“Trey you act white...Trey you ain’t black....Trey, you’re a sell out.” Ever since I started high school, this is what I would hear some people say about me. Strangers, acquaintances, and even some of my closest friends have said, “you act like a white boy.” At first I was completely thrown off and confused by it. I act white? What does that even mean? Was that supposed to be a compliment or an insult? And what made them say this about me?
These were comments said to me by white AND black individuals. People inside and outside of school. But as I got older, I started to understand...I started to understand the mindset of those people who said this about me. I frustrates me for different reasons...depending exactly who tells me. So when a white person tells me that, I find it frustrating for a different reason compared to if a black person tells me the same thing. I recall two specific occasions (although there were many) when I was accused of “acting white” by my black and white peers.
I remember it was during my senior year while talking to some of my white peers in the senior lounge. I’m not exactly sure what led up to this point, but suddenly someone said, “Trey, you act so white. Look at the way you dress and speak...don’t take it the wrong way, it’s actually a compliment.” Now for those who don’t know, I often (voluntarily I might add) wore a tie to school (mainly because I really embraced the “business casual” look.) But it was extremely puzzling when they said that. I thought about the comment...and here’s why it frustrates me when a white counterpart tells me this...First of all, why is wearing a shirt and tie associated with whiteness? Why is presenting yourself well only associated with whiteness? Am I “acting white” because I don’t wear my pants below my waist? I’m “acting white” because I actually try to carry myself in a professional manner?
My parents always told me you never know who you’re going to see or meet, so be ready. The second point I wanted to touch on is the way I speak. Many people don’t know this, but I could barely read when I was young. I remember when I was about 7 or 8 years old, my mom asked me to read a Bible verse out loud...I barely made it through. She later told me that she feared that I might’ve had a learning disability. In 5th grade, I was at about a 2nd grade reading level. I was always embarrassed to read out loud. I hated public speaking. And because of my speech impediment, I never looked people in the eye when I was speaking. But ever since then, I really worked on my speech and reading skills...practicing by enunciating words correctly for hours. Fast forward to this moment…here is someone saying that I speak like a white guy—why? Because you can understand what comes out of my mouth and try to be articulate? Because I don’t speak in a slang language? This kind of comment coming from my white counterpart is maddening because they seem to think they have an idea of “what it means to be black.” So because I don’t fit their personal description and negative stereotypes of what it means to be black, I am then seen as just “acting white.” I find it pretty offensive.
But when one of my black counterpart tells me the same thing, it’s just sad and extremely unfortunate. I remember it was sophomore year during break time. I was just sitting in the cafeteria with some of my black peers. We were talking about race. And again, I’m not exactly sure what lead up to this point, but one of them said, “Trey you are the whitest dude I know...bro look at what you’re wearing and they way you speak. You speak all proper. You’ve been going to school with a bunch of white people all your life...you’re a borderline sell out.” As you can tell, they are somewhat similar comments that came from my white peer during my senior year.
After recalling this memory, I wish I had the knowledge to combat his words. Because at the time, I didn’t know what to say or do besides just sit there and accept it. But if it were now, I would’ve responded differently...As a black male I’m running the same race and trying to jump the same hurdles just like you. I “act white” because why? I dress appropriately? Because I don’t use the N-Word to address my friends? Because I don’t act “ghetto.” Because I want better for myself? Why would I embrace the same negative stereotypes that have plagued black people for so long? It’s maddening because this is a somewhat common trend of thinking in the black community…it’s almost like we’ve adopted ignorance as being “cool” and trendy. Then once we fail to achieve a prosperous life, then we want to blame the system.
Now don’t get me wrong, I understand that the system has its flaws. Systemic and institutional racism can and will exist in some form of the slightest. But my goal is to be the victor, not the victim. It should be everyone’s goal. But how can you achieve that with ass-backwards thinking? It’s a shame to know that if I don’t act a certain way then I’m seen as not being “black enough" in some people's eyes. But the fact of the matter is, being black isn’t what I’m trying to be...it’s what I am.