ATHENS, Ga. -- The fear of “acting white” may keep many black people away from activities they would like, and which could help them have better lives, according to University of Georgia researcher Bantu Gross, who spoke on campus Wednesday as part of the UGA Office of Institutional Diversity lecture series.
“Acting white” can be a powerful accusation against someone who considers themselves black, Gross notes. That’s especially true for young people, such as high school students, who face significant peer pressure, said Gross. And sometimes, pressure can come even from parents, he added.
On the issue of pressure at home, Gross, a graduate student in recreation and leisure studies, cited Olympic gold-medal swimmer Cullen Jones.
Jones has become a role model now, but faced teasing and hostility growing up in New Jersey.
“You’re an alien in your own territory,” said Gross.
Other researchers have shown that black people who make high grades, score high on the SAT or read a lot may be subjected to the accusation of acting white, Gross said. Those same pressures apply to people’s choices of leisure activities, according to Gross, a New Orleans native.
Everyone thinks it’s normal for a black youth or young man to use his free time to play basketball. It’s less common, though, to see black people camping in national parks, or playing golf, despite such recent role models as golfer Tiger Woods.
There’s no single explanation for why relatively few black people participate in activities such as camping or golf or tennis, said Gross, who joined the Cub Scouts as a child because he wanted to go camping, but dropped out when he realized his pack didn’t do that.
The media is partly to blame, according to Gross, in that hunting and camping magazines don’t often show black faces in their pages. Money can also play a part, he explained, as can something as simple as the availability of recreational facilities in a person’s neighborhood.
Additionally, racial tension can steer people away from certain activities, he said. When someone tries an activity in which most participants are of another race, he or she may fear — or actually encounter — racial conflict and prejudice, according to Gross.
Also, Gross noted, public money often goes into activities which are predominantly white.
What we do when we’re not at work helps determine our enjoyment of life, and even helps shape who we are, according to Gross. And because leisure is so important, researchers and others ought to think more about role race plays in leisure choices.
“It’s been avoided in public discussion,” he said.