Why ‘tryin’ to be white’ hurts us all in the long run

Many people may not realize what the term means and may be led to believe this article is about something someone would actually want to do. To clarify: “tryin’ to be white”, among other similar terms, is an accusation used between Black kids toward those that dream big and want to succeed in academics, life, and who may shun “typical” professions of Black youth, which include athletics and entertainment. Some may say that accusing someone of “tryin’ to be white” is similar to simply calling someone a nerd. It is not. Telling someone that they do not fit into their own race is detrimental to their development both mentally and socially.

It stunts the progress mainly of Black males, and females to a lesser extent, who are looked upon as less cool because they may not care about buying the next throwback jersey, jewelry or expensive car. Please notice: most of the students that are accused of tryin’ to be white are the same students that are revered for their intelligence and leadership skills at this university. Those that are intelligent but would rather be seen by others as being cool, join this group of underachievers and curb their high achievement so that they may fit in. This is evident with other students here who walk into class late, unprepared and ready to send text messages or nap as soon as they walk in. They aren’t “tryin’ to be white”, but they sure are cool.

Continuing to dissuade others to dream of a life better than what they currently have hurts all of us because we will forever live without the insight that those that chose to join this underachieving group may have provided. We should encourage people to excel at all they do. It is great if someone is an athlete, but we should remind him that athletics and academics go hand in hand, and enthusiasm for both should be equal.

As a teenager, I was accused of tryin’ to be white because of my goal to earn a college degree and work hard to achieve it. If tryin’ to be white is defined as being intelligent, hard working, goal oriented, and succeeding, I am guilty as charged and I refuse to apologize.

Vontilla Steven can be contacted at v.steven@umiami.edu.