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Moot Causes

by Roger Clegg

Acting White: The Ironic Legacy of Desegregation, by Stuart Buck (Yale, 272 pp., $27.50)

Where did the idea come from that, if a black student studies hard in school, he is “acting white”? Stuart Buck — a Harvard Law graduate who is currently a doctoral fellow in the education-reform department at the University of Arkansas — has written a thoughtful and provocative book in answer to this question.

Acting White is straightforward and jargon-free. It first reviews the solid empirical evidence on the existence of the “acting white” accusation, and on the real harm it does to students. Then it provides a fascinating historical narrative: what segregated schools were like for blacks; how desegregation frequently ended not in their integration but in their closing, and in the firing of black teachers and black principals; and how the “acting white” charge did not exist before, but quickly grew after, schools desegregated. Buck observes that, during the Jim Crow era, the people who accused smart black kids of trying to be white were not those students’ peers, but white racists.

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