“You can tell she’s not white from the way she writes” he said as he finished reading ‘The Problem with Black Men’. I didn’t know how to respond to this, was it meant to be an insult? Would it be better for me to come off as a white person in the way I write?
In all honesty, I was baffled when I received this feedback on my last article, especially considering #IssaMovement is a black empowerment movement, but it led me to ponder the question… do black people perceive minimising their “blackness”, in order to come off as more white, a necessity for success in the western world? My initial thought was… of course not but when I asked friends and family that very question I started to reconsider.
Many put forward strong arguments for their views, some saying yes and others saying no but the key arguments that stood out to me were;
- Subconsciously we are taught to believe that we can’t be successful without white people
- If we can’t adapt to our surroundings we won’t be successful hence we need to adapt to workplaces/ environments that are predominately white to excel
- Professionalism can often be confused as “whiteness”
- Stereotypes formed by both black and white people have created the concept of “acting white”
As I spoke to my friends at length, I realised that this is an endless debate with no right answer but it did make me wonder what exactly does it mean to act white? There are certain things that are not commonly associated with black people by black people but does doing these things mean you’re acting white? For example, I remember once saying “I’d love to go on a skiing holiday” only to be greeted with a barrage of “that’s what white people do”, does that mean black people can’t do it too? And what exactly is it about these activities/ behaviours that make them white or even black?
There are many stereotypes that are associated with black people – loud, angry, attitude, criminals, uneducated – although some of these are specific to certain genders the list goes on. Maybe we’ve adopted these behaviours as black people and labelled them “blackness”, as such not behaving in these ways is deemed white. Regardless of whether you as a black person fit these stereotypes or not, the way I see it is if you’re born black you’re black irrespective of how you behave. Behaviour is something that is shaped by a range of things, ethnic origin being one of many factors along with where you grew up, who your friends are, your personal experiences and more. So to say someone is acting white seems like a very narrow-minded view.
Now don’t get me wrong there are definitely black people out there that seem to want to hide their culture and pretend they’re not black. However, even this isn’t down to a lack of “blackness”, in my opinion, it’s down to deep rooted insecurities.
To go back to a slightly adapted version of the original question, do black people need to act more white to be successful in the UK? I don’t think this is a question that is even answerable because “acting white” is a social construct that we have created. Just because a black person enjoys doing something that isn’t commonly done by black people makes them no less black. I would always advise people to be completely themselves in any given situation, yes, some situations call for a more professional version of yourself (let’s not confuse professionalism with acting white) but provided you are being true to yourself, I don’t see any reason why you can’t be successful if you’re putting in the work.
Just remember “it’s better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation”.