“Oreo” & “acting white” as a student of color in America

Oreo photo

/ˈôrēˌō/

Noun

An African-American who is seen, especially by other blacks, as wishing to be part of the white establishment. A traitor of one’s roots.

What black people are called in American society when they aren’t disrespectful trolls that hold up lines, break rules, and speak “ratchet.”

A melinated individual who has goals, thinks about their future, is often seen conversing with those of the caucasian race, and aspires for greatness beyond talentless rapping and professional athleticism.

African Americans who were raised in an environment other than the projects, speaking proper English, having an eclectic taste in music, being well-educated and legitimately employed, not abusing the welfare system, being well-mannered, saving money for schooling instead of bundles and “dookie” gold, and wearing nice clothes that aren’t RocaWear, Sean Jean, Baby Phat and so on.

A painfully ironic term coined by those of the African American community to keep down other blacks who are supposedly “white on the inside” for defying all the stereotypes America has expected of them. 

Acting “black” Vs. Acting “white”

You see, you won’t be called an oreo for liking hip hop. But you most definitely are one if you like country. You’re not an oreo for liking concerts, but musicals are “too white” for a “real” black person to enjoy.

You’re not an oreo for joining choir, but you are one for joining theatre. You’re not an oreo for roller skating, but you’re walking a dangerous rope with ice skating.

You’d never be called one for smoking weed to deal with problems, but you’d almost always be called one for seeking a therapist to discuss your mental health.

Never for attending public school; always for choosing private schooling. Ironically enough, the black community actively works against segregation while simultaneously working to resist integration.

Can you act like both races?

The funny thing is that most African Americans are willing to acknowledge gray areas in every aspect of life, except when it actually comes down to distinguishing between the white and black races.

Gray area is the idiomatic fuzzy border between two mutually exclusive categories where topics begin to blur with interpretation. Gray area is like the middle of a Venn diagram where concepts begin to overlap since two categories are never entirely separate.

Some may make the argument that Oreos simply are that gray area between the two races. That they contain characteristics and stereotypes of both races, therefore making them a cultural blend that identifies with both sides.

But they’re not and never have been. No–they’re oddities viewed by the black community as falling squarely in the “white” circle, and outliers viewed by the white community as being exceptions to the norm. 

Oreo is an outdated term that has no place in the multicultural fusion America has become. It reflects the intolerance and racial insensitivity the great bald eagle has been slowly flying away from for decades.

This nation has become a spectrum in every sense of the word; politically, socially, culturally, religiously, and absolutely undeniably, racially.

The Issue in the African American Community

African Americans who still use the term have not yet moved away from this nation’s segregated past, and unknowingly encourage racial divisions even today.

They ingrain stereotypes more into society every time that they exclude those actively defying them. The sad thing is that these same people may also believe that they’re defying American stereotypes by holding onto their roots with dear life.

The sad thing is that these same people are so devoted to the idea of resistance that they actively limit their potential for success.

The sad thing is that these same people claim to empower black people while simultaneously degrading those who choose to aspire to greatness beyond the form expected from them.

They unknowingly partake in this form of self-hatred that rivals even the limitations placed upon African Americans by American society.

Despite how much these individuals in the black community may try to convince you of it, an oreo is not the same as an assimilationist. They are not people who advocate absorbing one’s self into the cultural traditions of whites.

They do not encourage the loss of distinction between ethnic groups or giving up one’s cultures of origin. The only thing they are guilty of is successfully adapting to a new environment where they chose to learn and follow observed truths that have been proven to contribute to a self-satisfying future in this country. 

The real ‘enemy’ here

The real term that should be stigmatized is not ‘Oreo’, but ‘oppositional culture,’  a term most commonly used in studying the sociology of education to explain the racial achievement gap in the United States.

It refers to any subculture’s rejection of conformity to prevailing norms and values and has led to the creation of numerous gangs and religious cults. This theory, which surfaced in the 1970s, states that students of color intentionally underachieve in school and testing due to a fear of being stereotyped as acting white.

It was coined as a reaction to the education gap in which black students rather consistently underperformed their white counterparts in an effort to not betray black normative culture.

Today, the term oreo is most widely used among the younger demographic where educational stereotypes passed on generation to generation, including the use of Standard English and enrollment in honors and AP classes and acting “smart” in class and skipping social events for studying and joining enrichment programs and routinely participating in community service have been largely categorized as “acting white.”

Oreos are the black students you see partaking in these behaviors and attitudes and as a result, are more often isolated by their urbanized peers of color. Then we see a cycle begin to form as these Oreos choose to surround themselves with white classmates who don’t judge their efforts, and are consequently characterized even further by angry students of color.

That is why racial derogatives limit societal growth and enforce racial divisions founded on generalized assumptions.

Oreos choose to break these barriers and if anything should actually be defined as those who don’t wish to “fit in” to American society but as those who wish to stand out from American society, on the mere principle of the values that motivate them.

They are defiant and abnormal and surprising and non-conforming, despite what some in the black community believe.

Why we all need to move on

 It’s time to move away from intraracial discrimination as a whole and acknowledge that along with this country, black culture is also becoming a more diverse blend of ideologies, behaviors, subcultures, and attitudes.

African Americans should no longer channel their anger with the nation founded on the backs of their ancestors towards those making the best out of a negative situation but towards fighting the stereotypes that continue to live on.

America has a lot more development to undergo, but it’s fair to say that we’re much past the point of racial derogatives and cultural tolerance. And African Americans unsensitized by a past of injustice need to make a choice on how they’ll allow their history to define them.

Will they continue to limit younger generations by discouraging educational integration on the basis of  “not acting white” or will they choose to embrace this new age of loving one’s roots while aspiring for things previously unobtained?

That choice is theirs, but I sure do hope they choose the latter.

Interested in another personal narrative on racial issues in America? Read about the effect Eurocentric beauty standards have on the smiles of young girls of color.

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Works Cited

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