Beyond Capital High: On Dual Citizenship and the Strange Career of “Acting White”

Authors


Signithia Fordham is a cultural antropologist at the University of Rochester. Her forthcoming book, tentatively titled Downed by Friendly Fire, unmasks female competition and bullying among Black and White girls in a suburban high school in upstate New York. (sfordham@rcn.com).

Abstract

In this article, I reflect on the strange career of the “burden of ‘acting White’ ” since it attracted widespread popular and academic attention over 20 years ago. I begin by noting that my original definition of “the burden of ‘acting White’ ” should not be confused with a prominent misconception of the problem as the “fear” of “acting White.” I then offer a revised definition that has emerged in the wake of the collision of meanings attributed to the Capital High study. At the core of the twists and turns this concept has taken is attempted identity theft: In exchange for what is conventionally identified as success, racially defined Black bodies are compelled to perform a White identity by mimicking the cultural, linguistic, and economic practices historically affiliated with the hegemonic rule of Euro-Americans. Third, drawing on recent work on the impact of gender-specific racial performances on Black males' and Black females' academic success, I analyze quantitative data from Capital High to explain the gender-specific response patterns of male and female students to the dilemmas implicit in academic success. Finally, I suggest possible implications of the centrality of the burden of “acting White” for the academic performance of Black students and the identity of African Americans more generally.[burden of “acting White,” identity theft, racial insufficiency, gender insufficiency, Capital High, academic achievement]

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