“How come you act so white?”

"I am equally proud of my Black and my white cultural backgrounds, but when people say I'm white not black, they're disregarding any experience of racism that I hvae encountered while simultaneously being racist themselves." - Amelia Ruthven-Nelson photo by Bianka Kozera

My journey tackling reverse racism

Amelia Ruthven-Nelson
Recruitment Manager

"I am equally proud of my Black and my white cultural backgrounds, but when people say I'm white not black, they're disregarding any experience of racism that I hvae encountered while simultaneously being racist themselves." - Amelia Ruthven-Nelson photo by Bianka Kozera


“How come you act so white?”

These were the words I heard when I first realized that, to some extent, there is a difference between being mixed and being Black.

One of the subtlest consequences of colonialism is something I call reverse racism, which is defined (by me) as being prejudiced or discriminatory towards the racially dominant group in society.

Not only is it wrong to discriminate against anyone, but it often backfires.

The idea of a Black person
being “too white” is a form of reverse racism. Being too white is essentially saying that “it is wrong to be white” and skin colour isn’t a matter of wrong or right, it is just something we’re born with.

This is a serious problem in the Black community because to try and identify how a person acts “white” and then actively avoid such actions is also to accept stereotypes about Black people. It is saying white people act like this and Black people act like that, which is the type of belief heroes like Martin Luther King, Jr. tried
to eliminate.

From my experience, reverse racism leads to Black people being racist towards other Blacks. To accept that someone is acting too white for their skin colour is to accept the racial stereotypes about those who are Black, thus causing us to accept the stereotypes that were once imposed on us.

Part of the Black experience is being connected to one’s culture and colour. The core thing that makes the Black experience different from the white experience is our experience with racism and prejudice.

In terms of behaviours, mannerisms, interests, and personality, there really should not be an ideal dichotomy of white or Black. Yet there I was in the seventh grade at a new school, faced with the question, “How come you act so white?”

I didn’t know how to respond. I didn’t know what it meant to act white. How does someone act out a skin colour? I had acted the same way my entire life while being Black (also for my entire life), so the only response I gave was
“How come you don’t?” My racially-mixed inquisitor didn’t have a legitimate answer either.

I spent the next two years exposing myself to different aspects of the Black community in an attempt to act more “Black.” I put down my Linkin Park CD and listened to reggae and rap music, copied the slang my classmates were using, and started to refer to myself as Trini instead of Canadian (despite never having been to Trinidad). It didn’t work. I was never “Black enough” and so eventually I gave up trying.

No matter what music I listen to or how I talk, I am a Black person. People are often surprised to learn that I’m half-white. By a literal definition of being Black, I can’t get blacker (save for a tan).

People often tell me I talk white. Well I can’t have an accent, I’m from Toronto; if saying Tor-ono instead of Tor-on-to is the definition of talking like a white person then I’m guilty as charged, but I can’t fake a Caribbean/African accent and I don’t see why I would need to.

If you are one of those people who think talking white is more than an accent, think about why you feel that way. Is it my choice of words? What is it about my skin colour that defines my diction? To believe that a Black person can sound too white actually reinforces the stereotype that all Black people must speak in some form of ghetto slang.

From my experience people who think I “talk white” expect only three types of sounds to come out of a Black person’s mouth: ghetto slang, double negatives, and a general failure of the English language.

Remember those movies like Gone with the Wind? That’s why—and it’s what people expect me to sound like. Luckily for me, I was not raised a slave, and I was blessed enough to have an exceptional education, so why would I try to hide that? Proper sentence structure and words like “although” are not things that belong exclusively to white people.

Let’s say it’s not about perpetuating stereotypes. Let’s pretend that there is actually a way to “act” Black and “act” white and it is made up of a general or collective culture. This belief would cause another form of racism, a form that is specifically against mixed races.

I am often asked “Which do you identify most with?” So I have to choose a parent and their culture, and desert the other parent and the other 50 per cent of my culture. I am mixed so can I not identify with different parts of each culture?

I’ve experienced this attitude from both sides of the spectrum; for some people, if I don’t act out certain stereotypes I’m too white—or rather “I’m sooo white.” I find this an unfair statement; I am equally proud of my Black and my white cultural backgrounds, but when people say I’m white not Black, they are disregarding any experience of racism that I have encountered while simultaneously being racist themselves.

Another mixed friend of mine and I recently sat down to dinner with two other “full” Black friends. Somehow we got on the topic of interracial couples and one of our friends went on a rant.

“Nothing pisses me off more than when a successful Black man is with a white woman,” she said. I looked at my other mixed friend; based on what had just been said nothing pissed this girl off more than his existence and the existence of his entire family (and mine). For the most part we kept quiet; the friend who was ranting knew enough about us to know about our interracial families.

Afterward, I had a discussion about the rant with my mixed friend. We both agreed that the reason we had remained silent was because we knew from experience what her response would have been. At different times in our lives we had both been told, “You don’t get it because you’re half-white,” or even, “It’s different for you because your background is white.” We both expected a similar response from our friend and didn’t want to waste our time arguing with her (since then we have also lost touch with that friend).

You can’t see that I’m half-white. To say it is different because I have white DNA or white in me is once again to accept the colonial ideal that there is something fundamentally different between people based on skin colour alone. Like I said earlier, people who see me see me as Black, and so that is my experience. The colour of my skin and the colour of my parents’ skin is just a colour, not a way of life.

There really shouldn’t be a difference between being Black and being mixed. We, as a whole community, must move away from the idea of seeing mixed people as acting more Black or more white if we ever want to have equality in society.

About the Author

By Excalibur Publications



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