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Acting White: The Ironic Legacy of Desegregation Hardcover – May 25, 2010

3.9 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Buck, Arkansas University doctoral fellow in education reform, enters the black-white achievement gap debate with a review of anti-academic attitudes among some black students, who dub school achievement as acting white; he finds its roots in what was lost when schools were desegregated. Buck fears misinterpretation (no one should read this section as suggesting that we should go back to segregated schools) as he delineates the costs of losing the schools as community centers, the concomitant loss of black teachers and principals as academic role models, and the detachment of black parents and students. Desegregation, he argues, then set the stage for the 'acting white' criticism to emerge in the school setting, as black students met hostile receptions from white students and teachers. Buck's proposed solutions are implausible—and almost risible: one, since humans are tribal, some students should be in an all-black environment that includes black teachers and principals, the other to replace individual grades with regular interschool competitions, supplemented by small rewards for winners on a group basis. Overstuffed with evidence showing he examined literally thousands of sources over the past several years, the result is a repetitive mélange of education philosophy and anecdotal history. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


“The best race book of the year.”—John McWhorter, New Republic blog
(John McWhorter New Republic 2010-06-03)

"Acting White asks why African American students still lag so far behind their peers in academic achievement and offers a thoughtful and provocative answer to this crucial question."—Stephan Thernstrom, Harvard University

(Stephan Thernstrom)

"[Buck] reminds us that we should remember that everything is composed of light and shadow. Before we attempt to improve schools, we need to understand the impact of change on culture, on deeply ingrained habits and ways of thinking."—Phil Brand, Washington Times
(Phil Brand Washington Times)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (May 25, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300123914
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300123913
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.1 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,321,785 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Stuart Buck attended Harvard Law School, graduating with honors in 2000, and serving as an editor of the Harvard Law Review. After law school, he clerked for Judge David A. Nelson of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in 2000-01, and then for Judge Stephen F. Williams of the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in 2001-02.

After practicing law for several years, he took an intense interest in education. As for what sparked his interest in the "acting white" topic, Stuart and his wife Farah adopted a black baby boy and later a 7-year-old girl from Haiti. In the books they read on inter-racial adoption, a common theme emerged: inter-racial adoptees were often criticized for "acting white" or "trying to be white." Buck then started to explore the broader context of this criticism as used in schools.

Buck is currently a Distinguished Doctoral Fellow in the Education Reform department at the University of Arkansas. His scholarly education publications include:

* Stuart Buck, Gary W. Ritter, Nathan C. Jensen, and Caleb P. Rose. "Teachers Say the ‎Most Interesting Things - An Alternative View of Testing." Phi Delta Kappan 91 no. 6 (2010): 50-54.
* Stuart Buck and Robert Maranto (forthcoming). "School Choice," in Paul Quirk and William Cunion ‎eds., Governing America: Major Policies and Decisions of Federal, State, and Local Government ‎‎(Facts on File).
* Stuart Buck and Jay P. Greene, "The Case for Special Education Vouchers," Education Next, 10 no. 1 (Winter 2010).
* Gary W. Ritter, Robert Maranto, and Stuart Buck, "Harnessing Private Incentives in Public Education," Review of Public Personnel Administration, 29 no. 3 (2009): 249-269.

His scholarly legal publications include:

* "The Common Law and the Environment in the Courts," 58 CASE WESTERN LAW REVIEW 621 ‎‎(2008). ‎
* "TELRIC vs. Universal Service: A Takings Violation?," 56 FED. COMM. L.J. 1 (2003). ‎
* "Salerno vs. Chevron: What to Do About Statutory Challenges," 55 ADMIN. L. REV. 427 (2003). ‎
* ‎"Replacing Spectrum Auctions with a Spectrum Commons," 2 STAN. TECH. L. REV. 2 (2002).‎
* Stuart Buck and Bruce Yandle. "Bootleggers, Baptists, and the Global Warming Battle," 26 HARV. ‎ENVT'L L. REV. 177 (2002). ‎
* Stuart Buck and Mark Rienzi. "Federal Courts, Overbreadth, and Vagueness: Guiding Principles ‎for Constitutional Challenges to Uninterpreted State Statutes," 2002 UTAH L. REV. 381.‎

Personal Interest

A native of Arkansas, Stuart Buck attended the University of Georgia to study classical guitar performance, receiving a B.Mus. degree in 1995 as a First Honor Graduate (one of 15 students with a 4.0 GPA in a class of over 3,000).‎ He then received the M.Mus. degree with highest honors in 1997. During this time, he studied with the noted guitar teacher John Sutherland. He was a National Finalist in the 1994 American String Teachers Association Competition, and a winner of the 1997 University of Georgia Concerto Competition. ‎

As an amateur radio operator, he received the callsign KA5YSW at age 11, attained the highest class of radio ‎license (Extra Class) at age 13, and at age 14 was elected to membership in the Very High Speed Club, a ‎worldwide club for people who can use Morse Code at 40+ words per minute.‎

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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Anyone who has spent time in the classroom over the last 20 years has heard the slur "Oreo" or the complaint that someone is "acting white." I recently witnessed a fellow educator receive this slur from a young black student. Basically education is now widely perceived among some young minority students as a "white" activity and students who attempt to do well are accused of "acting white" and attempting to deny their ethnic background. Although a few academics using questionable methodology have attempted to downplay the significance of this phenomena, Stuart Buck demonstrates not merely that it is real and widespread, but the charge of "acting white" also contributes a significant portion of the gap in test scores between black students, especially young males, and the student body at large.

The bulk of this book is concerned with explaining how education came to be associated with "acting white." Throughout most of black history in America, education was highly valued and the charge of "acting white" was mostly made by white racists. Buck's surprising finding: the "acting white" charge is a phenomena that grew out of desegregation. Buck is not, however, criticizing desegregation. On the whole it was a beneficial movement. However, the way desegregation was carried out turned out to be harmful to many in the black community, especially in the south. Black schools were torn down and black teachers and principals were fired or demoted. Students were bussed away from their homes to predominantly white schools where they faced discrimination and viscous harassment.
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Careful research, thought-provoking analysis, and engaging storytelling are the touchstones of this wonderful book on a little-researched topic. Buck clearly and succinctly outlines the problem (African-American students underperform their Anglo counterparts even when accounting for socio-economic status) and his stab at the cause (because they see succeeding academically as "acting white"). After presenting the research on the "acting white" phenomenon, he then takes the reader on a journey through the pre- and post- segregated south, highlighting that while the injustices of segregation were egregious, they galvanized a community around schools for their children. When these powerful institutions were destroyed during integration, the unintended consequence of making black students feel like guests in the white schools into which they were forced caused a change in their psyche. They were in someone else's world, taught by predominantly white teachers, led by predominately white administrators, and separated from the close-knit, supportive community that their former schools had been. Thus, succeeding in this foreign environment was seen as betrayal of their race and institutions, and to this day, as something black students feel threatened to do.

In no way, shape, or form, should it be believed that Buck makes segregation into some golden age that was ruined by integration. Rather, he states that in such difficult times, the African-American communities of the South rallied around education in a way that modern, integrated schools do not. In a way, he states, integration threw the baby out with the bathwater. It is only after we recognize these problems that we can hope to develop solutions to the achievement gap in American education.

This book is a must read for historians, sociologists, educators, community leaders, parents, and policy makers, as failing to learn this history and its unintended consequences only dooms us to repeat it.
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Buck takes an insightful look into a very real educational issue in our culture today. Acting White is a powerful tool for those who want to understand why a major portion of our society is willing to accept an inadequate education. I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in improving our nation's education system.
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What an amazing book. As a teacher, I see this attitude on a daily basis. This book is a must read for educators as well as parents.
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