Duke Sanford's William Darity, Jr. Talks Race, Academics, and "Acting White" on the Radio

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Prof. Darity Sanford’s Professor William A. “Sandy” Darity, Jr. was part of a fascinating discussion on Minnesota Public Radio's "The Daily Circuit" last week.

The jumping off point is a recent reflection by President Obama in recent town hall remarks:

"Sometimes African Americans, in communities where I've worked, there's been the notion of 'acting white' ... where, OK, if folks 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 has to go."

Professor Darrity approaches the t opic with a view toward educational outcomes. His research looks at the link between anti-intellectualism and the black-white achievement gaps, and finds no evidence that anti-intellectualism is particularly present in African American communities or responsible for academic disparities. In other words, nerd-shaming happens too much among black kids (and adults), but, holding all else constant, no more, or at least with no more deleterious results, than among their white peers.

It’s hard not to approach this topic without a certain tension, and it’s evident here: the president’s delicate balancing between formal and folksy suggests both the power and the peril of upending racially typed expectations. Code switching is powerful, one caller asserts, but it’s also exhausting.

It’s a refreshing note in a dialogue that too often ping pongs between calls to “fix” African American culture, on the one hand, and dominant expectations, on the other. Professor Darrity was joined on The Daily Circuit by Jonathan Capehart, an opinion writer for the Washington Post.

See also: Tyson, Karolyn; Darity, William A., Jr.; & Castellino, Domini R. (2005). It's Not "a Black Thing:" Understanding the Burden of Acting White and Other Dilemmas of High Achievement. American Sociological Review, 70(4), 582-605.

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