Skip to main content


Log in

A Potential Case of Linguistic Prejudice: The Expression of Identity in ‘Black and White’

  • Published:
The Urban Review Aims and scope Submit manuscript


The existence of a race-based stigma has been well documented among adolescents and young adults within higher educational settings; however, similar studies among students at historically Black universities are rare. Specifically, the ‘acting white’ accusation is a common, and yet seldom openly discussed phenomenon that exist within the African American community. This type of stigma is often relegated to certain characteristics (i.e., behaviors, preferences, etc.) that may defy individual and collective assumptions regarding African Americans. Utilizing nearly 200 student questionnaires, this study identified the extent to which speaking correct English as well as other specific behaviors are associated with being accused of acting white. This process incorporated the use of bivariate correlation and regression models. Findings suggest that speaking correct English as well as the existence of other factors (i.e., preferences in dress, associations, etc.) are significantly related to the accusation. This includes both experiential and nonexperimental student responses. In determining predictor variables, those who experience as well as how they respond to the accusation revealed statistical significance. The study concludes by offering areas of further research as well as suggested policy implications within higher educational settings. This includes an examination of complex and multilayered aspects of identity among minority groups within academic environments.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Similar content being viewed by others


  • Akom, A. A. (2008). Black metropolis and mental life: Beyond the “burden of ‘acting white’” toward a third wave of critical racial studies. Anthropology & Education Quarterly, 39(3), 247–265.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Andrews, R. J., & Swinton, O. H. (2014). The persistent myths of “Acting white” and race neutral alternatives to affirmative action in admissions. The Review of Black Political Economy, 41(3), 357–371.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Austen-Smith, D., & Fryer, R. G. (2005). An economic analysis of “acting white”. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 120(2), 551–583.

    Google Scholar 

  • Buck, S. (2010). Acting white: The ironic legacy of desegregation. New Haven: Yale University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Christie, R. (2010). Acting White: The curious history of a racial slur. Basingstoke: Macmillan.

    Google Scholar 

  • Fordham, S. (2008). Beyond capital high: On dual citizenship and the strange career of “acting white”. Anthropology & Education Quarterly, 39(3), 227–246.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Fordham, S., & Ogbu, J. U. (1986). Black students’ school success: Coping with the “burden of ‘acting white’”. The Urban Review, 18, 176–206.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Fryer, R. G. (2006). “Acting white”: The social price paid by the best and brightest minority students. Education Next, 6(1), 52.

    Google Scholar 

  • Grantham, T. C., & Biddle, W. H. (2014). From bystander to upstander teacher for gifted black students accused of acting white. Gifted Child Today, 37(3), 178–187.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hagan, F. E. (2010). Research methods in criminal justice and criminology (8th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

    Google Scholar 

  • Johnson, J. D., & Ashburn-Nardo, L. (2014). Testing the “Black code”: Does having white close friends elicit identity denial and decreased empathy from black in-group members? Social Psychological and Personality Science, 5(3), 369–376.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Krosnick, J. (1991). Response strategies for coping with the demands of attitude measures in surveys. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 5, 214–236.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Louisiana Board of Regents. Data, Enrollment Statewide System. Downloaded on January 28, 2016 from

  • McGee, E. O., & Martin, D. B. (2011). “You would not believe what I have to go through to prove my intellectual value!” stereotype management among academically successful black mathematics and engineering students. American Educational Research Journal, 48(6), 1347–1389.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ojeda, L., Navarro, R. L., Meza, R. R., & Arbona, C. (2012). Too Latino and not Latino enough: The role of ethnicity-related stressors on Latino college students’ life satisfaction. Journal of Hispanic Higher Education, 11(1), 14–28.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Remarks by the President at My Brother’s Keeper Town Hall, Walker Jones Education Campus, Washington, DC. Downloaded on 12/11/2015 from

  • White, J., & Lowenthal, P. (2010). Minority college students and tacit ‘codes of power’: Developing academic discourses and identities. (2011). Review of Higher Education, 34(2), 283–318.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


The author gratefully acknowledges the assistance of George Amedee, John Penny, Darren Gil, Joseph Coleman, and Chelsi Clark in the collection of the data used in this article.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Patrick Webb.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Webb, P. A Potential Case of Linguistic Prejudice: The Expression of Identity in ‘Black and White’. Urban Rev 50, 478–492 (2018).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: