What Does “Acting Black” Even Mean?

While watching a recent episode of TMZ (don’t judge me), I heard Harvey Levin and his crew say something rather ridiculous about the Biebs: that he’s “trying to be black” due to his recent behavior and the fact that he has black rappers as friends. I guess smoking weed, talking about sippin’ on that sizzurp, drinking Grey Goose and wearing baggy pants (which is a major fashion faux pas, btw) is all us black folks do nowadays, huh? What about our MLKs, Beyoncés, Baracks and Olivia Popes?

Justin Bieber has black friends; big whoop. I have white friends but that doesn’t mean I’m trying to be white. It irritates me beyond belief when people say someone is acting black or white just because they talk, behave, or dress a certain way, or have friends of another race. When these false accusations are thrown around so carelessly, stereotypes are further solidified and have an even larger safe haven in which to grow and intensify. But before we delve any deeper into this subject, let’s disassemble the actual definition of the word “stereotype” via Merriam-Webster online:

“something conforming to a fixed or general pattern; especially : a standardized mental picture that is held in common by members of a group and that represents an oversimplified opinion, prejudiced attitude, or uncritical judgment”

The phrases that stand out most to me in this definition are “oversimplified opinion,” “prejudiced attitude,” and “uncritical judgment.” In other words, to stereotype an entire group of people is to have a prejudice perception of that group that is solely based on generalizations or opinions. So when Harvey Levin said that Justin Bieber is “acting black,” I assumed that he was going off of how black people are generally portrayed in media. But as everyone knows (or should know, at least), black people don’t just act one way; there’s a wider scope of the black experience than what is displayed on TV or heard in some of today’s music. I’m not going to lie to you all: I’ve been guilty of this same ignorance before. And like many of you, I’ve also been the victim of such ignorance.
I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been told that I “act white” because I sometimes decide to pronounce my -ers and -ings and occasionally exclaim “Oh my god!” in an obnoxious, high-pitched voice. What these people are basically saying is that speaking proper English is unique to only white people and that no one else shouts out God’s name in vein. Meanwhile, black people speak in slang and never (or just choose not to) form grammatically-correct sentences.
 
To say one is acting like a certain race is to make a poor generalization of that race based on the behavior of a select few. The same goes for nationalities. For example, it’s been said that many people from other countries view Americans as self-indulgent, spoiled and oblivious to the world around them. Of course, not all non-Americans feel this way and not all Americans fit this description. This perception, however, most likely derives from how the supposed “American lifestyle” (I use this term lightly, as not all Americans undergo the same experience) is generally portrayed in media. Thus, it is a generalization. I’m also just going to assume that none of you think that someone can “act American.” See where I’m going with this?

It’s impossible to act black, white or any other race. There are black people who don’t smoke and that wear clothes that fit, just like there are unintelligent Asian people and white people who are poor. Now while I can see where Harvey Levin was attempting to go with this whole Bieber thing, he could’ve worded his opinions a lot differently. He should’ve just said that Bieber was acting like a douche, which is a much more accurate adjective in many people’s eyes.

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