Acting White?: Rethinking Race in Post-Racial America


What does it mean to "act black" or "act white"? Is race merely a matter of phenotype, or does it come from the inflection of a person's speech, the clothes in her closet, how she chooses to spend her time and with whom she chooses to spend it? What does it mean to be "really" black, and who gets to make that judgment?

In Acting White?, leading scholars of race and the law Devon Carbado and Mitu Gulati argue that, in spite of decades of racial progress and the pervasiveness of ...

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Acting White?: Rethinking Race in Post-Racial America

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What does it mean to "act black" or "act white"? Is race merely a matter of phenotype, or does it come from the inflection of a person's speech, the clothes in her closet, how she chooses to spend her time and with whom she chooses to spend it? What does it mean to be "really" black, and who gets to make that judgment?

In Acting White?, leading scholars of race and the law Devon Carbado and Mitu Gulati argue that, in spite of decades of racial progress and the pervasiveness of multicultural rhetoric, racial judgments are often based not just on skin color, but on how a person conforms to behavior stereotypically associated with a certain race. Specifically, racial minorities are judged on how they "perform" their race. This performance pervades every aspect of their daily life, whether it's the clothes they wear, the way they style their hair, the institutions with which they affiliate, their racial politics, the people they befriend, date or marry, where they live, how they speak, and their outward mannerisms and demeanor. Employing these cues, decision-makers decide not simply whether a person is black but the degree to which she or he is so. Relying on numerous examples from the workplace, higher education, and police interactions, the authors demonstrate that, for African Americans, the costs of "acting black" are high, and so are the pressures to "act white." But, as the authors point out, "acting white" has costs as well.

Provocative yet never doctrinaire, Acting White? will boldly challenge your assumptions and make you think about racial prejudice from a fresh vantage point.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Despite its focus on law and relative density for its slim page count, this complex study raises some insightful and provocative points, not just about race in America, but about the entire "Working Identity" people construct to get by in the world. Carbado and Gulati, professors of law at UCLA and Duke, respectively, use a variety of established cases and hypothetical situations to show how race inherently impacts social and professional standing and interaction. Using president Obama as one example, they explore how black professionals are caught in the double bind of looking black while adopting a measure of whiteness. Addressing gender issues, racial politics, institutional diversity, and interactions with the police, the authors examine the conflicts and contradictions that arise for minorities and women trying to fit into a white male-dominated environment. The book ranges from lively to academically dry as it moves from real situations to textbook studies and imaginary conversations, but the insight it provides into social and professional cues-both unspoken and overt-may be eye-opening for many readers. The authors aimed to put "Working Identity squarely on the table" and in that, they succeed in a fairly accessible manner. Agent: Jacqueline Hackett, Literary Works.
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From the Publisher
"Courageous, poignant, and amusing too, Acting White? takes us deep into the way racial identity operates in everyday life. Carbado and Gulati focus on 'working identity' and explore the 'racial double binds' that blacks-and others too-confront today. Intersectionality figures prominently as well: gender and class dynamics receive serious attention. The treatment of Barack Obama's racial identity is particularly valuable. A brilliant analysis of how race is experienced: in the workplace, in the university, on TV, and in racial profiling, Acting White does some deep racial theorizing in a very approachable way."—Howard Winant, Professor of Sociology, UC Santa Barbara

"This book is audacious. It takes on a racial phenomenon that few people talk openly about-namely, that decision-makers screen African Americans to ascertain whether they are "good blacks" (racially palatable) or "bad blacks" (racially unpalatable). Carbado and Gulati powerfully explain the incentives this creates for African Americans to 'work' (strategically present) their identities to avoid being perceived as 'bad' or too racially salient. Whether you agree or disagree with them, Acting White? is creative, provocative, and a treat to read. After reading this irreverent, witty, and jargon-free book, you will not be able to think about race in the same way."—Kimberlé Crenshaw, Professor of Law, Columbia and UCLA

"Now that you've picked it up, you would have to be crazy to set this book down. You know you're curious to learn whether and how you're Acting White. And you need to learn the performance secrets, and the performance expectations, of your friends, your colleagues, your boss. Acting White? brilliantly violates a taboo, by exposing something that secretly we all sometimes do."—Ian F. Haney-López, John H. Boalt Professor of Law, UC Berkeley

"Carbado and Gulati's compelling book is brilliant, eloquent, and accessible to non-legal scholars. It is reminiscent of the most provocative courtroom scenes in its arguments about the nuances and limitations of anti-discrimination law, especially with respect to intra-racial discrimination, a concept that is likely to be unfamiliar to many lay readers. Their analysis of President Obama's appointment of the first Latina to the Supreme court, Sonia Sotomayor, the dual constructions of Michelle Obama as both 'racially palatable' and 'racially unpalatable,' and affirmative action admission decisions in higher education are riveting in light of contemporary diversity discourse."—Beverly Guy-Sheftall, Anna Julia Cooper Professor of Women's Studies, Spelman College

"Provocative and thought provoking, Carbado and Gulati have written an essential book on the incredible complexities of defining race." —CHOICE

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195382587
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 3/19/2013
  • Pages: 216
  • Sales rank: 822,680
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Devon Carbado is Professor of Law at University of California, Los Angeles. Mitu Gulati is Professor of Law at Duke University.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: Acting White, Acting Black, and Doing A Lot of Work

1. Why Act White?
2. Talking White
3. Acting Like a Black Woman
4. Acting Like a White Woman
5. (Not) Acting Criminal
6. Acting Diverse
7. Acting Within the Law
8. Acting White to Help Other Blacks

Conclusion: Judging the Acting

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