“When Keeping it Real Goes Wrong”
As soon as I heard the title of Carter’s Keeping it Real, the first thought that came to my mind was a skit from Dave Chapelle’s comedy show. This segment is called “When Keeping it Real Goes Wrong.” In this particular sketch, Chappelle plays a black man named Vernon who works for a well-to-do company. The skit begins with a back story on how Vernon graduated valedictorian of his class, won scholarships to college, and beat out a cycle of drug addiction that plagued his family for years. However, an interaction with a white co-worker presents itself with a confrontation that allows Vernon to lose his composure in an office meeting….. (It’s only two minutes)
Typically, what makes comedy funny is the underlying truths behind the joke. The reason why this sketch makes people laugh is because there are certain codes of behavior that are put in place in our society, and this skit acknowledges those actions.
Acting White + Thinking White = Success in Society
I couldn’t help but think of the students in Carter’s article that feel as though they have to “act white” in order to get ahead in life. What does it mean to act white? Well, acting white carries along the “stigma” of listening to authority, being compliant, doing well in school, so therefore, there will be a job opportunity awaiting those who listen to mainstream society. Maintaining the status quo – engaging in white cultural preferences – is what will ultimately reward individuals in the end. In fact, Carter encounters a young group of people who “normalized the cultural experiences of White youth and adults, unconsciously equating behaviors that they associated with Whites with normality.” (59) Is white behavior really considered normal? Carter describes these types of individuals as “cultural straddlers” who “balanced their cultural practices, displaying knowledge and facility with ‘white’ styles and with the styles they shared with their peers.” (64) It is interesting that young adults like Adrienne felt that, in order to get ahead in life, presentation was a key to success. Adrienne seems distressed when she spoke of how people called her “white girl cause of the way [she] talks.” (58) She further expresses concern when she makes the valid point of “how you can distinguish between a Black person and a White person talking because of the way they talk. They’re just talking. A Black person has to speak stupid in order for you to know they’re Black?” (58) I find this point to be particularly striking, especially when it comes to comedy. Have you ever heard a black man make fun of a white guy? The black comedian will straighten up their posture and talk properly. Is that supposed to be an insult? Whereas, if a white comedian makes fun a black man, it’s always “yo, yo, yo” this and “what’s up” that.
Kozol and Carter have Commonalities (like that for alliteration?!)
Language seems to play a pretty powerful role in life. The way a person speaks demonstrates their knowledge. For example, I knew Gerri August must be an extremely intelligent person because she has an extensive vocabulary. A person’s speech could be what determines what job s/he receives or what college s/he goes to. Look at the story of Lawrence. Although described as “quiet, studious, and respectful” he “has brought to his elite, predominately white graduate school a style of baggy jeans and oversized sweatshirts, popular among urban Black youth, as well as a tough or ‘hard’ demeanor that includes limited eye contact with his professors.” (65-66) Educated college professors seemed to judge Lawrence, not on his obvious academic ability, but his style of dress and attitude. What about the fact that “statistics show, on average, at least half of Asian and White students in a particular school were likely to be in the high tracked classes, while Black, Latino, and Native American students were more likely to be in the general tracks.” (73) I believe this is definitely the de-facto segregation that Kozol referenced in his article Still Separate, Still Unequal. We have schools that place students of certain ethnicities in higher classes (probably because of their cultural attributes such as style of dress and behavior). Carter even goes as far to compare segregated classrooms with segregates neighborhoods. He makes the bold statement that “college prepatory, honors, and advanced placement classes have become known as classes for Asian and White kids. As just as adults choose neighborhoods because of their demographic and social compositions, students often select courses based on who is likely to be enrolled in them.” (53) White students may not choose “those classes” that contain ethnic minorities due to their perceived nature of African-American or Latino student stereotype of not taking school seriously.
I learned about the concept of code switching when I was becoming ESL endorsed at Rhode Island College. Code switching is what English language learners do – moving from one language to another in the same sentence OR choosing a language that is appropriate for contextual settings. Sometimes people call this Spanglish (with our Latino population). However, when a young girl named Loretta “admitted she spoke both ‘black’ and ‘white’” (60), I had never thought about black vernacular as an entire separate language from standard English. (Although, some schools actually offer “Ebonics” as a language course: Ebonics Taught as 'Home Speech' in Georgia School)
Wrap It Up, B
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Carter’s take on Black America. Students of minority background really seemed to feel a true divide between whites and non-whites in the school system. Some students recognized that white students are typically offered better classes and therefore will typically succeed in the real world. Bettina Shanks blamed “her poor school performance to parent-child conflicts” (62) while Rayshina attributed her lack of motivation in school on bad teachers. She emphasizes teachers who need to “inspire students”, “teach them in creative ways”, and “not bog themselves down in ineffective pedagogy and repetitious facts and classroom exercises.” (72) I mean, as teachers, we can’t everything. Even Carter acknowledges that teachers are “underpaid civil servants expected to produce literate populations” who are “asked to serve as entertainers, child psychologists, surrogate parents, and confidants.” (71) However, it is our job to aid those who truly want help and promote a place of positivity – where all students can learn no matter what the skin color may be.