"Acting White" two Kent State researchers link phenomenon to anxiety

'Acting white' causing stress in black youth

We’re delving into fascinating new research happening in our community.

Researchers at Kent State University have been studying the accusation of “acting White,” sometimes used by Black-Americans towards other Black-Americans.

It’s a complex social phenomenon being evaluated in relation to anxiety, in a new paper published in the Journal of The National Medical Association.

Lead researcher and Kent State graduate student, Martale Davis and Dr. Angela Neal-Barnett, a professor in the Department of Psychological Sciences at Kent State University, surveyed Black females between the ages of 10-18.

They found that direct accusations from other Blacks like you “act White or indirect accusations like “you talk like a White girl,” could have deleterious effects on these young women when they were “bothered” by the comments.

Social anxiety was found to be a significant symptom of these accusations, if the youth were greatly or significantly bothered.

They also found links between these accusations and “bullying victimization,” including a form of “race-based or intra-racial bullying”… which “may have implications for mental health, specifically anxiety.”

All 31 participants in the study indicated that they received the acting White accusation either directly, indirectly, or both.

16 experienced the acting White accusation indirectly, while 14 experienced the indirect and direct accusation. 

One participant was only  directly accused of acting White.

Dr. Neal-Barnett has been studying the “acting White” accusation for the past decade, particularly sorting how to “quantify” the phenomenon. “Once we were able to do that, we began to look at the impact the accusation has on African-American boys and girls.”

Davis’s dive into the acting White accusation as a form of ‘bullying victimization’ revealed the multifaceted ways in which social anxiety has an almost reciprocal relationship with bullying in this instance.

“For girls who have been accused of acting White, who are accused frequently of it… who are bothered by it… it creates something called social anxiety and this social anxiety in turn then impacts how they view the acting white accusation and that is as a form of bullying victimization,” Dr. Neal-Barnett said.

The accusation goes beyond joking or teasing for many young women who are accused of acting White, Davis went on to explain. “It’s not just a joke for a lot of these individuals, even going into adulthood you’ll have a lot of adults… they’re saying that they don’t even really want to interact with black individuals anymore, because they were bullied so severely when they were younger.”

Studying the link between bullying and acting White accusations is apropos in a world where the National Center for Education Statistics indicates 21 percent of students ages 12-18 reported being bullied at school in 2015. The extent and severity of bullying in acting White scenarios and others, Davis points out, can also be greatly influenced by enhanced online tools, like social media.  “Especially with the growth of social media nowadays and with a lot of adolescents being on social media, it’s so easy for someone to be bullied online... and so when you introduce this idea that someone is acting White and you introduce this into this already huge spectrum of bullying, it just creates more problems for these individuals,” Davis explained.

The psychological impacts of “acting White” can be profound, even resulting in physical symptoms, Davis says and the research bears this out.

So, why would Blacks target others within their only racial identity group about the authenticity of another person’s identity?

Dr. Neal-Barnett has found sometimes those who levy the accusation claim they were just joking, but may also experience envy. “These kids who are able to do certain things… maybe code switch, who are comfortable with both races may have certain advantages.” Thirdly, the accusation may be an attempt at intra-racial assimilation --- an attempt to extend an invitation by one Black person to another to “come on over to the Black side and in fact may be a way to attempt to incorporate those people,” Dr. Neal-Barnett explained. “Our research doesn’t show they’re trying to exclude these adolescents… but in fact are trying to bring them over.”

Previous research found that “high achieving Black adolescents did not avoid academic achievement in order to avoid the acting White accusation, although the issue of bother was present.

Davis, Dr. Neal-Barnett and M.A., Robert Stadulis, Ed.D., also named in the study, have taken the link between acting White “bother” and “bullying victimization” one step further in their research.  

WKYC


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