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Acting White: The Curious History of a Racial Slur Hardcover – October 12, 2010

3.0 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Christie (Black in the White House) aspires to construct a historical account of the pejorative "acting white" and dismantle its legitimacy. He traces the roots of the phrase back to Uncle Tom's Cabin, which "planted the seeds of the idea that black inferiority is the result of blacks seeking favor with whites," but he points to the Black Power movement as the real culprit in propagating the "acting white" slur. While figures such as Homer Plessy and W.E.B. Du Bois stand out for their efforts to achieve political representation for blacks, others such as Marcus Garvey criticized those intentions as opportunities for "acting white." Christie cites Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., and President Obama as examples of why "hard work, dressing well, speaking well, and ambitiously pursuing a fulfilling life is not a ˜white' thing." However, the book becomes less credible when Christie, a political analyst and former special assistant to George W. Bush, laments his own experiences of being tagged with the slur he now tries to examine. While Christie's frustration is admirable and his references well researched, the book's tone occasionally comes across as desperate and more personally motivated rather than persuasive and objective.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Christie, a conservative accused of “acting white,” explores the historical roots of that particular insult targeted at blacks who are considered somehow racially disloyal. He goes back to Uncle Tom’s Cabin for the origins of such charges and explores the back and forth tensions between historical figures, including W. E. B. DuBois, Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, to examine the often confused and contradictory notions of racial loyalty versus individualism. He moves on to examine the lives of black public figures whose authenticity and loyalty have been questioned—Clarence Thomas, Colin Powell, Barack Obama—and examines the underlying politics of disagreement with views at odds with those of the majority of blacks. Christie argues that many blacks of heroic stature, from Homer Plessy to Rosa Parks, were “acting white” in asserting their rights. He points to the rise of black-power sentiments during the civil rights era and a growing sense of black identity that encouraged a cultural isolation that continues to this day, one that disdains the mainstream middle-class culture as “white” and, therefore, to be avoided. --Vanessa Bush

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books; First Edition edition (October 12, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312599463
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312599461
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,829,677 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Kevin Currie-Knight VINE VOICE on October 22, 2010
Format: Hardcover
As a teacher who has taught in a middle-class school with 98% African-American youth, I am quite familiar with the legacy of the "acting white" idea. At its worst, it poses a serious obstacle to the civil-rights dream of an integrated society where skin color no longer matters. Ron Christie's "Acting White" is an interesting historical examination of how the "acting white" concept has developed and manifested itself in American history, and why we need desperately to get beyond it if Du Bois's, King's, and Brown v. Board's dream of an integrated society is to be realized.

Christie starts with a chapter on Stowe's famous novel "Uncle Tom's Cabin," which, of course, gave rise to the derisive label of "Uncle Tom." While this chapter has the unfortunate feel of a book report (the writing assumes familiarity with the novel and is largely exegetical in nature), Christie shows that the character of Uncle Tom should not necessarily be seen as a sell-out, but was intended also to be seen as a very strong man whose desire to protect two slave girls leads to his death at white hands. In other words, our conflation of "Uncle Tom" with sell-out is not only oversimplistic, but belies a real misunderstanding of the novel and its intent.

The next few chapters focus on the competing visions of Booker Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois, with the author firmly championing the vision of the latter. Washington, Christie writes, desired to see blacks accept inferior status by desiring, in some sense, achievement of "equality" by serving whites. Du Bois's vision, as Christie writes, was for blacks to gain political and civic equality and prove that they could be equal to whites by becoming their academic equals as well.
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Format: Hardcover
As excited as I was to read this book, and as interesting as the subject is, and as pertinent and relevent as the insult "Acting White" still is, I hesitate to rate the book 5 stars.

Ron Christie fundamentally (deliberately?) misunderstands the positions os Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois. He mischaracterizes Washington as an Uncle Tom, a go-alonger, a sell-out, and he mischaracterizes DuBois as a principled, ardent believer in black education. Hold everything.

Back up to the Atlanta Exposition in 1895.

The Civil War has ended. Reconstruction has ended. Black Americans have gathered to display their advances in mechanical engineering, etc. It is the Atlanta Exposition.

Elsewhere in America, there has been an increase in anarchist violence. Labor unrest has killed thousands and caused millions and millions of dollars in property losses. Railroad strikes, steel strikes, coal strikes. Violent strikers threaten US industries across the country, including in the south. In addition, there is a big "Back to Africa" movement going on, where "concerned" whites are trying to send blacks "back" to colonize Africa (Liberia).

With this in mind, Booker's Atlanta Compromise speech makes more sense. Many, many immigrants were coming to America. Many, many immigrants were bringing labor unrest and communism into America. Booker T. Washington was explicitly saying to southern business people:

+You do not need to hire immigrants. Hire us, instead.
+We are the people you have come to know. You do not need to fear that we will burn down your factories, like these immigrants are doing all across America.
+We are the same people who have worked alongside you for centuries, in peace. Work with us.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I didn't get through the whole book yet, but I like what I've read so far. Hope to read the complete book soon.
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Format: Hardcover
The reader should be aware that the main thrust of this book does not begin until around page 124. Before then, the author uses the "black side" of American racial history as a strawman to set up his thesis about "acting white." Mr. Christie's claim is that the phrase "acting white," Eubonics, Affirmative Action (AA), and the way black mothers name their children, are the culprits for nearly all evil within the black community? However, in my view he never quite gets this thesis off the ground, for all the reasons given below.

From the outset, to be fair to the author, there is a single instance well-acknowledged where we can grant the fact that his thesis has a modicum of currency: It is when the epithet "acting white" is hurled at more studious peers, by less studious and more intimidating inner city school children. Otherwise it's use here (and thus the author's thesis) turns into fairy dust - into a kind of cheap ideological contrivance built on a quicksand of "author-defined" strawmen.

Since the author apparently saw that it would suit his purposes better to never actually tie down the meaning of "acting white," predictably utter confusion reigned in what otherwise should have been a careful analysis. I say "should have been" because the history that Mr. Christie put forth to frame the analysis (although one-sided) was certainly first-rate, and carefully done. However, when it came to the main menu item of the book, delineating the phrase "acting white," the author had to punt early, and everything but the kitchen sink was thrown in as "acting white:" inconsistencies, contradictions, who wielded the epithet, context, all bedamned. The analysis never quite recovered from the body blow of this definitional confusion.
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