One issue of serious concern for some African American male youth is the so-called “acting white” phenomenon where students erroneously associate academic success with acting like the white race and thereby abandoning a black reference group identity (Noguera, 2003). The deplorable phrase comes from white people who would threaten successful black people by telling them not to “act white.” This phrase was intended as a way for whites to keep their place of privilege (Marshall, 2002). Problematically, some of today’s African American male youth in a misguided attempt to show resistance to the mainstream culture may actually resist doing well in schools where they perceive mainstream culture norms prevail. Clearly, this form of resistance can work in their disfavor (Marshall, 2002; Noguera, 2003).
In order to reach African American students, teachers should not reject or punish students for acting in their own culture. Ladson Billings (2011) describes for us how schools criminalize African American boys for acting in their culture; “Black boys find themselves excluded from academic opportunities because of arbitrary and capricious school rules (e.g. hat wearing inside a building, wearing baggy pants, giving an adult a disapproving or surly look)” (p. 13). Noguera (2003) asserts that teachers must also directly address African American boys’ participation in transforming their identity and how it relates to schooling. Teachers must help African American students develop healthy racial identities and show students that academically successful people are part of all referent groups.