The Urban Review

, Volume 50, Issue 3, pp 478–492 | Cite as

A Potential Case of Linguistic Prejudice: The Expression of Identity in ‘Black and White’

  • Patrick WebbEmail author


The existence of a race-based stigma has been well documented among adolescents and young adults within higher educational settings; however, similar studies among students at historically Black universities are rare. Specifically, the ‘acting white’ accusation is a common, and yet seldom openly discussed phenomenon that exist within the African American community. This type of stigma is often relegated to certain characteristics (i.e., behaviors, preferences, etc.) that may defy individual and collective assumptions regarding African Americans. Utilizing nearly 200 student questionnaires, this study identified the extent to which speaking correct English as well as other specific behaviors are associated with being accused of acting white. This process incorporated the use of bivariate correlation and regression models. Findings suggest that speaking correct English as well as the existence of other factors (i.e., preferences in dress, associations, etc.) are significantly related to the accusation. This includes both experiential and nonexperimental student responses. In determining predictor variables, those who experience as well as how they respond to the accusation revealed statistical significance. The study concludes by offering areas of further research as well as suggested policy implications within higher educational settings. This includes an examination of complex and multilayered aspects of identity among minority groups within academic environments.


Acting white Racial identity African American college/HBCU students Linguistic prejudice Standard/correct English 



The author gratefully acknowledges the assistance of George Amedee, John Penny, Darren Gil, Joseph Coleman, and Chelsi Clark in the collection of the data used in this article.


  1. Akom, A. A. (2008). Black metropolis and mental life: Beyond the “burden of ‘acting white’” toward a third wave of critical racial studies. Anthropology & Education Quarterly, 39(3), 247–265.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Andrews, R. J., & Swinton, O. H. (2014). The persistent myths of “Acting white” and race neutral alternatives to affirmative action in admissions. The Review of Black Political Economy, 41(3), 357–371.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Austen-Smith, D., & Fryer, R. G. (2005). An economic analysis of “acting white”. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 120(2), 551–583.Google Scholar
  4. Buck, S. (2010). Acting white: The ironic legacy of desegregation. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  5. Christie, R. (2010). Acting White: The curious history of a racial slur. Basingstoke: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  6. Fordham, S. (2008). Beyond capital high: On dual citizenship and the strange career of “acting white”. Anthropology & Education Quarterly, 39(3), 227–246.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Fordham, S., & Ogbu, J. U. (1986). Black students’ school success: Coping with the “burden of ‘acting white’”. The Urban Review, 18, 176–206.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Fryer, R. G. (2006). “Acting white”: The social price paid by the best and brightest minority students. Education Next, 6(1), 52.Google Scholar
  9. Grantham, T. C., & Biddle, W. H. (2014). From bystander to upstander teacher for gifted black students accused of acting white. Gifted Child Today, 37(3), 178–187.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Hagan, F. E. (2010). Research methods in criminal justice and criminology (8th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.Google Scholar
  11. Johnson, J. D., & Ashburn-Nardo, L. (2014). Testing the “Black code”: Does having white close friends elicit identity denial and decreased empathy from black in-group members? Social Psychological and Personality Science, 5(3), 369–376.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Krosnick, J. (1991). Response strategies for coping with the demands of attitude measures in surveys. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 5, 214–236.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Louisiana Board of Regents. Data, Enrollment Statewide System. Downloaded on January 28, 2016 from
  14. McGee, E. O., & Martin, D. B. (2011). “You would not believe what I have to go through to prove my intellectual value!” stereotype management among academically successful black mathematics and engineering students. American Educational Research Journal, 48(6), 1347–1389.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Ojeda, L., Navarro, R. L., Meza, R. R., & Arbona, C. (2012). Too Latino and not Latino enough: The role of ethnicity-related stressors on Latino college students’ life satisfaction. Journal of Hispanic Higher Education, 11(1), 14–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Remarks by the President at My Brother’s Keeper Town Hall, Walker Jones Education Campus, Washington, DC. Downloaded on 12/11/2015 from
  17. White, J., & Lowenthal, P. (2010). Minority college students and tacit ‘codes of power’: Developing academic discourses and identities. (2011). Review of Higher Education, 34(2), 283–318.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Criminal JusticeSaint Augustine’s UniversityRaleighUSA

Personalised recommendations