt. I could not believe my son had asked me this question. As I gained my mind back, and remembered that he is an inquisitive child and this is good, I answered him; “son, what does acting black mean?” He returned the confused, puppy-dog, head-tilt look that I had originally gave him. All he could think to say was, “you know mom, acting black, acting like us.”

I pondered this concept my son had. How do “we” act? I’m an educated professional, working towards obtaining my credentials as a licensed therapist, and working for a major pharaceutical company as an independent consultant in clinical research and development. My husband is a certified network anaylst. We eat sushi, go to the theator, and are self-proclaimed wine and food critiques. We listen to jazz and frequent the best jazz spots in Philly. We are socially and environmentally concious—working towards going completely Green, and are registered voters (voting on nearly every single candidate or issue that exist from Board of Ed, Choosen Freeholders, Senate, township officials, all the way to the presidency. We attend social functions to raise money for worthy causes. We love having intellectual and stimulating conversations with friends and colleagues. We speak and write proper English – most often. And, we have a great love for reading and learning. I rarely if ever curse – well, if I get angry, I’ve been known to dropped an “F-Bomb” but, I’m human and imperfect—and that’s ok. We behave with dignity and respect in public and in our home. I am also a practicing Buddhist and try to live by the teachings of Nicheren Daishonin. So, I had to ask again, how do we act? And, is this what he meant by Zee’s Sister’s boyfriend’s behavior. What is acting black, exactly? Of course, I understood that my son meant this young fellow must have had an urban or hip/hop disposition. But, that’s not acting black because all people of color do not act this way—this young man’s behavior was subcultural and based on a generation of youth exposed to music videos and the hip/hop genre. He lives in an urban area of like-minded youth. How else will he act, but as his peers do?

I think my son, just as many other people, believe that you act differently based on your race or ethnicity. This is not necessarily true. There is much more to it than that. Your behavior is influenced by your environment, your culture and upbringing, and your own emotional makeup and psychological triggers (which develop through environment and culture as well as biological disposition). Also, what you are exposed to on a regular, basis, let’s say MTV or BET as well as the news or other media, will further color how you view the world and ultimately how you respond to the world.

There are Asians that live in the middle or southern states who behave based on their rural environment. There are Caucasians that live in urban areas that exhibit the behavior and mindset of urban dwellers, and then there are African Americans and Hispanics who live in suburban areas that express the behaviors of such suburbanites. You learn to assimilate to your environment, taking on the features and characteristics of those around you. It is not a matter of acting “black or white” but simply integrating with the mindset and actions of your environment. As the old cliché goes, “when in Rome, do as the Romans do.”

I tried to explain this to my 12-year old. Not sure if he got the message, because I then got a “mom, you are getting on my nerves, and that’s why I don’t tell you anything” look. But, I hope that he did understand. I want him to view behavior as a matter of environmental and biopsychological influences and not so much on ethnicity.
Peace & Blessings
Peace and blessings until we meet again.
Poet Wyne

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